When in Moscow do as the Muscovites do – something Tim Chandler learned when travelling to Moscow and St Petersburg, and which he reveals in his “Top ten reasons to visit Moscow and St Petersburg”.
A colleague of mine recently expressed a possible desire to travel to Russia. It fascinated her but she, like many others, needed a push. Russia has received its fair share of bad press, but do not let that put you off – Moscow and St Petersburg are amazing cities to visit.
So here are some reasons why you should consider adding Russia to your next Euro trip.
1. You’ll get a story out of it.
When I travel, I like to find stories. Stories to tell friends and family, to reminisce about my adventures and to feel accomplished that I’ve done something different. Nobody is going to care that you went to Paris and took selfies from the Eiffel Tower. People are always curious when I tell them I went to Russia and loved it. “Isn’t it scary?” “Was it dangerous?” These are questions I’ve been asked a lot. Sure, you might have to wade through puddles of Borshch or fight off a Siberian Tiger to get to your hotel, or drink a few vodka shots – no wait, that did actually happen. More on that later.
2. Hermitage Museum.
Everybody has a different level of appreciation for museums, and inside you’ll find some things that you’ve probably seen in other museums around the world. But the Hermitage Museum is also worth the visit for the building alone. It’s grand in itself, even without the thousands of collections inside.
3. Peterhof Palace.
Outside of the centre of St Petersburg is Peterhof Palace, a series of palaces and gardens that makes Buckingham Palace look relatively average in comparison. There are museums within the palaces, all requiring an additional entry fee, however it does allow you to pick and choose what you really want to see. The gardens are all free and the many fountains and water features are also very grand and impressive. The site is also recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is worth the cheap ferry ride from outside the Hermitage Museum.
4. Moo Moo Restaurant.
This is really more of a guideline suggestion and any Russian restaurant will do. Moo Moo is a small chain of what is basically Russian fast food. It’s self-service cafeteria style, where you slide your tray along and add whatever you like to it. Soups, breads, meats, desserts. It’s not classy but if you can find a local who is willing to go with you, then you’ll be pointed to the best Russian eats at err…fast food prices.
5. The Kremlin.
While there are Kremlins across Russia and the world, the Kremlin refers to the fortified complex overlooking Red Square and it is something to behold. There are some great tours inside the walls, including one of the Bell Tower, but it’s the dominating feel of the site that makes you realise how important this place is that is worth the visit.
6. Red Square and Saint Basil’s Cathedral.
Saint Basil’s Cathedral is surely one of the most recognisable buildings in the world and you’ll find yourself taking a photo from every possible angle. There’s a lot to see inside and you can easily kill a couple of hours here. Red Square is also a great place to pick yourself up a cheap set of Matryoshka dolls at tourist prices. While you’re in Red Square, check out Lenin’s Mausoleum (aka Lenin’s Tomb) for an exercise in how to walk in a single file line without stopping while gawking over the body of a former leader. No talking, no cameras, no running, no turning back. It’s an experience.
Suzdal is a small town about 200km east of Moscow and is great for a day trip. When the Trans-Siberian Railway was built, it was routed through the nearby city of Vladimir and as a result, time forgot about Suzdal. You can see a number of wooden cottages and churches as well as an insight as to how people lived back in the 19th century.
8. Space Museum.
Officially the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics, this museum is at the base of an impressive piece of art – the Monument to the Conquerors of Space. There’s enough to admire even if you don’t go into the actual museum. Back when I visited, I just thought this place looked cool, and at the time there were no English translations for the collections. That aside, there is enough to keep you interested from spacesuits to moon rovers and space capsules.
9. Moscow Metro.
The trains may be noisier than London’s but they do come without a warning to “mind the gap”. What really makes the Moscow metro system stand out over others though is the design of all the stations. Each one is different and a work of art in themselves. You’ll find it hard to get photos due to the crowds, but if you can find a corner to stand in and take it all in, you’ll be doing yourself a massive favour.
10. Obviously vodka.
You can buy bottles of vodka for less than a pair of socks back home – and if you had the choice, you’d rather vodka, yes? You’ll want to avoid anything like Smirnoff and Russian Standard. My personal favourite was Green Stamp and a bottle of that was retailing for about AU$7. Alternatively find a local bar – they’re now smoke free as of 2014.