Category Archives for "Russia"

Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Russia

The Armory Museum and Red Square

Within the Fortress Walls of the Kremlin

Once you get over the fact that you’re actually standing inside the fortified walls of the Kremlin, head to the Armory Museum for a dizzying crash course on the lifestyles of the rich and famous czars. It includes more than 4,000 objects from the 12th century to 1917.

Fortunately, some of the premier pieces are displayed first (in Hall II), so you can see them while you still have your wits about you. There’s a stunning collection of ten Fabergé eggs intricate mini-worlds created as tributes to the czars by genius jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé, who became court goldsmith in 1885. The pièce de résistance here is a delicate silver egg engraved with a map of the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

The obligatory “surprise” inside was a golden clockwork model of a train with crystal windows and a tiny red ruby for a headlight.

You’ll have to buy a separate ticket to view the dazzling crown jewels of the Romanovs in the poorly indicated Almazny Fond (Diamond Vaults).

There are no written explanations, but it won’t take you long to gravitate to the scepter of Catherine the Great – topped by the Orlov Diamond, a gift from her lover Count Orlov – and her diamond-encrusted crown. Be sure to see the Shah Diamond, given to Czar Nicholas I by the Shah of Iran.

No photos or guidebooks can prepare you for the sensation of standing at the center of the vast, magnificent Red Square. In Russian, krasnaya (red) is closely related to krasivaya, the word for “beautiful,” but for years to come, Red Square will be associated with Communism and the Soviet military parades of tanks and hardware that took place there regularly.

It is bordered on the west by the Kremlin, within whose shadow is the Lenin Museum, where Lenin’s eerily embalmed body has been lying in state since his death in 1924. At the far end of the square loom the multicolored pinnacles and onion domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral, one of Moscow’s best-known landmarks, commissioned by Ivan the Terrible in the mid-1500s. Opposite the Kremlin, an enormous steel-frame and glass construction recalls the great old train stations of London or Paris; it is GUM, whose initials stand for State Department Store.

Since the dust of perestroika has settled, it is curious to see how unbridled capitalism and the proliferation of slick new franchises chockablock with Western goods abut old-world, poorly stocked Russian shops that seem on their way to extinction.

The Trans-Siberian Express – Russia

Romancing the Rails

The world’s longest continuous rail line and one of its greatest train journeys, the Trans-Siberian Express stretches almost 6,000 miles – one third of the distance around the globe – and crosses eight time zones between Moscow and Vladivostok on the Pacific coast, an area closed to all foreigners and most Russians throughout the Soviet era.

One of the truly heroic engineering marvels in the last 100 years, the network of routes crosses taiga, steppe, desert, and mountain. It was once an arduous voyage of several months, but this epic rail ride can now be enjoyed in luxurious comfort during two-week journeys in the company of expert guides

Three slightly routes travel in both directions from Moscow and St. Petersburg in Western Russia across to the Far East, with the option of including Mongolia and ending up (or beginning) in Beijing. Each trip affords in-depth, in-style exploration of regional capitals, remote towns, and villages.

The White Nights Festival and the Grand Hotel Europe – St. Petersburg, Russia

The Sun Never Sets on Russian Culture

Named after the season when the sun never sets, the relatively new White Nights festival of music has been thrilling audiences with various per­formances and cultural events highlighted by St. Petersburg’s superb opera and ballet company and the five-tiered theater that gives the company its name – the Kirov during the Soviet era, now (as in czarist times) the Mariinsky.

The one-month cultural festival provides an international audience the chance to see gala productions ranging from classical Russian ballets to concerts by the St. Petersburg Philharmonic and visiting world-class artists.

The primary venue, the 19th-century Mariinsky Theater, together with the Bolshoi in Moscow, has produced some of the world’s greatest ballet dancers. Attending a perform­ance here should be a top priority even when the long summer nights have come and gone. Dress to the nines, have some Champagne during intermission, and blend in with those elated to relive a bygone era.

Continue your historical itinerary by staying at the Grand Hotel Europe. An inter­national joint venture, this miracle of a hotel is a heavily restored reincarnation of the former Europeiskaya, opened in 1875 and thus St. Petersburg’s oldest hotel. Much of the old-school aristocratic ambience is gone. In its stead – to the delight of international visi­tors following in the footsteps of Gorky, Strauss, and Debussy – is the sort of Euro­peanized five-star service and white-glove sophistication not yet a common commodity among Russia’s aspiring hotels.

Just barely off the Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg’s Champs-Elysees, the Europe was once a gleaming symbol of the City of the Czars’ prosperous days as Russia’s capital from 1712 until 1918. Now, once again, it is the pulse of a reawakened city: the elegant Caviar Bar is the rendezvous of choice for the New Russians, with their cell phones and cigars, and the prestigious Restaurant Europe offers a level of luxury and fine dining not seen in the city during Communism.

If you don’t stay here, stop by for the buffet breakfast under the Europe’s exquisite Art Nouveau stained-glass ceiling or the Sunday morning jazz brunch.