On Christmas eve, my family and I (parents, sister and fiancé), all travelled from London to St Petersburg. We had been planning this trip for nearly a year and were so excited that it had finally come!
Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a snowy city, which truly seemed split between two eras: tall dark Soviet communal flat buildings and governmental buildings lined the large avenues from the airport into the city centre, and all of a sudden, after crossing a bridge the style all of sudden changed to brightly coloured Romanov-esque palaces with intricate details and never-ending facades. Between the snow, the cold and the Christmas decorations, I must admit that St Petrsburg was everything I had expected and more! A magical ambiance that transported you back to films was present in every street, church and palace. The harmony with which the Romanov and Soviet heritages had blended surprised but also enchanted me.
As good tourists, we visited all the key spots: Catherine’s Palace, The Ermitage Museum, The Church on Spilled Blood (literally built on top of the spilt blood of one of the Tsars), the art galleries, so many churches, and of course the food and drink! Russian food is AMAZING! If you haven’t yet discovered it, find out quick where your nearest Russian Delicatessen is and order Pelmeni! A sort of mix between dumpling and ravioli, it’s filled with any sort of meat that you want and is insanely delicious! St Petersburg is steeped in history, throughout the city everything reminds you of a time long gone, even the frozen over river reminds you of this.
After 4 days in St Petersburg, we left by high speed train to Moscow. A swift train ride through the Russian countryside, and we arrived in the capital. First impressions of Moscow: they have massive traffic jam problems! Moscow is very different to St Petersburg, a modern metropole, the buildings are huge and are either Soviet or ultra-modern. The Kremlin is more than just a simple building, it is the true heart of the city, a city within a city, it is magical and charged in grandeur thanks to the several museums and buildings that it houses, of which the diamond vaults, the armoury, the several cathedrals and churches and the beautiful views it has of the river.
We also visited several art galleries, more churches of which St Basil (which is surprisingly small compared to what I had always imagined), did a fair bit of shopping (Russia is cheaper than London, but not by far), and were fortunate enough to go to the Moscow Circus and the Bolchoi to see the Nutcracker on New Year’s Eve. New Year’s Eve is a massive deal in Russia, due to not being able to practice religions under the Soviet regime; they turned this end of year festivity into the biggest of the country. And I must say, they know how to do Christmas decorations better than I have ever seen! Russian patterns light up the main squares, whilst all trees are dripping in multi-coloured lights, with small presents hanging from them; a Christmas fanatic’s dream!
All in all, I would definitely recommend going to St Petersburg and Moscow, even in winter. And even though it’s colder (take thermals, a Canada goose, and don’t hesitate to buy a Shapka) its magical and resonates with the Russia from our imagination.