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Russia Peterhof Palace

Russia - The Russian cities of Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Peterhof, Yaroslav, Novgorod and Sergiev Posad have all left a profound luminous, golden and colourful mark on our small group of culture and history enthusiasts.

The surprising brightness of the architecture of places of Orthodox worship, together with the omnipresent beauty of Orthodox icons that are even found in public places and in stores, added a spiritual dimension to this trip even to those who were not devoted believers.

White nights in Saint Petersburg

Another occurrence that has almost became a source of worship, a natural one this time, is the white nights period which is from mid-May to mid-July in Saint Petersburg.  It is never totally daytime, nor is it totally nighttime; it is more like a perpetual dawn or twilight, creating a very intriguing and romantic atmosphere depending on one’s mood.

This phenomenon is a result of the location of the city on the globe and is a pretext to taking long strolls in different neighborhoods and to attending celebrations of all sorts, social and cultural.  In summary, the city does not sleep thanks to concerts, shows and street performers, keeping it awake for a few months.

What better time to visit this UNESCO World Heritage city and to complement the visit with a cruise on the Neva River to enjoy the spectacular view of Saint Petersburg from another perspective.

Yaroslav: the Pearl of Russia

Yaroslav, 250 km North-east of Moscow, at the crossing of the Volga and the Kotorosl rivers, is part of the golden ring circling around Moscow.

Listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, Yaroslav is known for its historic city centre with churches built in the 17th century and for its urban renovation plan ordered by the Empress Catherine in the 18th century.  The city has been restored lately with respect to all of its historic monuments and buildings, one of which is the Spassky monastery, dating back to the 16th century and reconstructed over time.

Yaroslav is also the cradle of Russian icons, housing the main workshop for the fabrication of icons.  Icons are works of art of different dimensions, painted on wood using the original, ancient pigment colors and gold leaf, representing scenes from the Bible that are approved by  religious authorities.

It is important to note that icons can only be bought on Red Square and at the Church factory in Sofrino, near Yaroslav.

Devotion and emotion

Worth visiting to experience both of these sensations:

  • In Novgorod, which was the ancient capital of Russia around 860 CE, visit the very picturesque Yuriev monastery.
  • The Novodevichi Convent, the best-known cloister for nuns in Moscow.
  • In Moscow, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour (rebuilt in 1990) and its dome from which you can admire the city’s rooftops.
  • Cathedral Square in the heart of the Kremlin, where rousing songs sung by chorals can be heard.

Art and handicrafts

Russia can certainly compete with any European country as far as museums are concerned.

The Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg will satisfy modern art aficionados.  Those more fond of history should visit the Hermitage, the largest art museum in the world, which constitutes a time-traveling experience, a history course and a living dream as you come across royal costumes and furniture.

In Moscow, the Tretyakov Art Gallery, located in one of the oldest and richest capital neighborhoods, is a must-see. And to be able to testify to the best example of the democratization of art, you will have to tour all of the metro stations.  They are breathtaking examples of how art can be successfully integrated in day-to-day life, even in public spaces that have to be functional as well.  Brilliant! 

The same attribute applies to the Bolshoi, of course.  Who can stay indifferent to the grace and beauty of the programs created by the dancers, musicians and set decorators in the theatre that is a major symbol of Russian culture and a marvel on its own!

After long visits in one or in many of the city’s public markets, it will be easy to buy and to bring back traditional wool and silk shawls, Matryoshka dolls, Christmas decorations for next year, or painted and lacquered eggs, all hand made by artisans from all over Russia.

Russian airport customs will confiscate all antiques bought in the country – everything that is older than 25 years old – so beware, even if a merchant has told you it was allowed.

Taste buds are not left aside

How delicious the borsch is, the beet and sour cream soup you will find on every Russian menu!  Marinated herring, chicken, dill, cabbage, mushrooms, cucumbers and the kvas and the kefir will complement it.

Vodka and beer?  Of course, and caviar as well in 5 or 6 star hotels.

Hot chocolate at the Pushkin Café?  Yes! You might say it’s not very original. However, you will be sorry if you don’t taste it.  And it is near the best designer shops

On the practical side

Hotels are generally good: clean with courteous and attentive service.

Taxi drivers speak Russian and almost nothing else. Plan on asking your hotel concierge to write the name and address of your destination in Russian, and while at it, it could be wise to ask about the approximate cost of the taxi ride.

Most credit cards are accepted in hotels and at the main, official tourist sites.

Trains, European style, are comfortable and their small private compartments allow for sleeping, even if a bunk hasn’t been reserved.

At religious sites, it is advisable for women to cover their head with a scarf.

Russia’s new economy is very open to tourism and the response is there!  Choosing to be accompanied by a guide will most certainly facilitate your visit.  They are well trained and informed, will give you pertinent information and will enable you to avoid waiting in long lines at cathedrals, monuments, sites and museums.

Something quite different to add to your itinerary…

Moscow is hosting the Police Film Festival in Moscow, April 20 -24, 2011.

Russia: an inspiring and enlightening destination!


Diane Laroche and Sylvie Berthiaume


White nights in Saint Petersburg 

View from The Neva

Yaroslav

Novgorod 

Dacha in Novgorod

Ballerines at the Bolshoi

Metro station in Moscow 

Notre-Dame de Kazan, Red Square

Photos: Diane Laroche and www.russia-travel.com

 

 

 

 

 

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