I'm going to pass on giving you the descriptions of the sites we saw (I can send you Wikipedia references, if you insist) and instead focus more on our experience of the trip. Why? Well, laziness for one. It's a lot of work to type in the immense history and meaning behind much of what we saw. But also (and I understand this may not speak well of me), what's below is a good portion of what I'm taking back with me from the trip. Churches tend to blur into one another after a certain period of time, but the overnight train ride as mentioned below? That will stay with me forever.
We were three days in Moscow which is two days too many. There just isn’t that much to see. The Kremlin, Red Square, Saint Basil's Cathedral, and the Armoury museum don’t take up more than a day. We saw a few extra sites, mainly because I think our tour guide was desperately looking for ways to fill the hours. Traffic in Moscow is intense and our hotel was a two-hour drive from Red Square, which meant we spent at least 4-6 hours on a bus each day.
The sites were interesting but I remained in a low simmering state of piss- offedness for the majority of our time in Moscow. I was not happy about the bus time, the food was gross (except for the breakfast buffet), and while we were taken to things like a children’s circus, major sites like Lenin’s tomb were ignored.
(Side Note: You may recall that seeing the tomb was not high on our list of priorities, but we had so much free time on our hands we decided to make the visit. We asked our guide about it and she kept saying it was closed. We even pointed out a line of people going in and she still insisted, no, it was closed. We walked over and found out the site had closed not three minutes before. REALLY ticked off as we hadn’t left the hotel until 10 that morning and we were pretty much standing around picking our noses on Red Square until it was time to tour Saint Basil’s.)
Our last day in Moscow, we checked out of the hotel and had 8 HOURS TO KILL before we could go to the train station for the overnight to St. Petersburg. Our guide took us to a lovely park but still... 8 hours in a park? I understand there was a 3 or 4-hour speed train to St. Petersburg. It would have been great to get on the train and observe the scenery during the day. This would also have allowed us to arrive at St. Petersburg in time for an early dinner and hotel check in. Which brings us to the worst part of the trip...
OVERNIGHT TRAIN RIDE TO ST. PETERSBURG
Now, I’ll be the first to admit I am not an adventuresome traveler. Some people may enjoy things like overnight trains to get a feel for the culture and how “real” people travel. Me, I want a concierge and climate control. So my report may be a little jaded.
The ride started out stressful as seat assignments were made willy-nilly. There were 4 passengers to a bunk within the car, about 8 bunks in each car. Our group was all in the same car, but roommates were split up. Blair was at one end of the car and I ended up in a bunk with our tour guide and two non-English speaking women from Poland. There was a lot of switching around and finally Blair and I ended up in the same room. We took the bottom bunks but got very little sleep. We were still in our clothes, the seat-turned-into-beds were rock hard, it was hot, and there was 1 airplane-sized bathroom for 30 people. But we got through the night and I was cheerful in the morning, ready to check into the hotel and shower before exploring Saint Petersburg.
Only that didn’t happen. We arrived around 7 am and couldn’t check in. Our St. Petersburg tour guide (who bore an uncanny resemblance to Dobby from the Harry Potter films) wanted to start touring immediately, dismissing our group leader who tried to point out that we were all dirty, exhausted, hungry, and in desperate need of showers.
Bear in mind, by this point we've been in the same clothes for over 24 hours AFTER having hung out in a park all day in the sun and having slept in our clothes. What should have been the highlight of the trip--the tour of the Hermitage Museum—became something to just get through. I can't begin to explain how low group morale was on this morning. Blair and I made the best decision of the trip and broke free from the group and toured the museum on our own. We saw much more that way and were able to move at our own pace, making us both happy.
Once we were finally able to check in, the trip improved. Saint Petersburg may very well be the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen. We had glorious weather – 70 degrees, sunny, no bugs or humidity. Gold domes gleamed, the architecture everywhere was stunning, and you felt very old-world aware as you walked the streets. Loved it. If you have a chance to visit this historic city, grab it. It’s absolutely beautiful.
NEXT: Wrapping it all up. Estonia, Finland, and my meltdown on the plane on the way home.