As with every trip we've taken we found the people to be generally warm and receptive. The Russian culture seems to be a bit more reserved than say that of China. However, all those with whom we came into contact were friendly and helpful.
Before we left for the trip we, of course, checked the weather to see what might be appropriate colthing. The forecasts predicted highs in Moscow to be in the middle 60s and in St. Petersburg to be in the lower 60s. OK, a lot cooler than we're used to but not freezing by any means. So, we packed accordingly. The old adage "the best laid plans, of ..." was in play.
While we were there the highs in Moscow were in the lower 80s and in St. Petersburg were in the upper 70s. Absolutely delightful.
As both of our hotels were situated in the middle of all the scenic things to see in both Moscow and St. Petersburg, we elected to do almost all of our "touring" by foot. We spent about 6 hours each day just walking and looking. We didn't miss much, if anything, of what we came to see. We walked ALL the major areas of Moscow: Kremlin, Red Square, Kitay Gorad, Zamoskvoreche, Arbatskaya, and Tverskaya!
As we speak no Russian the language issue turned out to be minimally problematic. The Russian people seemed most willing to help with this. Almost no one in Moscow speaks any English - it was a little better in St. Petersburg, but not much. Using "hand gestures", pointing, and the help of 2 cell phone apps (Google Translate which requires an Internet connection and SpeakEasyRussian which does not) we did just fine.
The bigger language issue was with street signs, metro signs, and such. At the major travel points, airports & train stations, the signs are posted in both Russian and English. Otherwise everything is in Cyrillic - both real Cyrillic letters and "latinized" (an attempt at phonetics using English letters). Neither was very helpful to us. However, as with other languages hard for us to read or understand, we used the following "rule":
Look at the first 4 letters, sound out the letters as best we can, and look for signs that start off with the sound(s) of the first 4 letters.
Anyway, we made do.
As Russia and China both are "viewed" as having communistic, repressive governments by those in the West, we found no evidence of repression in the lifestyles of the people (either in Russia or in China). In Moscow there were street "celebrations" almost every day with music, dancing, outdoor shows, food fairs, and the like. Thoroughly enjoyable.
We saw no evidence of any political poster, banner, or message anywhere. The only police we saw were traffic police - and not too many of them. The only military personnel we saw were the occasional few out doing shopping - just as one might see here. It never felt unsafe there in any way.
The Russian people seem extremely proud of their cultural heritage and historical artifacts. They, at least in Moscow and St. Petersburg, are very religious; i.e., the Russian Orthodox Catholic Church.
In general there were two notable issues of disdain - if not outright hatred - opinioned by the Russian people for: Lenin & Stalin in Moscow - but mostly Stalin it seemed & the Nazi's in St. Petersburg. Stalin ordered all the major cathedrals destroyed and the Nazis reigned heavy destruction and theft on the palaces of the Tzars and other historical artifacts.
Throughout both cities there is and has been significant, meticulous reconstruction underway to restore the artifacts and cultural historical buildings destroyed. Russian leaders in Moscow since the end of WWII and especially Putin in St. Petersburg (his hometown) have endeavored to restore Russia to its past glory.
We did notice something a little different than one sees here. There are virtually no public trash cans / receptacles visible on the streets. More importantly, there was no evidence of litter or trash or graffiti on the streets either. Spotless these places.
While we were in Moscow people kept telling us that St. Petersburg was much more beautiful than Moscow. We found that not to be true - although both are beautiful cities.
On hotels overseas: Unless one stays at a W Hotel, a Four Seasons Hotel, Ritz Carlton, or the like, expect that a hotel rated as 5 Star will really be a 4 Star and one rated as a 4 Star to really be a 3 Star. The hotels in which we stayed held to this rule. Both hotels were very nice and the staffs were very attentive; but, they were definitely one star below what they advertised. We had no complaints with either hotel.
As a note, captions for pictures below will appear before the picture(s).
From what we learned it is very expensive to live in Moscow. Just from the autos we kept seeing I believe it. Plenty of Bentley coupes, Ferraris, Aston Martins, Mercedes AMGs, etc.
For a little more lifestyle info, any place one goes where there is a Krispy Kreme is a good place to be.
We stayed at the Hotel National. It sits directly across the street from the Kremlin and Red Square. Very convenient to almost everythng to see in Moscow.
Entrance to Red Square. The Kremlin is adjacent to the far right as you look at the picture.
Red Square is a large (not as large as I had anticipated, but rather large nevertheless) cobble-stoned open area surrounded on one side by the walls of the Kremlin, St. Basil's Cathedral on another side, open cafes, Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral, and a huge shopping center on another, and by the entrance gate on the 4th side.
We find an incredible toy store.
Horses in Alexandrovsky Gardens
Again, pics not allowed; so the below are not ones we took. This museum had a rather disappointing
collection from Faberge
- one is shown in the lower left of the below picture.
This is one of the many cathederals Stalin had destroyed. It has been completely rebuilt exactly as it was.
Taking the train is a little more expensive than flying but well worth the small difference. Besides getting to see "non-city" Russia there are no hassles with security and you don't have to check your luggage.
It's a little over 400 miles separating the two cities. The difference in affluence between the big cities and the countryside was very apparent. We stopped 4 times along the way. At each of the 4 stops (about 2 minutes in duration for each stop) was at a town, smallish, that looked like a somewhat rundown industrial town one might have seen here in the northeast years ago.
Inbetween towns were many, what I would call, small hamlets. The houses we saw were not ones one would choose to live in.
Our "transition" trip offered what may be a clue as to how the Russian people actually live outside the bigger cities.
On the way from the train station to our hotel we passed by Russia's main submarine construction facility.
As the Hermitage Museum was a short walk from our hotel, we hoofed it on over there. The entrance lines were horrific. But, we stood in line anyway.
Scenes in and around Peterhof:
Part of a painting for Elizabeth I of Russia. You can easily see the "script" E with the "one" (1) down the center.
"Toys" belonging to a young Alexei, son of Tzar Nicholas II.
The weapons are real.
This was one of our main reasons for visiting the palace. Be sure to catch the video(s) on this room in the video section below.
Just beneath the first picture (below) are 2 photos of the only original 3 pieces from the Amber Room before it was looted and destroyed by the Nazis. The first original piece (looks like a picture frame) was found by the German government long after WWII and returned to Russia. The other 2 pieces (2 small boxes) just happened to be out of the Amber Room when the nazis came.
Just Some Random Canal Pics
The Peacock Clock
The Amber Room