A week-long Russian odyssey

A week-long Russian odyssey

My quest for elusive, pocket-friendly yet not too touristy destinations took me to the land of the Tsars and a million glorious churches - Russia. I covered its two most iconic cities Moscow and St Petersburg, and visited the most important town in its Golden Ring Suzdal and Vladimir.

As you make your way out of the Moscow SVO airport and into the city, imposing soviet era buildings stare at you from either side of the rail tracks. Moscow is the true gem in Russia's crown and you can easily spend about a week here. I had 24 hours to soak in the city so I jumped into the bare essentials. The must-see landmarks of Moscow are adjacent to each other - the St Basil's Cathedral, the Red Square and the Kremlin.

I had signed up for 'The Moscow Free Walking Tour' which starts near the Kitay Gorod metro station and takes you all the way into the Kremlin. After gaping at the awe-inspiring St Basil's Cathedral at the perimeter of the Red Square, one can take a tour of the Kremlin along with a visit to Lenin's Mausoleum. I took a quick break at a cafe inside the lovely complex of the GUM Department store before moving further.

After you have had your fill of the architectural grandeur of Moscow, take a stroll at Gorky Park and/or catch a performance at the historical Bolshoi theatre. A point to note here is that after the peak season activity in June, most theatres take a break in August so plan your travel accordingly if you don't want to miss out on the 'Swan Lake' or 'The Idiot'.

If you are touring Russia, it is almost a sacrilege if you do not visit atleast one of the towns from the Golden Ring a collection of historic Russian towns northeast of Moscow. The most important amongst these is Suzdal, part of the Vladimir Oblast. Suzdal is often referred to as an open-air museum due to its beautiful architecture and rustic landscapes.

Suzdal and Vladimir can be done as a day trip from Moscow and it is preferable to book a tour as transport within the towns may be a problem. Vladimir is well connected to Moscow via trains and then a road transport is preferable to tour the town along with Suzdal. Apart from the many churches and monasteries that you will see in these towns, Suzdal also has a unique wooden architecture museum which displays wooden houses and churches from across Russia through its various centuries. The Church of the Intercession on the Nerl or commonly known as the Bogolyubovo church is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

No trip to Russia is complete without visiting St Petersburg, often called the Venice of the North. I arrived from Moscow by the 11.40 am Sapsan and almost started with the Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood which left me bedazzled with its gold gilded interiors. Right nearby are the Kazan Cathedral and the St Isaac's Cathedral.

Then I moved to The Palace Square and the State Hermitage Museum. The Museum is the second largest museum in the world and contains the largest collection of paintings in the world and will take up the greater part of your day.

Day 2 of St Petersburg was reserved for the Peter and Paul fortress, the first structure to be built in St Petersburg. After spending about an hour looking at the insides of the cathedral and strolling on the grounds, I took the hydrofoil down the Gulf of Finland into Peterhof. At the centre of the one square km Lower Gardens is the Grand Cascade and the Samson fountain with the imposing Grand Palace looking over from its high platform. Photography is not allowed inside the Grand Palace.

I bid good bye to an amazing week in Russia only more determined to come back very soon for more.

Fact file
How to get there
Aeroflot has direct flights from Delhi to Moscow. It cost me Rs 35,000 for the round trip. In
Moscow, you can hire a tour operator for day trips to the towns in the Golden Ring. You can take the train (high-speed Sapsan or slower overnight trains) to St Petersburg.

Where to stay
In Moscow, it is preferable to stay within the Garden Ring. It will be economical to rent apartments. Try booking an apartment in one of the Seven Sisters - seven skyscrapers
that Stalin had commissioned to build.
I paid Rs 27,000 for a family a five for three nights.

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