Moscow & St Petersburg – 2nd June – 12th June 2011 (This tour is no longer available)
Our Russian guide in Moscow was as interested in us, as we were in her and everything she had to show us. One day when the thirteen members of our party were assembled in the minibus she asked:
“Why did you want to come to Russia?”
“Because of the history, the art and the culture”, was my reply. This answer seemed to satisfy Irini.
The Kremlin was described as the spiritual, artistic and ruling heart of Russia. I had not known about the spiritual and artistic heart of the Kremlin. I knew only of the ruling heart – and I didn’t know about the Kremlin’s beauty!
In early June tulips were still blooming and the fragrant lilac was in full bloom, not only in the Kremlin but all over Moscow. The trees were a bright fresh green. The golden domes of the cathedrals contrasted with the deep blue sky and the air was luxuriously warm. The weather remained like this for the eleven days of our holiday. We had come to Russia at the time of white nights. The sky remained blue with white clouds until almost midnight. We visited the cathedrals in the Kremlin, marveling at the frescoes and icons and visited Lenin in his tomb. I thought that he resembled a figure from Madam Tussard’s.
Red Square delighted me because I’d seen it so often on television. All the cameras were out as soon as we saw St Basil’s Cathedral, like a multicoloured confection from a fairytale. I was surprised by the enormity of the space and by the department store GUM. The outside of this building blends with the surrounding architecture but inside the visitor is greeted by arcades of luxury shops, a fountain, cherry trees in bloom and daylight entering from a glass roof, a citadel to consumerism. We saw newlyweds being photographed in Red Square with St Basil’s Cathedral in the background. The parties then moved on to allow the bride to deposit her bouquet at the eternal flame. We became used to seeing brides and their parties in public spaces. It is a tradition in Russia for newlyweds to be photographed visiting an eternal flame, a famous sculpture or cathedral.
My friend Lesley had booked our tickets to Swan Lake at the Bolshoi from New Zealand. Our wonderful guide accompanied us to the metro station nearest to our hotel to show us how to use the metro. The local station was spacious with sculptures of workers and revolutionaries. Two days later our guide would take the whole group on a tour of the metro. Some stations have mosaics and murals and one even has chandeliers. We were warned that pickpockets operate on the metro and to be very careful of our handbags.
Lesley and I watched our handbags carefully on the way to the Bolshoi, were entranced by the theatre, the dancers, the costumes and the music. I forgot to be diligent when we were in the bar of the Bolshoi, enjoying a glass of champagne during the interval. Later I found that my purse was missing. This unfortunate incident did not detract from the enjoyment of the ballet because the loss was discovered only after the performance. Our tour leader Bill helpfully gave me a statement for the insurance company giving details of the loss of my purse at the Bolshoi. I’m sure that he gave similar assistance to another member of our party who lost her purse in a souvenir shop in St Petersburg a few days later. Despite numerous warnings about pickpockets it is easy to lose your purse or wallet in Moscow or St Petersburg.
I enjoyed visiting the collection of Russian art in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, appreciating the icons more than I had anticipated. In the afternoon a few of us visited the impressionist galleries of the Pushkin Museum. I was impressed by the paintings by Gauguin, Cezanne and Matisse exhibited in an ideal display space. A few days later in St Petersburg we saw more works by these artists at the Hermitage, once again well displayed in good light. One whole day in the Hermitage was a good introduction, but not long enough to see more than a fraction of its treasures.