Sheena Teo’s Travel Diary: Moscow and St Petersburg
Russia is a colourful playground of sights and sounds, discovers Sheena Teo during a trip to the land that gave us the Faberge egg, the opulent palaces of Tsars and Tasrinas and, of course, vodka.
Whether you’re into arts, culture, architecture, geography, politics or dreamy urban legends, there’s something to stir your intrigue in Russia.
The largest country in the world is a colourful playground of sights and sounds, as Sheena Teo discovered during a trip to the land that also gave us the Faberge egg, the opulent gold encrusted palaces of Tsars and Tasrinas, babushka dolls and, of course, vodka.
Follow along her trip through the country’s two biggest cities – Moscow and St Petersburg.
“I visited Russia in early October this year because a family friend was organising a private group tour and I figured it was the easiest way to do it. The application process for a Russian visa is one of the more tedious ones and there’s a lot of paperwork involved. You’ll need a good travel agent for this one!”
"Autumn is a great time to visit as the weather isn’t too cold yet (and Russia can get really, really cold!). Also, the foliage is just beautiful at this time of year.”
“St Petersburg is the most Westernised city in Russia and its cultural capital. As such, the city has a very cosmopolitan, European feel to it and there are lots of shops, hotels and cafes with English signs everywhere. As a port city on the Baltic sea, there are also water canals and a river cruise is a popular way to see the sights.”
“Give yourself a day (or a week) to go see the collections at The State Hermitage Museum. It’s located at the former Winter Palace of the Russian monarchs and is one of the largest and oldest art museums in the world. We were told it would take 9 years to actually see everything!”
“In contrast, Moscow is the political capital of Russia and holds the famed Kremlin, a fortress like complex that is home to the president and is next to the the Red Square. The monuments there are among the most impressive structures I’ve ever seen in my life. However, the general feel of Moscow is understandably quite serious and there are a lot of guards and soldiers walking around."
“In Moscow, besides seeing the Kremlin and the monuments at the Red Square, make sure you take a day trip to Sergiev Posad to see the Trinity Lavra of St Sergius. It is a unique, functioning monastery complex and the spiritual centre of the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s amazing!”
“Upon arriving in Russia, you’ll learn quite quickly that Russians don’t really smile. In Russian communication, a smile is not a sign of politeness, and it is not acceptable to smile at strangers as a smile signals personal affection. Basically if you smile at someone, don’t expect him or her to smile back if they don’t know you!”
“Some of my favourite Russian dishes were Borscht soup made from red cabbage and beets, Blinis (Russian crepes) with herring and red salmon caviar and Pelmeni, which are Russian dumplings often served with Smetana (sour cream). You can find versions of these dishes at almost any Russian restaurant."
“I loved my dining experience at the beautiful Café Pushkin, considered by many to be the best restaurant in Moscow. This café, which is really a 5 star restaurant, is open 24 hours a day and is situated in a charming building that is renovated to look exactly like an 1820s Russian aristocrat's home. We were told some people actually Instagram the beautiful bathrooms (I didn’t!).”
“Like any big city in the world, there are bars, clubs and plenty of drinking holes when night falls. The buildings in Moscow and St Petersburg are beautifully lit at night though so it’s worth an evening stroll.”
“Nowadays with global brands, television and the internet, a lot of places like America and Europe feel strangely familiar when you visit them because you’ve been exposed to so much of their culture and exports. Russia is one of the only places I’ve ever been that really felt like a completely different world and that was quite an experience. It will surprise you with some of the most wow-inducing sights of your life. Someone on the tour said, “I’ve seen a lot of incredible things in my life, but this is something else.” I could not agree more.”
(Photos: Sheena Teo)
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