If I can sum up what I think about Russia in a word, it would have to be ‘fascinating’. it’s one of those places where there are lots of preconceived notions. Historically, they’re a people who’ve seen royalty at its grandest, and communism at its best/worst. I think about vodka, the mafia, the beautiful statuesque women, espionage, dreadful winters, and Anastasia when I think of Russia. I still do!
(10) Moscow Traffic Jam – The motorway seems like a parking lot. And I thought traffic in Manila was bad! Sometimes it took almost an hour to get from point a to point b, real distance of 1km. Cars just park on the sidewalk. Moscow was not built for so many cars. The wave of the new Russian rich has paved the way for thousands of fancy cars crowding the streets of Moscow.
(9) Matryoshka Dolls – These dolls never failed to make me smile! The guide warned us about those made by machines, priced as though they were made by hand. They all looked super cute to me! The details on the smallest were pretty incredible. Most nested dolls were identical, but there were others which were unique from each other.
(8) Russian Ballet – I dragged my family to see Swan Lake in St. Petersburg, and they begrudgingly agreed. Watching ballet, I argued, was something one needs to experience, at least once in their lives. The story was familiar, and the dancing was beautiful. No big, exciting fight scenes here, or catch dialogue. Some people may kill me for saying this, but it was bordering on boring. Though I have no regrets seeing it!
(7) Gosti in St. Petersburg – Eating at this resto in St. Petersburg was a pleasant surprise! Gosti. The mustard chicken was soooo delicious that we ordered two. Service was pretty good too! Our waiter was friendly (and later fetched a nice tip).
(6) The Hermitage – A great collection of art! My favourite impressionists all in two rooms! I could have stayed there longer!
(5) Russian Royal Palaces – Peterhof and Catherine the Great’s summer homes…. This is the Russian’s take on Versailles. They were all very grand! Although the guide was good to point out that most of the rooms/structures were reconstructions. The originals were destroyed in the war.
(4) The Romanovs and Rasputin! I’ve always had a soft spot for the animated film, Anastasia. In St. Petersburg, the guide was keen to point out that contrary to popular belief, Anastasia died and is buried with her family. Then there’s the mystery around Rasputin, a very well-endowed sorcerer. We visited Yusupov Palace, the private residence of the affluent Russian family, the Yusupovs. There was an interesting narrative about Rasputin and how he was murdered. Rasputin who was supposed to be eating poisoned cakes (laced with enough cyanide to kill 5 men!), but he was unaffected.
(3) The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood – Outside, it looks like St. Basil’s, neoclassical and Baroque. Inside were these great mosaics of Russian Orthodox saints. Quite a majestic outside, standing along a canal, and quite beautiful against the blue sky.
(2) Touring the Moscow Underground – It’s as though the communist ideals are preserved in city’s underbelly. The old trains, mosaics which told stories of Russia’s history, a statue of a dog which everyone rubbed for luck, the pulsating flow of commuters, fancy chandeliers… This underground trumps all train stations. Best one ever.
(1) St. Basil’s Cathedral -This is without a doubt, THE postcard moment of the trip. The colours, the architecture… I think when we saw this, we knew we were in Russia! I think I easily devoured 2gb of space on my SD card with all the photos I took.
When I went: May 2012
Cities I visited: Moscow, St. Petersburg