Think of Russia and what springs to mind?

Two great cities for a start – Moscow and St. Petersburg, the Russian Revolution, Tsars and Tsarinas – and yes maybe even Dr Zhivago and War and Peace! but the story of Rasputin caught my imagination!

Walking through St Petersburg’s Winter Palace, The Hermitage Museum, I wondered at the treasures here – Da Vinci, Rembrandt – art masterpieces, I never thought I’d see with my own eyes!

St Petersburg is known as the Venice of the North – with views of bridges crossing the Neva River all over the city. Where the rivers don’t go, the canals take over, and it’s wonderful to see the city sights from a boat on the rivers and canals.

It’s a city of culture, monuments and statues – The Mariinsky Theatre and the most elegant Grand Europe Hotel: Belmond’s finest!

Wrapped up warm I enjoyed all the sights and the stories, and then in the evening I watched breathless as the white swan in Swan Lake fell under the spell of the wicked wizard, but was freed by her true love!

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The Catherine Palace at Pushkin was dazzling gold and glass – how the Royal family lived! And here, in the garden of the Palace built for Catherine I, I walked around the lake, up close to the red squirrels and watching the autumn leaves fall as I heard the story of Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin from our very informative guide. Her English was perfect and her knowledge of the arts and history was really impressive. The tale of Nicolas and Alexandra was chilling, and it left me with 100 questions – Rasputin or Father Grigori… was he really a wonderful mystical leader? Or was he a misfit manipulater of a weak and vulnerable family? Whatever you decide, Rasputin met an untimely and gruesome end when he was fished out from the ice-cold waters of the Neva River (after being poisoned, beaten and shot he eventually drowned) The date was December 1916.

Leaving St Petersburg, I flew to Moscow – there is an exciting overnight train journey between the cities, if you have more time to spare.

Moscow, somehow, fills me with terrible tales of post-revolution Russia, but I could not help but marvel at its famous sites – Red Square and the solemnity and the security at Lenin’s Mausoleum sent shivers down my spine! But they were soon gone as I looked up to the colourful domes of St Basil’s Cathedral. Our guide was quite like Mary Poppins, and had lots of first hand memories of Russia in the Soviet Union. We followed her to the Kremlin and the Armoury, once again stunned by the wealth and treasures here – from fabulous royal carriages to fabulous Faberge Eggs.

We did our own tour of Moscow’s famous Metro – all the stations intricately designed with symbolic pictures – paintings and mosaics of the communist era, images of a happy workforce, farmers, officeworkers, and family life.

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The Metro carries 6.5 million people a day, and they were rushing and pre-occupied, so I was generally ignored with my camera, as long as I stayed out of their way!

If Russia is on your wish list – push it to the top – don’t wait too long to learn about its history, discover its treasures and try the Caviar and Vodka!

What next for me? Well, there is so much more, a river cruise to see cities like Yaraslavl and Uglich, or a trip on the Trans Siberian Railway? Wow! That would be something wonderful!

Can I tell you more about Moscow and St Petersburg? Give me a call or  send an email to: charmaine@hallmarktravel.com

Meet me in the Gallery!