FOR all its great political and social upheavals which have given rise to many a good movie script, the largest country on earth has never quite popped up on glossy tourist brochures boasting a “bucket list” of must-see architectural wonders like the Eiffel Tower or the iconic Taj Mahal. Neither does it beckon with the promise of breathtaking natural scenery and beautiful landscapes.
Before the invitation for this media familiarisation trip came along, my impression of Russia and Moscow in particular was of a city still dominated by grey Soviet-era apartment blocks and sombre locals.
However, when I received the itinerary for the trip to Moscow and St Petersburg organised by Trafalgar, another version of Russia began to emerge, that of a country steeped in culture and art, with many well-preserved heritage buildings.
Before the revolution of 1917, Russia was a nation of imperial grandeur with beautiful palaces and churches, and was known throughout the European world for the remarkable literary works of writers like Alexander Pushkin and Leo Tolstoy.
It was this “golden age” Russia which I experienced during my one week sojourn in the country.
The heart of Moscow
The goal of any traveller or avid selfie enthusiast is to get a near perfect as possible shot in front of an iconic monument. In Moscow this would be the colourful onion-domed St Basil’s Cathedral. The pride of Russia and the most recognisable symbol of the country.
To be honest, I was really excited at the prospect of finally being able to stand in front of this centuries old architectural wonder. So I was pretty pleased that the tour schedule afforded us ample opportunity to spend on Red Square where St Basil is located. Not only were we able to take photos of the cathedral by daylight, we returned to the square at night to find it shimmering against the night sky, like a fairytale castle.
Exploring Moscow by Metro
Following our visit to St Basil, we took a train from the metro station nearest to Red Square to explore the Moscow Metro. If Russia’s royals and nobles once lived in opulence, surrounded by beautiful objects and artwork not accessible to the working classes, Joseph Stalin had a vision of creating underground palaces for the people in the first subway line built in 1935. Resembling underground museums, the stations are works of art in itself with mosaic murals, frescoes, bronze statues, stained glass, marble columns and chandeliers.
Within the walls of the Kremlin
In the old days many Russian towns and cities had Kremlins to guards against invasions, the most famous of these is the Moscow Kremlin. Besides being the seat of the Russian government, the Kremlin is also home to several cathedrals located on Cathedral Square. These buildings are surrounded by gardens and the view from the red-brick Kremlin walls are instagram worthy even in winter.
Treasure chamber of the Russian Tsars
One of the key attractions in the Kremlin is the Armoury Chamber, here you will find coronations gowns and robes belonging to the imperial families who ruled Russia for centuries. The collection includes royal jewels, crowns, thrones, Faberge eggs, and imperial carriages.
This 15th century cobblestone street was once populated by traders and craftsmen, and still retains much of its old-world charm with street buskers and second-hand book vendors. The many outdoor cafes add a lively atmosphere to the street. It’s also the best place in Moscow to get souvenirs.
Iconic dining establishments
Moscow is also home to two impressive dining establishments – Cafe Pushkin and Turandot Restaurant.
Café Pushkin was opened on June 4, 1999, but the building itself, a Baroque mansion, dates back to the 1780s. Stepping through the doors of Cafe Pushkin is like travelling through time, from the attire of the waiters, the treasure trove of antiques and the library full of reference books. Cafe Pushkin is also famous for its desserts, unique sweet treats which the waiters serve with much panache. If you’re going in a group, do order several of the “house” favourites like the Cranberries in Sugar and Pistachio Cream Brulee for a perfect tea time treat.
If you fancy dining like European royalty, Turandot Restaurant with its luxurious interior, designed to resemble the grand dining halls of European palaces is the place to go to. During our visit to this fine dining establishment, a popular haunt of Kremlin officials and Moscow’s elite, we dined in the Porcelain banquet hall, decorated with over 100 porcelain plates and vases, which were custom-made for the restaurant.
Travelling with Trafalgar
Trafalgar believes in crafting unique tour experiences to less travelled and emerging destinations, which is how this trip came about. Trafalgar offers two tour options for Moscow and St Petersburg:
-> Festive St Petersburg and Moscow Winter 2019-2020 (7-days)
-> Wonders of St Petersburg and Moscow Summer 2020 (7-days)
Book your holidays at www.holidaytours.com.my/trafalgar or contact the Trafalgar Travel Centre (managed by Holiday Tours) at 03-6286 6220 for more information.