St. Petersburg, Moscow and Suzdal and the journey in between gives us the first flavor of Russia. We love Russia. First of all, it is simply cool to be in Russia. The largest country on earth and there are so many things said about it in history classes, television and the news. So, time to experience ourselves!
Also, we like the people. The Russians are a lot more open than I remember when I was in St. Petersburg in 2001. At that time, asking a question or ordering some food often ended up in grumpy faces or people ignoring you completely. Today, everyone is kind and open, even though their English (as is our Russian) is often limited. I don’t know if this is because people are more used to Western tourists or because it was -20 degrees in 2001…
Meanwhile, we can read the Cyrillic alphabet more or less. Which makes us feel like a kid again as we try to read out loud every sign and package and are proud if we understand it. As if we just learn to read. The difference is that we have often no clue what it means. Although, there are more words similar to Dutch or English than we thought. All in all we manage ourselves in Russian language with a little help of the few English words they know locally, our five words of Russian, Google translate and our very good imitations of chickens and cows.
St. Petersburg is like an open-air museum and gives you non-stop impressive buildings to look at. Large buildings overloaded with decorations, huge cathedrals, churches and wide-open avenues. Some avenues never seem to stop. It is overwhelming. When in St. Petersburg you can’t miss the Hermitage, which is one of the biggest (obviously) art museum in the world. It’s located in the former winter palace – another huge impressive building – which is with 1.500 rooms too small and why the huge buildings around it are also part of the museum. You literally can spend days and you still will not have seen it all. Our strategy is to see the famous Dutch painters and Kandinsky – my favorite one – and everything we come across in between. For us this is enough and to be perfectly honest more a tick in the box to have seen Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Monet, Picasso, and so on. What is most impressive is to get a feel of the size and as everywhere in St. Petersburg the rich decorations inside.
In St. Petersburg we also experience the first rain since the night we arrived in Berlin. And what do you do in St. Petersburg when it rains? You go underground! As the subway is an experience on its own. The escalators take about 2.5 minutes, not because it goes so slowly, they go much faster than we are used to. It takes so long as they are one of the world’s deepest subway stations. If you think of it, it is amazing. The city is built on a swamp and the subway is built 100-meter underground to go underneath the river Neva. No clue how this city with the huge buildings and a massive underground system all stays in place on a swamp! And of course, like everything in St. Petersburg the old stations are richly decorated. It is a funny picture. Most people pass by in a hurry not even noticing the decorations. In between some tourists, like us, making pictures and at the end of the station, artists who are concentrated on their paintings.
In St. Petersburg we take the train overnight – the so called red arrow, which again looks stately – to the next big city: Moscow. Moscow is different. Moscow comes across more as big and happening city than an open-air museum, or are we little bit used to all those buildings…? Except for the Kremlin area, which is impressive. It has beautiful colors and simply the fact of standing on the oh so famous red square is a great feeling! Did you know that the name red square has nothing to do with communism but derives from the word “krasnyi” which ones meant “beautiful”? We like those nice-to-know facts you pick up while traveling. In Moscow, other than the walking around the Kremlin we focus on the city vibes rather than go around to see more cathedrals and large buildings. We take it easy, stroll around and have some drinks on a terrace. Enjoy Moscow. Enjoy life.
After almost a week of big Russian cities we’re happy to go to Suzdal, a little village close to Moscow. Outside Moscow it looks different. We see ugly soviet buildings, old factories, broken streets, dirty cars, debris and no fashionable people anymore. Is this ‘the real’ Russia? Probably too early to say as Russia is huge. Suzdal is different again and turns out to be a cute little village, with old wooden colorful houses in between 40 churches in all sorts, sizes and colors. We only travelled two hours outside Moscow and what a contrasts! We can’t wait to see more of Russia!