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Published: October 8th 2018
St. Petersburg is the cultural capital of Russia. What gems it holds for its people and for us visitors! This tour has crammed in so many activities, museums, palaces, magnificent royal residences that I will definitely look to travel with Trafalgar again. To name only a few: we've been to the Hermitage, St. Isaac's Cathedral, summer and winter residences, everywhere that is listed as a highlight or as a must-see. On our last morning in St. Petersburg, before boarding the high speed train to Moscow, we took a boat cruise on the canals to get another perspective on the "Venice of the North." One very funny thing that happened while we were cruising was as our boat was ready to pass under one of the many canal bridges we saw a man standing in the middle of that bridge crazily waving to us. Of course we waved back and continued motoring along. At the next bridge there he was again, and at the next and the one after that. There are 342 bridges crossing the canals of St. Petersburg, and he was following our boat's route, running alongside the canal. When we finally noticed his running beside us, many on our boat cheered him on, hoping he would get to the next bridge before our boat passed under. He made it each time, although barely on some of them, and when our cruise turned around to head off on another canal we all waved good-bye as he blew us kisses. Such delightful entertainment, but cynically I wondered if he was paid by the city, or even the government, to perform for visitors. And then, on yet another bridge, long after we had thought he had been left behind or trotted off in a different direction, there he was again, standing in the middle, waving both arms and still smiling crazily and blowing kisses. A cheer went up from our boat (startling our local guide and disrupting her commentary). He continued running alongside us as we headed towards our destination. As we docked and deboarded, he was standing there to greet us, no hat or can to collect money, but I gave him 100 rubles (approximately $1.50 in American dollars) for such a delightful and unique street performance. He added great happiness to our morning's cruise. Russians certainly have a sense of humor!
Our group said good-bye to St. Petersburg and boarded our train, the Sapsan, a four hour's journey and currently the fastest way to reach Moscow. A new road is almost finished, being constructed between these two major cities, but we were lucky enough to be among the last tour groups to take the train; future groups will almost definitely make the drive. Going through several security areas wasn't much fun, but we all survived the crowded process which was actually relatively easy. Riding the train was enjoyable; Russian trains are modern, organized, and very clean. Four hours flew quickly by, and then there we were in Moscow. I felt great excitement, for some reason more so than when arriving in St. Petersburg, perhaps because there was no rain here and the weather was warm, summerlike. Traffic was bad, but expected, and our hotel, like the ones in Helsinki and in St. Petersburg, was conveniently near everything we could possibly want or need.
Moscow is beautiful! Yes, there are statues dedicated to war "heroes," but there are also parks and statues honoring Russian poets, writers, artists. Our three days here were surprisingly delightful and, sadly, again too short a time. Who would've thought this city would be so enjoyable?
Friday night part of our group went on an optional tour to see and explore the Metro system, one of the most beautiful in the world. I've been in countless metro stations and systems worldwide, but had read that Moscow's was the best. This I had to see. I had debated exploring the underground on my own but was having so much fun with new friends, and enjoying Malcolm's and our local guides' commentaries so much that I decided to sign on for this group experience. Statues, mosaics, stained glass, chandeliers adorn these stations, although at rush hour it was so crowded that at first it was impossible to stop to try to enjoy these exceptional works of art without losing sight of the group. Ten million people ride the Moscow Metro daily, an impressive and astonishing number of commuters, and for one evening we were a part of those rushing masses.
One of the most magnificent sights in Moscow was seeing St. Basil's Cathedral, both in the daylight and then again later on at night as the almost full moon was rising beside and then over the cathedral. I had taken a university course on Russia a few years ago, and one of the professors had told us it was a must to see Red Square at night, preferably with a loved one close beside; it was such a romantic spot. A good friend was with me and we explored the area together, taking in the lights decorating the famous Gum store, marvelling that we were apparently freely meandering in Moscow, in Red Square, watching the stunning moon rise over the equally stunning St. Basil's Cathedral. I wouldn't describe the feeling of being there as romantic, but perhaps our professor had been a young man when he first went to Moscow, full of yearnings, dreams, and desires, or maybe in love for the first time. I was happy and content to simply be there, watching the people mill around, hearing the lovely bells announcing an imminent church service, watching the moon's path cross over and beyond St. Basil's, purely grateful to be in Moscow, enjoying its beguiling Red Square at night.
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