Following an overnight train from Moscow to St Petersburg, Education Team Member, Lewis, tells us more about his adventures in Russia…
We awoke at Moscovsky Train Station in St Petersburg to meet our new guide, Victoria, who took us firstly to Oktyabrskaya Hotel to check in and get breakfast. This hotel, at over a hundred years old, is a very impressive building in a very impressive part of town. Only a 5 minute walk from the famous Nevsky Prospect, this hotel is right around the corner from lots of shops and cafés. The need for cafés isn’t necessary when staying at this hotel though as the choice for the breakfast buffet was the best of the trip!
We took off on our sightseeing coach journey via Smolny Institute and Smolny Cathedral where, upon entering the latter, we heard an orthodox choir singing traditional Russian hymns whilst incense burnt and priests carried out religious ceremonies. It was a fascinating place which will stick out in my mind whenever I remember this week. Our next stop was Finland Station to see the statue of Lenin. It’s quite remarkable to view his statue commemorating such an important moment in the history of Russia!
We also got to see the Aurora Cruiser Museum Ship, completely frozen in the Neva River. You’d hardly have known this sheet of white snow was a river at all! After this, it was the Green Belt of Glory Memorial. I could go into the history which Victoria explained to us here but I would advise seeing and hearing these stories first hand!
As we arrived at the magnificent Peter and Paul Fortress, we were warned of the daily midday gunshot about to happen. Thank goodness we’d been briefed on this as the deafening sound would have given me a serious shock otherwise! Here, we saw the sarcophagi of Peter the Great and his whole family in a room decorated with more gold than Fort Knox – it was simply beautiful.
We ate dinner at a food hall en route to Pushkin to see the spectacular and prodigious Catherine Palace. I thought that Peter and Paul Fortress exhibited a lot of gold, but Catherine Palace was something else! The original residence of Catherine I of Russia, this place boasted the wealth of the royalty who once inhabited it. Following on from our afternoon in Pushkin we went for dinner in downtown Nevsky Prospect and watched a folklore evening of traditional Russian songs and stories which have been collated over time from families around the country who’ve passed on these songs and tales from generation to generation!
After a large selection from the breakfast buffet, we hit the road for our final stop in St Petersburg. We had three hours, but you could have spent 3 weeks in this place and you’d still have more to see of the three million items showcased in over 120 rooms of the Hermitage Museum. There is artwork in here spanning decades, centuries, even millennia if you count the ancient Egyptian exhibition. With ceilings fifteen feet high and an entrance as impressive as any we’d seen in Russia so far, this museum housed priceless artworks from Michelangelo’s Crouching Boy Statue to Raphael’s Madonna and Child and from Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna Litta to a room filled with Rembrandt’s masterpieces. For the history buffs, there’s an unravelled mummy in the ancient Egypt room which is just fascinating!
The coach journey back to the airport was filled with yawns as we said our goodbyes to Russia. It had been a very busy week and we were all beginning to feel it! When we boarded the plane, I was lucky enough to get a window seat and peered out over the winter wonderland of a snowy St Petersburg horizon before falling asleep for the entirety of the flight, quite happy to open my eyes to a rainy (but not below freezing) English runway.
Russia surpassed my expectations in every way. Its beautiful and diverse architecture, clearly impacted by both European and Asian influences, is a gateway into the country’s rich culture and fascinating history. Whether your syllabus aims at highlighting the Cold War, The Russian Revolution or Tsarist Russia in all of its glory, there is an abundance of captivating museums and enriching activities that will bring the history of this fascinating country to life for you and your students.
Missed Part One in Moscow?