Customer Relations Executive Jasmine took a step out of our comfort zone and headed on a cultural trip of Moscow and St Petersburg. How did it compare to her usual holidays?
"For someone who is used to stepping off a plane into sunshine and 30 degree heat, I knew that Russia would be a brand new experience that took me well away from my comfort zone. Arriving into the bustling city of Moscow and beautiful blanket of snow, I was amazed by the rich architecture and it left me feeling intrigued as to what this city could offer.
After meeting the rest of the group we took a short walk to the Metro, where I was expecting to be greeted with an atmosphere similar to the London underground. However, I was pleasantly surprised and taken back by the amazing décor inside the station, as well as how clean it was– miles away from our daily commute experience.
After a short train ride we arrived in the famous Red Square and were welcomed by an array of lights and Christmas markets, coupled with the beautiful colours of St Basils Cathedral. Spending the day exploring the outside of the Kremlin, visiting Lenin’s Mausoleum, watching the change of the guards and shopping in the GUM department store, the day was quickly over and we were back on the Metro. Our Explore Leader, Arsen, showed us more incredible décor and artwork throughout the stations and it was evident that the Russian people take great pride in them.
For someone who knows little about the Russian culture and history, I was worried that the next day of the trip, visiting the Kremlin, would be unappealing for me. During our wait we met two young Ukrainians, who had travelled from their home town in Ukraine, all the way to Moscow, with little more than £20 in their pocket! It was great to hear that the adventurous spirit is still alive.
Walking through the rich red Spasskaya Tower to enter the Kremlin we braved the cold and were taken back in history, to the time of Ivan the Great. It’s not surprising that this rich history has lasted as long in a pristine condition – when we arrived into the Armoury museum we wore shoe covers to avoid any dirt getting on the carpets. Arsen’s passion and pride for his country was evident and I left the Kremlin feeling enriched and just wanting to know more.
One of my highlights was our free day in Moscow where we chose to do the optional excursion to Sergiev Posad. At the monastery we were escorted by a young Russian monk who had dedicated his life to the monastery and his religion. I was blown away by his devotion and equally by the beautiful structures inside the monastery. Detailed artwork covered every wall and ceiling, and although I am not religious, there was something truly magical about this place and left me feeling hopeful.
Next, we headed to St Petersburg on the overnight train which I was nervous about. However, it was immaculately clean and the beds were relatively comfortable. As you depart late evening and arrive into St Petersburg early morning the journey isn’t too long and once all passengers have settled in, you quickly drift off to the motion of the train.
The next 2 days were a blur, as there was so much to see and so much history to take in. We started off by visiting the well-known Winter Palace and Hermitage museum – with the fascinating artwork covering every wall and the amazing décor in each room, you could easily wander around this grand building for days and find something new to see. Our fantastic local guide Vera had a wealth of knowledge and was extremely passionate about the history of Russia.
Our next and final stop was to Catherine the Great’s Palace at Pushkin, which was just as grand, if not more, as the Hermitage with each room ornately decorated in its own style. Out of all the Russian history I learnt, my favourite was definitely the story of Catherine the Great.
I’ll admit that I’m in no way a history buff and I was worried that the trip wouldn’t be for me, but I have returned pleasantly surprised and inspired. This country has so much rich history to offer, there is something to see at every turn. Russia has definitely opened my mind and I’m now more inspired to travel beyond my comfort zones."