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10 ways to enjoy Russia

The Moscow Kremlin. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE RUSSIAN EMBASSY

To the intrepid traveler in search of exotic sites and adventures, Russia is the perfect starting point for the trip of a lifetime.

Aside from being the largest country in the world, spanning two continents and covering 1/7 of the earth’s total land area, Russia is also home to some of the most awe-inspiring natural and manmade wonders on the planet. (Some of the most widely televised events in the world will be held there, such as the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in November and the July 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.)

If the mere thought of navigating your way through this vast territory overwhelms you, fear not. Here are some must-sees and dos to get you started.

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Winter Palace. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE RUSSIAN EMBASSY

Moscow

1. Get to know Russia’s rich and colorful past in Moscow. Start at the Kremlin and get to know the seat of Russian political power. Inhabited since the 2nd century BC and known as a kremlin (“fortress”) beginning 1331, here is where you’ll see five palaces, four cathedrals, as well as the official residence of the president of the Russian Federation. The Moscow Kremlin is also home to what the Unesco describes as “religious monuments of exceptional beauty,” such as the Church of the Annunciation and the Church of the Archangel, as well as the Senate and the historic Red Square.

Another interesting tidbit about Moscow: It is home to the largest number of billionaires in any other city in the world—beating New York by a handful of ultra-rich citizens. If you’d like to get more than the usual taste of glitz and glamour, Moscow is the place to be in.

St. Petersburg

2. Feel like a tsar in St. Petersburg. Approximately 400 miles from Moscow and only 90 minutes via a nonstop flight on Aeroflot, St. Petersburg is home to some of the most stunning palaces in the world. Peterhof (Petrodvorets) is a complex of palaces and gardens commissioned by Peter the Great in the early 1700s, and is known as the “Russian Versailles.” It is recognized as a Unesco World Heritage Site, with some famous attractions such as the Grand Palace and the fountain complex known as the Grand Cascade.

Perhaps even grander than Peterhof is the Tsarkoe Selo (Pushkin), which was built by the Romanov tsars in the 18th century and is known to be a symbol of Russian opulence and extravagance. But more displays of grandeur abound in St. Petersburg.

 

Golden Ring

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St. Basil’s Cathedral. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE RUSSIAN EMBASSY

3. Take a tour around the “Golden Ring,” and explore Russia’s spiritual side. The Golden Ring is a cluster of cities toward the northeast of Moscow, which has become popular with tourists for its many churches, monasteries, and a taste of the Russian pastoral life.

The closest stop would be Sergiev Posad (approximately 83 miles from Moscow), home of the ancient monastery founded by Sergey Radonezhskiy, a saint of the Russian Orthodox Church.

For a more rustic feel, head out to Suzdal (approximately 134 miles and four hours by land from Moscow), and find yourself surrounded by 12th- to 13th-century churches and monasteries. While there, make sure to try medovukha, a light alcoholic drink made from honey.

Lake Baikal

4. If you think Russia is all pomp and overindulgence, head over to Lake Baikal in southeastern Siberia (six hours by plane from Moscow to Irkutsk) for a more down-to-earth experience with Mother Nature’s glory. A place of many superlatives, Lake Baikal is the world’s oldest lake (25 million years old) and also its deepest (1,700 meters deep). It is also the world’s largest unfrozen freshwater reserve and is home to some of the world’s richest freshwater faunas, cited by the Unesco for its “exceptional value to evolutionary science.”

Vodka

5. Indulge in vodka, one of the world’s most popular drinks. No trip is complete without sampling a country’s cuisine, but no trip to Russia would be authentic without a sip (or a glass, or more) of vodka. First produced over 600 years ago, vodka is made by distilling grains such as rye, wheat and barley, and then filtering the liquid with birch charcoal.

Its long and fascinating history has survived the Prohibition era, and it has likewise been instrumental to the wealth and the power of the Russian state.

For a closer look at how vodka is made, take a tour at Cristall, Russia’s largest vodka distillery, located in Moscow.

Art and culture

6. Immerse yourself in fine art and high culture—all in St. Petersburg. The Russians certainly love culture, as seen in more than 2,000 libraries and more than 200 museums and galleries that have been established in St. Petersburg alone.

One of the world’s largest museums, the State Hermitage Museum houses more than three million items and is known for its grand art collection.

For something more intimate and quaint, head over to the (Fyodor) Dostoyevsky Memorial Apartment Museum, where the “Crime and Punishment” author resided during the last three years of his life. Aside from a reconstruction of the Dostoyevsky family home, the museum also houses art exhibits and a small theater for conferences, poetry readings and performances.

Russian ballet

7. Fall in love with (or at!) the Russian ballet. Although ballet was really a French import, the Westernization program of Peter the Great and the establishment of St. Petersburg’s Imperial School of Ballet paved the way, centuries later, for the careers of such important names as Anna Pavlova, Mikhail Foskine and Nijinsky.

Today, one of the most prestigious dance companies is the Bolshoi Ballet, housed at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Several well-loved productions are lined up this October, including “Swan Lake,” “Don Quixote” and “Spartacus.” (Visit www.bolshoi.ru/en/)

 

Matryoshka dolls

8. Take home a set of matryoshka dolls. Perhaps the most iconic of Russian souvenir items is the matryoshka or the babushka dolls, nesting dolls that were first introduced at the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris. Usually made of linden or birch, and then hand-painted, matryoshka dolls became globally popular in the 20th century and were manufactured in Sergiev Posad and Semenov, outside Moscow.

Today, the best place to find a wide variety of gift items is in Izmaylovo Market, Moscow. Before heading out there, remember to wear comfortable shoes and clothing, as your shopping trip could easily last the whole day.

Moscow Metro

9. Travel like a local, in style. One of the most magnificent contributions of the Stalin era is Moscow’s opulent metro system, with stations built as “people’s palaces.” Constructed in the 1930s, the Moscow Metro was built by some of Russia’s best architects and artists, and featured fine examples of different architectural styles, iconography, art.

One of the more popular stations is Mayakovskaya, featuring a sky-theme Art Deco mosaic by Alexander Deineka. If you intend to check out each station, give yourself a few days as there are now over 170 stations in all.

Traveling around Russia

10. Tour the vast expanse of Russia. You may want to try Aeroflot, which flies to 28 destinations there. It is also practical to take as it offers connections to other local cities.  (Contact its Philippine ticketing office at 7592191 and 7592192; or e-mail

info@aeroflot.ph)

There is truly much more to Russia than meets the eye, and it offers many unforgettable experiences to those who open themselves up to its charms. Although it may seem like a world away to many Filipinos, in truth, Russia is much closer and more accessible than many of us think. With a bit of research and planning, a few tips from the experts, and a lot of gumption for adventure and exotic cultures, the trip of your dreams could be just a plane ride away.

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TAGS: Moscow, Russia, St. Petersburg, Travel
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