Russia is known as the historical cavern of socialist revolutions. It is often perceived with an air of secrecy around some of its bordering territories with UK Foreign Office providing advice about safe travel. But little is known about the beauty of the onion-domed churches spanning across 11 time zones, dotted with gingerbread cottages and steeped in the culture of Babushka dolls.
A Russian holiday is ideal from May to September when the White Nights revelry is at its peak. But planning one can be an intimidating process especially with regards to visa applications. Citizens with a British passport can either apply for a standard single-entry tourist visa (£100 approximately) or a standard dual entry tourist visa (£140 approximately). Both categories of visas are available only for 30 days.
London to Moscow in four hours and £50
Flights operate frequently from London to Moscow with the return trip costing as little as £50. There are several airports near Moscow including the Sheremetyevo-2 (28km from Moscow), and the Domodedovo (22km from Moscow). Whilst traveling to Russia is fairly easy, hopping within cities especially in the pocket un-friendly tourist destinations of Moscow and St. Petersburg can be a daunting affair. Rideshare options like Taxovichkoff, Uber and Yandex Taxi will help you navigate the Russian phrases and save the day whilst roaming within the cities. However, perhaps the best way of touring intra-city transfer is to hop on the overnight Red Arrow or the Sapsan Express Trains operating daily and taking less than 4 hours' journey time.
Red Square, Lenin’s Mausoleum and Bolshoi Theatre
Red Square is arguably Moscow’s most visited attraction surrounded by unforgettable sites such as the Kremlin, St.Basil’s Cathedral, Lenin’s Mausoleum. The remains of the Soviet state are scattered all around the city. Monuments remember fallen heroes and victorious battles, while museums attempt to analyse and synthesise the past. Bunker-42 Cold War Museum is a unique experience in itself. Nightlife in Moscow is starkly different yet similar to that in other European cities. The classical performing arts in Moscow are still among the best in the world from appreciating Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture to enjoying the ballerinas sizzle the night at Bolshoi Theatre.
Few traditions in Russia are as sacrosanct as the drinking of vodka, and any foreign notions of drinking it with orange juice or tonic are considered offensive.
St. Petersburg, Venice of the North
St Petersburg from its very inception was developed as a display of imperial Russia’s growing status in the world. An unrivalled modern city boasting 342 bridges over the mighty Neva River and elegant canals, it is dotted with Italianate mansions, earning comparisons to Venice. House to the Hermitage one can be enriched with a deep insight into the history of Egyptian mummies, Picasso art, world-class opera, and classical concerts. Contemporary art is also available at the fantastic Erarta Museum, the Street Art Museum. However, it is the legendary Summer White Nights and the glorious golden sunsets that paint the city in the romantic hues of Venice.
Whilst travelling in Russia, some things have to be taken into account. Be very careful about photographing stations, official-looking buildings and any type of military-security structure – Russian officials and bureaucrats are highly circumspect of British tourists. Russia, as Churchill said, is an enigmatic riddle and these two cities will only lead you back to the country to explore the unchartered hinterlands whilst boarding on the Trans Siberian Express the next time!