When, Where & What the Guides Were Like
I visited Russia from late May to early June 2013 with a group organized by a university. We visited Moscow, St. Petersburg, Sergiev Posad, Suzdal, Vladimir, and Novgorod. I’m glad I went when I did because it might be politically rocky for Americans travel there over the next few years. Going with a group had its pros and cons. I chose this trip because I wanted to see more than St. Petersburg (which has a far more European feel than anywhere else in Russia), but going to other cities requires basic knowledge of Russian, which I don’t have. Plus the visa thing is somewhat complicated and the group pretty much took care of that for us, which was a total life saver. We had a better local guide for the St. Petersburg leg of the trip as opposed to the Moscow leg of the trip, so there’s some give and take. The tour guide in Moscow seemed to take any questions we had as a criticism of her knowledge, which to be fair, some of the people in the group might have been doing (some probably inadvertently).
What This Group Trip Was Like & How It Was Different From Rick Steves
This group was unlike the Rick Steves group I travelled with in Croatia in that the travelers had different mentalities. They were far more interested in the academic side of things. Duh Lauren, it’s a trip organized by a university. My personal preference is to do a wider variety of activities and see more culture than just focusing on historic sites and museums. I think Rick Steves gave me really high expectations. Thanks Rick, for ruining all other trips for me. Sheesh. I kid, I really enjoyed this trip and the opportunity to see all the things I did, I just had to prepare mentally for a different style of trip, but like most unknowns, I didn’t know exactly what to prepare for. The biggest lesson I’ve learned from traveling is don’t stress and don’t complain. Those things will do absolutely nothing to improve your experience. Just relax and take it in stride.
I took this trip with my cousin, who attended to the university that organized the trip, and my dad. I shared a room with my cousin while my dad had a roommate who was a stranger. He was great. In fact, he and his wife came to visit us and Seattle and I think we’ll be friends for a long time.
The highlights of the trip were the Hermitage (I wish we could have spent days there. The museum itself has incredible architecture.), Catherine’s Palace, Peterhof (Peter’s Palace), Tolstoy’s summer home, and the art museums, including the Pushkin Museum, and Tretyakov Gallery. I liked seeing the Kremlin, Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Moscow Metro Stations (and taking the metro), and seeing two ballets (I kind of fell asleep during one. Oops. Jet lag man. Word of the wise: don’t schedule a night outing within the first two days of your trip.) I enjoyed getting to see smaller cities too. The museum Museum of Russian Icons in Novgorod was particularly interesting.
A few other notes:
The food: Ok, not great. I’m kind of a fussy eater, so I’m hard to please. The only country I’ve travelled to where I enjoyed the food was France. Because we were a group, we had scheduled lunches and they were the same everyday regardless of the restaurant. Unfortunately the salads always had a lot of chopped cucumber pieces and I’m allergic to cucumbers. One morning the eggs labeled “hard-boiled” were raw, not sure what happened there. Also, Russian chocolate is not particularly sweet, which might be a pro or a con, depending on your preference.
Weddings: We saw a number of brides and wedding parties. The brides had extravagant dresses, often somewhat risqué for what looked like a church wedding. The wedding parties also seemed to be drinking a lot, quite the wedding tradition. No judgment, if I have a wedding the alcohol will be free-flowing.
Churches: We saw so many churches. Part of this is because there is so much history and culture that are a part of many of Russia’s churches and religion and government have had a fluctuating relationship. This also might have been our trip leader’s preference. Women must cover their head with a scarf in Russian Orthodox churches. I saw women who didn’t and I cringed.
Museums: It’s considered rude to keep your coat on in a museum, so always check it at the coat check.