Splendours of Russia
by Humera Ahmed
I heard with a great deal of excitement the news of PM Modi's offer, at the 5th Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia of a billion dollar loan,for the development of Far East Russia. It was a matter of pride that India was offering a loan to a mighty country,once a super power. But the main reason for my renewed interest in Russia, was my recent visit to Moscow and St Petersburg last month. I was amazed by the grandeur of the architecture of Tsarist and Stalinist buildings and overwhelmed by its rich culture and the splendid and efficient infrastructure especially the rail systems: metro and intercity .The metro stations were like palaces or museums with sculpture ,paintings and chandeliers – perhaps the most beautiful metro stations in the world .While travelling to Petersburg by train we experienced the high quality of its service. Russia has a wonderful network of trains ,most famous being the Trans Siberian Railway between Moscow and Vladivostok-covering a distance of nearly 6000km.
I visited Russia with a tourist group from 12 th to 17th August - a whirlwind tour which left one desiring to see more. The country has so much to see and experience.
The five days were packed. Landing at 3pm on 12th,it was 5pm by the time we checked in at the hotel. And then an hour later we went off to see the famous Russian Circus.
The next day visited the iconic Kremlin - Cathedral square and Red square. Our charming and vivacious guide gave us interesting insights into Tsarist and Soviet history as she pointed out the famous landmarks; the Tsar bell which never rang and the canon which never fired and the history of fabulously ornate Cathedral of Annunciation where the Tsars had their ceremonies.
The splendid Kremlin Armory overawed us by the brilliance and magnificence of the collection which had besides armory, royal thrones, regalia, silver and gold table ware , embroidered items, royal dresses, carriages, – gifts made to the Tsars etc.
We travelled by Metro – just two stations, so as to experience it. Then visited Red Square where we posed for photographs at the iconic St Basils Church and brought souvenir items from the rows of shops around. In between we had lunch at an Indian Restaurant.
On 14th, after a visit to the Tretekov State Gallery and lunch, we boarded the train for St Peters burg., reaching it four hours later after a relaxed journey through the alpine forested countryside.
St Petersburg,built by Peter the Great in 1703 is Russia’s second largest city and cultural capital.A UNESCO World Heritage city, it is named after the apostle St Peter. Situated on the river Neva, it is a major Port on the Baltic sea. It has an Opera and several theatres and nearly 200 Museums, the largest of which is the Hermitage built by Catherine the Great in 1764.
Peter the Great, had envisaged
it to be the Venice of East with its network of canals and with buildings built in brick in European style. I was impressed with the city. It was grand with several magnificient buildings such as the Hermitage, St Isaac’s Cathedral and Church of the Savior of Spilled Blood. Some 25 km away is Pushkin where the Tsars spent the summer and where the opulent palace of Catherine the Great is located Our guide, attractive, informative and witty, took us through the ornate and dazzling Hermitage collection, pointing out the most notable exhibits through a three and half hour tour. If one intends to see the whole place in detail , it would have taken days, so vast is the palace and so numerous the collections which the guide reminded us often that “these were purchased at auctions.”
St Isaacs Cathedral is another magnificent example of the stupendous and ornate building style of Tsarist Russia. The dome nearly 333 ft from the ground is gold plated with statues of twelve angels, its bronze doors etched with fine reliefs and its gilded interiors have strikingly beautiful paintings.
In the evening we saw a delightful folk show at the Nikolayevsky Palace and enjoyed the snacks and champagne served during break.
On 16th – went to the Summer Palace of Catherine , the glitz and opulence of which I have no words to describe . .. Catherine's life was remarkable. She came to power after a coup d’état which she organized deposing her husband Peter III. During her time Russia was revitalized, it became stronger and larger and one of the great powers of Europe. From the guide we heard of her lovers and I decided to see the HBO movie starring Helen Mirrien as Catherine.
In the afternoon visited Peter and Paul Fortress and the Church of the same name where the tombs of the Tsars and Tsarina’s are located. Then went on a delightful cruise down the river Neva which has numerous bridges spanning it.
Then late night to the theatre for a ballet- Swan Lake – performed by local artist which was different from the Bolshoi Ballet- The Swan which I had seen during the Russian Festival in Delhi.
The next day we left at 5am for Moscow by train, to catch the flight for Mumbai via Sharjah, exhausted but dazzled by the sights and sounds of Russia but not the taste for the agency which took us had Indian meals at Indian Restaurants with a set routine Menu. The heavily packed tour gave no opportunity to try out the local dishes. But never mind – may be I could put Russian Food on my bucket list together with a Trans-Siberian journey from Moscow to Vladivostok and a visit to Kazan, capital of Tataristan- on the confuence of Volga and Kazanka Rivers which has a harmonious mix of ethinic groups - the major being Russian and Tartar. ***