A Cultural Tour of Russia

Cruise past the Kremlin

story and photos by Jennifer Parkyn

Cruise past the KremlinIf you sometimes dream of onion domed churches and ancient monasteries, of vast palaces and galleries, of operas and ballets, then a visit to Russia should be in your plans.

In late May and early June last year, I and three friends visited Russia with a small-group tour company called East-West Tours out of Washington State.  The tour was for 13 days at a cost of US$2,599 (land only) and included Moscow, the Golden Ring around Moscow and St. Petersburg.  We added a day at the front to give us time to recover from jet lag after flying  from Vancouver by Lufthansa.  Arrival was easy even a day early as we only had to check in at a designated desk at the airport before being taken to the Hotel Borodino, a bit out of the centre but only 8 minutes, walk from a metro station.  The next morning, our free day, after a late buffet breakfast, we set out by metro to take a boat cruise through the centre of the city.  We caught the boat near Kievskaya station which is one of the many ornate metro stations for which Moscow is famous.  This metro station had fine murals, while others have sculptures or ceiling decorations.  None had graffitti.  Our 1½ hour cruise cost about $13 and took us right past the parks, the Kremlin and finished by the Novopasky walled monastery –  a well worthwhile trip.

A Moscow Metro stationWe had a quick look at the Monastery, followed by a pizza lunch and then took another metro to Kitay Gorad. We spent the afternoon following Lonely Planet’s walking tour from here to St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square. This easily-recognized cathedral is a fantasy of brilliant colored onion domes.  I do not think Disney could outdo it!  We toured inside for $5 as it is now a museum and saw the painted walls and icons. When we came out we had to skirt the side of the famous square as there were festival events going on such as boxing in the centre.  But we were able to cut through the famous G.U.M. store which is actually a two-storey arcade of multiple shops.  It has reverted from the Stalin-era ‘people’s store’ to its former role as a covered shopping arcade for the well off , featuring expensive international name brands. Another metro ride took us back to our hotel with a stop to pick up a bottle of wine for happy hour – under $10 for a Chilean Merlot that had travelled a long way.  We had dinner at a nearby Japanese/Chinese restaurent. A stir-fry with rice, ice cream and tea cost $18 each with tip.  It had been a good day.

The next day we awoke to mixed sun and cloud. Our guide for Moscow – Kasana – met us as planned at 9.45 a.m. together with the other six tour members.  We boarded a van-style bus and then spent three hours stuck in traffic on Garden Boulevard that circles Moscow!  Talk about frustrating.  Moscow appears to be prospering too quickly for the roads to keep up with the cars.  Maybe East-West will change this portion of the tour.  Anyway, Kasana gave up after 1 p.m and bailed us out of the van at Arbat St, a colourful pedestrain street with buskers.  We ate lunch at Moo Moo, one of a chain of affordable cafeteria-style restaurants where soup of the day, a blini (a bit like a crepe) with meat stuffing and a cherry drink cost $15 each.  After a stroll down the street, we took the metro to Novodichy convent. This 16-17th century walled convent was for the rich and famous – Peter the Great sent his wife there – but today it is best known for its cemetery. We wandered through and found the tombs of Ulanova, the renowned ballerina, as well as both Stalin’s wife and Yeltsin’s. We returned to the hotel by metro … far quicker than by road!