Moscow and St Petersburg have always remained pivotal to Eastern Europe’s culture and unsurprisingly harbour some of the world’s most influential history, finest architecture, most stunning art and artefact collections, and thus almost always feature on today’s travellers’ wish lists of ‘must see’ destinations.
First to Moscow – for many steeped in mystery, the grand “Cold War” Soviet parades are long gone now, yet the city still retains a tantalising, almost remoteness from Europe’s other great capitals. Top of any visitor’s list is the extraordinary Kremlin complex, three cathedrals, great palaces, the Senate, the remarkable Treasury plus several grand squares and towers. Equally recognisable are St Basil’s Cathedral with its amazing multi-coloured domes, plus the monumental Red Square – home to Lenin’s tomb, whose worldwide influence like Stalin’s, remains undeniable if somewhat tainted.
Next, one of the world’s most beautiful cities, St Petersburg, Imperial capital of the Tsars, founded in 1703 by Peter the Great and truly worthy of an emperor! The majestic boulevards and splendid baroque buildings, threaded by winding canals and set amongst great parks are so redolent of the classical Italy which inspired Peter’s great vision.
A magnificent monument of old Russia, the Tsar’s winter palace, the Hermitage houses one of the world’s finest art collections; the magnificent St Isaac’s Cathedral is simply inspiring and the waterfront’s grandeur has to be seen to be believed. The Peter and Paul Fortress with its ornate cathedral featuring marbled columns and glittering chandeliers is the Romanovs’ final resting place. Then there is the Kirov (now known as the Mariinsky), one of the world’s most famous ballet companies where Nureyev, Nijinsky and Anna Pavlova gained worldwide recognition.
A night at the ballet* is surely something not to be missed when in Russia, the home of classical ballet. Performances at some of the top theatres in both Moscow and St Petersburg can sell out within hours of going on sale, and ticket prices can be eye watering. The small and intricately decorated Hermitage Theatre (part of the Hermitage Complex) was commissioned by Catherine the Great as her own private theatre, where she frequently enjoyed performances with a small and select crowd of invitees. Nowadays the theatre hosts frequent performances of the popular ballet, Swan Lake, with a view to opening ballet up to a wider audience. A free seating policy is operated, as there is no such thing as a bad or restricted view in this small venue. What could be better than following in the steps of Catherine the Great for an evening of sophisticated entertainment?