Russia has such a treasure trove of rich art and antiquities that visitors stand marvelled at the splendour of this fascinating and distant land
On our arrival at the airport, after a flight of nearly three hours from Paris after a visit to Mont St Michel, we landed at St Petersburg. The immigration officer flipped bewilderingly through our passports and asked us whether we were from Mauritania. It took us all the pain in the world to explain the location of our tiny country on the world map. Eventually he and his colleague burst into a thunderous laughter in disbelief. The problem with Russia is the language barrier; the Iron Curtain had closed the doors for so long to the outside world. No one seems to speak or understand a single word of English in the streets or in the metro. But the exquisite hidden beauty and splendour of the country allayed all our problems. While humming the melodious evergreen song of Matt Monro’s From Russia with Love of James Bond’s film, we began to explore the hidden mysterious treasures of Russia.
Russia has such a treasure trove of rich art and antiquities that visitors stand marvelled at the splendour of this fascinating and distant land with its imperial twin cities of Moscow and St Petersburg. It has metamorphosed into a creative and modern metropolis, home to the largest number of billionaires in the world. For lovers of literature and music, it is the land of wonder that has produced such an array of prolific writers like Tolstoy, Gogol, Solzhenitsyn, Chekhov, Dostoevsky, and music composers like Tchaikovsky, Borodine, Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Rimsky-Korsakov. It is a fertile land of artistic creativity against a background of rigorous winter.
An exploration of Hermitage Museum – a sort of nirvana for the lovers of art – becomes the highlight of our visit to St Petersburg. It has one of the world’s most valuable and largest art collections. British Museum, Louvres and Sistine Chapel all have their own specificities, but Hermitage museum stands out as almost unique. The Museum occupies five impressive buildings on the bank of River Neva in the heart of St Petersburg. On the day of our visit we came across a mammoth crowd waiting eagerly to watch the opening of the bridges on Neva River. We were told by a tourist-friend that we had missed the midnight sun by only a few days. Many tourists have swarmed to St Petersburg to watch such an unusual event.
The collection of Hermitage Museum featuring over 3 million artefacts represents the development of world culture and art from the Stone Age to the 20th century. We stood marvelled at the paintings of Rembrandt and the sculpture of the crouching boy of Michello Angelo as we elbowed our way through the hustle and bustle of a compact crowd and taking snaps here and there. We visited the room of Dostoevsky, the prolific author of ‘Crime and Punishment’. It was the room where he spent his last two years writing ‘The Karamazov Brothers’. He was an inveterate smoker and died of lung cancer. while visiting the palace of Felix Yusupov we shivered at the evocation of the assassination of Rasputin.
In the evening we were treated to a cultural show of Russian folkoric dance and music depicting the Cossacks, reminiscent of the film ‘Taras Boulba’ featuring Yul Brynner. We caught the soul of the Russian culture. The following evening we attended a ballet concert of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake at the historic Mariinsky Theatre and that amply deserved a standing ovation for the artists. The splendours of all the cathedrals notably St Isaac and the Saviour of the Blood Spilt added more beauty to our visit. A cruise on the Canals Moyka, Griboyedov and Fontanka brought to light the monumental architecture of the town with its numerous bridges. The statue of Peter the Great still dominates the town. A visit to Tsar’s Winter Palace was to delve deep into the tumultuous history of Russia.
After such a hectic exploration, we then embarked on a high speed train trip for 5 hours to Moscow amid the bustling station across the virgin forests of this vast land. Moscow is an ancient city full of remarkable architecture and monuments to fallen heroes, a cauldron of creativity and culture as well as the country’s political, economic, religious and financial hub. Red Square stands majestically with such a long history behind it.
We took the metro and we found ourselves among the Moscovites, hospitable and friendly. The Moscow Metro is said to be like a gorgeous Russian history museum, with its numerous wall paintings eulogizing communism, and the portraits of Stalin and Lenin overshadowing the place. St Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin’s walls attract millions of tourists every year. Chinese tourists taking the train from Beijing to Moscow thronged the square. The shopping malls of Gum and Tsum buzzed with activities. We stood silent before the tombs of Russian leaders and we visited the mausoleum of Lenin in religious silence after waiting in a queue for almost 2 hours. We paid a silent tribute to this great Russia hero who moulded the destiny of Russia. But we had mixed feelings when we went past the tomb of Stalin. The tomb of Yuri Gagarin, the first astronaut to the moon, was also there, where he lay in peace. At the entrance of Red Square a huge statue of Karl Marx dominates the area.
We have explored the best in Russia and will always cherish the memories. With Glasnost and Perestroika, a new challenging era has dawned on this country after the fall of communism.