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Leaving London, as we checked in at Heathrow, we had two different people review our visas for validity!  And then they were examined again once we arrived, very carefully.  Our hotel is required to register with the authorities that we are here, and we carry an official document along with our passports at all times.  These are the things that you expect.  Yet, when you walk around Moscow, it is barely indistinguishable from many other big cities.  Many of the same stores and restaurants we saw on Oxford Street or Michigan Avenue are here on Tverskaya Street.


Arriving in Moscow was impressive.  First, we actually got all of our luggage, and it came out right away.  (You will recall that we lost a bag at Heathrow, which took a day to repatriate!  This has led us to create a pool of sorts.  Would you hazard a guess as to how many bags will be waylaid during the course of our trip.  For details, see Yannis' Notes.)  Our drive into Moscow (Mocквa) was also interesting.  As you drive into the city there is one gold-leafed onion dome after another! 




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Moscow in flowers!



First up on our list of things to see - Red Square with Lenin's Tomb, St. Basil's Cathedral, and the Kremlin.  (These are all adjacent.)

Red Square   O

As we arrived at the Kremlin, there were barricades and military men blocking our way on to Red Square and also the cathedral!  As we watched, there were some people who appeared to have tickets and were allowed by the military men to pass through the barricades (after a close inspection of the ticket and their passports, of course).  We watched for a while, and there were a couple of hundred uniformed military men standing in formation in front of Lenin's Tomb.  Occasionally, a band played and then several speakers spoke.  When the whole thing broke up, a platoon of men marched off the Square carrying tables two by two.  Other groups marched off.  Lastly came a ragtag platoon, two of whom were carrying a rolled up red carpet between them.  It much have been heavy.  Every 20 steps or so the put the rug down and switched places.  (We learned from the English language newspaper, that this was a graduation ceremony.)


ZE2G7948.jpg A parade on red square.


ZE2G7953.jpg And from the other side of Red Square.



ZE2G7967.jpg And off they go.

Not everyone was interested in the parade, but we appreciate her effort to reduce the book load ;-).  ZE2G7971.jpg


Since Red Square was still blocked off, we walked around the Kremlin.  We can assure you, this place is huge.  To get past Red Square, we walked through an enormous, gorgeous shopping mall, referred to as G.U.M.  (Sorry, no idea what it stands for!). 


After a spot of lunch, Red Square was finally open, but Lenin's Tomb was still closed.  That's okay, the kids were not looking forward to seeing a "dead guy." 


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                                                                                                        In front of Lenin's Tomb



St. Basil's Cathedral

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A couple of looks at St. Basils Cathedral


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Not being thrilled with the lighting, Yannis really wanted to go back to catch the evening light on St. Basil's towers, but of course, the whole of Red Square was closed off that evening for some event, so the rightmost photo was the best he could do - from the other end of the square and across a busy street.  Maybe next time :-)


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We had fun in the Alexander Garden, playing in the fountains and looking at all the fairytale statues.  Unfortunately, the line to buy tickets for the Kremlin was hours long.  We'll try again tomorrow. 


The Kremlin

ZE2G8089.jpgZE2G8035.jpg Touring the Kremlin is a little like touring the White House - there are lots of people actually working there!  The police were vigilant - no one was allowed to walk on the streets or to enter certain areas which made it look like a ghost town or Hollywood studio set.  We noticed one couple stray into the street in the interest of a picture, and a policeman took them aside, demanded their passports and then spoke to them for a long time.  I am not certain they could have actually understood each other since Moscow police are not known for their foreign language skills and the couple spoke no Russian. 


ZE2G8037.jpg Cathedral Square




ZE2G8058.jpgZE2G8059.jpg Domes, domes and more domes.


ZE2G8060.jpg The kids got a little "churched out" with all these cathedrals!  Here they're taking a break.



Left:  The Czar Cannon.  Right photo: The Czar Bell.  Tasha gets creative to get everything into the frame.


The Moscow Zoo

ZE2G8106.jpg Yes, there were animals as well... IMG_1171.jpg


Interesting observations about the zoo:  1)  It was very crowded, as it was a Sunday.  Russians in a crowd are interesting.  They did not observe any discernable conventions - walking on the right or walking around people or standing in a queue.  They seem to have a much smaller need for personal space.  2)  The raccoon exhibit was one of the most popular!  They were as cute as any monkey! 


The Metropolitan



ZE2G8130.jpg    ZE2G8139.jpg




Yes, that would be the Moscow subway system (note the train on the right side of the 1st image).  It is inexpensive (about $0.70 to ride anywhere), clean, and fast.  Trains come every 2 minutes or so - no exaggeration!  We waited for 90 seconds once, and the kids started looking around impatiently.  Usually the train had just arrived as we came around the corner.  Every station is differently decorated - but many are as ornate as a fancy ballroom or art gallery.  Some with statues, some with mosaics (one in gold), some in marble, some with stained glass.  It was very impressive!  At one station we actually saw a tour group.  Not on their way somewhere; they were touring a series of subway stations! 



Miscellaneous Observations

It is interesting to try to decipher some of the Russian signage, if you can figure out the pronunciation, sometimes you can actually tell what it says.  This is interesting, as we cannot understand a thing when people talk.  Tasha picked Стор out right away.  But we also got things like Лэнин and Сварро and of course Макдоналдc



Resting for a spell with Fiona.  Shrek was everywhere in Moscow - in the form of statues, like this one, and dressed up characters who walk around. 


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Anika and Yannis continue their "research" - though they decided against trying to request "only ketchup" on Anika's cheeseburger.  At the outdoor stand the next day Newenka was successful in obtaining a hotdog with only ketchup - hum...


We took a train from Moscow to Saint Petersburg, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!  Our car was configured as a sleeper, and the kids spent much of their time up on the top bunk! 






Санкт Петерсбург or Saint Petersburg


Our hotel in St. Petersburg was across a canal from the Hermitage, much of which was the former Winter Palace of the Czars. 


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Our hotel on the canal (left) and the canal that connects ours to the River Neva (right).


The Hermitage and the Winter Palace


The Winter Palace, from the square. 

Okay, so when Catherine the Great was the Empress of Russia, she was a great patron of the arts.  (By the way, she was also a patron of education and in particular educating girls.)  She  had a great art museum, the Hermitage, built right next to her Winter Palace, which sits on the river Neva.  


The Winter Palace from across the river Neva, far left is a small part of the Hermitage. 

The inside of her museum was beautifully appointed, with amazing painted ceilings, and lovely wooden floors.  Then she filled her museum with some of the world's best art work.  Standing in a room filled with Rembrandts, we stood first starring at the ceiling! 

The Hermitage?



The Winter Palace from across the Neva 5 minutes later. 

It rained every day we  were in St. Petersburg. And I don't mean just a little drizzle! Interestingly, people don't wear raincoats, or sensible shoes.  The umbrellas are everywhere, though, once the rain starts.  The serious downpours only lasted 10 minutes, so you could wait the shower out under cover.

What - you are disappointed?  Did you think that Yannis didn't spring for a photo permit?  Of course he did! We have posted all the photos of the inside of the Hermitage together.  Click here to see them. 



The Church of Savior of the Spilled Blood




This church was around the corner from our hotel.  It was erected by Alexander the III as a tribute to Alexander the II on the spot where the former was mortally wounded.  It was only used on the occasions important to Alexander the II until 1917, at which point it became a parish church until the 1930s, when it became a warehouse.  Restoration began in the 70s, following which the church was opened as a museum, which is what it is now.   All the walls on the inside are covered with ornate, detailed mosaics. 


Peterhof - The Summer Residence of Peter the Great

We took a boat from in front of the Hermitage to the island in the Bay of Finland on which Peter the Great built his summer residence.  The residence is surrounded by amazing gardens and fountains.  Let's begin with the inside of this great palace.   


Inside the Palace


The palace is three stories tall, and sits on a bluff.  Only the second story (called the first floor here) is open for viewing.  The ground floor is used as an entry area for the museum and as stores.  I assume that this was once the kitchens and the staff quarters.  The third floor must have been sleeping quarters, though it was not open. 



The fabulous entrance to the first floor



A room dedicated to a war.













As you see, we were not alone on our stroll through the palace!!! 




This was a room decorated by Catherine the Great.  She purchased all the paintings from the estate of a moderately well known Italian artist.  She had them all cut to be the wall paper on all four walls of this room.  The portraits are of Italian peasants, the same 6 models make up most of the paintings! 


One of the ladies chambers.









Then room after room after room of splendor! 






















The Grounds


Peterhof comprises the upper gardens and the lower gardens.  The upper are very formal and orderly or as orderly as Russians can make them.  The Lower Gardens are separated by an amazing series of fountains.  They are a huge informal ramble of woods and gardens interspersed with fountains, both formal and whimsical. 





^    The formal Upper Gardens



The Magnificent Main Fountains














We did not capture much of the informal gardens, but we did get these shots of the fountain that got Anika. 


If you sit on this bench to admire the whimsical fountain, the sprinkler may get you from behind!!!




Touring Around St. Petersburg


IMG_1383.jpg A common theme...  ZE2G8780.jpg


St. Petersburg is charming in a very European way.  The citizenry is much less regimented here.  In Moscow there were streets that could never be crossed - you had to walk several blocks out of your way to get to a subway to get underneath them.  You would not want to cross those streets, they are one way, 6 lane and the traffic moves at 50 miles an hour!  Even in areas that look like walking streets, people stay on the side walk and cross at the crosswalk.  The difference was apparent the moment the hotel van pulled out of the train station parking lot - the traffic here moves at a snails pace.  People walk right out in front of cars - if fact that is often the only way to cross a street! 



Here we are along the river Neva, each in a typical pose!






























One, two, three tickle-fest!!



Well, that's all for Russia!  Next stop:  Finland




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Last modified: 06/13/08