In my most recent Aeroplan mini-RTW in Europe, I unfortunately was only able to secure a 4-days Russia Visa for Canadians. With such a short amount of time in Russia, I had to make sure that my travel to Moscow and Saint Petersburg was jammed pack with things to see and friends to visit.
It was definitely a mad rush trying to squeeze as many things to do and see in such a short period of time. Regardless, I think I did pretty good considering the amount of time I had available to me.
I would have definitely preferred to have more time in Russia. Ideally, I would have liked to have seen all the Golden Ring of Russia cities and have more time to spend hanging out with my Russian friends whom I met while trekking Mount Roraima in Venezuela. Sometimes in life, you don’t always get the ideal situation so you have to make the most of the time given to you.
Travel to Moscow from Cyprus
After spending 24 hours checking out all the possible places to visit in Cyprus in a short period of time, it was time for me to go to Russia. My flight to Russia has multiple segments: Cyprus to Warsaw to Stockholm to Helsinki to Moscow.
My flight from Cyprus to Poland was relatively smooth. But, the moment I arrived in the Warsaw airport is when things started getting really nerve wrecking.
Horrific experience connecting experience from my flight in Warsaw to Stockholm
I love Poland but their airport is horrible for connecting flights. Upon arrival, I had to switch over to the Schengen side of the airport to catch my connecting flight. The problem is that it seems that all the flights arrived at the same time causing a massive congestion going through immigration.
I was cutting it so close to the flight departure that my name was being called on the airport PA announcement for last call for boarding. Unlucky for me, I was still stuck in security.
The moment I got through security, I sprinted as fast as I could to my gate with my carry on luggage. I barely made it to my connecting flight. It would have sucked a lot to miss my flight since I don’t have much time in Russia to begin with.
Feasting at the Stockholm airport
When I arrived in the Stockholm airport, I was starving after all the stress and running around from the Warsaw airport. My friend Allen (who I am travelling with in Russia) told me that the airport has an AMEX lounge called “Pontus in the Air” where you can order some amazing food off their menu. Thankfully, I have the AMEX Business Platinum card which I used to get get access to this lounge and get some badly needed food to eat.
I quickly rushed to the lounge and ordered food off the menu. It was exactly what I needed to refuel myself and to calm my nerves after the stressful connection from Warsaw, Poland.
Helsinki to Moscow
Before long, it was time to board the plane and head to Helsinki. I met up with my friend Allen in the Helsinki airport and we boarded our Finnair flight going from Helsinki to Moscow.
The flight to Moscow was interesting as the Russians were trying to fit their carry-on luggage underneath the seats. It didn’t work out obviously which caused a lot of chaos trying to get everyone situated in the plane.
After the chaotic situation, we were finally off to Moscow!
Day 1 – Arriving in Moscow
My long travel to Moscow is finally over. I was surprised how easy it was to get through immigration.
I was barely alive when we arrived in the Moscow airport. We then decided to take a “Yandex” (Russia’s version of Uber) to get to our accommodation. Travelling in Russia is surprisingly not as expensive as I thought. Outside the really expensive Visa, expenses within the countries aren’t bad at all!
Our Yandex ride to our accommodation, for example, was 470 Rubles ($9.79 CAD). This was after splitting the cost with my friend. The Yandex driver drove really crazy but also in a skillful way. It was quite an amusing ride going to our hotel.
Finally, Allen and myself arrived, dead tired, but looking forward to the next day when we start our exploration of Russia.
Day 2 – Travel to the Golden Ring cities of Vladamir and Suzdal
On our first full day of exploration, we decided not to travel to Moscow first. Instead, we decided to visit Vladamir and Suzdal of Golden Ring of Russia. Read this Golden Ring of Russia article for a full detailed report on this trip.
Allen and myself went to the Moskva Kurskaya central train station and took the high speed train to Vladamir.
Arriving in Vladamir was like arriving in freezing cold Soviet Russia. It was 3 degree Celsius during late September which is just ridiculous.
We spent a good day exploring the many museums and cathedrals located in this city before taking a Yandex to Suzdal.
Out of the two Golden Ring of Russia cities, I definitely enjoyed Suzdal a lot more because it was a smaller town and felt more low key. That doesn’t mean Suzdal was without sights to see. The Venerable bell tower was quite fun to climb to the top.
The Monastery of the Saviour and St. Euthymius was even more impressive.
There was some minor problems trying to get back to Moscow but we resolved it and arrived back in our hotel in Moscow safe and sound.
Day 3 – Travel to Moscow to see Saint Basil’s Cathedral
The next day, our goal was to visit the famous Russian sights. Our goal was to take the local Moscow subway and visit Saint Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin.
Travel to Moscow using the local metro
Using the Moscow subway wasn’t as bad as I thought. It was also pretty affordable at 55 Rubles ($1.15 CAD) to go one way towards the Red Square in Moscow.
It seems that the Moscow subway serves several purposes. First, it looks like a bomb shelter. Second, it looks like a Museum with beautiful designs and statues located within it.
The metro ride itself wasn’t bad at all. I was expecting something similar to Kiev’s metro experience where you literally get tossed around in the train like a washing machine. But nope, it wasn’t bad at all.
Before long, we arrived at the famous Russia Red Square!
Saint Basil’s Cathedral
It was definitely exciting to be at the Red Square and bear witness the Kremlin and Saint Basil’s Cathedral.
Saint Basil’s cathedral is one of the most iconic cathedrals in the world. The very image of the cathedral makes you think of Russia right away. It’s no wonder that when people travel to Moscow, the first thing they want to see is Saint Basil’s cathedral.
Me and Allen purchased tickets to enter the Cathedral as soon as it opened. The entrance ticket set us back 700 Rubles ($14.99 CAD). The inside was quite interesting with the intricate Russian style design. But for me, what captivated me was the choir singing inside one of the rooms. After I had my fill of exploring the maze like rooms and hallways within the cathedral, I took sometime to just sit and just listen to the choir sing their songs.
Travel to Moscow to see the Kremlin
The Kremlin entrance
After exploring Saint Basil’s Cathedral, off we went to see the Kremlin. Our first mission was to buy an entrance ticket to the Kremlin (700 Rubles or $14.99 CAD).
The lineup to buy the ticket was quite chaotic because of the crazy Chinese tourists from China. Despite being in the middle of the conversation with the ticketing staff, a Chinese woman literally budged in front of him and cut him off to talk to the ticketing staff. Suffice to say, Allen was very annoyed at the whole situation.
After finally getting our tickets, we went inside the Kremlin only to be greeted by hoards and hoards of Chinese tourists.
I personally don’t have anything against the obnoxious Chinese tourists. I know they’re annoying but when you travel a lot, you kind of just accept this kind of stuff will happen. But, my friend Allen was definitely experiencing the brunt of their rudeness. While lining up in one of the cathedrals, one of the Chinese tour groups hits Allen on the face with their flag and looks at him and says nothing. No apologies for Allen after whacking him on the face with their tour group flag.
I personally thought it was pretty funny. Nonetheless, I think many people would get upset at this situation.
Was the Kremlin nice or worth visiting? Yeah, I think so. But don’t expect to get mind blown because the sheer amount of tourists in the Kremlin can get overwhelming. It’s hard to enjoy visiting a place when everyone is trying to take their selfie sticks and block your way with it. No one cares to wait for you to finish taking your pictures. It’s just one giant free for all.
I personally enjoyed visiting Saint Basil’s Cathedral slightly more just because it was less chaotic. The Kremlin was just a massive crowding of humans and I hate crowded places. It reminded me of my time in London when I visited the British Museum and I just felt absolutely overwhelmed from the sheer crowding of the place. This is why I avoid visiting big cities in general because I hate crowds.
Eating Georgian food
After exploring the Kremlin, it was time for us to get some Georgian food to eat. Allen is the sort of traveller that likes to walk on different streets so he can see something different. So, we took a different path back to the metro. We ended up seeing some interesting outdoor decors as well as checking out a local Russian mall.
Before long, we rode the metro again and found a Georgian restaurant and enjoyed ourselves a nice meal after an exhausting day exploring Moscow.
Travelling to Saint Petersburg from Moscow
After a delicious Georgian meal, Allen and myself went our separate ways. I will be flying to Saint Petersburg for the last part of my Russian trip and Allen has to fly back to Helsinki because he has work the next day.
I couldn’t find any fast and affordable way to travel from Moscow to Saint Petersburg. So, I ended up redeeming my British Airways Avios to take an S7 flight to Saint Petersburg for 6000 Avios + $13.79 CAD.
The flight was full of obnoxious people who were also friendly at the same time which definitely confused the hell out of me. Finally, I arrived in Saint Petersburg and was reunited with my friends I met in Venezuela.
Reunion with my Russian friends
During my South America segment of my 380 days of travel around the world, I decided to trek Mount Roraima. From there, I met a Russian couple, Irina and Aleksander, who immediately became my friends.
I ended up travelling with them in Guyana and also in Suriname and we told each other that we hope to travel together again one day.
Fast forward two years later, I am now visiting them in their home town of Saint Petersburg in Russia. Irina grabbed me from the airport and we took a taxi back to her place. We had a lot of catching up to do as we waited for Aleks to get back home from work.
Once Aleks was home, we chatted while he helped me setup this inflatable mattress. I was kind of stupid and forgot to seal the mattress so when I woke up the next day, I ended up on the floor.
Day 4 – Checking out the Hermitage Museum and Saint Petersburg
The next day, Aleks had to do some medical stuff so he sent me to the Hermitage Museum by myself to explore and we would meet up after he was done. Lucky for me, I purchased a fast track ticket online for $17.95 USD.
The fast track ticket turned out to be a good idea as I was able to enter this famous museum before the big crowds showed up.
This museum is massive and I know there’s no way I can really absorb everything in this place during my first visit. So I did my best to just take in the atmosphere as I admired the different exhibits ranging from ancient Egypt, Russia, Greece, Central Asia, Asia, and many more.
After about one hour of exploring, the massive crowds arrive. This is the part I hate the most is dealing with massive crowds.
I did my best to evade them and find refuge in exhibits that are not as frequently visited.
Finally, I ended up in the central Asian exhibits which really caught my eye. I’ve never travelled to the “stan” countries before and I felt so fascinated by the culture of Central Asia. Back in the Silk Road days, this area saw lots of merchants travelling between Asia and Europe. Nowadays, you don’t hear much about this region of the world anymore. For me, seeing these exhibit is a sign that my next big destination in the future needs to be in Central Asia.
Spending 8 hours exploring Saint Petersburg on foot
I honestly enjoyed my time in the Hermitage Museum and I think it’s definitely a must-see if you visit Saint Petersburg. Once I felt content with exploring the museum, I left to meet up with Aleks who was going to show me around Saint Petersburg.
After meeting up, he pointed at this temple looking thing from a distance and told me that was our next destination.
Little did I know that I will be doing over eight hours of walking around Saint Petersburg on this day.
Upon reaching the temple looking place, Aleks advised me not to get tickets and instead we continued to explore somewhere else. Along the way, we visited two different hipster cafes to grab a bite of food and some desserts.
We also saw some cool ships that was apparently used by the Russian military.
The mosques that Aleks showed me in Saint Petersburg looks to have a design that you would see in a Central Asian country. Again, another foreshadowing of future trips to come.
I know I am in Russia but holy crap, we walked for a very very long time. In Soviet Russia, you don’t stop walking until your feet cannot move anymore (and even then maybe you’re expected to keep crawling). When Irina finally got off work, we went to grab her so she can join us on our walking adventure in Saint Petersburg.
After meeting up with Irina, they took me to this interesting place called Apraksin Dvor. It’s a hidden area in Saint Petersburg that apparently used to have a lot of shady things happen here.
I like going on weird adventures like this so it was neat looking around this area. Apparently, they’re doing major renovations in this place and have plans to make it look a lot nicer.
I was already dead exhausted but my friends insisted I need to visit New Holland. Apparently, a private company is building up this piece of land as a nice place to hangout for the locals. I did see a lot of hipsters hanging out in this area.
I definitely got my ass kicked walking around Saint Petersburg for over eight hours straight. Even though I barely had any rest, it was still fun as hell to hang out with Aleks and Irina. Russians are not politically correct people and I love that about them. What I hate about Canada sometimes is that you have to be politically correct all the time to prevent triggering really sensitive people.
It was a breath of fresh air being able to crack politically incorrect jokes with my Russian homies during my time in Saint Petersburg.
Saying goodbye to my Russian comrades and heading towards Helsinki, Finland by train
When night time came around, my friends dropped me off at the train station where I would be taking the train going from Saint Petersburg to Helsinki, Finland. I said my goodbyes to my travel comrades. Before bidding farewell, we made some rough plan to meet again next year and hopefully travel together in Mozambique, Africa.
I proceeded to board the train with fond memories of my short four days in Russia.
Travel to Moscow and Saint Petersburg conclusion
Travelling to Moscow and Saint Petersburg was one jammed packed adventure. Russia definitely did not disappoint. This country is a polarizing travel destination which is exactly what I like. It definitely had a very different feel to it and I loved that aspect of it.
Many things surprised me during my trip here. One of the biggest things that surprised me during my travel to Moscow was how many “stan” people lived there. “Stan” people basically look like Asian people but they speak Russian. It’s quite odd meeting them if you’re not used to it.
Travelling with Allen and meeting Irina and Aleks was also super cool. I look forward to doing more travels with friends moving in the future as oppose to travelling solo.
One recent good news is that Russia recently introduced an e-visa program to enter Saint Petersburg in Russia. I hope to take advantage of this in the future so I can visit Saint Petersburg again.