Short Trip: Pearls of the East – City Tour to St. Petersburg and Moscow

How to get there: By train from St. Petersburg to Moscow

So there we were, from the autumnal St. Petersburg on the way to Moscow – in a German ICE train. The "Sapsan", which we chose as an alternative to a domestic flight, exceeded our expectations. Not only did the high-speed train, which travels at speeds of up to 300 km/h, take us the 700 kilometers to Moscow in less than four hours. It was thereby even in the cheapest category, which we had booked in advance online for 35 € p.P. have booked, very comfortable. A real alternative to the domestic flight. Interesting is perhaps the fact that the trains were supplied by Siemens, but the software was a proprietary development. The software was much more expensive than the one offered by Siemens and is worse, but Russian.



Moreover, this way one gets directly a different picture of Moscow – the Moscow of the outskirts, the dilapidated prefabricated buildings, the poor quarters. At that time we didn't realize that only a few hours later we would be exploring exactly those slab construction areas.

As a tourist in Moscow, similar to St. Petersburg, you will be. Petersburg, immediately captivated by the massive metro stations. Not without reason the magnificent stations are often called "underground palaces. Everywhere there are murals, ceiling paintings and ornaments to admire – if the flow of people allows it, because the Moscow metro is used by up to ten million people every day.

Our accommodation was for the second time the Hilton Moscovskaya, which stands out especially because of its central location in the inner ring and fair prices. The Hilton has a very high standard for Russian standards. As also in the Domina Prestige in St. Petersburg have the advantages that the staff speaks English and the visa application is facilitated thanks to invitation by the hotel after booking confirmation.


A piece of russian everyday life

Our Moscow visit had a special occasion this time: our friend Dimitry, who was tirelessly available to us as a city guide just like last time, has bought his own apartment. This one was ready for occupancy after several years of construction and we were invited to the opening ceremony. We were very excited, we got so but the rather rare opportunity to experience a piece of Russian everyday life up close. And this takes place far away from our so nicely centrally located hotel, ca. 40 minutes by metro and 30 minutes by car on the outskirts of Moscow.

Russians may seem aloof to strangers in general, but they are all the more warm-hearted when you get to know them better. To seal the move-in, Dimitry and his wife Lena prepared a traditional Russian buffet: Bread, ham, cheese, cucumber and vodka. Vodka of course. At the sight of the one-liter bottle we did not expect anything good. Dima dismissed it with the words: "One liter is normal for two persons." All clear! Welcome to Moscow!

At this point, I would also like to take a brief look at the economic situation in Russia. As tourists, we were happy to see that the ruble exchange rate had almost doubled compared to our first visit (one euro was approx. Worth 75 rubles, about 35 in 2013). For the working population of Russia this development is of course much less welcome. In particular, the Russian middle class, which borrows for cars or apartments i.d.R in foreign currencies is strongly affected by it. Double-digit interest rates round out the debt spiral picture for already lower-income households. The never ending prefabricated buildings in the outskirts start to make sense.

img_0722The many facets of the Russian capital

On the second day we went to the Red Square with the declared goals Lenin Mausoleum and St. Basil's Cathedral. Both we had not seen yet from the inside and were accordingly curious. The basilica with its onion domes is one of the most famous landmarks of the Russian capital. The exterior splendor is also reflected in the interior, but accompanied by ongoing restoration work. We already had something similar at the Herimitage in St. Gallen. Petersburg experienced.


Lenin's mausoleum remained closed for us. As on our first Moscow trip, this was not accessible for tourists due to maintenance work. At least we already have a goal for the next time. 😉

Lenin Mausoleum

One thing that fascinated us continuously is the traffic on the streets of Moscow. City highways with up to four lanes per direction, huge intersections where the side traffic enters without traffic lights, acceleration races. Russians see traffic rules more as guidelines, perhaps because you can buy your way out of most violations. Not only once we stood like little children at an intersection, watching the honking hustle and bustle as witnesses to what felt like 100 near-accidents.

Taking our eyes off the hustle and bustle again, we turned to our next destination: the Oktoberfest. – What? Just a moment! – Yes, read correctly. The tradition of the Oktoberfest has even made it to Russia. Plenty of alcohol and pretty women as far as the eye can see, which you can have every day in Moscow. But our city guides have invited us to join friends of theirs for a "German evening.

It should be said that the Oktoberfest is offered in various restaurants. There is no tent city like in Munich, this was even classified as "anti-Russian" by the government. Nevertheless we found what we were looking for in the restaurant Paulaner Brauhaus. The Bavarian beer and local dishes were unusual in this environment. Doesn't matter, because after the first round of beer we had three more Russian friends.

With those we went a few measures later to the light festivals over the Moskva, the river of the same name of the city. This was part of the Circle of Light Festival, which takes place annually between September and October. The interplay of the laser show, the music, the fireworks reflected in the water amidst the enthusiastic crowds was a fantastic experience and a real must-see if you visit the Russian metropolis at this time of year.


Departure and conclusion

Our time in Moscow was already over. Gone, fast-moving, like the city itself. On the day of departure we left our suitcases in the hotel after check-out to spend the last hours until our flight in mild weather in the botanical garden. At the same time it should be the farewell dinner with Dima, who helped us also on the last day. The small park – let's call it – restaurant unfortunately did not live up to the occasion. We left half of our meat platters, the side dishes of which were cold. Here you should either take something for a picnic, or rely on restaurants with good reviews, z.B. at TripAdvisor, in order not to be disappointed. We usually relied on the recommendations of our city guide, which worked out very well except for this time.


Apart from that, the huge park is an example of Russian show of power. In a few distances one can look at machines from aviation and space travel as well as the military, as it would be possible in Germany only in a museum. It may be strange and a bit ironic to see small children playing next to a missile defense system. For the Russians this is normal, everyday life and a piece of national pride.



In this one we got so lost that we almost forgot the time. In addition to that, our walk to the nearest metro station was further than expected. Since our suitcases were still at the hotel, we were quickly in a time crunch for our flight home. We had to go from the hotel back to the metro, from there to the aeroexpress and from there to the plane – and we started to calculate if this would work out well. But that is a story in itself. Just this: How much time do you usually take to get from the airport station to the transfer bus to the plane with your hand luggage?? We'll take any bet: More than us! 😉

In short, our departure from Moscow was as exciting as our time in Russia itself. We had experiences that broaden the horizon, impressions that stay and the people who made it possible. We would like to thank Lena and Dima for making the trip so special.


Спасибо, Лена и Дима! До следующего раза. 🙂

Update from 10.11.2016: We rummaged again in the travel diary and remembered this little episode, which we do not want to withhold from you:

How to: Boarding at Russia's second largest airport in under 15 minutes

Do you know this too? You travel with hand luggage only. This means you save the hassle of checking in your luggage. And time. Maybe you should still be at the airport 90 minutes, but at least one hour before departure. You don't know what's going on at boarding. So let's say your flight leaves at 7:40 p.m. The boarding takes place between 19:00 and 19:20 clock. When would you be there to find your gate relaxed and get through passport control and security check? So 18:15 would be good. Maybe more like 18:00? But definitely not later than 6:30 p.m.

That's what we thought, too, when we started our return trip from Moscow to Munich. Stupidly, however, at 6:00 p.m. we were still in central Moscow, a good hour away from Sheremetyevo Airport in the north of the city.

Here's a little how to in the form of a timeline on how to still make it back to Germany safely:

  • Miss the actually last metro from the hotel to the Airport Express!
  • Miss the Airport Express, which would have gotten you to the airport at least 20 minutes before boarding!
  • Wait for the next Airport Express in 30 minutes, because a cab will probably take twice as long to get to the airport during Moscow's rush hour!
  • Sit in the Airport Express and realize that other people are already starting to board the plane!
  • Realize that after arriving at the airport you will have 13 minutes until the gate closes!
  • Realize that you can never get from the platform to your terminal through passport control and security check to the gate in 13 minutes!
  • Remember your visa is valid in ca. 5 hours runs off.
  • Try not to panic!
  • Be the first of 300 people at the Airport Express ticket scanners!
  • Hope your mobile ticket is valid!
  • After running up the first escalator with your suitcase, use the arrows to orient yourself. Don't walk in the wrong direction
  • Go through the first security gate after which you will enter the different terminals!
  • See the sign: "Terminal D – 12 Minutes by foot"!
  • Lose any hope of catching your plane from Terminal D!
  • Run!
  • Reach the passport control at terminal D with a high red head!
  • Find that there are between 10 and 15 people in a long line at all five counters for non-Russians and non-graduates!
  • Stand at the front next to a group of Asians and ask, half pleading, if you can go ahead!
  • Spend just under 2 minutes at passport control being scrutinized by a female employee who couldn't care less that your gate will be closed in 5 minutes!
  • Don't let anything get to you, or it will take even longer!
  • Have your boarding pass scanned and rush to the security checkpoint!
  • Push in front of the grandma at security who probably needs 10 minutes to get through there and has 60 minutes until her plane takes off!
  • Packed your suitcase so that you can roll out again within 60 seconds!
  • Think you're through now? No!
  • For God's sake, make sure your gate hasn't changed on short notice!
  • Of course the gate has changed at short notice!
  • Take the right escalator and be at the right counter 1 minute before gate closure!
  • Ask as nicely as you can how long the gate will stay open because your travel companion did the whole thing behind you, but got stuck behind the grandma!
  • Be the last to board the bus and the first to board the plane and enjoy your well-deserved priority boarding!

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