City Rumble – Moscow versus St Petersburg

Here it is, the big Russian Rumble! I would have done it earlier but I felt I wanted the chance to really explore Moscow before I did. But thanks to my last trip I have now been to both cities twice and I’m ready to pit them against each other to see which one comes out on top!

The Hermitage St Petersburg

One of the hundreds of amazing rooms in the Hermitage

Saint Petersburg is the city that shows the regality of old Russia. The Hermitage is up there with the most lavish and over the top museums you will ever visit, possibly only topped by the Louvre. It’s in the most incredible of palaces, and houses so much art that you get blown away as soon as you enter it.

Kremilin, Moscow, 1999

Moscow on the other hand became the capital when the royal family fell and communism took hold, and even though times have changed it’s hard to imagine the seat of power ever moving from there. From my first journey in 1999 I remembered it as fascinating but at the same time foreboding, dark and grey.

Red Square.

However, this time around I really appreciated it as one of the world’s great cities. True, it was 18 years after my first visit and so much has change, and true it was May when I saw it which meant a lot more sunshine, but I really was impressed by the wide avenues and the buildings. I got in to see Lenin this time which I’d missed the first time. Seeing a man who was embalmed nearly a century ago is a highlight no matter what city you’re in!

Along Nevsky Prospect

But I have always loved St Petersburg. Even if both times I’ve been there it’s been mostly grey and cold. My 1999 trip involved going out and drinking ridiculously cheap vodka and being amazed by the toilet bowls which seemed to be set up back to front.

Nevsky Prospect is one of the great main streets in the world, with shops and boutiques galore leading the Hermitage and the Palace Square. There are arches and multiple approaches and the river is not far away.

However, naturally you can’t outdo Moscow for squares, it has one of the world’s most famous squares, Red Square at its heart. On one side of the expansive Red Square is the Kremilin, which people queue up for in droves to see. That’s a fair bit of history, churches, grounds and buildings to see although anything to do with government is quite off limits. I remember in 1999 stepping fractionally over a line to take a photo and having a soldier blow a whistle at me. They still do that – I saw it happen to someone else in May this year!

Then there is a wonderful museum at one end of the square – the State Historical Museum, which you can lose yourself in easily for few hours. Then the GUM department store and mall is one of the most fashionable and stylish places to stop in any European city, but surprisingly you can find cheap places with good food in there too.

And then at the end of Red Square is St Basil’s Cathedral. The gorgeous red mixed with other bright colours on the spires, this is actually seven churches added slowly over the centuries.It’s great to explore inside and out, you go up a few levels, see the different churches and chapels, it’s a Moscow ‘Must See’.

The Church of the Blood Spilled

And St Petersburg has the similarly styled Church of the Spilled Blood. This is an equally beautiful cathedral in the orthodox style just off Nevsky Prospect that I have not been inside. I can only imagine it’s just as amazing inside as St Basil’s.

I have seen much more of Moscow, I must confess, and obviously it’s more recent so more present in my mind. I saw concerts in both cities, I don’t recall much about the St Petersburg one but the Moscow one was stunning. Tchaicovsky in the Tchaikovsky Theatre, with a brilliant violin solo.

A typical subway/metro station in St Petersburg

Moscow Metro

And both have brilliant metro systems for transport along with buses and trolley-buses. Getting into town or to your hotel from the bus or railway stations is usually easy on public transport and still very cheap in 2017.

Alexander Nevsky Monastery.

Approach to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery

In St Petersburg the Alexander Nevsky Monastery is a really beautiful spot to visit. It’s along a river, has a cemetary inside and he cathedral dates back to 1710. There are a number of churches inside, I only remember one but am not sure which one it was, but it’s quite a moving experience to spend time inside.

In Moscow I visited the Novodevichy Convent, established in 1524. This is contained in four clear walls, and also has a number of churches inside, plus a small museum. I liked this one too, and I had decent weather to see it.

So anyways, it’s time make a conclusion and it’s a very difficult one. If you’d asked me before my recent visit to Moscow, there would have been no contest, the winner would have been St Petersburg by a straight.

But in May I saw Moscow as a large, yes, but exciting modern city, with so much to see or do. A far more accessible city than it once was.

So, in light of that… I still give the win to Saint Petersburg. Why? Well, some cities just leavea certain impression on you that will never fade, and Saint Petersburg certainly did that to me. Despite the dazzle of a new, brigther Moscow, I still can’t help but feel and incredible fondness for Saint Petersburg. What do you think? Please comment!!

And of course, May the Journey Never End!

 

 

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