ADLER, SOCHI, ST.PETERSBURG, MOSCOW
Russia – one of the biggest countries in the world lying on 2 continents and the world largest nation with turbulent history, amazing landmarks a beautiful nature. Every traveler’s dream…
Day 1 – Arrival to Adler/Sochi
The good thing about all this is you do not pay for any extras, everything is included in the ticket to sporting events. Buses, trains, lifts, toilets, even WIFI all free with good quality. The worse thing on the other hand is there are long queues everywhere and you have to wait for everything. My sister was in Russia 20 years ago and she warned me about this but I took a bit lightly. I can say now even after 20 years nothing has really changed… For example to get tickets to the Olympic Park we waited in the queue at the airport for more than 3 hours. We could buy them at the station in Adler but it would take us two times longer. Organisation is a bit chaotic but according to locals it’s normal.
Another thing it was quite difficult to find someone who speaks English. Luckily I speak good Russian and we gave up with English right on our first day here. I must say the worst thing is the fact that organisers and volunteers are horribly informed and send people to completely different directions as they supposed to go. We always ask at least three people and every one of them tells us something else. From now we rely just on maps… I know that Russia is Russia but for this is already our third Olympics (after Vancouver and London), so we saw how it worked elsewhere. Nevermind, vsjo budet i vsjo v parjadke… But I must say the Russians are very friendly and curious asking us where we are from and why we came here.
After not even 10 minute train journey from the airport we are getting off at the railway station in Adler. The seaside looks very nice and clean and you can see strict security control on every corner.
Just a quick transfer by bus and we are at the hotel. Little bit jet lagged we would immediately fell asleep but because today is the Opening ceremony after a short refreshment we are taking fully packed minibus to the city center. In front of the entrance to the live zone is a massive queue so we resigned and went into nearest bar to watch the Opening ceremony with my first draught russian beer. Cheers!
Day 2 – Adler
Around noon we went to the city for the grand opening of Slovak Olympic House. Small but comfortably furnished premises in the heart of Adler’s train station worthily represent Slovakia. We were lucky to meet there out shooter and member of the Olympic Committee Danka Barteková so we took some pictures with her and had a little chat. She was laughing when I told her we took pictures with her at the London Olympics in 2012 as well after the performance of Lucnica. After this experience we took a train to Krasnaya Polana which hosts all mountain disciplines including biathlon which we had tickets for. Krasnaya Polyana welcomed us with newly built hotels and beautiful scenery of surrounding mountains.
We quickly passed into the crowd and took next available cable car from which we had a spectacular view of Krasnaya Polyana located at the foot of the Caucasus mountains. With our High Tatras and the Canadian Whistler it is one of the most beautiful ski resorts in the world. At the top we took one more chairlift and in a few minutes we were descending into the Laura biathlon venue.
When we arrived there the first lap already started so we quickly ran to the track for about a kilometer in the forest with a slight climb. We tried to find a best spot with a good view of our biathletes especially Matej Kazar – my girlfriend’s brother. We had all Slovak accessories you can imagine with us (bells, flags, rattles, whistles etc.) and we began to cheer our boys. After a while as the first of Slovaks appeared Matej. He run like crazy and we screamed like crazy… I was quite happy with us because the two of us managed to be louder than Soviet brothers, who had probably 90% of all tickets comparing to other foreigners. Well, welcome to Russian Olympic games…
Usually we manage to get to the places we should not or we are not allowed and it was also the case for Sochi Olympics. Right after the last biathletes crossing the finish line we’ve managed to slip to the stadium. We could see live the flower ceremony and could take some pictures of all medalists including the winner – Ole Einar Bjørndalen – the legend from Norway. Whereas medal are passed to the winners in Medal Plaza in the Olympic Park in Adler, here they only received flower bouquets which were later thrown into the audience. As we have shifted further down towards the podium I didn’t even notice and Erika was holding one of those winners bouquets in her hands… That was the end of our first sporting day after which we had taken the cable car back to Krasnaya Polyana and then train to Adler.
Day 3 – Sochi and Olympic park
Today we decides to go and visit Sochi about 20 minutes journey from Adler. Sochi belongs to one of the most popular seaside resort especially for Russian high society. The city is full of hotels, guesthouses, posh restaurants and everything is clean and neat. In summer the beaches are so full that some Russians prefer to go on holiday to a nearby Abkhazia. The beaches there are empty and everything is half price. Sochi is a typical Russian city with massive architecture. If you are looking for example for a cozy guesthouse you’ll find a skyscraper with thousands of rooms. The most beautiful in the city is harbor and Dendrarium arboretum, where you can easily spend the whole day.
The warm weather and seaside atmosphere in Sochi was amazing and we didn’t want to leave but we still had a visit of the Olympic Park ahead of us so we move back to Adler.
Since I had the honor to perform at the Olympic opening ceremony in London 2012 and see the whole complex in Stratford a few times, I did not think there could be something to overcome those memories. But I have to admit that the Olympic park here in Adler overcame all my expectations. Newly built stadiums competed among themselves in which one of them offers more colorful show to the visitors. There was even screening of an audio-visual 3D projection on Iceberg skating rink where you could see the best sport moments of the day, videos and photos of visitors, medal ceremonies, the location of landscapes, weather, program etc. But as usual the best part comes at the end and that was the Olympic flame.
Even with this Russians created a work of art reminding of floating swan on top of which burns the Olympic flame. Underneath it there is a small lake in which the Olympic rings are surrounded by many flashing lights. This all creates a wonderful picture and it looks really amazing …
Day 4 – Morning in the sea, evening in the mountains
Since we were staying about 10 minutes walk from the beach we decided to go and see the Black Sea not only from Bulgarian but now also from the Russian side. The temperature outside was fantastic 15’C and the sun was so strong we immediately dropped our anoraks and within a few minutes we were on the beach. Combination of sun and sea quickly got us into the holiday mood and if I’d have a swimsuit I’d have probably jumped into the water…
After a while of relaxing we returned to the hotel and from there we went on the pursuit competition in Biathlon into Krasnaya Polyana. We’ve managed to come to biathlon venue Laura two hours in advance so we had enough time to look around and greet our guys during training. Then we have already moved on to our spot about a kilometer after the start at a slight incline where we could well see and shout to support Matej and Pavol Hurajt who qualified in today’s pursuit competition. Same as last time our vocal cords got really busy and nearby standing Ukrainians and Russians did not understand what was happening when Matej and Pavol run around us … Matej had really good run and he shifted by 14 places to 23rd place.
After the run we again got to the stadium, watched the flower ceremony, took some pictures of the winners and left. There was a long queue for the cable car but the Russians have no problem at all and are used to it. When it is too much even for them, they start to sing… These days I started to feel like an attraction in the amusement park. In my Slovak shirt I was shining like a neon lamp in the night… The colors of our flag are the same with Russian but the only difference is the sign we have on our flag. They were really curious about the flag and started to ask where we are from a what we are doing here. And as a proper attraction they were taking many pictures with us. No problem druzja!
Day 5 – Departure from Adler, Arrival to St.Petersburg
We liked it here and didn’t want to leave sunny Adler because we knew up there where we were heading will be pretty cold. But on the other hand we were looking forward for a new adventure. One last photo at the airport with the hostesses presenting Formula 1 which will take place in Sochi end of this year.
Quick check-in and we are heading to St. Petersburg with a stopover in Moscow. It was snowing in Moscow bit of a surprise comparing to sunny Adler and there was +2’C when we landed in St. Petersburg. Bus, subway, hotel check-in and good night.
Day 6 – St. Petersburg
Right after breakfast we booked a walking tour around the city, where we learned lots of interesting things about the city. The show started at Alexander’s columns opposite the Winter Palace, which is located in the world-famous Hermitage gallery, second largest gallery in the world. As we were told, St. Petersburg is situated on 42 islands and the city has in total 100 bridges. From one of these bridges we had a splendid view on frozen river – Neva. About 2 weeks ago there was -20’C so we could still walk on the ice. With our smooth ice it is far from impossible to compare. The ice on Neva are enormous blocks of ice protruding from the water, weathered by the wind. In the middle of the river there was freshly broken ice that has already managed to freeze overnight.
We had time to see the statue of copper rider and Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, of which we were told is a nice view but as it was Wednesday it was closed. Next time then... Next to this church there is the luxury hotel Astoria where according to well preserved invitations Hitler planed a big party after conquering of St. Petersburg. Not far from us there was located Troicky Cathedral and although it does not belong among the most famous, it looked very nice. White temple with blue domes reminded us on the beautiful churches on the Greek island of Santorini. Good that we went there… In front of the cathedral is also located a column created from the canons that have remained in the territory of St. Petersburg during the Russian-Turkish war.
Day 7 – Peterhof
I was really looking forward to today’s excursion to Peterhof. Although some might say it’s just a copy of of Versailles castle, dare I say the gardens are a bit more beautiful. From the station Avtovo we took “marshrutka” – kind of a shared van and in half an hour we were getting off at one of the Peterhof’s gardens. The summer residence of Russian tsars on the Gulf of Finland built by Peter the Great really looks like Versailles but it also has some personal elements which you won’t find in French landmark. In one of the wings of the palace there was an exhibition which also included the famous Faberge eggs so we did not hesitate and went to see the gem of jewellery. Although none of the 173 fountains work in winter, the park itself with gilded statues looks really majestic. The most photogenic place are the cascading terraces just below the palace and Samson Fountain.
The park ends in the nearby Gulf of Finland which was to our surprise frozen. We fooled around a bit on snow-covered beach, took some pictures while walking on ice and went back towards the palace. After the lunch we decided to return to St. Petersburg. Upon arrival we were passing by another dominant of the town which is pictured on every postcard. It is the Church of the Savior on Blood, which was built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was murdered.
The building looks very similar to the more famous St. Basil’s cathedral in Moscow and is beautifully decorated not only from the outside but also inside. The interior itself is decorated with huge paintings created from very tiny mosaics.
Day 8 – Tsarskoye selo
This day we started with the visit of Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, which was closed during our last visit. It is the largest Orthodox Church in the city and also the place with the best view of the city. After climbing 260 steps we had an amazing view and with entire St.Petersburg and all of its sights at our fingertips. Then we have finally started our journey towards the main objective for today which was a visit of Ekaterininsky Palace, better known as Tsarskoye Selo. The palace is situated the end of the sprawling park and its bluish facade was visible from a distance.
It’s obviously a favorite place of Russian wedding guests as we have met a few bridal couples. The former residence of the Romanovs is particularly famous for Amber Room. Myths shrouded chamber whose fate is still unknown is really worth to visit. It is said that when the Germans attacked the Russians during World War II the locals tried to hide as much as possible artifacts. They began to disassemble the Amber Room but since it was a patchwork of small pieces and didn’t have enough time they decided to overlay it with all possible they had on hand. From paper through wallpapers and also with curtains. Unfortunately they failed and Nazis found it, dismantled it and took it to an unknown destination. The chamber is a red-orange colored room and I must say I really did not expect such a beauty. From bottom to top there are small pieces of amber laboriously pieced into each other, animated pictures, mirrors and clock and all this creates an amazing whole. I ran the whole palace twice so that I could see the Amber Room again.
On the ground floor there is entire history of the Romanovs family and historical photos of the palace bombed during World War II. Very interesting trip. It has already started slowly getting dark so we went back to St. Petersburg and today’s day we decided to finish a bit sporty. While being here I also wanted to see at least one of the sport stadiums. I chose probably the most famous – FC Zenit St. Petersburg stadium. Viva la football!
Day 9 – Good bye St. Petersburg, Hello Moscow!
Today was our last day here and we wanted to have an easy day with last 2 attractions. The first one was a miniature park located just behind the Petro–Pavlovian fortress and the other one was the famous cruiser Aurora. Park of the miniatures show all important monuments in the city on a reduced scale but it was closed. Then we walked alongside still frozen Neva towards the highlight of the day – Aurora. Famous cruiser firing a shot started Great October Socialist Revolution attack on the Winter Palace, is anchored in a small bay. Majestic ship has even today all cannons directed at the other bank of Neva.
That was our last stop after which we had no choice but to say goodbye to St. Petersburg and headed towards the airport with the next destination – Moscow.
Day 10 – Moscow
We started our first day in the Russian capital with a walk around the city. Kremlin was only 20 minutes walk from where we lived and we managed to see Moscow during a rush hour. To be honest with you I’ve seen a traffic in London, Paris, Rome, Istanbul but it was nothing compared to Moscow. Russians drive like crazy and I wouldn’t try crossing the road other than on the green light. Today most of the museums are closed so we are postponing Mausoleum and Tretyakov’s Gallery to another day. Instead we went to the famous Izmailovsky complex with wooden Kremlin. Tomorrow we have booked a walking tour so today we just go for a short walkaround the city centre with its legendary Red Square.
One of the most famous squares in the world is the concept itself and a huge piece of Russian history is inscribed in its Kremlin Walls. The square is surrounded by historic treasures such as the Mausoleum with the remains of V. I. Lenin, picturesque St. Basil’s cathedral, continues with the most famous department store GUM and finishing with the red building of the State Historical Museum. Above all these buildings proudly stands Kremlin with high red walls and dominant Spassky clock tower. It is such a magnificent place the words can’t describe its beauty. You just have to see it…
Day 11 – Moscow
This day we started with the free walking tour with the young guide Paul. I must say we love these tours because they are always full of useful information about the city where we are. We met at the statue of Karl Marx directly opposite the Bolshoi Theatre. Even now the famous theatre belongs among the top theatres in the world and all performances are sold out months in advance.
There is a luxury hotel Metropol on the right side where after the revolution in 1917 were held all the congresses of the Communist party. Not far from there is a building of very well known KGB which is currently under renovation and after its completion will also house the secret service FSB. Our next stop was the Red Square. In the middle of the square stands an elevated circular building (Lobnoe city) which was the place from where the start and the end of wars was announced and all important events that have occurred not only in Russia but all around the world. The tour ended in GUM where our guide Paul gave us a tip for a good and affordable food. Moscow nowadays is really expensive and with the prices overcame even London so we were glad for the tip. The restaurant is located on the 3rd floor and is called Stolovaja. We didn’t expect that in “Russian Harrods” will be such a great restaurant but we can say the food is really tasty and for reasonable prices. After lunch we went to visit Lomonosov University and later Cathedral of Christ the Saviour which is near the center and from where you can get really spectacular view of the River Moscow and the Kremlin.
Our last stop of the day was the walk along the river to favourite Gorky Park where you can also find the famous Buran space shuttle. On the way to it we passed a huge statue of Peter the Great on the boat. The park itself is a popular place for the locals and right in the middle is a skating rink we’ve never seen before. Size of the rink reminds me on Formula 1 circuit with the arrows pointing the direction of skating, benches for rest, snacks and even a smoking boxes. I think we would have enough even after one lap on this circuit. Every day on our wanderings through Russia we find something which blows our minds.
Day 12 – Moscow
Finally it’s Tuesday and we can visit the places things that were closed yesterday. We are starting with Mausoleum because it is only open three hours every day. Before entering inside you must put away all bags, cameras and phones into the locker. We came quite early so we didn’t have to wait too long. Few stairs down and we are in a glass tomb where lies mummified Lenin. There is an ongoing discussion whether he should be normally buried it looks like soon they will make it happen. Behind the Mausoleum there are tombs with busts of important politicians and generals including such names as General Zhukov, Brezhnev or Stalin. Next stop was the visit of Kremlin. Majestic residence of the President and the Russian Duma looks like a city within a city surrounded by high walls. There is about 5 Orthodox churches, 4 of which are accessible for visitors. The two most interesting things for me were Tsar Puska – 40 tones cannon and Tsar Kolokol – 200 tones bell with shrapnel fragments in front of him. Both of them are among the largest in the world and are decorated with all different ornaments and symbols.
What to say at the end of our two-week wandering the Mother Russia … So much that this trip changed our view on Russia and Russians as such in all aspects. I can say that we carry home mostly good memories. People – very nice, curious and talkative, tried to help us all the time. Language – If you do not speak Russian you might have a problem, especially with the Cyrillic names of the stops in the Moscow’s subway. We had a problem to find people speaking English almost anywhere, even at the airport they couldn’t but it’s also a bit associated with russian pride. Food – chapter of itself. For those who remember from elementary schools – a week of Russian cuisine which at that time I really hated. Now I can not say one bad word about russian food. Maybe the bread but everything else was very tasty and good quality. From salads, soups, vegetables and fruit through to various kinds of meat, ice cream and desserts. Really delicious food.
We walked a lot and saw a lot. And what we saw was really worth it. Every day we were on our feet 10 to 14 hours but in Russia it’s normal. What is for us 100 kilometers away, in Russia it is right around the corner. Even in this my sister was right. Everything here is massive – roads, temples, statues, squares… You should multiply everything at least by two to come a little closer to russian reality. If you consider whether to go to Russia or not, do not hesitate and go! Dust off your old knowledge of Russian language and take the adventure. I highly recommend it… Do svidanija!
Tip 1: The best time to visit Peterhof is from spring to autumn when the fountains are on.
Tip 2: Very good food for even better prices in Moscow you’ll find in GUM department store on the top floor. The restaurant calls Stolovaya.
Tip 3: Go for a free walking tour and find out interesting things about the city. It’s free but leave some tips at the end.
Total costs: 12 nights (Flights + Accommodation + Meals + Tickets + Transfers): £1180.00
(Prices as of February 2014)
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