20120608 Departing Singapore, Heading Moscow

The flight only takes off at 2.30 am. Well, we checked in at around 11.30 pm. First time that the tour package comes with the use of the lounge facilities. Pretty good... quietness, food,... and more importantly, work stations that I could sit down comfortably to continue with what was unfinished before leaving at 10.45 pm! Settled with several emails that asking colleagues to help to follow-up on the various stuff (though largely related to the FS@SG prog).

One pleasant surprise was, unknown to me, it's the first time packed such a light luggage, that weighed no more than 12 kg. Haha... something that I thought I could only dream of! Jokingly, I always tell friends that 'clothes' take up most of the space and weight in my luggage. I guess, this time, I packed less, and might be 'under prepared'. Hm... No huge jackets to go into my luggage. Lesser thicker clothes. No extras... Maybe because I'm prepared to buy and use on the spot? Oh yes, bringing an iPad with lots of reading downloaded helps, too!

Not pinning high hopes with the hotel about accessibility to wifi or the internet. Hm... Let's see how it goes... it could probably mean that I might have to go 'cold turkey' in the next 1.5 weeks? Hm...

20120608 Moscow

Today, we had a quick glimpse of the city...

In brief, a few words to describe the first impression are: (in)efficiency, laid back, cold, congestion, vast.

It began from the immigration checkpoint - where the immigration card was printed by the officer at the booth (Something that's new! Have not seen this in other cities visited so far). There were also some inconsistency in the processing - some needed to sign on the form, some do not. I guess they also took the opportunity to check on the recently visited cities? Hm... Of course, it also took ages for some counters to have documents to be processed. It's quite trying for those who are tired and impatient indeed. Am glad that mine went on pretty smoothly in less than 3 minutes. Oh yah, a couple of the members of the group was stuck there there for more than 10 minutes. There's stressful if I'm in their shoes. Oh yes, especially all these officers faces were expressionless. Hm... Is that how it defines seriousness and er... "cool". Hm...

Something that we were not forewarned prior to the trip - the traffic condition as the coach entered the 'ring'. It seemed like... the locals spend at least 50% of the time on the road (trapped in traffic jams).
Look at the way they drive, and park their vehicles! It's not easy to figure out the 'order' in 'chaos' too!

In this day, we visited the Moscow Kremlin. The visit to the Red Square has to be rescheduled as it has been cordoned off for a major celebration the next day (Independent Day).

On the other hand, we visited the 'famous' gallery-like Metro stations in Moscow. They are beautiful and elaborate... and of course, the size... which none of ours is near it!

20120609 Moscow to Tver

This was the day that we experienced the worst traffic jam of the entire trip (for this case, it ranked at the top of the list amongst all my trips). We headed Tver via a 'single' highway.

It was a long long drive that we covered only 1/3 of the distance to St Petersburg, which was only about 100 km. Can you imagine, taking about 8 hours to travel 100 km. The average speed was approximately 12.5 km/h! So, the bus crawled because of the heavy traffic jam between Moscow and Tver.

We made a stop at the farm where we saw some cows and sheep, and a couple of horses. Then we had lunch. Actually, it's a can-do-without item in the itinerary.

In fact, we drove pass Klin. Nevertheless, none of us know where it was because the guide did not sound us out on this. Well, well, if there's no intent to, then it's not wise to include in the itinerary that made it looked so comprehensive!

Tver was one of the key capitals in old times of Russia. However, this was again not highlighted to us to look out for anything that's representative or significant in this place as the coach drove through the streets or roads. By making it town as just a stopover, the guide as not done justice to the town.

20120610 Tver to Novgorod

The day started early. However, our luck did not quite improve as we were moving along the expressway that was filled with heavy trucks! That reminded me of Bhutan, that the scary monster ran on the road like bullies, sending dust to the pedestrians' faces! Well, this was the one and only one road to Novgorod, we had no choice, but to accept whatever circumstances that arose. Because of several vehicle breakdown and accidents along the road, our journey (hence, the schedule) to the day's destination, Novgorod was badly affected, that we had to miss our lunch! We ended up at the road side eatery buying some snacks! and some people in the tour group even went without lunch. While we can't anticipate the jam, the situation could be better managed.

Here's something I bought at the road side eatery... tried half of every item.

Novgorod is one of the UNESCO World Heritage site. However, the walking around the Kremlin and visiting St Sophia somehow had not bring out its importance or impressed upon us why it was rated as one of the noteworthy sites in the world. I think, the guide could have done more to get us to appreciate the place.

The bridge that spanned across the island (Kremlin) and the other side of the Novgorod was busy. Nevertheless, it's nowhere (in terms of 'life' and 'busyness') near what we experienced at Charles' Bridge in Prague.

20120611 Novgorod to St Petersburg

We started the day at around 9 am, and the drive to St Petersburg was a smooth one. The only disappointment was we were unable to go for the optional tour to Catherine's Palace, the summer palace of Catherine the Great. It's more lavish, I believe.

We were greeted by cathedrals when drove into the city. The roads were wide and the first impression was, St Petersburg resembled how an Europe City looks like - there was striking similarity and familiarity with Paris! Based on the history described by the guide (Irene), this could probably due to the fact that Peter the Great was educated in Europe and hence the building and development of St Petersburg were greatly influenced by that of Europe.

St Petersburg was also known as the Venice in the north. We went for the River Cruise that sent us through the canals. We were blessed with good weather that afternoon :) Though I had been on several river cruise (in the previous trips), this one was unique as the boat cruised through from one canal to another, and passing through low bridges that we were warned several times to be seated else would risk being beheaded!

The bus had been circling around St Issac Cathedral several times, but it was a pity that we did not get the chance to enter the cathedral to see what's inside. From the book, we knew that we had missed seeing some beautiful art pieces inside. On the other hand, we spent quite a fair bit of time around the Bronze Horseman, which was Peter the Great that sat on the mighty horse which symbolised victory while the horse stepped on the snake, which symbolised evil.

Oh yes, it's the first evening that we had Chinese dinner, which it was once again confirmed (similarly, for the two other evenings) that Chinese food was never interesting or delicious in trips to the non-oriental countries. Of course, it's also one of the more economical meals.

20120612 St Petersburg

The highlight of the day is Peterhof (Peter's Court), which was pretty impressive, with so many things coated in gold! Especially the statues! Wow! The Russian leaders definitely knew how to show off their wealth! On top of that, something unique about Peterhof was the different kinds of water fountains! Fountains were ordered to be built without pumps, using principles of Science to pump water up.

Though it rained in the morning, the weather had been kind to us. It rained while we were indoor and it stopped when we were supposed to be outdoor. On the other hand, I was received multiple 'kisses' from the mosquitoes, especially those in the garden area. Haiz...

Oh yes, it's here that I bought the "Russian kachang puteh" - Roasted almond and nuts. By the way, I've not bought a single cone of ice cream in this entire trip (except the one scoop that came with the lunch).

In the same afternoon, we visited the stately Hermitage, which is comparable to Lourve. While we did not see how lavish it was decorated in the Catherine Palace, the winter palace already tells a lot.

We had about 15 minutes of photo stop at the Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood. Its structure and colour were elaborate. The structure was beautiful and some of us mistook that to be the St Basil's in Moscow. I would love to have the opportunity to see the interior, which was known for its mosaic 'paintings'!

20120613 St Petersburg to Moscow

Peter and Paul Fortress sat on an island where the Peter and Paul Cathedral was the resting place of the Tzars and royal members, including Peter the Great, Elizabeth, Catherine the Great, as well as the last Tzar, Nicholas III. One could tell the entire story from Peter the Great's time to Nicholas III just within the cathedral. It's definitely a very sacred place in the Russians' heart.

The Sapsan brought us back to Moscow in approximately 4 hours! Well, compared with the time we took to arrive, I think Sapsan would be a great choice to save us from all the agony. BTW, we nearly board the wrong train. Haha... Thanks to someone alerted us that ours should be the following train.

Of course, we once again met the peak hour jam. Haiz... basically, the traffic was chaotic!

20120614 Moscow to Suzdal

We started the day very early, at around 7.30 am. Reason being we had to set aside time for the peak hour traffic. This time, we did not notice much heavy truck heading towards the same direction. Another observation was, mountains were scarce here! Green plains of land, occasionally, there were forests.

The drive was considered pretty smooth. Probably because we had already lowered our expectation. We drove passed several towns (or cities) - while the guide attempted to inform us the name of the town, unfortunately, she did not help us to make connections of the history to these towns, etc. It was a real pity!

In fact, the visit to the Matryoshka Doll Factory was moved up to this day. We saw how the craftman used the machine to 'cut' the doll out. While they use a machine cutter, the work was impossible without the fluency craftmanship. This was followed by a hands-on session where all of us were given a doll to paint. Haha... Art lesson for all. Learnt that some people were really creative in the way they designed their doll.

Make a guess, which was my masterpiece?

We arrived at Sergiev Posad to visit the Trinity St Sergius Lavra, which is the centre of the Russian Orthodox Church. In fact, it's also a monastery. It was made up by several old churches enclosed by a high wall. Photo taking was not allowed unless we pay for a ticket (haha... I just wonder how would they monitor? or it's really based on trust?

The rest of the afternoon was to make our way to another UNESCO World Heritage site, Suzdal, which was known for its wooden and stone architecture. While on our way, we passed by several old towns that made up the Golden Ring. Unfortunately, there was no mention about "Golden Ring" to us at all.

20120615 Suzdal to Moscow

The open air Museum of Wooden Architecture was impressive. These were structures/ buildings moved from various villages to this place. Not a simple task to do the shifting!

We then drove to Vladimir, another ancient city that was part of the Golden Ring.

Back to Moscow, we headed for the Red Square. I'm not sure if we should count ourselves lucky? or ... as this turned out to be the only time that we could visit the square! It was humanly impossible (based on the traffic condition) to arrange for another trip to come to the Red Square in the following (departure) morning.

The Red Square is where the 3 main buildings were found - Mausoleum, St Basil's Cathedral and the GUM. Well, it was another disappointment that we did not have ample time to walk into the Cathedral to appreciate the interior art work. On the other hand, we must count ourselves lucky, too, as the rain stopped very quickly by the time we arrive!

Indeed, it was a long day... that ended with the Circus show.

20120616 Moscow to SIngapore

The morning was relaxing... we took our own sweet time to have our breakfast before doing some last minute shopping of souvenirs before departing for airport at 11.30 am.

Well, it was quite a 'miserable' departure, when we were only given lunch boxes instead of having the meals in a restaurant. Well, the lunch was supposed to be a 'made-up' for the day when we missed the lunch.

Well, I guess most of us don't appreciate the gesture because it's Chinese food again. Haiz...

While we arrived early, we did not have much spare time because of the long queue at the immigration checkpoint. On the other hand, there were not many shops to shop around, anyway.