Holiday! It would be so nice…

Crossing the Neva River on the Troitsky Bridge.

Spring in Russia brings the May holidays. On Labor Day, I hopped the SapSan train northwest to St. Petersburg. A port city on the coast, the wind was whipping and I was blessed once again with glorious sunshine and blue skies. Known as a rainy city, I couldn’t have asked for more from my beloved St. Pete’s.

My first time leaving Moscow since January, it was wonderful if a bit bizarre to be able to take this trip. Fully vaccinated, I still wear a mask indoors (I’m one of only a few, sadly). I put in 20,000+ steps a day wandering the canals and city sidewalks, shooting photos and soaking in what felt like travel from the Before Times.

My first stop was Pushkin’s Apartment Museum, where he lived along the embankment until his death by dual in 1837. Their English audio guide was fantastic.

I have never visited St. Pete’s solo so I set up two Airbnb experiences to discover unknown parts of the city and learn from the locals. One was a tour of antique and vintage shops during which I learned about the Imperial Porcelain native to the city. The second experience was a walking tour of Petrograd Island, a favorite abode of locals filled with cafes and amazing architecture. The island was the original capital when the city was established in 1703 by Peter the Great.

I once again spent my nights at the Soul Kitchen Hostel. The hostel has now morphed into a co-living space with long term renters but is still as inviting as ever (and you can book short stays). Best location, walkable to everywhere, and the kindest hosts. My private room had a view of the canal on a relatively quiet street near the Pont du Rouge. Nothing beats the balcony view from the Soul Kitchen Hostel! Sunset was gorgeous if a bit chilly in the late April evening.

The crowning jewel of the trip had to be the Faberge Museum. Someone had once discouraged me from visiting but I am so thrilled that I did not listen. Exquisite excess, as my aunt Susan would say, and oh how beautiful the enamel detailing! A gorgeous building with incredible treasures to behold. Here’s a CBS Sunday Morning spot on the collection.

St. Pete’s is a much more relaxed city than Moscow. Very kind and friendly people, great food, and a penchant for the arts; it might be my favorite city in Europe.

One of the highlights of the trip – a dinner at The Idiot Restaurant (a nod to Dostoevsky’s famous novel). I enjoyed mussels in an ode to my grandad, who always wished to visit the city. The vodka shot was a treat on the house.

I departed on Orthodox Easter amidst a cacophony of church bells echoing off the onion domes.

St. Pete’s will always have a special place in my heart, with so many good memories of past trips with loved ones and this special trip all my own. I hope to return someday and walk the canals once again.

Moscow Visitors

I feel so lucky to have had visitors during my three years in Moscow. There’s nothing better than showing people you love around your new town. I continue to explore Moscow and having visitors is an awesome excuse to get to all those places I’ve put off or haven’t seen in a while.

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In March, my good friend Katie came for a visit. I’m sure her vacation destination was a bit of surprise to her fellow teachers but she made an amazing effort of it, traveling all the way from Minnesota on her spring break. A strong solo traveler, she took in Moscow while I worked and even trekked to St. Petersburg on her own. For those wondering, seeing both cities is definitely doable within a week.

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A Moscow Metro rite of passage for good luck at Площадь Революции (Ploshchad Revolyutsii)

Highlights of Katie’s visit included a brunch at the Metropol Hotel, touring the Kremlin Armory, and a Georgian feast (see below).

Just a few weeks ago, I hosted my aunt Susan for her first ever visit to Russia. Suz is a wonderful person to travel with and we planned her visit over the Victory Day holidays to get in a little extra time together.

When I was living in Korea, Suz gamely hopped a plane and visited me in Seoul. We went to China together, putting in thousands of steps all over Beijing and Xian. There really is nothing like sharing an incredible trip with someone you love and I’m so thankful to have family who are up for it!

Suz and I on a canal in St. Petersburg

We hopped the SapSan fast train up to St. Petersburg for what’s become a bit of a May tradition for me. We traveled on Victory Day which brought a few road closures but no major issues. The coolest, most powerful sight upon arrival was the Parade of the Immortals, commemorating the over 27 million (MILLION) Soviet soldiers and citizens lost in the Great War (World War II). St. Petersburg itself (as Leningrad) was under siege for over 900 days, the horrendous losses reverberating through the crowd carrying photographs of their loved ones lost. This is not a nation that will ever forget.

The Parade of the Immortals. Participants themselves number in the millions.

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg

Suz in the Winter Palace, Hermitage Museum

One of the highlights of our trip was seeing my first ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg’s famed ballet stage. Only slightly smaller in size than the Bolshoi, the venue was stunningly gorgeous with supremely gifted dancers and magnificent stage sets. Made for the perfect birthday present – all thanks to my dad.

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Catherine Palace, St. Petersburg

Another highlight from our St. Petersburg was a trip to Catherine Palace, a spot about 30 km outside of town. A summer palace for the tsars, the place is dripping in gold and excess. Each room is more stunning than the last – there is even a grand ballroom which evokes vibes of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

With the solstice quickly approaching, white nights are coming to St. Pete’s

Back in Moscow, we toured around as much as my school schedule would allow. Something new in the travelsphere is Airbnb Experiences. Many of you may use Airbnb rentals in cities around the world. The website now offers additional experiences at a fraction of the cost of private tours. I found Suz a walking tour of the Kremlin area of Moscow and she had a really nice time with her local Russian guide, Sveta. They traded stories and questions about culture, both in the States and here. I really can’t recommend a chance like this enough, especially for the opportunity to meet someone local. Call it next-level traveling but it truly enriches the experience.

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Suz picked the perfect time of year to be in Moscow – not too hot but no more snow!

As I look forward to two more years here in Moscow, consider this an open invitation! This city is constantly evolving and updating, and certainly has a past worthy of any history buff’s time. You never know – you might wake up to find this goober waiting to greet you 😉

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