Russia Album: http://travel.webshots.com/album/563971400NWoPRC
Baltic States and Poland:
Czech and Slovak Republics:
Russia was the first stop of my two week trip in Eastern Europe with Imaginative Traveller in June 2008. I joined the Moscow to Prague tour and I went to Bratislava by myself. I visited Moscow and St Petersburg and spent four and a half days over there.
Below is the highlight of my trip to Russia:
- probably the most exotic destination of my journey.
- The city is huge with soviet apartment blocks. It also contains some of the most spectacular traditional Russian style architecture.
- The Kremlin onion domed Cathedrals under the blue sky are spectacular and the Red Square/ St Basil's Cathedral are unforgettable. The communist era provides another contrast - the seven sisters (especially the Moscow State University) and the Moscow Metro (especially some stations on the circle line)
- I enjoyed strolling around Kitay Gorod - a charming neighbourhood next to the Red Square and Old Arbat.
- stunning palaces, elegant churches and charming historic centre are the highlight of Russia's former imperial capital.
- Visited the Grand Palace (Peterhof), Catherine Palace (Pushkin) and Hermitage - all of them were stunning with their own strengths. Grand Palace's fountains are spectacular, the interior of Hermitage is probably the most opulent and I like the exterior of Catherine Palace the most.
- the lineup to the Hermitage was quite long!
- Love the canals, beautiful colours of the historic buildings and the exterior of the Church on Spilled Blood.
- really enjoyed the folklore show of Feel Yourself Russian in Nikolaevsky Palace.
- did not have good weather in St Petersburg as it was raining and quite cold. It was quite interesting to see greyish white sky at 11:30 pm.
Getting around was a bit challenging as language is definitely a problem. Signs are in Russian (in metro and on the streets), so learning the Cyrillic alphabet is very useful! The traffic in both cities is very bad. The metro is definitely the best way to get around in both cities. When we got back from the Grand Palace, it took three and a half hours (instead of one hour!) because of the horrendous traffic! For food, we did not have a lot of time to enjoy the restaurants, however, I enjoyed the pancakes (crepes).
None of our tour members had their document checks by the police. However, one of my tour mates did see police checking documents. Both cities can be very crowded. And I think that Russian people in these two cities dressed very well.
Overall, I really enjoyed both places and they offer a very contrasting introduction to Russia. Try to visit both cities and they are very different from each other.
For the album covering Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
Estonia - Tallinn
· A surprise stop for us as our lovely tour leader arranged this stop and did a walk of the beautiful old town Tallinn.
· Weather was nice and the small town feel of Tallinn was quite a change from St Petersburg.
· We had a wonderful breakfast in Tallinn. Tallinn was quaint, beautiful and medieval. I was glad to spend some time in the Estonian Capital.
Latvia - Riga
· Our driver met us in Tallinn and we were on our way to Riga.
· We did not have a lot of time to explore Riga as we had a great lunch at a medieval restaurant in the Old Town. The fried garlic bread and the rabbit were very good! The medieval restaurant, although quite pricey, was a lovely experience.
· Riga was well known for its beautiful Art Nouveau architecture. We saw the major landmarks and learned some history about the city.
· Riga struck me as a vibrant, cosmopolitan city.
Lithuania - Vilnius
· Vilnius's old town is charming and highly walkable with world heritage status.
· St. Peter and Paul Church's baroque interior was particularly striking. It is not right within the Old Town but well worth visiting. The Vilnius Cathedral is simple and beautiful. The KGB museum is thought provoking with another aspect of local history.
· don't forget to try local specialties like the melted hot chocolate, Zeppelin and fried garlic bread! They are very good.
Poland - Warsaw
· after one day of travelling from Vilnius, we arrived in Warsaw in the evening.
· We had one full day for all the sights of the Polish capital. Our tour leader did a wonderful walking tour of historic centre of Warsaw, superbly rebuilt from the second world war. This is probably one thing that impressed me the most about Warsaw.
· The old town market square is splendid, as are the Wilanow park and Royal Castle.
· The Stalinist Palace of Culture and Science is pretty impressive as well.
· We went to a Communist themed restaurant. Food was great and the atmosphere was nice! We saw local people have fun.
Poland - Krakow
· The former imperial capital of Poland with the impressive Wawel Castle and Cathedral. The interior of the Castle was different from others I have seen - medieval looking to me rather than the ornate golden baroque.
· It was raining when we were visiting the beautiful historic centre but it was not raining too bad. The Jewish quarter was interesting as well.
· We visited the Auschwitz - Birkenau concentration camp. The Birkenau was the more shocking one. It was an experience to see this sad chapter of history.
· Other day trips opportunities I did not do but would love to do are the Salt Mines and the Nowa Huta Communist Tour.
· The pierogi in Poland come with many different varieties with meat, potato and fruit. I tried the Spinach one with Garlic sauce and it was very good.
For the album covering Czech and Slovak Republics: this album covers Prague, Kutna Hora and Bratislava.
Czech Republic - Prague
· The Czech capital is one of the most beautiful cities I have seen, and I hope that my photos do it justice. The best thing to do is to wander around and admire the architecture.
· Both the Old and New towns are stunningly beautiful. The lesser quarter is nice as well. I find the walk towards the Dancing House to be one of the nicest in Prague. It is so interesting to see a New Town lined with historic buildings. Of course Prague is also a very modern city. My hotel is located in a Southern residential area, and it allowed me to see another side of Prague.
· For Jewish sites, the Spanish synagogue is very beautiful. For Churches both the St. Vitus in Prague Castle and the St. Nicolas in Lesser Quarter are worth a visit. The Loreta is interesting as well. One interesting museum is the Museum of Communism in New Town. I found the displays and posters very interesting and quite funny. They close quite late as well.
· The most memorable part of the Prague castle is the Golden lane lined with cute small houses.
· As I traveled on the IMTRAV tour, I got tips from my tour leader including being careful with pickpockets. For the metro, if you have luggage, you have to purchase a half price ticket in addition to the regular fare ticket.
· When I purchased my train ticket to Bratislava, I encountered some language problem. I also forgot to write down the time I wanted in 24 hour time rather than am/ pm I am used to. That caused quite a bit of problems as well.
Czech Republic – Kutna Hora
· I decided to do a day trip from Prague and I chose Kutna Hora, a world heritage site. I joined a day tour from Prague.
· Kutna Hora is a quaint town around an hour from Prague with the Gothic St. Barbara, charming little streets and the Italian Court, which reminds me of a small version of Wawel Castle in Krakow.
· The highlight and the most unusual attraction is the “bone chapel” of the Sedlec Ossuary! I have not seen anything like it and can recommend it for anyone interested in something a bit different!
Slovakia – Bratislava
· I took the train in the evening to get to Bratislava at night, around less than four hours.
· I had a bomb scare at the train station in Prague when I was leaving Prague. This closed down the train station for half an hour.
· I stayed at a hostel as Bratislava was not part of my tour with Imaginative Traveller. It felt so different and interesting to stay at a friendly, historic hostel after staying in nice, modern tourist class hotels for the whole trip! The hostel is the Downtown Backpackers. The location of the hostel is great.
· Bratislava’s historic old town is charming and relaxing. People were very friendly. I really enjoyed my day there. The view from the castle and new bridge was nice. Unfortunately the Slovak National Theatre is not open for tours as I would love to see the interior. Some communist era buildings are worth a look as well (the New Bridge and the Slovak Radio Building)
· I then took a bus the next day and flew out of Vienna. The bus departs from the New Bridge, and there were nine buses per day. The cost was very reasonable, around nine dollars for the trip from Bratislava to Vienna airport.
That concluded my journey to this part of the world.
It was a great trip. Hope you enjoy the photos and the little trip report!