Russia is a revelation. The cold war imbued most of us with images of a cold, dreary Moscow and Kremlin replete with intimidating concrete buildings, foreboding walls, bars and barbed wire.
In winter, the season without sun, it is definitely cold and the sky is gray, but the Kremlin, the Russian word for fortress? Bright, open, treed and landscaped with glorious gold-domed churches,
red brick walls anchored by almost whimsical green-topped towers and tourist-filled grounds.
Outside in Red Square?
At one end, a history museum
It isn't all rosy. As a guide said, "We used to have money but nothing to buy. Now we have everything to buy but no money."
|Unknown Lady, Ivan Kramskoy, 1883.|
|Clock Egg, Faberge.|
The famous Metro is crowded, too, but glorious with its marble, mosaics, paintings and chandeliers.
Increasingly, the 16 million Muscovites have cars and at any given time most seem to be on the roads. The Bloomberg Report listed Moscow as the world's most congested city and I believe them.
Viking Ingvar was moored north of town and it took 45 to 60 minutes to drive the 5-10 miles in each day.
St. Petersburg is everything you expect and more. Peter the Great and his successors built one beautiful city and fortunately, the Communists realized its value soon enough that many of the buildings have been preserved. In the nearby palaces, the people themselves worked to hide, bury and protect the treasures from the ravages and scavenging of war.
are the must-sees for most Americans and they should be. Just don't expect to see it all.
There are many more objects of wonder to be seen in St. Petersburg.
|Lilies of the Valley Easter Egg, 1898|
From the elegant creations at the Faberge Museum to the many cathedrals, especially the Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood.
The food is good, too. I can personally recommend an excellent family restaurant (there's an outside playground for the kids), Teplo, with a satin-smooth stroganov and huge portions. For a fine dining experience, Tsar, offers a period decor, elegant presentation and excellent beet salad and chicken kiev. Ladies, don't miss the bathroom.
In between, cruising the Moscow Canal, Volga-Baltic Waterway, Lake Onega, Svir River, Lake Ladoga and Neva River visiting Uglich, Yaroslavl, Kuzino, Kizhi and Mandrogy is a look into smaller cities, tourist villages and dense forests of birch, hardwoods and evergreens.
Try a pre-tour/post tour of Moscow and St. Petersburg if you can. It will be the best part of your trip. Western tourists are invariably greeted by friendly locals but the Russians make it a point to have you leave knowing they personally love the American people. It's the systems that don't get along.
Georgia Island hopping.
Earlier this month I revisited our across-the-border neighbors Little St. Simons and Jekyll Islands.
Little St. Simons Island, reached by boat from St. Simons Island, is a unique experience.
Explore the beaches,
ducks, spoonbills, wood storks, egrets and cranes by day, with or without a guide. Bicycle, fish, hike, kayak, swim, go for a picnic, learn about the organic garden or idle away.
Nightly rates for a two-night minimum range from $450-$700 per double depending on time of year and accommodations, plus 18 percent service fee and applicable taxes. That includes everything during your stay on this 11,000-acre island: lodging, three meals a day and snacks, soft drinks, beer and wine, all island activities including guided Naturalist excursions and use of all recreational gear (bikes, boats, kayaks, fishing equipment) as well as transfers to and from the island.
The # Westin Jekyll Island offers an cool, oceanfront contemporary vibe with rates of $179-$229 a night through Dec. 29.
Jekyll Island Club is filled with echoes of nostalgia and days of yore and offers an island exploration package: island club or island cottages accommodations for $169 a night or Ocean Club for $249 a night plus a free half-day bicycle rental.