Moscow and St. Petersburg - Strange, Alluring, Enthralling
March 30-April 10, 2017
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Russia remains a fascinating study in contrasts—at once well-bred and wild, huge and intimate, formal and freewheeling. Our experience of the historical and cultural riches of Moscow and St. Petersburg will be deepened by behind-the-scenes site visits, private moments in Russian homes, and illuminating lectures by two Russian scholars and by our faculty leader, Penny Von Eschen. An extremely engaging professor of history, Penny writes and teaches on the intersections of U.S. and Soviet cultural and political history from the late nineteenth century to the present.
In Moscow, the economic and political center of the country, we'll visit Novodevichy Convent, the Grand Choral Synagogue, the Kremlin, Red Square, and the World War II Museum at Victory Park, as well as the world-renowned metro stations. We'll also enjoy an evening concert and a private tasting at the Vodka Museum.
In St. Petersburg, we'll take in the Hermitage Museum with its spectacular Winter Palace; the Fabergé Museum; the Russian Museum; the Catherine Palace; the Peter and Paul Fortress; the lovely Yusupov Palace; and Shostakovich's summer cabin. We'll enjoy a ballet master class, a concert or opera at an illustrious theater, and borscht and piroshky in the dacha of a St. Petersburg resident.
Penny Von Eschen
Penny Von Eschen is the Department of History's L. Sanford and Jo Mills Reis Professor of Humanities. Since receiving her PhD in history from Columbia University in 1994, Penny has written numerous essays and books, including Satchmo Blows Up the... > more
- Double occupancy: $7,683 per person
- Single supplement: $750 per person
- See What's included?
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- Fitness scale: Slightly strenuous. May require extended walking over uneven ground as well as the ability to climb stairs and to stand for considerable periods of time.
Novodevichy Convent at night, Moscow
March 30: Depart U.S.
Depart the U.S. on flights for Moscow, Russia.
March 31: Moscow
Arrive in Moscow and transfer to a centrally located hotel to check in. This evening, enjoy a welcome dinner at a local restaurant. Those who are interested can enjoy an optional night-time walk to Red Square.
Marriott Grand Hotel or similar (D)
April 1: Moscow
Depart in the morning for a full-day tour of Moscow—a booming metropolis, dignified yet dynamic, where ancient churches sit shoulder to shoulder with 21st-century financial institutions.
We'll begin with a few of the world-renowned metro stations—showpieces of Socialist art, furnished with statues, frescoes, and mosaics and with marbled, gilded, and bronzed walls and ceilings.
We'll visit the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, built from 1839-1883 to commemorate the Russian victory over Napoleon. It was destroyed by the Soviets in 1931 to make way for a Palace of Soviets and meticulously rebuilt by the Moscow government in the 1990s. The massive golden-domed church has great views rewarding a climb to the top.
We'll stroll across the Patriarch footbridge over the Moskva River to Bolotny Island, where the red brick Red October Chocolate Factory building is now a modern center for art, clubs, and culture. From the bridge you can see the gargantuan maritime monument to Peter the Great as well as the famous "House on the Embankment," built to house the Communist Party elite.
We'll tour the UNESCO-listed Novodevichy Convent, founded in the sixteenth century and the convent of choice for noble women forced to take the veil, such as Peter the Great's first wife. The compound contains a spectacularly beautiful church, Smolensk Cathedral, with icons from the time of Boris Godunov as well as exhibits featuring paintings, woodwork, metalwork, embroidery, illuminated books, and jewels.
We'll enjoy a private tour and tasting at the Vodka Museum, where we'll learn about the history of Russia's premium distillery, Cristall. After dinner on your own, we'll attend an evening performance at one of Moscow's world-renowned theaters, where the surroundings are as wonderful as the performance.
Marriott Grand Hotel or similar (B, L)
April 2: Moscow
Start with a walking tour this morning of Kitay Gorod, one of the oldest districts in Moscow. All that remains of the thick walls that once surrounded it is one gate, Iverskiye, beyond which was Glebovskoye Podvorye, the inn at which all of Moscow's first Jews were required to live. Walk past the Grand Choral Synagogue, consecrated in 1893 but shut down in the 1930s. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, funds were gathered to renovate the beautiful neoclassical building, and the synagogue reopened in 2001.
Lunch is on your own near Red Square, which, with the colorful domes of St. Basil's, is perhaps the most recognizable symbol of Russia. The eastern side of Red Square is dominated by the elaborate façade of GUM, the former State Department Store, a glass-topped 1890s arcade of booths. Originally a marketplace sheltering over a thousand merchants, the building was nationalized after the revolution and used for many years as a staging area for the enormous parades on Red Square.
In the afternoon we'll drive to the World War II Museum at Victory Park, and in the evening we'll dine in the home of a Russian family, experiencing firsthand the meaning of Russian hospitality.
Marriott Grand Hotel or similar (B, D)
April 3: Moscow / St. Petersburg
Continue touring the capital today before boarding the high-speed Sapsan train to St. Petersburg. Arrival will be late tonight, followed by hotel check-in and overnight.
Helvetia Hotel or similar (B)
April 4: St. Petersburg
Following breakfast, gather in the conference room to learn about efforts to preserve the architectural heritage of the buildings in the Karelian countryside around St. Petersburg. Then enjoy a brief introduction to the city center, including a stop at St. Isaac's Cathedral, one of the city's great architectural wonders and bursting with sculptures, frescoes, stained glass works, and woodcarvings.
Next visit the Church of the Savior on the Blood, built on the spot where Czar Alexander II was felled by a bomb in 1881, then stop for lunch at a local restaurant. In the afternoon, take a trip outside the city to experience Russian dacha life. A dacha is a city-dweller's house in the country, usually a modest place for getting away from the daily grind and growing some vegetables. Dacha gardens were responsible for a significant portion of the produce grown during Soviet times.
In the evening, enjoy a traditional Russian dinner, including such specialties as borscht and piroshky, in the dacha of a St. Petersburg resident.
Helvetia Hotel or similar (B, L, D)
April 5: St. Petersburg
Begin the day with a visit to the Hermitage Museum, which houses one of the largest museum collections in the world. The grand double-entry staircases and fabulous rooms with their inlaid floors and gilded woodwork are works of art in themselves.
After time for an independent lunch, attend a ballet master class where the dancers run through their warm-up routines and practice fragments of ballets, after which they will perform several complete numbers in costume. With luck, we might get a chance to converse with the dancers after the class.
Spend a romantic evening at one of St. Petersburg's illustrious theaters. Russia has long been known as a place where the arts are held in high regard. It is the home of some of the world's finest ballet companies and composers. Russian musicians, dancers, and opera singers have always held places in the pantheon of global cultural luminaries. Attend a memorable ballet, concert, or opera performance in Russia's cultural capital at the Mariinsky or Mikhailovsky theater. Dinner this evening is at a local restaurant.
Hotel Helvetia or similar (B, D)
April 6: St. Petersburg
After a morning talk on Soviet life, perestroika, and capitalism, we'll set off for the Fabergé Museum, which features more than 4,000 items of jewelry and the largest collection of Fabergé eggs in the world. Then we'll break into smaller groups for lunch in a Soviet-style café. Each small group will have a chance to interact with English-speaking Russians from a variety of walks of life.
In the afternoon we'll tour the Russian Museum, which now houses about a half million works of art. The museum's main structure, the magnificent Mikhailovsky Palace, was extensively renovated in 1998 in honor of its hundredth anniversary.
We'll take a walking tour of Nevsky Prospekt, along which we'll pass the Kazan Cathedral and the Usupoff Palace, where Rasputin met his end. Dinner this evening is on your own.
Hotel Helvetia or similar (B, L)
April 7: St. Petersburg
After breakfast, visit the Peter and Paul Fortress, one of the first structures in St. Petersburg, the cornerstone of which was laid by Peter the Great in 1703. See the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, where all the Russian czars except Peter II and Ivan VI are entombed.
After lunch, we'll set off for the lovely Usupoff Palace. Although the palace looks ordinary from the outside, its interior is exquisite, with a marble staircase, crystal chandeliers, gilded candelabras, and magnificently painted ceilings. Owned before the revolution by the very rich and powerful Usupoff family, the palace has its own miniature theater. This is the place where the plot against the sinister Rasputin came to fruition.
Next enjoy your choice of either visiting the Museum of Dostoevsky or taking a private cooking class taught in the Helvetia kitchens. Dinner is on your own.
Hotel Helvetia or similar (B, L)
April 8: St. Petersburg
Touring this morning begins with a trip to Peterhof. Peter the Great built this estate on a ridge by the Gulf of Finland 19 miles outside of St. Petersburg. The former imperial residence is surrounded with extensive parks and gardens intended to rival Versailles, complete with an array of gilded statues, magnificent palaces, and fountains.
Fountains are Peterhof's main attraction. The collection pools in Peterhof's upper garden discharge their waters nearly 50 feet down to the marble, granite, and limestone fountains and cascades that adorn the lower park.
Take a tour of Peter the Great's favorite residence, Monplaisir Palace, with its sweeping view of the Gulf of Finland. We'll also visit Kronstadt, with its naval fortress, cathedral, and provincial cottages from the eighteenth century. The excursion includes a visit to the fortress, the New Historical Museum, and the Memorial Museum of St. John of Kronstadt, as well as a guided tour of this historical landmark.
Return to the city for dinner and overnight.
Hotel Helvetia or similar (B, L, D)
April 9: St. Petersburg
Today, head to Tsarskoye Selo ("Czar's Village"), the location of one of Russia's greatest cultural attractions, Catherine's Palace. Originally built in 1717 by Catherine I, the palace was later enlarged and embellished by famed architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli. The estate and palace buildings were almost completely destroyed by the Germans during WWII, but they have been carefully and expertly restored into a brilliant architectural monument.
Stop for lunch at Podvorye Restaurant, built in the style of a traditional Russian izba, or wooden cottage. Enjoy wonderful peasant-style cuisine, served at long wooden tables as balalaikas accompany an ensemble singing Russian folk songs. Owner Sergei Gustai has hosted such distinguished guests as Vladimir Putin and former First Lady Laura Bush.
Returning to the city, stop at Victory Square, where the Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad holds pride of place. Beneath the memorial is the underground Museum of the Defense of Leningrad, dedicated to the history of the siege.
In the evening, celebrate with a festive farewell dinner.
Hotel Helvetia or similar (B, L, D)
April 10: Return to U.S.
Following breakfast, the tour concludes with a transfer to the airport.