Art & architecture in Moscow & St Petersburg
By Heather Tonge, who travelled with us in August 2014 with her two teenage sons.
When trying to decide on our next trip, as soon as Russia was mentioned it was a definite all-round "yes". My eldest son had recently studied the Russian Revolution and we'd all incidentally developed an interest in Russia.
I was particularly interested in the architecture, the history, and the photographic opportunities I knew Moscow and St Petersburg would present. I’ve always loved taking photos, capturing a unique moment or an emotion in time forever.
Moscow was definitely not the monochrome city, the backdrop of news reports from the Soviet past. It was even more colourful, much more affluent, and busier than expected. The trip gave us many memorable and unexpected experiences.
Falling in love with Russia
I would say this quote by the best-selling America author Daniel Silva echos nicely what we experienced:
"I absolutely fell in love with Moscow. It’s one of those places where you can’t help but trip over history at every turn. It’s a city of enormous contradictions. Within a few yards of Lenin’s Tomb is some of the most expensive shopping in the world."
And while he refers to Moscow we also found the history and paradoxes of St Petersburg equally as appealing.
Some favourite pictures from our trip
The Winter Palace, St Petersburg
The Winter Palace before a storm, St Petersburg
This was a telephoto taken from the outdoor terrace of the Bellevue Brasserie. The resulting panorama captured golden spires and domes, sculptures and beautiful coloured buildings, with the central focus being the historic Winter Palace.
In a museum of three million items and thousands of visitors per day we appreciated our wonderful guide Natasha’s skill in chaperoning us to the highlights and other items we were keen to see.
The weather was perfect that evening with the golden glow of the sunset beneath the layers of approaching dark rain clouds.
The Amber Room in the Catherine Palace
The sparkling Amber Room in Catherine Palace in Tsarkoe Selo, 15 miles from St Petersburg
The Amber Room is a complete chamber decorated by amber panels, gold leaf and mirrors. It was created in the 18th century but, unfortunately, it disappeared during the Second World War. Before it was lost, the Amber Room was sometimes known as the ’Eighth Wonder of the World’.
It was recreated by skilled craftsmen using 6 tonnes of 350 ‘shades’ of Baltic amber, and completed in 2003.
The Church on Spilled Blood, St Petersburg
The Church on Spilled Blood in St Petersburg taken just after a passing storm
This picture was also taken from the terrace of the Bellevue Brasserie. The unique viewpoint shows the church sparkling and flamboyant shortly after the storm had passed.
The added interest of a second church illuminated on the horizon was a bonus. It was certainly a view hard to walk away from.
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Smolensk, Moscow
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Smolensk, Novodevichy Convent, Moscow
The cathedral is the oldest and most beautiful structure in the Novodevichy Convent, it was rebuilt around the 1550s. It is quite rare to be allowed to take photographs inside a Russian church, so this was a special treat.
I hoped to capture the rich colours of the frescos (said to be among the finest in Moscow). They cover all the walls, over five tiers, and extend all the way to the ceiling and the onion-shaped domes.
The glowing light from the chandeliers, the gold, and the wonderful colours combine to show the warmth within these walls.
Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building, Moscow
Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building, Moscow
This building is one of Moscow’s ‘Seven Sisters’ Gothic skyscrapers. It comprises some very expensive apartments inhabited by wealthy Muscovites.
The building looked impressive during the daytime but appeared even more stunning at twilight. I’d planned to capture a shot like this and was pleased to find the view easily from the river bridge near St Basil’s Cathedral.
Without a tripod, the camera was resting on a bag. With a cable-release, my sharpest telephoto lens, and fingers crossed, at least this one image was a success. It is even possible on zooming into this image to see someone sitting on the gold star at the top of the building.
My camera techniques
For landscapes I usually use a Canon EOS 5D MkII camera with a selection of Canon lenses, and the Lee Filter System (with ND, and Big and Little stopper filters).
For Russia it wasn’t practical to take a tripod so I made do with walls and railings for some support. I increased the ISO for the hand-held shots.
Our itinerary in detail
Russia specialist John put together an itinerary based on our ideas and his suggestions. Four nights in Moscow, then travelling by Sapsan high-speed train to St Petersburg for two nights. We returned to Moscow by overnight Red Arrow train before the evening flight home.