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Even with all of my travels over the years (about 25 countries), I never expected to get to Russia. It is pretty far away, after all. But somehow I’ve been there twice in the last year and expect to go twice more in the coming year. Even from Munich, Russia is a 3-4 hour flight. When I went this past July they were having a heatwave with temperatures in the 30s C (90s F), while air conditioning or even air movement indoors is still just an interesting concept. We stayed in business class hotels in St Petersburg and Moscow, which were nicer than I expected.

Without question, I can say that St Petersburg is a truly beautiful city made even more special in summer during the White Nights period when it remains light out until very late. There are vistas at every canal and boat rides on the Neva River at twilight. The Hermitage museum is exceptional, both the collection and the some of the palace rooms. The collection is so large and impressive that in certain buildings you have the incongruity of amazing canvases hanging on the walls of a dingy old palace. Is that a Rembrandt or a Botticelli? It’s so dark and crowded in here that I really can’t tell. Catherine’s Palace makes for a wonderful day trip just outside the city. The Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood is unbelievable. Being fully restored to painstaking detail in frescoes and glass mosaics makes you wonder which is more impressive, that it was built the first time or that it was re-built a second time. The Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral and Peter and Paul Fortress are on the Neva River. In a true sense of recycling, the fortress has been a prison at various times over the years and now has public beaches on its riverfront. ( I’m guessing Putin someone moved the prisons to cheaper real estate.)

In contrast, Moscow has the very impressive Red Square. The city itself struck me as not very walkable, massive, dirty, hot, dusty, filled with highway ramps going everywhere, and vaguely like some large Asian (or American?) megalopolis without a planning commission. On neither trip did I get to see much of it, but it is very impressive to see the full complex. The Kremlin, Lenin’s Tomb, St Basil’s Cathedral. Hopefully more on these sights later. Next up, business meetings in Russia. Hmm.

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