On the opening day of our tour to Russia in 2010 we were privileged to witness the 65th Victory Day celebration of Russia’s war with Germany. This involved the March Past, the Drive By of the tanks and armoured vehicles and the Fly Past by the Russian Air Force; all of this but a few metres from the front door of our Aerostar Hotel in downtown Moscow.

Many of our fellow travellers know Moscow and St Petersburg well, and are familiar with the well-known landmarks: Moscow’s Kremlin, Red Square, University of Moscow on Sparrow Hill, the magnificent Moscow Metro, visits to the Bolshoi and the Tretyakov Art Gallery. St Petersburg is not far behind with its own attractions, chief of which is the Hermitage, next the irresistible charm of the City of Peter The Great, after whom the town was named. Other landmarks include the Peter & Paul Fortress, Peterhof Palace and the Nevsky Prospekt. We were fortunate enough to stay a stone’s throw from this main thoroughfare of the city and privileged to have our fill of ballet and opera, and not only in the major centres, but in Kazan and Ekaterinburg too.

The ham in the sandwich, in between the two mega cities, was our experience on the Trans-Siberian – lasting some six days in total, but broken into three separate journeys. We stopped off in Kazan (the capital of Tatarstan), in Ekaterinburg, where the last of the Romanovs, the Russian Royal Family, were executed in 1918 and in Irkutsk, capital of Eastern Siberia. Irkutsk is near the world’s largest lake, Lake Baikal, which contains 20% of the world’s fresh water supply, is some 700 km in length north to south, 40km across and one mile deep…. all thanks to the Trans Siberian, an experience not to be missed.

This was indeed a royal Russian potpourri and we were 24 fellow travellers, privileged to have Sara Pienaar, accompanying us and explaining Mother Russia, if ever it can be explained, let alone understood, with her deep insight into history, politics and culture; a tour to be remembered.

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