May 18, 2018
Review about Connoisseur's Russia by Wendy & Simon
Our trip was truly wonderful.
Both cities with their museums, palaces, and cathedrals were were awe inspiring, and we learned so much about history and culture. We had beautiful weather, and that made the visit even more perfect. The Bolshoi ballet was a wonderful experience, as was the Verdi opera at the Marinsky theater. We also (by chance) happened upon a free acappella concert in St Isaac's cathedral which was very beautiful, and so perfect in that gorgeous location.
We enjoyed everything about it, the hotel accomodations were excellent, and the guides and drivers were superb.We must mention Olga Filimontseva and Alexander Makarov (our guide and driver) who took us to Vladimir and Sudzal, and went out of their way to make our experience a delightful and memorable time. In addition to being a very well informed guide with an excellent command of the English language, Olga taught us about the Russian alphabet, and gave us many useful expressions! We encountered a terrible traffic jam driving back to Moscow the evening that we were leaving for St Petersburg, so did not have time for dinner, but Olga arranged for a colleague to meet us by the train station with a very good take out meal, and she then personally put us on the train. The train journey was another highlight of the vacation. The compartment was quite amazing, much more spacious than we had expected, and the service impeccable.
People that we met were very friendly and helpful, and I must say that the staff at the Kempinsky Hotel in St Petersburg went out of their way to assist us on our final morning. It was Victory Day (May 9th), so all the streets around our hotel were blocked by armored vehicles and troops waiting to enter the Winter Palace Square. The hotel staff took us out their back entrance and arranged a taxi to take us to the airport. That was the only snag in the whole trip - our concierge phoned the driver that you had arranged to pick us up that morning, to advise him to come to the back entrance of the hotel. He had received wrong information, and was at the airport looking to pick us up and bring us into he city. The concierge advised that there would not be sufficient time for the driver to come into the city and then take us back to the airport, so she organized a city taxi for us.
On a couple of occasions that we were alone, we found two very worthwhile places that were not on your itinerary, and you may be interested in including them. One was in Moscow - "The Zaryadye Park" behind St Basil's Cathedral. The park has several very interesting exhibits, an outdoor stage with evening performances, several cafes, and is a delightful place to walk, away from the crush of tourists in Red Square. In St Petersburg - "The State Museum of the Political History of Russia" was fascinating, and gave an honest and enlightening view of the past. Simon had hoped to visit the Artillery Museum, but sadly it was closed on the only free day that we had in St Petersburg, as was the war ship Aurora (both of those definitely "men" sights!)
We were happily surprised that ATM machines were readily available in all places that we visited, and payment by credit card was almost universally accepted. One tip that was given to us before we left, was to always withdraw an amount such as 4800 rubles from an ATM (rather than 5000) to avoid receiving all 1000 ruble notes which in places were difficult to exchange. You may wish to pass on that tip to future travelers.
Thank you for arranging such a wonderful trip - we shall certainly recommend East-West tours to friends, and will encourage hem to visit Russia.
Wendy & Simon