As we speak, Russia is basking in the spotlight of the FIFA World Cup. It is the first time Eastern Europe has held the international football championship. There is as much hype and melodrama off the field as on it.
Hundreds of thousands of eyes will be glued on Russia’s capital, Moscow, when the final is played on July 15th.
We are few and far between, but there are some of us who know pitifully little about the World Cup and about soccer in general. Or is it football? Exactly how many Ronaldos are there?
For me, the attraction is all in the destination. The commentators talk technique, but I hear revolution, tsars and palaces. I am intrigued by the otherworldly architecture and bloody history of a country so big it could eat the rest of Europe for breakfast.
Off the back of the World Cup, it is worth researching what Russia has to offer its visitors all year, every year.
It seems natural to start in Moscow, the national capital and the location of the football final. It is not usually the grace and discipline of football players that draws international attention, but rather that of ballet dancers. Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre is home to the Bolshoi Ballet, the largest, oldest and probably the most famous ballet company in the world.
In the famous Red Square, St Basil’s Cathedral radiates colour and a dramatic history. It was first built in the 16th century by the first Russian tsar, Ivan the Terrible. Known by a series of different monikers, it was eventually named after Vasily the Blessed, a commoner born in the 1400s who became known for his powers of prophecy. The cathedral complex consists of nine chapels dedicated to different saints and was first painted in technicolour in the 17th century.
More modern stories are told at the Cosmonaut Museum, detailing the Russian account of the Space Race, and at the Kremlin, Russia’s political powerhouse to this day.
St Petersburg is typically a tourist’s second port of call. Here, grandeur and opulence spill over into the Neva River, and there are enough sights to be seen to keep you occupied for weeks. The Winter Palace and Hermitage Museum, once home to the Tsars, imposes its mint and pearl majesty on Palace Square. The 18th century Catherine Palace was once the imperial family’s summer residence, famed for the ornateness of its Amber and Agate rooms. The Peter and Paul fortress, St Isaac’s Cathedral and Peterhof palace are more of the city’s popular stops, all for good reason.
Do not stop your journeying and daydreaming in the city centres. Once I got searching, I disappeared down a Russian rabbit hole of villages and citadels, the modern and medieval, the religious and secular.
In the spirit of the 2018 Russian World Cup, check out the MyDiscoveries amazing Russia cruise offer.