Experiencing Russian culture fully is difficult for most travelers largely because of the language barrier. For many years I had wanted to travel to this culturally rich nation but I too was more than a little apprehensive. Finally, in 2011 I decided to overcome my hesitation and "just go."
Because I was traveling solo, I created a bespoke trip with the help of a Russian VIP travel agency where I had a private guide and driver with me during all of my touring activities. I visited Moscow, the Golden Ring area and St Petersburg for ten days. Attending a Bolshoi ballet performance, getting splashed with Holy Water at a church in Sergius Possad, visiting Chekhov, the famous Russian author's, estate, having tea at the opulent Pushkin Cafe in Moscow, taking in the fabulous art housed in the world renowned Hermitage Museum and experiencing some of the most wonderful interiors at the Yusupov Palace in St Petersburg were some of the highlights of my first trip to the land of "Dr. Zhivago."
Just like Boris Pasternak's romantic and powerful novel, I fell in love with the Russian culture. It's music, the exotic architecture, the opulent palace interiors, the magnificent ballet performances and the heroic visual arts completely mesmerized me. The passion and perfection underneath Russian cultural expression took me by surprise. After my first trip I left vowing I would be back.
Since this initial visit I have returned to mystical Russia, specifically to St Petersburg, two more times with each trip loving this enigmatic country even more. I had the good fortune on my first visit to have the most wonderful VIP guide who I immediately liked and subsequently, became friends with. She has facilitated for me the privilege to delve deep into this country's cultural richness which has lead to the subject matter of this post.
In June of this year the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge and AstridTravel, LLC are partnering together to offer the first Art Routes tour to St Petersburg, "the Cultural Capital of Russia." Before I unveil our first collaborative project, a little explanation about our joint venture and its purpose is needed.
Our Art Routes destination tours will focus on culture and the arts, as well as, unique sightseeing venues, great restaurants, enrichment activities and the like. Luxury in design, Art Routes adventures with AstridTravel, LLC are suitable for couples, friends traveling together and solos. Five star accommodations and transportation will be standard on our tours. VIP guides, expert lecturers and interacting with esteemed locals will give our tour participants a value-added excursion experience.
The upcoming Art Routes St Petersburg tour, scheduled for June 7-June 13, will focus on classical Russian dance, specifically ballet. Attending a dance performance every evening, touring the Mariinsky theater backstage seeing the sets, costumes and the historic inter workings of this famous performance hall, meeting and dining with a prima ballerina, visiting the Vaganova Ballet Academy and observing the ballerinas' dance class, attending a ballet lecture by a noted ballet expert and touring Mathilde Kschessinskaya, a deceased, world class prima ballerina's, palace are some of the special ballet activities on the tour. The fabulous world of Russian ballet will be explored on this highly specialized excursion.
Classical Russian architecture, like its ballet, is also a tour de force. Exotic, opulent and refined Imperial and private palaces will be visited as part of Art Routes St Petersburg. Peterhof, Catherine's Palace, Pavlovsk Palace and Park, Montplaisir Palace are the royal residences and the magnificent, highly historical the Yusupov and the Stroganov Palaces are the former private residences scheduled to be visited, all spectacular!
Not to be missed when traveling to St Petersburg are the significant Russian museums located there. On the Art Routes tour the Faberge Museum, the Hermitage, the Samoilov Theatrical Museum and the Russian Art Museum will be the visual art venues visited. I have been to all of these museums except the Samoilov Theatrical Museum and can attest that each one is splendid.
In addition to all of these wonderful cultural stops on the tour, the restaurant selections are superb. From ethnic to fine dining options, each food experience is top-rated. Some of the selections include the five star Tsar Restaurant, the Russian Vodka Room, the ethnic Russian Podvorie Restaurant, a Vladimir Putin favorite, the exquisite L'Europa Restaurant during it's Friday evening Tchaikovsky Night multi-musical venue and dance performance, an Azerbaijanian restaurant known as Baku and the farewell dinner at the Russian Empire restaurant which is housed in the Stroganov Palace. All meals are included in the tour price.
Last the accommodation selection for the excursion is the five star, historic Belmond Grand Europe Hotel which I have had the pleasure of staying there several times and can vouch for it's elegant charm, beautiful interiors, delicious food and superior service. Nightly you can relax in the upscale, old world bar and listen to live music before retiring for the night. The hotel's large interior courtyard with shops and a restaurant is a nice spot for lunch or an afternoon coffee and dessert break. Likewise, the highly rated Caviar Bar is another luxury eating option. In the addition, the hotel's location, on the Nevsky Prospect, the most fashionable boulevard in St Petersburg, is a real plus. Some of the best Russian shopping boutiques and emporiums are located within walking distance of the Grand Europe Hotel.
Price for this luxury, highly specialized tour is surprisingly reasonable. Because of my personal and professional contacts in Russia, AstridTravel, LLC is able to offer this tour for $5,500 for double occupancy and $5,650 for single occupancy. Everything is included except your airfare, tips, more than 2 glasses of wine or alcohol with your meals, your Visa expense and your miscellaneous purchases such as gifts, souvenirs, etc. Yes, your meals, museum entry fees, tickets to the performances, your accommodation expense and all of the transportation to and from the airport and during the tour are covered in this price. Likewise, an English speaking guide will be present during all tour activities.
In addition, Art Routes has created a three part payment option for those who would prefer to extend the full payment of the fees overtime. An $1,100 deposit is required upon registration. Another $2,200 is due by March 15 and full payment must be paid by May 7th. All major credit cards will be accepted for the tour cost. Once you have registered for the trip, you will receive an information suggestion sheet on "how to prepare for this fabulous trip," which will include what AstridTravel,LLC will need to secure your Welcome Letter in order to acquire a travel visa to Russia.
For those of you who have always wanted to travel to Russia in luxury at an affordable price, this Arts Routes excursion is your chance. Most travelers only scratch the surface of exploring Russian culture and its unique sights because their hyper-short visit is usually part of a cruise or riverboat vacation. Two days in St Petersburg is hardly enough! The Art Routes St Petersburg tour's mission is to give the traveler a deeper understanding of the magnificence of the Russian culture with a focus on Classical Dance during this extraordinary eight day trip. Don't let this unique travel opportunity slip away. Register today by contacting the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge (225-344-8558) or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to receive the tour brochure and start anticipating a glorious adventure in St Petersburg, "the Cultural Capital of Russia."
Enjoy this video showcasing some of the stops on the Art Routes trip.