In the early hours of Saturday 11th February, 37 girls and 7 staff set off to a place which most of us have only ever read about: Russia. After a year in the planning, we were all very excited to finally be on our way for six busy days in the two biggest cities in Russia: Moscow and St Petersburg.
The first three days were spent in the ancient capital of Moscow, once the heart of Muscovy and the origin of Russia the country. Here we visited buildings important in both Tsarist and Soviet history. Our first stop was Red Square, which in Russian translates as 'Beautiful Square'. Within the square we saw the glorious cathedral of St Basil's as well as visiting Lenin's mausoleum. We also visited one of the few existing wooden houses left from before the Napoleonic invasion and the fires that were set in 1812. A brief tour of the Moscow Metro unveiled a very different experience to the London underground, filled with Soviet art and propaganda on a grand scale. We also experienced the new Gulag museum opened in 2015 to commemorate those who suffered during Stalin's purges.
Perhaps the most impressive display was located in the Kremlin grounds; confusingly named the armoury, the museum holds a huge collection of Tsarist gold and silverware, as well as a number of clothes, thrones and carriages all used by the Tsars and Tsarinas. Many of us were excited to finally see a number of Faberge eggs, including the one made to celebrate the centenary of the ruling Romanov dynasty in 1913. This display, whilst impressive, is but a fraction of what was previously owned by the royal rulers of Russia, as much of it was sold off by the Soviet administration to pay off war debts immediately after World War One.
After three days in Moscow, we waved goodbye to the capital to get on an overnight train to the Tsarist capital of St Petersburg. Created in 1703 by Peter the Great, St Petersburg was made the capital of Russia until the Communist party returned it back to Moscow in 1918. Peter the Great dubbed his city, built on a swamp, the Window on the West. Compared to the vast concrete structures of Soviet Moscow, much of St Petersburg's architecture is very western, reminiscent of Venice. Here we visited the opulence of the Hermitage, which is essentially several palaces joined together. The displays of artwork were astonishing, along with the gold leaf in evidence throughout. Even more gilt was in evidence in the Catherine Palace, home to the famous Amber Room which has been carefully restored after the Nazis used the palace as headquarters during the siege of the city, then known as Leningrad.
In addition to visiting all these historical sites, we enjoyed a number of evening activities. As well as bowling, we enjoyed the Russian Folklore show, followed by dinner, in the Nikolaevsky palace. On the final night we watched a world premiere of contemporary ballet at the Mikhaylovsky Theatre.
The six days we spent in Moscow and St Petersburg were but a taste of the opportunities available to travellers and historians, and I am sure that many of us will return in the future.