In late August to mid-September 2006 I co-led a Cultural Tour to Russia for students and friends of U3A - over 30 of us. We visited Moscow and St Petersburg; Karelia, including the ancient monastery at Valaam, Sortavala, the village of Kinerma, Petrozavodsk and the island of Kizhi with its fantastic wooden churches; Pskov and Novgorod (capital of ancient Rus' from 862 to 886); Tver, and Sergiev Posad (the former 'Vatican' of the Russian Orthodox Church, until it moved back to the Danilov Monastery in Moscow in the 1980s). During the Soviet period Sergiev Posad was called Zagorsk.
Our Moscow guide, Tamara
Moscow is an enormous city with a unique skyline of both old and new - both of which include some remarkable architecture.
Necropolis of Dmitri Donskoi Monastery, 1591
Kremlin Embankment, with Cathedral of Christ the Saviour on left (this was rebuilt in the 1990s; the original was blown up by Stalin!)
Looking from between the History Museum and the Kremlin Wall, down Red Square to St Basil's Cathedral
The view from my room in the Cosmos Hotel in northern Moscow
Moscow's traffic problems are worsening by the day as all 15 million people living there seem to want a car. The metro - largest in the world - carries about 10 million people a day. Constant enormous crowds, a train every 90 seconds, over 200 stations, many of them with crossovers between different lines. The art work in metro stations is wonderful, and there's a total absence of graffiti.
Between platforms in Kievskaya metro station
St Basil's Cathedral on Red Square was built in the late 1550s to commemorate Ivan the Terrible's victory over the Tatar Khanate of Kazan. The statue in front of it, of Minin and Pozharsky, honours the leaders of the national uprising against the Polish occupiers of the Kremlin in 1612, and was erected in 1818.
St Basil's Cathedral. Detail and statue of Minin and Pozharsky
Of course we visited the State History Museum (formerly the museum of the Revolution) at the end of Red Square, and GUM (no longer a vast State-owned emporium but an enormous multi-level arcade of privately owned boutiques, like Sydney's Queen Victoria Building only much bigger). GUM, on the side of Red Square opposite the Kremlin, was built in the 1890s.
State History Museum
GUM on Red Square
I can't resist including this picture of a rowan tree (ryabinushka) in Moscow with its lovely red berries. Rowans, silver birches and spruce are wonderfully distinctive to Russian nature.
St Petersburg, founded in 1703 and the capital from 1712 to 1918, is full of European rather than Russian architecture, reflecting Peter the Great's desire for a "window on the West". The city's main cathedral, St Isaac's, is monumental both inside and out.
St Isaac's Cathedral - a symphony in stone and marble
The interior is very beautiful, with columns of malachite and lapis lazuli and many icons - interestingly, executed ("written", as the Russians say) in three-dimensional style far from the earlier, austere style inherited from Byzantium.
Interior of St Isaac's Cathedral
Cultural life is rich. Our group saw a ballet in St Petersburg, as well as going through the Hermitage (largest classical art gallery in the world) and the Russian Museum (second largest repository of Russian art in the world; the largest is the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, which some of us saw also).
At the theatre
Our group waiting in the square before going into the Hermitage
Peter the Great (died 1725) and his short-reigning wife Catherine I are buried together in the Peter and Paul (Petropavlovsky) Cathedral - as are all subsequent Russian tsdars, up to and including Nicholas II (whose believed remains were re-interred there with great ceremony in 1998).
Tombs of Catherine I (1725-27) on left, Peter the Great on right
The Church on Spilt Blood was built on the site where Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. It too is remarkable both inside and out.
Church on Spilt Blood, St Petersburg
In Karelia we saw village life and nature close-up.
House, and wooden village church in Kinerma, Karelia
The Island of Kizhi in Lake Onega (second largest lake in Europe) contains some of the best wooden architecture in the whole of Russia. The many-cupolaed Church of the Transfiguration was built in 1714.
Aerial view of part of Kizhi
Part of the Kizhi complex
A walking track encircles Kizhi island and the various churches and other wooden buildings on it
Sergiev Posad, about 70 km north of Moscow, is a small town with one of the greatest monasteries in all Russia. It is named after St Sergei of Radonezh (c. 1320 -1392), who founded the lavra (top-level monastery). It is a "must' in the tourist circuit and is also part of the larger 'Golden Ring' of ancient towns to the north-east of Moscow.
To finish this set: Tes, the oldest of our group, and one of the chirpiest and brightest, with irrepressible energy and humour! Here with a wooden Mishka outside our restaurant in Sergiev Posad town.