Inside the Russian Space Program
Our behind-the-scenes exploration of the Russian space program features a VIP viewing of the manned launch of a Soyuz spacecraft.
- Smithsonian Journeys to Milford Sound, South Island, New Zealand
- A Leopard Named "Hollywood"
- Memories of Africa
- Treasuring Life in the Indian Desert
Optional St. Petersburg Tour Extension - 2015
Day 9 (May 28, 2015) — Depart Moscow for St. Petersburg
Following breakfast at the hotel, enjoy some free time in Moscow before an afternoon transfer. In the afternoon, take an express train to St. Petersburg. Lunch is independent on the train. On arrival in St. Petersburg, transfer to a centrally located hotel for dinner and overnight. (B, D)
Day 10 (May 29, 2015) — St. Petersburg
Today explore St. Petersburg, often described as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Its miles of canals, laced together with graceful bridges set amidst 18th century buildings, have earned it the name, “Venice of the North”. Conceived of by Peter the Great and designed by his favorite European architects, St. Petersburg was meant to be Peter’s link to the western world. Capital of Russia from its birth in 1703 until the revolution, the city celebrated its 300th anniversary in 2003. Today explore the city, the Peter & Paul Fortress and the Hermitage Museum.
Begin with a short drive along Nevsky Prospekt, the three-mile avenue that is the backbone of the city, introduces us to Peter’s beautiful city. Stops include Gostiny Dvor, the city’s oldest and largest shopping center; Eliseyevsky, an extravagantly beautiful pre-Revolutionary food store, decorated with crystal chandeliers; and the impressive Kazan Cathedral.
The morning is dedicated to exploring the Hermitage. The Hermitage, also known as the Winter Palace, was built in 1754-62 as the principal home of the czars, and was lavishly rebuilt in 1839 after it was destroyed by fire. Originally a small private palace gallery begun by Catherine the Great with a purchase of 255 paintings from Berlin, the Hermitage today houses the largest museum collection in the world. It includes works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, the French Impressionists, Van Gogh, Matisse, Gauguin and Picasso. The fabulous rooms with their inlaid floors and gilded woodwork and the grand double entry staircase are works of art in themselves.
After lunch, those who wish may stay at the Hermitage to explore the museum independently. The rest of the group will continue with the city tour, visiting St. Isaac’s Cathedral, Church of the Savior on the Blood, and Peter and Paul Fortress.
St. Isaac’s Cathedral took 40 years to complete. The 48 red granite columns around the lower part of the building each weigh 110 tons, and the upper columns around the rotunda weigh 67 tons apiece. The dome is covered with 220 pounds of gold, and the interior columns faced with lapis lazuli and malachite. The cathedral is bursting with sculptures, frescoes, stained glass works and woodcarvings.
The Church of the Savior on the Blood was built on the spot where Czar Alexander II was killed by a bomb in 1881, and was commissioned in the style of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow by his son and successor, Alexander III. For many years closed for renovation, the church's beautiful interior is now open to visitors. Four jasper columns inside mark the spot where the czar was killed.
Across the Neva River from the Hermitage on Hare Island, the Fortress of Peter and Paul was one of the first structures in St. Petersburg. Peter the Great laid the cornerstone of the earthen fortress in May 1703, intending it to be used to repel a Swedish invasion. After the Swedes capitulated, the fortress was transformed into a prison in 1718. Most importantly, it is the burial place for most of the czars beginning with Peter the Great.
Enjoy a free evening to explore on your own. (B,L)
Day 11 (May 30, 2015) — St. Petersburg
Spend the day touring the country estates of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great outside the city.
Travel by hydrofoil, weather permitting, to the site where Peter the Great built his estate, Petrodvorets (Peterhof, as it was called prior to 1944) on a ridge by the Gulf of Finland 19 miles outside St. Petersburg. The former imperial residence is surrounded with extensive parks and gardens intended to rival Versailles, complete with an array of gilded statues, magnificent palaces and gravity-fed fountains.
Tour the massive Grand Palace with its parquet floors, lavish apartments, and grand galleries. Crowning the top of the bluff above the Grand Cascade, the palace is an imposing sight. Inside, 30 beautiful rooms run the length of the narrow building. Some of them retain their baroque décor, while others underwent renovations into the 18th and 19th centuries.
Next, travel by coach to the town of Pushkin, site of the royal residence Catherine's Palace, originally built in 1717 by Catherine I. After lunch at a traditional restaurant, enjoy a guided tour of the estate. In 1752, famed architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli enlarged and embellished the palace, extending the facade to its current grandeur. The estate and palace buildings were almost completely destroyed by the Germans during World War II, but they have been carefully and expertly restored into a brilliant architectural monument.
The fully restored Amber Room in Catherine's Palace, now open, has been years in the making. The wall coverings of amber panels, created in the time of Peter the Great, were taken by the Nazis during the Second World War and never recovered. The beautifully crafted amber panels we see today were re-created from photos and descriptions of the originals, and have become one of the highlights of Catherine's Palace.
Return to the city in the evening and enjoy a farewell dinner at a local restaurant marking successful completion of the journey. (B,L,D)
Day 12 (May 31, 2015)— Depart St. Petersburg
Following breakfast, flight time permitting, the tour concludes with a transfer to the airport for international departure. (B)
Kempinski Hotel Moika 22 or similar
The Kempinski Hotel Moika 22 is housed in a pre-revolutionary mansion on the Moika Embankment just across from the Hermitage. Its renovated interior is furnished with a mix of classic and antique pieces. Amenities include the ninth floor Bellevue Bar with beautiful views over the city, the Beau Rivage restaurant featuring fine dining, a rooftop Wellness Center and a Tea Room where a Russian/English high tea is offered every day. Rooms include satellite TV, wireless and cable Internet, minibar, hair dryers, heated bathroom floors and bathrobes.