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 Editor's Review
It’s hard to avoid politics in even defining the ‘country’. The massive Tsarist and USSR empires are dismantled, the Federation and breakaway republics are still evolving identities. Let’s stay with Mother Russia, the Russia of Moscow and St Petersburg. The two great cities have repeatedly exchanged capital roles so both are treasure-houses of architecture and the arts. In Moscow, the incredible, colourful, onion-domes of St Basil’s Cathedral contrast with the red stone of Lenin’s Mausoleum and the golden roofs of the Kremlin in Red Square. In St Petersburg, the multitude of magnificent palaces includes the Hermitage, winter residence of the Tsars, and now arguably the world’s greatest art gallery. Moscow’s Bolshoi vies with St Petersburg’s Kirov (or Marijnsky). Yet beyond them, the country’s vastness is awesome. More than 75% of Russia lies in Asia; the Trans-Siberian Railway runs for almost 6,000 miles from St Petersburg on Europe’s Baltic to Vladivostok at the northern end of the Pacific; the country contains 15 time zones. Even further east – just a narrow strait separates it from N. America.
Even when St Petersburg was the Russian capital, Moscow retained the political and commercial power it has today. Founded in the 12th century, and repeatedly attacked by Mongols and Tartars, it has always looked east as well as west. Attacked by both Napoleon (1812) and Hitler (1941-43), the city’s resistance is seen as beginning the end of their regimes. The tourist focus has to be Red Square with the massive red-walled palace / fort / ministry of the Kremlin. Lenin’s mausoleum (originally temporary) is still a place of pilgrimage for vast numbers (the embalmed body is re-preserved each year). The wonderful St Basil’s Cathedral, with its coloured onion domes, faces the Kremlin, neatly embodying the church/state duality, ever-present in Russia. Moscow cultural life is a third strand, with the Bolshoi and State Circus important elements in the city’s life – for locals and tourists alike. In winter Moscow can be spectacularly cold, for the visitor it can be a warm host.

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