Our Moscow and St. Petersburg conference had us returning to Russia for the first time in more than a decade. Much had changed in this time but it remained a country of contrasts. Covering one eight of the Earth’s inhabited land and with a population of almost 150 million people, Russia remains a vast territory stretching from the highest mountains in Europe to some of the lowest spots in the world.

Our visit to Russia was an exhilarating and sometimes challenging experience. For the locals, everyday life goes on amid a jumble of trial-and-error capitalism, billboard politics, tsar mania, slick gangster-hangout restaurants and posh nightclubs.

Our itinerary began in Moscow – the political and economic capital of the Russian Federation and home to iconic landmarks such as the Bolshoi Theatre, St. Basil’s Cathedral and the magnificent Cathedral of Our Saviour. We visited the Moscow Kremlin and the Armoury Museum, home to a stunning collection of royal artifacts, carriages and dresses dating back hundreds of years. Splitting into smaller teams, we then followed clues which saw us travelling all over Moscow, meeting strangers, purchasing flowers with secret notes and travelling on Moscow’s famous metro while at the same time learning about its history and lavishly decorated stations. This fun morning ended with a lunch presentation by an ex-KGB agent.

While in Moscow we also visited The Old Tretyakov Gallery. For people who have never been, it is the perfect place to acquaint oneself with the best examples of Russian art including religious icons and pre-revolutionary paintings including works by Kandinsky and Malevich. A viewing of the nearby Church of St.Nicholas the Miracle Worker followed with a surprise private concert!

After 4 nights in Moscow we traveled by high-speed Sapsan (meaning Peregrine Falcon in Russian) train to St. Petersburg. The journey of 635km was completed in just over 3.5hrs with a top speed of 250km per hour.

Having three names in less than 100 years, St. Petersburg mirrors the shifting political winds of Mother Russia. The names of its places and people are a roll call of Russian history of the 19th and 20th centuries: the Winter Palace, Dostoyevsky, the Catherine Palace, Tchaikovsky and Lenin.

St. Petersburg is by far the most westernized of Russia’s cities. Its grand architecture echoes the great cities of Europe and there are seemingly countless museums full with staggering quantities of treasure. Stretching along the banks of the Neva River, it is obvious to see why St. Petersburg was once known as the Venice of the North.

One of our first stops and a guaranteed highlight of our time in St. Petersburg was the Faberge Museum – home to the world’s largest collection of works by Carl Faberge, including nine of the famous Imperial Easter eggs. Less famous but as impressive was the Church on Spilled Blood and its exquisite mosaics. Our itinerary also includes the Hermitage Museum, renowned for its immense collection of over 2.4 million items of art. VIP access 1 hour before opening allowed us to enjoy many areas of the museum before the mad crowds entered.

We also included visits to the Vodka Museum as well the imposing Peter and Paul’s Fortress which was originally founded by Peter the Great and is the oldest building in St. Petersburg. Mixing things up a little, our guests enjoyed a private and very relaxing Canal Boat Ride.

Another of the surprises our participants enjoyed was a specially arranged children’s ballet performance buy some of the leading child dancers in St. Petersburg. It was a real highlight and something that participants will long remember. We rounded out our time in St. Petersburg with a visit to Catherine’s Palace and the Amber Room – an ornate chamber decorated in amber panels backed with gold leaf and mirrors.