We started our first full day at Kazansky Cathedral. Unlike the more touristy Cathedral of Spilled Blood – which got its name from being the site of Alexander II’s assassination – it is an actual place of worship. As such, there is no entrance fee, but of course you should behave respectfully. That includes covering your head (for women, a scarf or hat will do) or removing hats (for men). That’s the Orthodox custom based on St. Paul’s stipulation, but the covering rule is observed in other traditions as well, e.g. many Brethren congregations. In my view, it’s not degrading for women, it’s simply supposed to take the focus away from external attributes. Kazansky Cathedral’s interior is splendid, calming instead of appearing flashy. Service takes place three times a day, so you might chance upon one taking place.
We moved on to the Ermitage and Winter Palace Museum, one of the most comprehensive art museums in Russia.
Featuring paintings, tableware, furniture and other decorative items from Russia as well as the rest of Europe, the splendor of the whole building is enhanced by the lavish interiors.
Entrance is free for students and on certain days. But don’t leave through the turnstile before you haven’t seen all rooms (which, depending on your level of knowledge and appreciation for art, might take anywhere from 2 to 8h), as you can’t re-enter. We found this out the hard way, but after being shooed around Soviet-style and some whining we got green light from one of the administrators and were let back in on the other side of the exhibition…
We had some time to kill before the ballet at Mariinsky Theatre we’d bought tickets for online. The buying process is pretty straight forward, like at cinemas, but none of our 4 credit cards worked at first, for various reasons all related to the 2 banks in question. By the way, I recommend giving your credit card provider a heads-up before any trip, so far I’ve had problems with stuff getting blocked every single time I’ve gone abroad. Waiting for the 19:00 showing, we had coffee (which ranges from 15 to 210 rub, depending on where you get it, cheap bakeries or vending machines being on the lower end, but you can get an Amerikano for around 120 rub in most cafes), raw salad Olivie, borshsh, a weird burger-buterbrod hybrid on dark bread and some sweet vareniki at Ukrop cafe. Having an extensive lunch or early dinner is good on the wallet, as most places offer business lunch deals and to 20% off (look out for “skidka 20%”) between 12:00 and 16:00.
Later, we visited the Nikolo-Bogoyavlenskiy Church, one of whose defining features is the unusual melody of the hourly bell. And it’s quite beautiful, as well, very different from the churches mentioned so far, painted sky blue with golden domes.
The ballet we watched was a somewhat unfancy rendition of Swan Lake. We really aren’t ballet buffs or actually much into classical cultural activities, my only familiarity with it comes from getting a ballet/modern foundation during my dance training. Nowadays, I like it as a gracious and low-impact form of exercise for improving posture, but hadn’t watched it ever before. I think, for better or worse, it’s one of the must-do-things in Russia, especially considering the quality of ballet education here. At 4400 rub, it wasn’t a cheap evening, but bearing in mind that most tourists will spend that much a day on meals, it’s definitely a worthwhile way of broadening your horizon. It doesn’t really matter which theatre you get tickets for, Hall 1 at Mariinsky and the Bolshoi theatre in Moscow do have the advantage of historic interiors, though. Another good ballet to see if you have the opportunity would be The Nutcracker. There seemed to be quite a few interesting modern, “expressionist” ballets on, too.