Cranleigh School Historians embarked on a Russian winter adventure over February half term. This was Cranleigh’s first trip to Russia in over a decade and 10 of our Sixth Formers braved the Arctic conditions, arriving into Moscow following the heaviest snowfall the city had seen this century.
After our first experience with Russian cuisine (which Mr Rothwell particularly enjoyed), we set out on the Moscow Metro to Red Square to capture the beating heart of the Russian power base at night time. We were treated to a spectacular sight of the Kremlin and St Basil’s Cathedral under lights, looking even more beautiful in its snowy setting.
The next day we met our tour guide, Natalia, who hailed from Siberia (7 hours flight inland from Moscow). Our first stop was back to Red Square to view the embalmed body of Lenin in the mausoleum, followed by the graves of other senior communist leaders from the 1918 revolution. We then entered the Kremlin citadel itself, the seat of power of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Once again, the pupils were mesmerised by the grand architecture on display and the remarkable collection of artifacts in the Kremlin arsenal, including several Faberge eggs that had been given to previous rulers of the country.
After lunch, we took a nice warm coach to the Red Army museum, depicting the exploits of the Soviet Army during WW2, with some excellent historical footage on screens in the building, along with many captured treasures from the Nazis following the end of WW2. We finished the day by going to the enormous outdoor ice rink in Gorky Park in the city centre, set up by the government to encourage more people to get active during the winter months. At over 1km long, this was the perfect way to wear out the legs and have a good skate with local Muscovites.
Our first stop on Saturday was Lenin’s dacha in Gorky, 30km outside of the city, where Lenin spent his final few years before his death in 1924. This was a charming old Russian house and the pupils were treated to a guided tour of where Lenin worked running the newly formed USSR from 1919 onwards. The grounds of the property were particularly good for snowball fights as the group soon discovered.
We then journeyed up to the Museum of the Great Patriotic War, with huge displays dedicated to the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in WW2, with a particularly moving centrepiece sculpture dedicated to the 27 million lives lost by the USSR during the war. We had time for dinner and a stroll around the famous Arabat Street, before saying goodbye to Moscow and boarding the overnight sleeper train to St Petersburg.
We stopped into Smolny Cathedral and were treated to beautiful music coming from a choir high up in the galleries. Our tour continued on to the key sights of the Romanov dynasty of Tsars, including the beautiful St Nicholas Chapel, the resting place of all the Tsars including the final Tsar Nicholas II and his family, who were all shot by the Bolsheviks following the revolution.
In the afternoon we ventured out to Pushkin, taking in the Summer palace of Catherine the Great, a splendid baroque palace which includes the restored ‘amber room’, taken away by the Nazis following the siege of the city during WW2. Our final evening was spent at a highly entertaining and slightly random Folklore evening at the Mariinsky Theatre, the highlight being a Russian version of a Punch & Judy show.
Our final morning was spent at the world famous Hermitage museum in the Winter Palace, the centrepiece for the Russian Revolution in October 1917. The palace now holds a fantastic collection of priceless art. This was the perfect finishing point for a highly interesting cultural experience for the Cranleigh pupils. Given that Russian history forms 40% of their overall A Level, this trip certainly helped them to live through the history and culture of one of the most fascinating countries on Earth.