SO BIG, SO VAST, so complex, varied, old, historical, confusing, misunderstood.
What can I really tell you about Russia, the world’s largest landmass ( 16,376,870 Km² or 11% of the world), home to 145 million people in 185 different ethnic groups? I visited its two most famous cities, Moscow and St Petersburg, for a week. For someone with more insight, try to find the TV or book work of Levison Wood or Simon Reeves.
I jumped at an Aeroflot bargain ticket to Morocco. It came with a catch- a stopover in Moscow. In winter. Why not?
This is what the St Petersburg skyline looks like in a mild January.
Built by the Romanov family in memory of the assissinated Czar Alexander II, St Petersburg's The Church of The Saviour On the Blood is as colourful and memorable as is name.
Some of the magnificent buildings that front the Neva River in St Petersburg.
The frozen Neva River and some of the buildings which make up the magnificent Hermitage Museum.
The early winter dusk and brightly reflecting ice made photography difficult!
A metaphor for press freedom in Russia, slowly buried under snow?
One of, and arguably the greatest museums in the world, founded after Empress Catherine the Great acquired an impressive collection of paintings from the Berlin merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky in 1764. The Hermitage has an immense collection of Egyptian and classical antiquities, jewelry and decorative art, Italian, Spanish, Modern, German Romantic, French Neoclassical, Impressionist, post-Impressionist Russian, German, Swiss, British, Dutch Golden Age and Flemish Baroque art! Dedicate at least a whole day.
I'm not sure what this is. It is in St Petersburg. And it's cool.
The Neva River, St Petersburg.
I think (maybe) this church is part of the Peter and Paul Fortress, St Petersburg, the original 1740 citadel built by Peter The Great.
A canon at Peter and Paul Fortress. The Siege of Leningrad (by Nazi and Finish armies in WWII) lasted 872 days and is possible the deadliest siege in human history.
Again, Church of the Savour on the Blood.
Russia has produced some of the world's great musicians, composers, artists, writers and dancers.
These buskers are in Moscow's subway, which has some incredible art and archictecture as well. (Where are my pictures of it??)
Christmas in Red Square. Orthodox Christmas is January 7th.
Families gather in Red Square to celebrate Christmas with snow and ice-skating.
St Basil's Cathedral, Moscow, has no parallel in Russian architecture, as the building is said to be inspired by the flame of a bonfire.
PETA members would have a coronary in a Russian winter. I have never seen so many dead animals being worn, although with winters as harsh as theirs, who can blame them?
There is something surreal about visiting the Kremlin, the home of "the other" Cold War adversary, where nuclear war just a bad decision away. Movement is strictly controlled, with officers in stiff-brimmed hats whistling at anyone who waivers from the set lines.
Almost 300 years old and over 6m and 200,000 kilograms, The Tsar Bell in the Kremlin is the largest bell in the world. It cracked during casting and has never been rung. Estimates say that if rung, it could be heard 50km away.