I have recently returned from an incredible trip to Moscow to experience the Russian New Year and winter time. I have visited Moscow once before in the summer months 3 years ago, as my sister-in-law is Russian so we were over for the wedding. However, Moscow is known for its spectacular winters and New Years celebrations, so this was the year I had to experience it for myself.
My boyfriend, my brother, my sister-in-law and I all travelled over together the day after Boxing Day for a week long trip crammed full of activities and sightseeing. We spent our first 3 nights in Moscow city centre in my sister-in-laws family flat. As soon as we arrived after a long day of travelling, we were welcomed by the family to a full Russian spread and four shots of vodka! This was just to get us warmed up for our midnight drive around the city to take in the sights and the Christmas lights at night time. Moscow really went all out with the Christmas decorations this year and the whole city was awash with twinkly lights and spectacular displays. Over the three days in Moscow we visited all the classic touristy sights- Red Square, The Kremlin, GUM shopping centre, Gorky Park, as well as visiting the Moscow Circus which was one of my favourite memories from my last trip. As we had our Muscovite tour guides, we also got to experience the 'real Moscow' and visited some other beautiful locations which wouldn't necessarily be in the guide books. One of my favourite moments was going ice skating at the local exhibition centre which is one of the biggest ice rinks in Europe. This is because it wasn't just a standard ice rink where you skate round and round in circles and hope you won't crash into the person ahead of you. This place was lanes and lanes of ice- basically like they had frozen over the paths in a park and you could ice skate all around it!
We spent our three nights in Moscow, doing what the Muscovites do best- drinking! We were taken out for some lovely meals with friends, and shown the local nightlife with some cool beer houses and bars- one of which had a secret entrance where you press a button behind a painting to enter the underground bar!
(Unfortunately I didn't get many decent photos of the trip as it was too cold to take your hands out of your gloves for half a second to take the photo...)
After our hectic few nights in Moscow we took a road trip to the location of our New Year celebrations, a 3 hour drive out of the city and into the Russian countryside. One of our friends had rented out an entire boutique hotel for all their family and friends to spend New Year together. We arrived in the evening to the magical location, just as it started to snow. It was perfect! The hotel was absolutely stunning. It consisted of 7 individual chalets in the middle of a snow-covered forest and we immediately ordered room service and champagne to enjoy in our new home. On New Years eve we spent the day tobogganing in the snow and eating delicious food. We then spent the afternoon in a traditional Russian banya. This was an incredible experience which I will never forget. We went with a group of friends to the little log cabin near our chalet and began the routine with a group sauna. We were then invited to chill out in the living room area with some beers and snacks while each person was taken individually for the treatment. We were hit all over the body with a huge bunch of eucalyptus leaves, which felt surprisingly good. After sweating out (and hitting out) all the toxins in the sauna room we were then dunked into a barrel of freezing cold water before being sent back to the living room to relax and drink more beer. We each had a few rounds which consisted of different things like a snow massage using fresh snow from outside, and a honey salt scrub, as well as lying in a darkened room with a bush over our faces... which was a little peculiar! After a few hours of this, we came out feeling amazing, and ready to retox for New Years Eve! The New Years celebrations were incredible. It was held in the restaurant of the hotel and there was entertainment all night- including performances, fireworks, karaoke, present-giving, a three course meal and even a visit from a reindeer and a monkey! One of the wildest New Years I have ever experienced!The next morning we nursed our hangovers with a Russian shashlik. Only in Russia would you have a barbeque in minus 17 degrees weather! After lots of food and hair of the dog, we just had time for a horse drawn sleigh ride before heading on our next road trip. We took the 3 hour journey to the other side of Moscow to my sister-in-laws holiday house in the countryside- also known as a dacha. Here we spent 2 days with the whole family, celebrating Christmas. The house is right on the Moscow river and was a beautiful place to spend a couple of days relaxing with the family before heading home. We enjoyed plenty of walks in the snow and played lots of games and ate lots of food- just like any other Christmas! This was the perfect way to end our spectacular trip and I cant wait to visit again and enjoy more of this wonderful country.