Thanks for your original posting about the Center for Citizen Initiatives (CCI) trip to Russia and your inquiry about people’s experience. Because of your original post, I signed up for the trip and joined approximately 45 fellow Americans on the 17-day trip to Russia starting in early September. Many fellow group members asked me how I had learned about the trip and I would explain how it was checking this forum and seeing your post that lead to my participation for which I am very grateful. One of the themes of the trip was citizen diplomacy and the power of individuals to make a difference and your post was a real example of how that worked in my own life.
The group started in Moscow on September 2nd and spent five nights there. We stayed in a wonderful hotel (Oskana Hotel) near the VDNKh Park and VDNK metro station. We had a tour of the amazing subway system in Moscow (over 8 million riders a day) along with visiting Red Square. Our main focus in Moscow was the chance to hear some valuable talks with a variety of speakers. Several of these talks are at the CCI website (https://ccisf.org/videos-sept-2019-trip/ (see talks by Vladimir Pozner, famous Russian journalist on current Russian life, and Dr. Vladimir Kozin, senior Russian arms control advisor, on current status of US-Russian nuclear arms control agreements). We also heard talks on economics and technology which were fascinating. I hope to share more in a trip report that I am working on.
The group then traveled in small groups to different cities in Russia (from Crimea to Siberia). Our goal was to explore these cities, meet with local residents and then report to the entire group when we regrouped together in St. Petersburg. I traveled with another couple to Kazan where we spent three nights and then took an overnight train from Kazan to Nizhny Novgorod. Kazan was a remarkably modern city that I really enjoyed touring (Hayal Hotel was a great place to stay). CCI provided hosts for us in both cities who worked hard to make sure we enjoyed our visits. I would also recommend Oktyabrskaya Hotel in Nizhny Novgorod. At the link above, there is a video called “American Travelers Speak Out About Russia” that shares some of our experience and insights.
From Nizhny Novgorod, we took an 8-hour high speed train to St. Petersburg which was a wonderful way to see the countryside. We went through Moscow so we got a chance to see the many new buildings along with many historical buildings. We stayed at the Hotel Moscow in St. Petersburg which is a major tourist hotel. I will find a smaller place when I return. St. Petersburg was magnificent and I highly recommend at least a week to even begin to see all of the city. One of the St. Petersburg highlights was the magnificent architecture, especially centered around the rivers and canals which thread through St. Petersburg. I was also surprised by the great vegan restaurants that I found there. Café Ukrop II was great but Healthy Conscience (raw vegan) was superb in every way (food, service, atmosphere).
Overall, the trip was in the best tradition of Rick Steve’s Travel as a Political Act. We had a chance to see Russia as it is today and meet with Russians in different cities and gain a real sense of their hopes and concerns. Two of the group members have already published stories of their trips which I highly recommend reading:
CCI is putting together another of these trips for 2020 (see ccisf.org) and I highly recommend the trip for those who want to travel with an interesting group of travelers and who want to better understand Russia and work to creating a better world based on citizens from each country gaining greater mutual understanding.