We arrived at our Moscow hotel at night, and from our room at the National Hotel, had a superb view of the unique candy-striped St Basil’s cathedral. Highlighted by a laser show, it was such an arrival. Then, without warning, it lit up, the air exploding with the most glorious fireworks display “Aha they know we are here”, I said jokingly. We had arrived during Moscow’s birthday celebrations (September 1-3) and had a wonderful start to our Innovative Russian holiday.

The next morning, we set out to see one of the world’s finest collections of French art at the Pushkin museum. The likes of Degas, Matisse, Gauguin and Picasso and works of many other significant artists were on view. It was not crowded, and I was able to really take in some of my favourite artists. The same was to occur later in St Petersburg. I was able to walk right up to close to works by Matisse and Degas that I thought I would only ever get to see in books.

Moscow is blessed with incredible museums, highlighting Russia’s opulent Imperial past. Beautifully hand-made garments in the finest fabrics of the day, gilded horse-drawn carriages, armour and of course Faberge eggs and fabulous jewels and jewellery are all in the State Armoury museum.

Religion has, and still does, play a large part in Russian life, and the city is dotted with beautiful golden onion domes which photograph beautifully when the sun glints off them. The little Cathedral of the Annunciation with its multiple gold domes is particularly gorgeous. Stepping inside these churches you see dazzling multi-storied religious altar frescoes and icons. We became fascinated by these and with our Innovative driver and guide we were able to add on a visit to the Icons museum. This gave us a fascinating insight into the development of this religious art. Dining in Moscow was surprisingly sophisticated and the city is lively at night. Innovative’s team in Russia were able to secure bookings at both the Pushkin (a restored nobleman’s house, we ate upstairs in the library) and the Turandot (very opulent theatrical surroundings) restaurants which offer fine dining to the highest standard.

The central city is very clean and felt extremely safe as we walked off our dinner wandering back to the hotel in the late evening. Walking around Moscow’s centre is very rewarding, but for efficient use of valuable time a driver is essential. The other essential in transport is the Metro. With our guide, over a couple of hours, we were able to see the best examples of Soviet era mosaics, bronze sculptured, marble, Art Deco and enormously-chandeliered platforms. A truly remarkable experience and something wonderful to gaze at should you miss your next train.

The Soviet era is proudly on display and you can shop for knick-knacks and memorabilia of this. Cold War era tanks and aeroplanes in the Victory park, long since decommissioned, bearing the red star can be cautiously approached and patted by enthusiasts.

We left Moscow by the fabulous Sapsan fast train bound for St Petersburg. The train was very comfortable and we had a surprisingly very good meal. We also got a brief look at rural life out our window. In less than four hours we had arrived, ready for the next leg of our Russian adventure. Checking into our Hotel (Belmond Grand) we found we had a spectacular view of the “Church of the Spilled Blood” and it’s colourful domes. The next day we would visit its beautiful interior. St Petersburg, whilst a city and once the capital, felt a lot more like a town in its intimacy. There are a lot of university students here and as such the city is very vibrant. After a few days, with unique landmarks, a river, and several canals we felt as though we knew our way around well enough to walk parts of it. Churches, forts, palaces and museums were all on the itinerary. Of note for me was the small Stieglitz museum of Applied Art: a combination of university and museum and possessing an eclectic collection of domestic artifacts and sensational interiors such as the golden Terem room. I loved the unique collection of dolls in clothing representing all the various regions and cultures of Russia. After the tour you are able to visit a shop of sorts where you may purchase artworks and sculptures made by the fine arts students.

As you enter the Winter Palace, part of the Hermitage Museum, you are spellbound by the Rastrelli Jordan staircase. It is hugely spacious, ornate and elegant. You are inside but could be outside as you gaze through massive decorated archway windows through to luxurious interiors, setting the scene for what is to come in this massive jewel box of a Palace.

Another highlight was Catherine’s Palace in the small town of Pushkin, a short drive from St Petersburg. The palace is a series of breath-taking rooms including the famous Amber room. A walk through some lovely formal gardens is the perfect finish and natural counterpoint to the extreme opulence you have witnessed indoors. St Petersburg has some really good dining options, both traditional and modern cuisine, and all within easy walking distance from our hotel. We liked Terrassa (international and modern) and we had a charming evening at the Russian Ampir restaurant in the Stroganov Palace. The beautiful china tea-cup like interior dining room is not all that is on show. After our meal, walls became doorways and we were treated to a tour of the secret rooms below. The next day was also full of secrets with a visit to the Shuvalov Palace, the new home of the Faberge collection, it’s intricately-worked eggs and the secrets the famous jeweller placed inside for his wealthy patrons: the Imperial family.

We finished our Innovative Russian adventure with a very relaxing canal and river boat trip. We cruised past the Winter Palace, the Peter and Paul fortress and countless other ornate buildings. We left central St Petersburg and as if in an HG Wells time machine, cruised up to the architecturally stunning modern football stadium being built for the 2018 World Cup. The boat turned around here and we headed back, and back in time, to the daunting scale and opulence of Russia’s Imperial ancient kingdom.

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