Dating as they do from the Cold War, the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming are inextricably linked to Russia, although 007 only visited the USSR late in the series. Following his ordeal against Blofield at the end of You Only Live Twice, 007 is suffering from amnesia and, triggered by the mention of Vladivostok in a newspaper article that he sees, Bond heads there to try and piece back his life together. The consequences of that are felt at the beginning of The Man With The Golden Gun.
Moscow comes up particularly in From Russia With Love, when the plot against the British secret service is hatched at the headquarters of SMERSH. However, although it is mentioned in passing that he was once posted to the Russian capital, where he picked up the habit of sprinkling black pepper over vodka, Fleming never took 007 to Moscow while engaged on a mission; in Sebastian Faulk’s Devil May Care though Bond does arrive in Russia’s capital.
In the film series they steered away from the Cold War and having Russia as the enemy; instead they used SPECTRE and Blofeld as Bond’s foe. In the early days, we get glimpses of Russia in various films, but not until Goldeneye does 007 actually travel to Russia, when he creates havoc in St Petersburg.
While filming didn’t actually take place there, the city is spectacular, with the Hermitage art collection and a whole host of palaces and churches that were rebuilt to the original plans after being destroyed during the siege of Leningrad in the Second World War.
The city is also known for Stolichnaya vodka, of which you’ll see plenty; when I visited in the late 1990s I saw supermarkets which had nothing but vodka in and everywhere I went, whatever time of day it was, I was always served a shot of vodka.
During the summer, in June, the city enjoys perpetual daylight and this can be a good time to visit; in winter it gets cold – really cold. I was there in February when the temperature was around -20°C and with a metre of covering the ground.
Visit St Petersburg, which is regarded as a “Venice of the north”. Although the outskirts of the city is very much what you would expect from the Soviet era, all grey concrete and grim architecture, the centre of the city has a number of canals and a dizzying array of the spectacular palaces, museums and art collections.
From Russia’s second city you can travel to the first, either by train or air. In Moscow make sure you see the Kremlin and Red Square.
Head for the holiday resorts on the Black Sea.
Note: a visa is required to enter Russia, which should be obtained in advance. Check the visa process here for more information.