OK so this might not be strictly true…not every woman in Moscow had a tiny dog or a dog of any size for that matter. But it was definitely a city where some people have a lot of cash and they’re not afraid to show off about it…chauffeur driven car with blacked out windows anyone? We became distinctly aware that wearing hiking boots and a fake Northface jacket were not considered the height of elegance and was probably not going to get us into many bars or restaurants. So after a quick dash to H&M and some footwear purchases later, we were ready for what this great capital had to offer.
We started, just as I’m sure 99% of tourists to Moscow do, with a trip to the Kremlin, the seat of power in modern Russia. Now, after watching one of the Mission: Impossible films (potentially Ghost Protocol) in Vietnamese on a bus in Vietnam we had learnt that getting into the Kremlin is not easy. Tom Cruise and Simon Pegg had to use all sorts of fancy technology, learn Russian and wear the huge military hats to break into the building, if only they had known that you could have simply bought a ticket! But I guess it would have been a much shorter fim…anyway we started with a trip around The Armoury. This is a collection of some of the royal families huge collection of gifts and memorabilia, the part which wasn’t sold by the Soviets to raise cash for their new country in the 1920s. I was truly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of priceless treasures on display…they didn’t just have one diamond encrusted 16th century musket they had cabinets full. Also on display were some of the royal family’s costumes and elaborate carriages, including Peter the Greats handmade (by him) enormous boots, so enormous as he was almost seven feet tall.
After staring at shiny objects in cabinets it was time to stare at shiny buildings outside. Inside the Kremlin walls, as well as the presidential palace and senate, are the cathedrals where ancient Tsars were buried or crowned. All clustered around a central square, the outside decoration may have been impressive but, the elaborate decoration was really saved for the interiors…gold, gold and more gold and a few dozen paintings of Jesus was the Russian style here (and the style in almost all Russian Orthodox churches we had found). These were a little bigger and more impressive than most and on a sunny day, it was the perfect spot to walk in the gardens and look down over the walls to the rest of the city.
Directly adjoining the Kremlin is Red Square, one of the most significant places in Russian history and home to St Basil’s, one of the most iconic buildings in the country. Its colourful domes, cluster together like the Disney castle via 14th Century Russia, and we spent a long time attempting to get the perfect photo, without capturing any of the other dozens of people trying to do the same thing! Sharing Red Square is Lenin’s mausoleum and after going through a metal detector and bag search we were able to see the great leader for ourselves. I managed to get told off by the stern looking guards twice, for having my hands in my pockets ( so disrespectful) and stopping to try to get a good look at the embalmed body. It was incredible to see him lying there, real but so unreal; we are both pretty sure someone had been helping the comrade out by dying his goatee a healthy ginger. We found out later that we had managed to visit Lenin on the 145th anniversary of his birth, which explained the smartly dressed elderly man placing red carnations at his and other leading communist graves. There was also a gathering of people waving communist flags, with dozens of flowers, presumably for their fallen leader.
We accidentally visited the Church of the Christ the Saviour, the site of the Pussy Riots performance, which was pulled down by Stalin to be replaced by the world’s largest swimming pool, only to later be rebuilt on the same site through private donations. It’s an impressive space, topped with a huge golden dome. Behind it is a bridge which offers great views back to the Kremlin and its golden domes. We also spent a morning exploring Gorky Park, a favourite with locals and we could see why. Not only could you hire roller blades, bicycles and mini scooters but there was a play park complete with monster sized octopus, a dance floor, skate park, outdoor cinema and loads more…imagine if all parks were like that?
‘The palaces of the people’ is famously what Stalin called and wanted the Metro system of the Russian capital to be…well with the free wifi connection each station offers they are definitely popular hang outs for everyone in Moscow today. But this is the most impressive underground system in the world, thousands helped build it in terrible conditions and their reward are spaces as grand as palaces, though beneath the streets, with the rattle of the train as background music. For only 40 rubles we bought a pass and travelled to the most famous stations, moving between sculpture gallery, to rococo hall, from mosaic propaganda to marbled columns. All still proudly display the hammer and sickle, many icons built into the very fabric of the station and most show some allusion to the hard-working people of the Soviet Union. It is a testament to the original building that they still function as an essential element of the city transport system and we were definitely in more than one busy commuters way as we stared up at the painted ceilings.
It wouldn’t be one of our posts if we didn’t mention some of the food we had eaten! Canteen No. 57 in GUM (the shopping centre) was worth a trip in itself, with its soviet vintage style and location just off red square. It makes comfort Russian food from the Soviet period and is loved by the locals, who que up with their trays to get honey cake and Chicken kievs. It was good and, for Moscow, it was cheap. At the other end of the spectrum we went to Cafe Pushkin, along with some of Moscow’s elite, for a touch of nineteenth Century Russian cuisine. Here the building, the waiters and the food is as it was in the poet Pushkin’s time. Unfortunately our budget couldn’t stretch to any meal but breakfast (the cheapest menu by far!) but it was the best sour cream and berry blini we had on the trip and was fun to mingle with Moscow’s rich and powerful for the length of a coffee at least.
We spent the rest of our time in the capital wandering around the famous districts, avoiding portrait painters and getting lost attempting to find museums. And so it was time to move onto our final destination in Russia…St Petersburg.