Monday 1 June 2015
“Follow the Moskva, Down to Gorky Park“…I woke up to this song in my head since leaving Yekaterinburg last night. My train pulls into the ‘Capital of Mother Russia’ at 10:30am where I’m transferred to The Best Western Plus Vega Hotel and Convention Center, which will be my next anchor stop for the following two nights. I was given an hour to check into my room and freshen up before meeting the group in the lobby for an orientation of the Moscow Metro and Red Square.
Getting the Metro was easy. I bought a prepaid card from the kiosk for 360 roubles (£3.60) which covered 11 journeys. At around 33p per journey, this was cheap in my eyes. With my card in hand, I tapped the barrier with it and walked onto Партизанская (Partizanskaya) platform.
A single journey on the metro in Moscow means an unlimited amount of changes underground until you exit through a barrier. In theory, if I wanted to, I could have sat on it all day but even I would get “Metro Fatigue” sooner rather than later. Anyway, 4 stops later on line 3 (Blue one!), I arrived at Площадь Революции (Revolution Square or Red Square) station. Stepping out of the metro, I immediately got a sense of Grandeur that Москва (Moscow) had to offer as I was lead over to Red Square itself. A lovely sunshine, beautiful blue sky and light clouds provided the Kremlin a perfect seduction to me as I took in the scenery.
The tour group disappeared for lunch at 2pm. Being on an “eat when I’m hungry” mentality, I went my separate way and visited The Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed or simply put “St. Basils Cathedral”. Entrance cost was 350 roubles (£3.50). Set on two floors, this was effectively a museum displaying church artwork and showcasing it’s structure. I managed 30 minutes in here before swiftly going on a hike. Being on so many long train journeys of late, sitting around and not moving much, I was beginning to feel podgy. I had not done as much exercise since I was in China so I was loving the long walks again. My destination was Gorky Park ever since hearing The Scorpions song (Wind of Change) as a child. First stop was a view from outside of The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour from a pedestrian footbridge.
After soaking in the sunshine and gorgeous view, I walked over to 98 metre high Peter the Great Statue located along the Moskva River. Designed by Zurab Tsereteli, it was rumoured that it was originally a Christopher Columbus statue for the Americans to celebrate his 500th anniversary since his first voyage. However, the buyer for the statue couldn’t be found so Zurab simply changed Columbus’s face to Peter the Great and offered it to Russia to mark the 300th anniversary of the Russian Navy. That is why it is said that the uniform worn by Peter the Great statue doesn’t really resemble anything Russian. Despite that, it was a remarkable piece to see.
Walking through the sculpture park, I came to Gorky Park and couldn’t contain my excitement. I didn’t know what to expect so I was very pleasantly surprised as to how big it was. Filled with fountains, lakes with swans and pedalos, kids and adults alike on skateboard, pedal karts, scooters and rollerblades, teenagers congregating to dance, listen to music and relax in the sunshine, Gorky Park was a haven.
After strolling around, I met up with some of my tour group and walked around the city some more before arriving at Arbat (Арба́т) Street. Pedestrianised, it was beer o’clock as I spent the evening exploring the street’s cafes and bars…
Tuesday 2 June 2015
My tour guide, Svetlana, had managed to bag a group discount for breakfast in my hotel for 450 roubles (£4.50) each. To be honest, it wasn’t worth that as most of the food was cold and non memorable. In the end, I treated it as fuel for the day as I departed the hotel at 9:30am for a guided tour of the Kremlin for 3 hours. Things weren’t going to get any better as our third party tour guide arrived 40 minutes late. Without so much as an apology, she mumbled her name and dived straight into the tour. First stop was by the theatre and Armoury inside the Kremlin walls. A few facts about the theatre, we swiftly moved onto the world’s largest cannon.
I think she lost a lot of the group’s attention at this early stage with her monotone voice and stony face. It was like being on a school trip which immediately made me lose concentration. When she started talking about cannonballs and how the actual cannon didn’t fire “big balls” but “smaller balls”, I was in total boy mode sniggering with my fellow group travellers. I couldn’t help but subtly ask about other size of balls that the cannon could fire and whether the balls came from the front or back.
Next stop on the tour was inside The Cathedral of the Dormition after a brief lecture on the various Cathedral’s within the Kremlin.
After which, we walked over to the Armoury Museum. On the way, our guide didn’t endear herself any further as she was constantly on her phone chatting and walking at a snail’s pace. Oblivious to my group, I lead a single file chain behind her which imitated a funeral procession as we tiptoed behind her.
The tour inside the Armoury was painful as the guide slowly lost the attention of the group. The Armoury Museum itself was interesting, displaying clothing, jewellery, weapons and ornaments from historical Russia. The third party tour guide, whose name I forget, wasn’t as interesting as she bolted at 1:30pm without so much as a goodbye and good luck.
With free time until I had to meet up for a Moscow Metro tour at 9:30pm, I wandered over to the Sculpture Park. Here, statues and busts that are discarded and displayed here. It was nice to actually stroll around and soak in the scenery.
I was in need of a refreshment, so I walked over to the Red October Chocolate Factory which is now converted into bars and restaurants. My feet found their way to Strelka Bar and it’s terrace where I ordered a Long Island Iced Tea. Sipping my cocktail in the sunshine with a view of The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, I was reminded why I love travelling so much.
A quick freshen up back at the hotel, I had dinner at Cafe Pushkin. With my own personal waiter, Nikolai was very attentive as he took my order of Red Caviar with Buckwheat Pancakes for starters followed by Fried Duck Breast, Cherry Risotto, Foie Gras Raviolis in Orange Glaze and a Cherry Sauce. He recommend I try a Russian Pie as an appetizer so I opted for a lamb filling. When this came out, it looked like a mini pasty!
After dinner, I made my way to Red Square where my Moscow Metro tour began. The architecture in each station is something I would recommend taking time to look at. After visiting several stations, I went for a few beers (as usual) to see out the evening…
Wednesday 3 June 2015
It was still beer o’clock as I continued past midnight into today (Wednesday) on Arbat (Арба́т) Street. At around half past midnight, the street cleaners were out hosing down the footpaths as I swig my drink. I did think to myself in the few days I have been in the city that Moscow was clean and now I know why. My mission was to see sunrise over the Kremlin so that was my reason for staying out late. It started to get light at around 2:45am as I left the Moroccan themed bar that served Russian beer. Strolling over to the Kremlin, I picked my spot on Большой Каменный мост (Bolshoy Kamenny Bridge). I enjoyed the sun rising in front of me whilst behind me, the bright full moon was slowing fading leaving only The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour to reflect the sun. It was worth the wait to see the sun rise from behind the Kremlin.
After dancing on the bridge listening to music on my phone and soaking up the rising sun, I walked through the gardens alongside the Kremlin and caught the metro back to my hotel. Feeling very tired, I managed to fall asleep and go three stops past my station. No big deal as I simply hopped off, walked across the platform and caught the train back the other way. Really easy! I managed to get a few hours sleep before I had to check out. The train onto my next destination wasn’t until 10:50pm so I had a bit of time to kill. With a picnic of fish, bread and salad purchased from the mini mart around the corner, I headed over to Izmailovo Market situated in some weird “wooden castle abandoned Disneyland type” complex.
The usual souvenirs of Matryoshka Dolls, wooden toys and T-shirts were on sale here. It was around 25C with no breeze, so I found a nice abandoned outdoor beer patio to sit and have my picnic. Eerie and amazing at the same time, I enjoyed the peace and quiet as I nibbled on my fish.
Afterwards, I wandered back to the hotel and loitered around in the hotel lobby before the tour group gathered to leave at 9pm. Dropped off by the organised minibus, I arrived at the train station to board the double decker train for an overnight travel to my next destination…