After a 5am start, it was a short four hour ride from St Petersburg to Moscow, on a train that looked more like the first class carriage of a plane! The wooden panelling, plush seating, carpeted floors and spacious bathrooms puts UK trains to shame – there was even a wardrobe for the many business men to hang their suit jackets!
We arrived in Moscow late morning and headed straight to our hostel which involved navigating a couple of changes on the Metro. Unlike St Petersburg’s Metro which has the stops written in English, Moscow’s stations are only written in Cyrillic which makes for an interesting experience! It’s actually pretty easy to work out – we just read the Cyrillic characters as if they were the Latin alphabet and made up our own names for places to make it easier to remember. We looked at the last stop to work out the direction of travel and then counted the stops when we were moving.
After dropping our bags at the hostel, we decided to make the most of the sunshine and headed to Red Square. When we arrived, it was clear some kind of event was going on. We had to go through a security scanner and have our bags searched to enter and they had cordoned off the square so you could reach St Basil’s Cathedral but not much else! There were also loads of temporary stalls set up in the middle and A LOT of people. Turns out we arrived in the middle of Moscow’s ‘City Day’ celebrations which span across a few days at the beginning of September and celebrates Moscow’s founding.
Pushing our way through the crowds to get closer to St Basil’s Cathedral, we paid the small fee to enter. The Cathedral is beautiful – I love the Disney-esque style to many of the Russian churches. I think I preferred St Basil’s to the Church of our Saviour on Spilled Blood in St Petersburg, although it’s a tough choice as both are pretty magnificent!
Due to the City Day celebrations, we were unable to get inside the Kremlin like we had planned. The ticket offices were also all closed so we gave up on that idea and made a note to come back early the following day.
We walked back to our hostel late afternoon along the Moskva river, via the Muzeon Park of Arts. The park is home to many Soviet statues removed from parks and squares across Russia after the collapse of Communism. The park was created in 1992 and has been collecting art pieces for over 20 years – they now have over 700 sculptures! It’s a cool place to wander around and spend an afternoon in the sun. We particularly liked these awesome sloped benches/ beds, which are perfect for sunbathing!
From the park, you can also view the giant, 98-metre-high statue of Peter the Great which emerges from the Moskva river and overshadows the ferry boat trips cruising past underneath. Our hostel had a decent sized lounge area, so we spent the evening with a beer and instant noodles (classy) doing some much needed travel admin, including booking ourselves our own log cabin for our upcoming stay in Suzdal…
MOSCOW DAY TWO
We were up and out of the hostel early on our second day as we wanted to head down to the Kremlin for the first entry at around 10am. On seeing the HUGE queue winding through the park, up the stairs and over the bridge, our hearts sank a little and we started to think we wouldn’t get to see the Kremlin at all… Hotfooting it down to the ticket office, we bought ourselves two general entry tickets – we didn’t bother with any of the extras, such as the Arsenal and climbing the Bell Tower. The queue actually moved surprisingly fast, especially after we realised a huge group of Chinese tourists were just choosing the stairs to rest on, and weren’t actually queuing!
We spent a couple of hours in the Kremlin, which is the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation. We walked around and looking inside any buildings and churches that our tickets allowed. This fortified complex is home to five palaces, four cathedrals, as well as the enclosing Kremlin Wall and towers. There’s also a small park, Tsar bronze-cast cannon and Tsar bell (one of the lragest bells in the world), so there is plenty to see once you are inside.
After the Kremlin, we visited the Bolshoi Theatre – well, the outside of the theatre! It would have been cool to see a show, but with only two nights in Moscow our options were limited and tickets often need to be booked further in advance.
We also popped our heads inside the famous GUM department store. This huge shopping centre runs for 794 ft along the East wall of Red Square and has a stylish, curved glass roof and row after row of expensive shops, well out of our budget! Still, it was fun to have a nosey around – especially in the food department which was the Russian equivalent of Fortnum & Masons.
The weather cleared up in the afternoon, so we spent our last few hours exploring some of the side streets, stopping for a beer if a particular place took our fancy! We stumbled across some cute alleyways and heavily decorated laneways – I’m not sure if the decorations were for the City Day celebration, but we enjoyed discovering giant hearts, hanging baskets of flowers, origami birds and even a giant umbrella and watering can!
For dinner I had the BEST salad of my life (I feel like I’ve said that already on this trip…) from a veggie restaurant called Fresh. The first modern gastronomic veggie restaurant in Moscow, their main focus is on healthy dishes. The prices were slightly higher than I had been paying elsewhere, but it was 100% worth the extra pennies! I was sad to find their Summer Rolls were sold out, but opted for an avocado salad and a side of sweet potato fries. The salad was a bunch of mixed leaves and sprouts, sugar snap peas, edamame beans, chunky guacamole, and crispy fried avocado strips. I have no idea what the dressing was, but it was insanely good; I could easily have eaten it again.. and again! I was so impressed, I ordered a different (tofu & sweet potato) salad to takeaway to eat for lunch on the train the next day!
After our two days in Moscow, it was time to pack up and move on to our next Russian destination – Vladimir – a quick pit stop on the way to Suzdal. We ended having a reeeally stressful experience in Vladimir involving a dodgy housing estate, potential homelessness and an angry Russian lady… but more on that in the next post!