Published: August 15th 2010July 13th 2010
The heat in Russia was surprising, it wasn't that we expected to step into a snow storm, it was just that we hadn't factored in the need for airconditioning or keeping up fluids in Russia. We arrived at Hotel Kosmos in the afternoon after a long drive from Novgorod and our airconditioning and fridge were received with child-like excitement.
A decent buffet in the hotel saw the end of the organised parts of the first day and we spent the remainder of the evening peering out our windows at the Space Museum and statues we could see and partaking in one of the joys of travelling, handwashing. We later learnt that during our handwashing exploits some of the guys on our tour got extremely ripped off in the hotel's nightclub paying $50 a drink, which may have gone some way to paying for the naked ladies wandering around.
Our first morning in Moscow saw us back on the tour bus wearing our finest for the evening's ballet and taking a driving tour which gave us a great sense of the layout of Moscow. We got out first glimpses of St Basils Cathedral and the Kremlin, before stopping
at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, and the Novodevichy Convent where Peter the Great locked his sister Sophia and where it is speculated that Tchaikovsky got his inspiration for Swan Lake
watching the swans on the pond next to the convent. We stopped for panoramic views over Moscow, another popular location for Russian brides to have their photos. We saw brides at all the famous Russian sites having their wedding photos taken and even saw a groom sitting on the gun of a tank somewhere between Novgorod and Moscow.
Moscow has such a large number of important historical sights, especially those from recent memory, around the city. Places where Boris Yeltsin made speeches or where the Germans were held on the outskirts of the city during the Second World War, the Seven Sisters
built by Stalin, and then there are the sights everyone would recognise, the Kremlin and St Basils Cathedral. Our guide Tatiana, who was hysterically dry and referred to me as Miss Zhivago
pointed all this out to us, making us aware of so many things we would never have noticed without her. It was also interesting to note her prejudices and things that she didn't
say; she hated the Mayor of Moscow, mentioned Stalin only in passing (and if you'd never heard of him before you would think all he did was design seven buildings in Moscow) and she was passionate about both Putin and Lenin.
After briefly basking in the airconditioning of the underground shopping mall outside the Kremlin, we took a tour around the inside of the Kremlin, which houses palaces, churches and the official residence of the President of Russia. The inside of the Cathedrals were brilliant and it was exciting to be somewhere where so many decisions that have affected our lives were made. Afterwards we spent more time strolling around Red Square before we were to meet for dinner. We were warned prior to arriving in Russia that Russian food was not very good, so we were pleasantly surprised. My only complaint would be sheer repetitiveness, we ate borscht (beetroot soup) followed by chicken or pork for almost every meal.
After dinner we went to the ballet to see a performance of Giselle
. It would have been getting close to 40 degrees in the theatre and the dancers had sweat pouring from them. Despite the heat, it was
a wonderful performance and we were seated so close to the stage we could see all the facial expressions and understand the plot. On leaving the theatre we discovered that the stereotypes of Russians being dour and serious were not true, as I sent an old Russian lady into hysteric laughter as I tried to recreate some of the dance moves on the street. After the ballet we went to Propaganda Bar for some vodka and then Al went with some other people to take photos of Red Square at night.
The next morning we started the day with a tour around some to the metro stations, many of them look like magnificent underground ballrooms adorned with chandeliers and statues. After an hour or so of visiting different metro stations, some that were gifts from Soviet states we went back to Red Square to visit the Mausoleum of Lenin.
It took us about an hour to get in there, and it was difficult to see much. There were guards in the shadows who would shush people speaking or tell people to take their hands out of their pockets. Seeing Lenin was bizarre, looking closely at him you could
see a blackness around his fingers and liver spots on the top of his head, you probably get about 30 seconds in the room with him before being sent back into the heat. Tatiana boasted about the amazing Russian formula that he is put in once a year (which was apparently much better than the Romanian formula as their embalmed leader is not in as good condition) and he gets a new suit once every three years. Tatiana also said that it is likely Lenin will shortly be buried next to his mother, which was his dying wish, in the next 5 years.
From Lenin we visited the Armoury which houses all of the opulence from centuries of Russian rulers - carriages, Faberge eggs, wedding gowns, crowns and gifts from other countries. It was a jaw-dropping display of riches but the heat and airlessness left us all wanting to escape as quickly as possible.
From there we headed back towards the hotel with some other girls from the trip. Al visited the Space Museum which aside from being all in Russian was worth a visit. We then spent our last evening watching the World Cup final in the
bar amongst business men and prostitutes. Moscow was an amazing city which we would have liked to spend a lot more time in, it isn't as European as St Petersburg, or necessarily as pretty but it feels like the heart of Russia and we could easily have spent another week there exploring the sites.
We then drove to Veliky Luki which is merely a convenient stop over on the way to Riga in Latvia, we spent the evening having a drink in the park by the lake and trying not to get eaten alive by mosquitos. Our border crossing took 3 1/2 hours and then we were back in Europe.
There are more photos below