Published: May 4th 2008May 4th 2008
It’s hard to not hum the tune “Moscow Moscow......” when you’re here. One thing I do know, is that no one else is humming it.
We arrived at Moscow station at 7.30 on Friday morning and were met by a rep from the travel company with whom we booked this section of our trip. The overnight train from St Petersburg was fun and hopefully a taste of something to come! We were booked into a four berth cabin, but were the only occupants. We were allocated a top bunk and a bottom bunk, but since we were alone we both took bottom bunks, much to the concern of the carriage attendant. She brought the guard along to show him - Fi was creasing the wrong sheets!. Luckily he did not seem to think it was a big deal so we stayed as we were. The ride was very smooth, with lovely glimpses of the dawn as we approached Moscow.
The travel company rep in Moscow drove us in a whirlwind fashion to our hotel about 15 mins from the city centre. Apparently, the hotel has 8000 beds but they are not all in our room. We’re
on the 17th floor with great views over a canal and a huge green/forest area - good choice.
The hotel is adjacent to a huge indoor/outdoor market which sells clothes, shoes, materials, and all sorts of stuff - the Izmailovsky Park. It’s a bustling, cajoling, nudging, squeezing-past-people kind of place, with sellers pushing their wares on you, all insisting that this or that is a bargain of a life time and calling anyone who looks like an English-speaking non-Russian “my friend”. Many Russians shop here as compared to city prices , it is cheap and there are hundreds of stalls to choose from. The atmosphere is redolent with the smell of chargrilled kebabs, mystery things in pastry, hawkers’ cries, people speaking loudly on mobiles, little children clutching parental arms, American music blaring in various places and a sea of colour, bustle, aprons filled with wads of roubles and all sales on a cash only basis. We loved it. There is a kind of theme park duplication of the whole of the Kremlin next to the market. It’s amazing - the best example of massive kitsch imaginable, more or less modelling the Kremlin but with lots of colour that is
certainly not part of the Kremlin. It really fits with the market/fun park atmosphere and is a not miss on any tourist itinerary in Moscow.
The Lonely Planet bible recommends viewing the art work at some of the metro stations, so we jumped on the underground for our first foray in Moscow. This metro system is 4 times the size of St Petersburg (Moscow has a population of 11m+) and the junction stations can be a little confusing and daunting, especially when reading the names in Cyrillic. However, we found the stations mentioned in the LP and they certainly lived up to expectations. Nearly all have huge curved-ceiling halls with broad marble stairs and have one or more large bronze statues, mainly of revolutionary and military figures. Others have very large mosaics depicting battle scenes and other key moments in history (we think - could not read the captions!). We took photos - careful not to include people who may not want to have been photographed. We wandered into Red Square late afternoon - a very large impressive area flanked by the Kremlin Wall, Gum - the classiest shopping building you will find anywhere (think Adelaide’s Adelaide Arcade by
1000%), St Basil’s Cathedral with its gorgeous multi-coloured minarets, with the stern-looking State History Museum at the opposite end. It was full of people - lots of tourists and lots of Muscovites.
Moscow is quite different from St Petersburg. Despite the notion of St Petersburg being Russia’s “Window on the West”, Moscow at first impression is a much more cosmopolitan and organised city. It’s cleaner, the city is generally less run down, public buildings are very smart, it has lovely gardens and parks, a very efficient transport system and more organised roads. The people also seem more confident and happy, and more willing to meet one’s eye and smile.
Today (second day in Moscow) was our second attempt to get into the Kremlin. We queued yesterday for half an hour but the ticket office was suddenly closed for a “technical break” and it looked as if our time there would not be long enough, so decided to try again today. This morning we were in early and joined a smallish queue, to find out after 20 minutes that the Kremlin was not open today (the guide books said it was) - however we could buy a ticket to
the Armoury (one Kremlin building) but could not do so for one hour and entry would be an hour after that (technical reasons again). So - better luck tomorrow!!
Undaunted, we headed for the Bolshoi Theatre, arriving within minutes of an opera commencing. We bought tickets (asked for the best in the house, paid $15 each) and found ourselves four rows from the front watching Tschaikovsky’s Iolanthe (in Russian). We didn’t have time beforehand to check out the plot, so made up our own as it went only to find when we read the program at interval that Tschaikovsky got it wrong!! We really enjoyed the experience - the singers, sets and costumes were fantastic and we could not believe that we were there (in our jeans - unlike anyone else in the audience). Spent some of the afternoon in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts - fantastic collection of statues and paintings. As was 19th century practice - all of the statues were plaster casts (even one of David) - which, after watching a program on TV last night about Degas and his Little Dancer piece, was a bit disappointing. (The program was particularly negative about the quality
of copies.) There were some lovely paintings, however, including several Rembrandts. Some of the museum pieces and art works we’ve seen, according to the audio guides or information provided, had been ‘rescued’ by Russia from Germany, for example, for safe keeping during WW2 and it’s still here.....Russia is certainly not the only country to have done this.
The centre of Moscow is currently abuzz with preparations for the May 9 celebrations of the Russian Army victory over the Nazi invasion. There are large posters/displays with “1945” and “9 May” all over them, and often including photographs of historic moments. The flower beds are ablaze with red and yellow tulips. There’s no litter or graffiti anywhere, and we’ve seen lots of trucks spraying water to clean the streets, as well as people sweeping and scrubbing. There’s also a pretty big police and army presence in the city centre - don’t know how much of this is for 9 May and how much is normal practice. Shops are distributing orange and brown ribbons - people are tying them to handbags, on their wrists etc - similar to ribbons for anti-cancer etc, but bigger and brighter.
So tomorrow - off to
the Kremlin during the day - then onto the Trans Mongolian (first stop Irkutsk) in the evening. Don’t know when the next opportunity to Blog will be - watch this space.
There are more photos below