Russia - virtual travel in times of COVID 19

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May 4th 2020
Published: May 24th 2020
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So, its 04 May and we are at Yaroslavl after a lazy breakfast, we take the bus to Uglich but get off at Rostov . The journey is picturusque but quite short.Less than an hour later we alight in one of the oldest towns in Russia. It dates back to 862 , now a quaint peaceful village with four monasteries, churches and the tranquil Lake Nero, the Kremlin( a citadel) is worth a walk around to feel the history. During the Tatar-Mongol Invasion the city was almost totally destroyed but today the perfectly proportioned towers, the immaculately laid out gardens and the white stoned churches make it a charming town. .It is one of the golden ring town,serene and beautiful.
We let the atmosphere seep in with hot onion soup - a must have here! Long walk along the lake and we look forward to our next destination tomorrow . Sergeiv Posad - another town in the golden ring

05May Rostov to Sergiev Posad is just a 1-hour train journey and a short walk later the stunning panorama of St.Sergius Trinity Lavra opens up dazzling you with the shine of golden onion-shaped domes. The spot is so picturesque that local artists brave the danger of Corona and spend hours imprinting the image on their canvas.Humans perish but art remains!
The architecture, of 14th-19th centuries , the churches , the skillfull bell-ringers, leave you in awe. At the pinnacle of this lies the stunning monastery of Trinity Lavra of St Sergius. During Ivan the Terrible times, Lavra finally became the fortress. The creamy white walls look snow topped with sky blue and golden cupolas, making it one of the most beautiful buildings in the Golden Ring.We drink in the tranquility of this beautiful building as we sample the local delicacies; homemade bread, pastries and kvas - a bizarre drink made of fermented bread
Sergiev Posad is also famous for being home to the world's first matryoshka doll.
Shopping can't be done on a virtual holiday- so I will leave that for later!

06 May – Yesterday Sergiev Posad was from a tourist point of view, today was just soaking up the atmosphere of this lovely place and marvel at the immaculate onion domes . By the afternoon, we check out and walk across to the train station. The train ride to Moscow is a mere 90 minutes and as we enter Moscow, the excitement builds. Moscow of KGB, Spy thrillers, the dark past , the mystery, the intrigues, brutal Lenin , all come out of pages of book I have read and anticipation of actually visiting these places is too much to contain. When we visited Poland I saw the cruelty of the Russians equaling that of the Germans in their history and frankly, I had no intention of visiting Moscow till we went to St Petersburg a few years ago. I thought that was the most gorgeous city I had seen. Then some friends told me that Moscow was as beautiful if not more and the bug bit me!
To see the crown jewels of the Tsars ,the Kremlin, Red square … ooh! the next three days are going to be an education!
As the train glides in, we take some time to find our bearings. The Language is alien so the translation app is activated and in spite of my meticulous notes on directions, we get confused. Hail a cab and the traffic jams make it amply clear that Moscow is the Capital! An inviting bed is the need of the hour! Tomorrow morning is a 3 hr. walking tour, so better rest.

07 May – I had booked this free walking tour, which we always do for any place. It is a a great introduction to the city when you cover it on foot.
1. The guides are enthusiastic, well informed students, and though we are generally the oldest in the group, but their energy energizes us and the pace is set for the walk so you just cope!
2. It gives you an overall perspective of all the important places, with their history and little anecdotes connected with it. The tour is not a history lesson - it is an emotional experience! Some urban legends, interesting stories, and funny jokes by these guides make it a memorable experience.
3. It is cheap ( just tips) so if you can’t cope or don’t find it interesting enough you can leave without worrying about not getting value for your money! But by and large they have been very enriching and we have happily landed up paying more than we would have paid for a paid tour because the students are such darlings, your heart is happy to pay!
So we reached the meeting point well in time and defying the skeptical looks from the young bubbly tourists, we set off taking in smaller austere churches which we would have missed on a guided tour, traversing some of Moscow’s newest park showcasing the different vegetation zones, tundra, steppe, wetlands and forest, and getting introduced to the ‘ must sees’ of the city . It set our priorities for the next two days and got us nice and hungry . A tea break was more than welcome and I felt proud to have kept pace with the 20,30 + group. Happily exhausted, we came to the apartment to rest for a while and surfaced late evening to see the glamour of St. Basil Cathedral by night. ! One of the most magnificent sights in Moscow was seeing St. Basil's Cathedral, at night as the almost full moon was rising beside and then over the cathedral. Taking in the lights decorating the famous Gum store, marveling that we were apparently freely meandering in Moscow in these times when the world was indoors, strolling in Red Square, watching the stunning moon rise over the equally stunning St. Basil's Cathedral, I transcended the boundary of reality and virtual travel and slipped into the virtual world never wanting to come out! It fulfills your yearnings, dreams, desires, and the lovely bells announcing the church service, complete the atmosphere!.

The first day in Moscow was fulfilling to say the least and tomorrow we explore the city attractions one by one.

08 May – We start at the famous Red Square and after the walking tour yesterday we know it will be an easy walk to most of the tourist sites. At the square is the St Basils, Kazinskies church, Lenins tomb and Gum, & to the right side of the square is the Kremlin. The Moscow Kremlin is a massive complex in the heart of the city that includes four palaces and four cathedrals and it’s also the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation. I am not so keen on the Kremlin Armoury Museum, but you can’t go with a cavalry man and not see it ! I am not disappointed though and the ten beautiful Faberge eggs , the Russian Imperial regalia and treasures of gold and silver are truly awesome.
A bit of rest in the apartment and by 6 we walk out refreshed for the Moskva River Cruise. To view these monuments from the water is an ethereal experience! The floating fountains of the Vodootvodny Canal are an awesome sight . Since the sun sets after 10 pm , we can see the scenery twice, in daylight and glittering with lights in evening time. Saint Basil's Cathedral, Moscow Kremlin,. Luzhniki Stadium , Lomonosov Moscow State University , Cathedral of Christ the Saviour , Government of Moscow, Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building – all gliding past as we are served Rusian delicacies and wine ! What luxury! Tomorrow is the famous Russian Ballet!

My virtual travel this year is so vivid because of these real time memories ! Imagination can only be based on some past experiences and I feel blessed to have a cache of memories to weave into my dreams! Life has become compartmentalized these days, from the online classes, webinars and coping with new technology to stay abreast with new methods of teaching during the day and then entering the world of dreams in the evening , visiting lands unexplored. It is a happy mix , keeps you from sinking into ennui in these distancing times.

09 May Today was an exciting day- enough of sight seeing - museums, galleries, and regal palaces – all so beautiful that my dictionary has been depleted of adjectives!
But what does a woman enjoy most? On the pretext of appreciating the vibrant architecture of Moscow , deviated to the Izmailovo Flea Market – no intention of buying anything- The Corona era has taught me how pointless material possessions are ! Minimalistic living has its own joy- but my eyes are not satiated till I explore all the stalls selling Russian crafts, culinary specialties, and antiques. Russian artefacts, jewellery, folk crafts, and toys test your bargaining skills! This open-air market surrounded by more beautiful buildings has an ambience that is worth it even if you don’t buy anything.
Next is the metro tour – well its high on priority for tourists and though we do not intend to take a conducted tour, I have it all chalked out and I love the jigsaw puzzle thrill of exploring on my own. The metro stations of Moscow are touristy places by themselves so this is the circuit I had on my travel notes so we follow directions and just get off a metro see the station and hop on to the next metro. In the price of one ticket we see all of these awesome treasures.
1. Ploshchad Revolyutsii Station
2. Mayakovskaya Metro Station
3. Belorusskaya (or Belorussky) Station
4. Kiyevskaya (or Kiyevsky) Station
5. Taganskaya Station
6. Kurskaya Station
7. Komsomolskaya Station
8. Prospekt Mira Station
9. Novoslobodskaya Station
Nibbling on snacks , idling in the market and beyond and this loafing around on metro was a contrast to the evening ahead. Late evening we get dressed to go to the Bolshoi theatre. We had seen Swan Lake at St Petersburg, and it remains one of my favourite memories. So we never miss a theatre performance whenever an opportunity comes our way. We may scrounge on wine, restaurants and shopping but never on a good performance . The Tale of Tsar Saltan was booked well in advance so that set the last evening in Moscow.! A tale of love, deceit, trechery, sorcery told in a ballet with the most exquisite stage settings , it was a perfect end to our holiday in Moscow. Tomorrow the second leg of the holiday starts! Moscow Budapest flight in the morning! Wizz air has refunded my money but not my dreams !


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