Meeting the real Crazy Ivan

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May 31st 2017
Published: February 18th 2019
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R: We began the next day with a breakfast of breaded chicken, which made me ridiculously happy. We took a taxi over to Moscovskiy Vokzal (Moscow Station) for our trip to Moscow. Everything is extremely secure in Russia so to enter the train station we went through airport style security. Though this did at times seem to be a token effort. We wandered through the enormous dark looking station, which was largely filled with nothing, and perused the small selection of shops before heading to the "fancy bit" of the station where the smart Moscow bound trains pull in. To get to this we went through security again. The train itself was very smart - they have recently put in fast trains to Moscow the same as the German ICE trains, and the journey takes about 3.75 hours. Like everything in Russia, it was extremely well staffed and smart "Provodnitsas" (carriage attendants) passed by checking tickets and passports from time to time.

It rained the whole way, but that was ok. The landscape as you pulled out of St. Petersburg was one of small wooden houses with metal roofs. We arrived into Moscow mid afternoon and the station was utter chaos. We had planned ahead on this occasion and rather than struggle through the metro with all the bags, being 4 of us, we had a man with a sign waiting for us at the end of the platform. This was Ivan. It was supposed to be only a 20 minute drive to the hotel from the train station but for some reason the whole of Moscow seemed to be under construction. So we went around in what seemed like massive circles, speeding in and out of lanes, cutting down back streets. Ivan was a bit crazy (I was glad about this!). Ivan did manage to give us a sort of express city tour during the process - we saw the Kremlin and Red Square from a distance before getting to our hotel. We arrived, sort of in one piece at our big-chain hotel in the centre of Moscow. It was a bit unsettling, but we had to go through security just to enter the lobby. The hotel was fine - a bit soulless but did the job and was centred around a nice lobby which seemed to be full of business guests most of the time.

The others wanted a rest, so ever keen to explore, I headed out. I couldn't resist going straight to Red Square - a 15 minute walk from the hotel - knowing I would be back here with the others later. Your first experience of Red Square is pretty breathtaking. There is a grand feeling of power to be had, just by standing in the centre and looking around. The Kremlin forms one edge, with Lenin's Mausoleum sitting below the wall in a low, pyramid type building. On the opposite edge is a grand shopping emporium called Гум (pronounced Goom) which used to be a state department store in the Soviet days. Today it a grand mall with elegant ironwork and glass roof and does not feel very communist at all. At one end of Red Square is St. Basil's Cathedral - an image everyone can picture, and the other end are grand red brick museum buildings. I decided not to explore too much as I knew I was coming back, so I had decided to hop on the famous metro and do some exploring further afield.

But first. To work out how to use the Metro. I always see the Metro as an important part of exploring any city. I managed to find my way into the metro system and buy a ticket on my Mastercard - the ticket machines were in English which helped. Beyond that, there was no English signing. Now, I had been trying to pick up the Cyrillic alphabet all trip with some success. I gazed up at cream coloured plastic signs hanging from the ceilings with various destinations in Cyrillic on them. I walked about looking at network maps - able to identify where I wanted to go, but with no real way of working out how to get there. I walked from platform to platform trying to work out what to do. It is an unusual feeling to be lost in somewhere so urban - signs are normally your friend. And then I looked down. Painted on the floor were the English translations and arrows to help tourists find their way about. Suddenly things were much easier. After this moment, everything began to make sense, even if I did get the wrong direction on the first train I boarded.

I headed to Park Peabody which has the deepest underground station in the world and extremely long escalators. The park was filled with extremely grand soviet architecture and as you looked back to the city you could see the large soviet blocks looming amongst huge new modern glass structures. The park was great for a walk though, and I pottered about the church, fountains and museum architecture. I headed back and joined the others for dinner at Cafe Receptor - international food which Cate selected on account of the sushi - but it had great Korean food.

Breakfast in the new hotel was much more "normal" than our place in St. Petersburg - only grilled veg as a surprise on this buffet. Today was "tourist day". We headed down to Red Square to tackle the sights - firstly Lenin's Mausoleum where you can (silently) wander past the man himself (or so they say) lying in view of the public. Silence is required here and there a number of guards around to remind you if you forget - as Clare found out more than once! We then headed into St. Basil's cathedral, which is fascinating on the inside with all the walls painted, archways and icons. It also had great views out over the river.

We headed into Гум for coffee and cake but not before I got stopped by security. I couldn't quite work out what it was he wanted to start with but it turned out he was collecting foreign coins. I managed to find him a 20p and hoped I wasn't about to bribe a Russian security official. But he seemed extremely happy with this and let me past. Cate and I then took a metro out to the Novodevichy Convent - which had a pleasant cemetery outside of the city. This contained numerous graves of notable Russians, including Gogol, Prokoviev and Boris Yeltsin who was buried under a giant concrete Russian flag. (It also had some of the worst toilets we encountered in Russia). It made a great walk around, even if it was a bit crowded with tourists.

That evening Cate and I broke from Clare and Richard, who were looking for a low key evening, and headed back down into town. We ended up in a very fancy Wine and Crab restaurant (surprising called "Wine and Crab") which was pretty great. We took a walk back through Red Square and I couldn't help but spend a bit of time doing some night photography to capture it all. It looks even more powerful at night. We ended the night on Capirinhas and Mojitos. Perhaps a white Russian would have been more appropriate!

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