Moscow 22 to 24 August 2013

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August 28th 2014
Published: August 28th 2014
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Moscow 22 to 24 August 2013

We have been so lucky. The weather in Moscow while we were there for the 3 days, the sun was shining brilliantly. On our departure day it was pouring with rain. In the 106 days we have been travelling, the rain has only caused a little havoc in Oslo. Other times it has rained, we have been driving or sleeping. Excellent!

We left St Petersburg at about 11.00am and found our way to the a roundabout way!! We had a Garmen GPS that was only showing major roads, and a paper map that showed less roads...but we got there. The journey from St Petersburg to Moscow was one of those new experiences. We have never seen so many trucks on one road, and for 730kms. We estimated that there was a ratio of at least 50:50 or even 66:33 of trucks:cars. There was one bit of road works around the town of Volochek and it created an 8 km section of driving 10 to 30 kph. This was around 6.00pm for us so after getting through the traffic build up, we found a sealed road going off the main highway, saw that it was going to a factory and stopped in a clearing before the building. We were there for about 30 minutes, and at about 9.00pm, a car with a Russian family (mum & dad, young daughter and grandma) who, with hand signals and speaking Russian, asked if they could set their tent up next to us. We of course indicated OK. The next morning, we left before they had dismantled their tent.

When we got to the outskirts of Moscow, I had my phone telling us were to go as I had successfully plugged in the address of the only camp site in Moscow. Wow, did that phone take us in a multiple dog-leg fashion to Sokolniki Park. This park is massive. We learned after going to 5 different gates to the park that one of the camp sites within the park had closed and the one we wanted was out on one of the edges of the park. At two of the entries we were turned away by the Russian guards at their barricade and one of them actually gave us a map of the park with a texta mark indicating where to go...and it was incorrect as we found out.

Sokolniki Park is a popular recreational park, which also hosts an exhibition centre. The place to go to experience the Russian nature without going far away from the centre. The park has an amusement park for the kids. The area is now infested with many high class hotels. We learned from a local that in the past decade, all the parks have been cleaned up and the people of Moscow are using them.

None the less, we eventually got to the camp site, being met by another Russian man who could not speak a word of English but he lifted his boom-gate to let us in. He stays at the camp site 24/7 as the watchman. He showed me the 'doush' (showers) and all the other facilities, chatting away in Russian, using hand signals. All went well. Later in the evening, Julian, a Russian lady with a bit of English, checked us in, taking photo copies of our passport, drivers license and 'vehicle passport'. All this paperwork that has to be done to track where we go is incredible. One day the Russians will work out how inefficient their system is, just as the communist in Vietnam have. Very interesting comparing the 2 countries. We also got information on which Metro to catch to get into Red Square where most of the key sites of Moscow are.

The next morning we walked 10 minutes and caught Tram (trolley bus) No 4 to the Sokolniki Metro Station. From there, it was suppose to be a simple journey on the Red Line straight into Red Square. However, today a section of the line was closed for replacement (which we learned when we did the return journey) so we had to change trains 3 times but couldn't understand why people were giving us instructions on catching different trains not in the directions we wanted to go. These were the diversions and they were telling us (in Russian) that the red line was closed - only for 1 day. Oh the experiences of travelling. But we got there. There are almost no English signs inside so we had our itinerary ready beforehand or we learned to recognize station names in Cyrillic. We found that each metro carriage has a map in Latin script, and there is one near the entrance to each platform. The 2nd day we travelled, the Red Line was not cut so travel was simple.

Walking out the Metro Station and turning the 1st corner, we were hit by the 1st amazing sites of Moscow. As we walked further, we had to pick our jaws up, resulting from the buildings we were looking at. We couldn't believe we were actually in Moscow looking at Red Square and the Kremlin. Red Square certainly looked different today because they were setting up the whole area into 2 sections, one for a horse event with sand covering that section of Red Square, and the other with a huge stage for singing, parades and fireworks, so it didn't look like the long, massive, empty, cobbled square (which is actually a rectangle) at all. It is the heart of Moscow which is surrounded by St. Basil's Cathedral, the State History Museum, Lenin's Mausoleum and one of the Kremlin's long brick walls. The cobbles that make up the square are black and not red; the name comes from another gloss of the Russian word "krasniy", meaning "beautiful".

We walked around to find the Tourist Information Office but is wasn't to be found. We asked 2 sets of English speaking people and they hadn't found it either. We got a map from the hop-on-hop-off bus person so we were set.

First we walked through the Gum Shopping building which was built in 1860-something. Wow, what a beautiful building, loaded with brand-name shops, coffee and restaurant outlets and an old car display. The fountain, which is very famous was stacked up with water melons at it was the season, so there was no water flowing. We had a coffee break before walking further.

We ended up catching the hop-on-hop-bus as well as the river cruise. It was a great way to see the scenes of this big city.

We then visited the famous St Basil's Cathedral built in 1555-61. Another wow!! Did you know that this cathedral is made up of multiple small chapels which are now museums, rather than being one big cathedral which holds 100s of people. In one of the chapels, 4 tenor singers were performing. The acoustics were incredible.

Other sites we saw over the 2 days in Moscow were:

Lenin Mausoleum is in the centre of the Red Square. We walk past the building of the embalmed body of Vladimir Lenin (who actually did not want any monuments to be built for him) but did not go in.

The Kremlin – This gigantic site was another 'wow'! The collection in the Armoury was incredible, particularly the extensive collection of carriages and ceremonial clothing, as well as jewel, gold and silver gifts and ornaments given to Russian dignitary over the centuries. There were several stunning churches also inside the Kremlin wall - Cathedral of the Archangels, Cathedral of the Domination, and Cathedral of the Annunciation, all of which we visited - no photos allowed but I managed to take a couple! We saw the Tsar Bell and cannon as well. The gardens in the grounds had beautiful landscaped summer flowerbeds and with the lovely blue sky, one couldn't help wonder with what we saw today, how it compared with some of the decisions made in the Grand Palace and Senate buildings which were also inside the Kremlin walls.

Old Arbat Street – We walk down this kitschy street, looking at the small by-streets around the Arbat. They allow you to feel the "old Moscow spirit". Arbat is full of souvenir vendors, tourist cafes, lousy restaurants, artists, etc. As it was Sunday and a beautiful day, many people were taking advantage of what the street offered. Many artists were as work, the Torture Museum was busy and there was a lot of dressed up people in animal costumes wanting to be photographed for a fee.

Christ the Saviour Cathedral was worth the visit – This cathedral, the tallest Orthodox church in the world (the largest being the Temple of St. Sava in Belgrade), was blown up on orders from Stalin in 1931, with the view of building the gargantuan Palace of the Soviets, to be crowned by a 100 m high statue of Lenin. The project ran into engineering and geological difficulties (the area used to be a swamp), then the War intervened, and the place was ceded to a year-round open-air swimming pool. The pool was razed and the cathedral rebuilt only after the fall of the Soviet Union, in the mid-nineties. There is an extensive museum underneath the cathedral documenting its history (the original was started in 1839 and consecrated in 1883).

As you may know, Moscow is the financial and political centre of Russia and the former Soviet Union, with a population of around 13 million, and covers an area of around 1,080 km². One-tenth of all Russian citizens live in the metropolitan area.

For many years since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the economy has improved, and the modern era has brought upon a wide variety of construction projects, modern architecture and quasi-modern transport systems.

Moscow is a large metropolis on the Moskva (Russian for Moscow) River, which bends its way through the city. Most of the main sites are on the northern bank of the river. The other major waterway is the Yauza River, which flows into the Moskva east of the Kremlin.

We have really enjoyed Moscow as a city. Although it was a little challenging re finding basic places tourists expect in Europe (eg Tourist Info Centres) and the signage is mostly in Russian (Cyrillic alphabet), everyone has been very helpful. You have to get used to the naturally stern, almost angry look on people's faces, particularly older people. We have heard that the children of yester-years have been taught not to smile in public so hence, as adults this is what they are like. Things have changed so the 20-somethings are not like this. The economy in the past decade or 2 has improved. Infrastructure is certainly improving and we have seen early signs of improvements for tourists.

The camp site was expensive for what it offered. We were the only vehicle using the camp site so business in not flourishing for tourists who are travelling like us. We had a neighbour the 1st night (people from UK who were actually in the same camp site as us in St Petersburg), but we were all by ourselves the last 2 nights. The day before we left we got back to our motor home at 4.00pm, did some computer work over a cold beer and did 2 loads of washing.

The next morning we packed up and headed east for Suzdal, using our new navigation maps Tom has installed in the Samsung tablet as the Russian maps on our car GPS still don't function with all the detail we need. We only have 4 more days left of our fortnight visa for Russia.

We left the camp site at 10.00am and hit the outer edge of the city by 11.15am - not bad for such a big city! By the time we got out on the open road, the sky cleared.

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