We arrived in Moscow on Saturday morning, having caught a 4-hour fast train from St Petersburg at 6.45am. Navigating our way on the Moscow metro has been a bit challenging as there is almost NO English script anywhere, it’s all Cyrillic. Greg has the Moscow metro map on his phone, plus a neat little app that lets us know where the nearest metro station is, and we’ve used it a few times already. We got to the station nearest the apartment we’re staying at, then spent a frustrating 90 minutes trying to meet up with the person who was handing over the apartment keys and showing us where it is. Somehow the guy who was organising it all managed to forget that the subway station has 4 exits, and it apparently didn’t occur to him to mention that we should wait by the exit that was just outside the big shopping centre. It also didn’t occur to the guy we were meeting that he should check the other exits for 2 bedraggled tourists with backpacks and a huge duffle bag. We finally met our man and by that time he was furious and so were we, the difference being that we had forked out $550 to be stuffed around.
Anyway, we’re all settled in now and I’ll write more about our 1960s Soviet style apartment in another post. We spent the rest of the day checking out the local area and doing a few chores – washing, shopping, catching up on sleep. There are at least 4 little supermarkets in the 3 blocks between our apartment and the shopping centre near the metro, plus a slightly larger one in the shopping centre. And Greg went for a walk in the other direction this morning and found several more. The ground floor of a lot of the apartment blocks around here are devoted to lots of little shops, there are 2 floors of upmarket shops in the shopping centre, plus more tiny shops outside the metro station. Yesterday as we went past an Apple reseller in the shopping centre, we counted 6 staff … and one customer! Lots of shop assistants, not many customers.
So yesterday, Sunday, we got out and about. In typical J&G travel style, our first destination was a produce market. Beautiful fruit, vegetables, spices, dried fruit, smallgoods, meat and a baker selling a naan-type breads that they were baking in a tandoor-style oven. We bought a fresh chicken and vegetables that we’ll roast for dinner tonight, plus some dried fruit, fresh raspberries and a couple of varieties of the naan-type bread. It seemed very quiet at the market, some stalls were closed and the rest of the stall-holders were very keen for us to buy their wares. In the afternoon, we did a walking tour along the Moscow River, starting at the magnificent Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. It was originally built in the middle of the 19th century to celebrate Russia’s victory over Napoleon, then destroyed by Stalin, then rebuilt to celebrate Moscow’s 850th birthday in 1997. We wandered over a pedestrian bridge across the river, with great views of the Kremlin wall and St Basil’s Cathedral (which must have at least 5 or 6 bouncy castles if Greg’s theory about colourful cupolas is correct), across to the former Red October chocolate factory – now an arts precinct – and a very impressive statue of Peter the Great, which is apparently twice as high as the Statue of Liberty. We walked along the other side of the river for a couple of kms to Gorky Park, which used to be an amusement park but is now a place to have a picnic, roller-blade, ride bikes and just hang out. In winter people go ice-skating and cross-country skiing there.
At one point while we were walking beside the river, we found a whole lot of metal sculpture trees that were all completely covered in padlocks. We have seen variations of this in other places we have visited. Couples put their names on the lock and then lock it to something (a fence, a bridge, a railing beside a motorway) and then that means they will stay together forever. There were 25 of these metal ‘trees’ along the river, each with hundreds or more likely thousands of locks, and then on the footbridge nearby there were more, newer trees that people had just started putting locks on.
And something else that stuck me while we were walking through a small park with colourful flower beds planted in interesting patterns. Remember the spectators using coloured boards to make pictures at the 1980 Moscow Olympics? The floral garden designs reminded me of that, for some reason.
Today we went to Real Russia, the travel agents, to collect our train tickets and to get them to register our Russian visas. We travelled on 3 metro lines to get there, and our tickets were all ready for us to pick up. The travel agent told us that as we aren’t spending 7 or more days in any one place in Russia, we don’t need to register our visas … I hope she’s right and we don’t have any trouble leaving the country! We had lunch at an Italian-style restaurant nearby – the business lunch was around $8: soup, pizza/pasta and a drink, then headed into ‘town’ to have a look at the Art Deco Metropole Hotel, the Bolshoi Theatre and Red Square. There is a huge temporary fence around Lenin’s mausoleum and Red Sq, and a stage is being built but I can’t find out what it’s for. We’re hoping that access to Lenin’s mausoleum is from inside the Kremlin, which we’re planning on visiting tomorrow – we have already seen his comrades Uncle Ho and Chairman Mao, so Vladimir Ilyich will make the trifecta for us! I know, it’s a bit weird, visiting embalmed dead guys in (formerly) communist countries, but everyone needs a hobby.
We spent a while walking in the direction of the White House, where Prime Minister Putin has his office, but we seemed to walk for ages and not really get any closer, so we gave up and came back to the apartment in time to miss the afternoon peak hour metro rush, and so we could roast our chicken for dinner! It is now raining hard – hope it’s all finished by tomorrow morning!