I Moscow and cool off

Trip Start Mar 06, 2005
Trip End ??? ??, 2006

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Thursday, March 10, 2005

March 10th
We arrived in Moscow at 6:30 am after a horrendous night on the train from St Petersberg, we were almost poached alive, it is common for the trains at night to be quite / very warm (for obvious reasons)but on this occasion even the russians were complaining about the heat. We lay in our compartment starkers soaked with sweat (dont worry there was no one else in our compartment) non of the windows opened in the carriage or corridor, the only relief was to press your flesh up against the cold window. I'm sure this must have presented an excellent 'snapshot' to anyone stood on a platform as we passed.

Moscow was much colder than St Petes and there was much more snow, despite being further south (this was later explained to us:because there is less moisture in the air than St petes it snows easier)

To add insult to injury following our sleepless night there was no one to meet us at the station, so after a 1.5 hour wait (in minus 7) and several fruitless phone calls later we approached a taxi driver on the platform who agreed to take us to our hotel (cock-up number 2)Great we thought we're on our way....leaving the platform and heading for the car park we approached a row of Mercedes cars, this may be a bit expensive we thought....but our driver passed these and unlocked the door to a 1972 LADA (he had to undo the pasenger door from the drivers seat by pulling on a bit of string (I kid you not) after loading our rucksacs into the boot and back seat we set off speedboat like (bow tilted upwards) into the madness that is Moscow rush hour, the windscreen froze the wipers hardly worked the heater was like a blast furnace and was kept on at maximum for the entire journey (stuck on we think).....2 hours later after numerous wrong turns (the loss of 1/2 stone in sweat)and a stop at the wrong hotel, we finally arrived, waved our driver goodbye and discovered our part of the hotel was 1/2 mile further up the street ("oh dear what a pity never mind" ..we said).

We again opted for the guided buddy tour (3 Hours) to help us find our way round (again money well spent)The metro in Moscow is fast efficient and cheap 105RR for 10 journeys (travel card)of any distance (great value) once in the centre of Moscow everything is laid out in a simple style so it is easy to navigate around and the tourist maps available free, are perfectly adequate for sightseeing.
We saw the Bolshoi Ballet, Red square, St Basils, the Kremlin, Lenins mausoleum, Metropol hotel, HQ of Pravda, amongst others. After our tour we opted for a quick meal before setting off alone.

We visited GUM the state department store which is now more akin to any designer label shopping centre / mall in almost any capital city in the world, let alone one just off red square in Moscow!
Crossing red square (translates as 'beautiful square' nothing to do with communism or blood etc etc)we noticed a couple of police officers stopping tourists for their identity papers /passports etc (we had previously been warned of this scam)We diverted away from them and watched as they demanded money to overlook the supposed 'incorrect' documents they had discovered. (apparently their wages are so poor that they regularly invent problems that can be overlooked for a fee. The 'fine' can be upto 30GBP although this can be negotiated downwards). Following this incident we where on 'police watch' avoiding situations where we might get stopped (a bit like spies on the run).

Moscow seems to be more cosmopolitan than St Peterburg, with fewer Ladas to be seen on the roads Merc and the ubiquitous Toyotas are everywhere. The difference between the two cities could be likened to Edinburgh and London the former being more laidback in feel and more welcoming.

March 11th
Today we visited the Armoury museum within the Kremlin. It houses a fantastic collection of gifts received by the Tsars by visiting heads of state and includes Faberge eggs and jewellery, arms and armour and state carriages, clothing and regalia
used for ceremonial occasions throughout the Tsarist period including thrones and crowns of the first tsars,inc Ivan the terrible.(We highly recommend a visit).

In the afternoon we roamed around Moscow city centre..they appeared to be gearing up for a visit from the olympic committee and signs and hoardings were being erected everywhere'Moscow 2012.

We passed the town hall which had been moved when the road was widened by Stalin (in fact much of the major buildings had been changed moved or transformed at some point during the cities history if anything Moscows history and indeed Russias is revisionist in that every new leader seems to want to put thier mark on it by changing things including 'their version of history' as told to the masses). The town hall was placed on rolling platform and moved back they also added two upper floores and a heated pavement in front (the only place on the street with no snow.)The locals saw this as a waste of money.

Many of the restaurants charge for meals by weight scales are at the side of the till. In general Moscow was more expensive than St Petes by about 20% to 40%.

March 12th
Today we decided to complete our tour of the Kremlin and bought tickets for the cathederal square (again recommended).During this tour including an audio guide we saw the worlds biggest cannon created in 1586 and the Tsar Bell all 202 tonnes of it.

There are several chrches and cathererals around the square which is adjacent to the modern day centre of govt where Putin is based (hence the heavy security on entering and the closure of previously open areas mentioned in many of the guide books.)

The atmosphere in the churches is superb with a real sense of history with examples of icons and murals dating back to the 15th century. Almost all of the Tsars are buried here and the annunciation cathederal has a prayer booth reserved for Ivan the terrible and an iconostasis (look it up we had to )that is very impressive and evocative of the medieval period from which many of the artefacts date.

In the afternoon we decided to visit Gorky Park (particulaly atmospheric as it was snowing quite heavily. They had flooded all the pathways to allow skaters through the park very attractive but bloody difficult to walk on (as jane proved by falling over again...and again). On the way out we passed the sculpture park and on crossing the bridge over the frozen river we saw the massive statue to Peter the great and in the distance one of Stalins seven sisters (apartment blocks built to mimic the skyline of New York as he felt this was something Moscow as an international capital lacked)

In the evening we toured the Metro stations. The whole metro feels safe (ironically...apart from the roaming 'fine happy' Police some fellow visitors where fined for taking photos of the stations without a permit. Jane seized this tour as an opportunity to try and ditch me.....as a train pulled into the station and the doors opened we wer'nt sure if it was the one we wanted, at the last second Jane jumped aboard
I tried to follow but the doors closed in my face. As the train sped out of the station Jane could be seen frantically heading for the nearest window jabbing six fingers at me (to the bemusement of her fellow passengers)...after a few moments of blind panic (spain all over again Rosso)I travelled 6 stops down the line and we were eventually reunited.

During our stay in Moscow we noticed people of all ages and both sexes drinking beer from bottles in the street....there is no social ettiquette that prevents this and it is seen as quite normal. How or why anyone would want to drink cold beer from a bottle in minus 10 degrees is beyond me anyway.

March 13th
This is our last day in Moscow tonight we catch the trans siberian express bound for Irkutsk in Siberia.

We checked out of the hotel at 12 noon, this meant walking the streets untill 11:30pm when our train departs. So we decided to visit the Novo Devichy (new maidens) convent in the northern part of the city an attractive walled convent with a graveyard used by the soviet heirachy to bury their favoured coleagues who were not concidered politically correct enough to warrant burial under the walls of the Kremlin, it also contains several notable graves such as Molotov (the petrol based cocktail was named after him!)Chekov and his wife,Nikita kruschev, Raisa Gorbachev and Gogol amongst others.

We were driven to the station and on the way (as if further proof was needed) we witnessed the incredible driving which takes place in Moscow in weather that would bring Londons traffic to a standstill. The general rule is that there are no rules, the number of lanes on any given stretch of road = the number of cars that will fit in the space available, speed is determined by how badly you want to get in front of the car in front and braking is done hard regardless of snow ice slush etc. Needless to say our journey was a white knuckle ride.

We caught our train with plenty of time and settled into our compartment, this was to be our home for the next 4 nights and 3 days.

Siberia and the Russian steppe awaits!
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