The new capital

Trip Start Aug 10, 2008
Trip End Dec 01, 2010

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Where I stayed
Nova Hostel

Flag of Russian Federation  , Central Russia,
Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Moscow - wow writing this can't believe it's gone so quickly. I spent 10 days in Moscow and found it very different from Petersburg. I'm still not sure which I preferred but liked different parts for different reasons. Anyway I will try and remember(!) and give an overview of my visit.

The start was good - my journey to Moscow was my first experience on the trans-siberian trains and I had coupe class for the 8 hour journey, which I took in the afternoon so I had daylight to look out the window and so that I didn't arrive there too late at night.

The station was huge and I felt nervous and excited inn anticipation for the next place - I wondered if I'd feel like this every time I moved on? It was sad to leave the people that I had met but looking forward to meeting new people. So I found my platform (In the HUGE station) and had to show my ticket and passport to get on the train along with everyone else. I found my compartment and was please to discover I had the lower bunk - the compartments (kupe) have 4 beds and a locking door. A Russian couple joined me and then a guy on his own - and after stumbling over his first few Russian words was pleased to discover he spoke English. He was a really interesting guy - he lived in Finland but was a Tatar - one of the oldest inhabitants of Russia, Tatars have an important role in it's history. We spoke about the Tatar culture, Russia, Finland, England, music (he plays and manages) his family and work (he has recently started a business connected to video editing on the internet. The journey passed very quickly and we swapped details to keep in touch.

When I reached Moscow I navigated the Metro and found my way to the hostel - for a Sunday night the area was quite busy. I stayed in Kitai Gorod which means China Town although in fact it wasn't Chinese at all. After following directions I arrived at the address and used the code provided to get in the front entrance and up to the first floor. Then I rang the bell. No answer. I rang a few times and knocked but nothing - great. I tried the neigbours and one of them let me into the hallway and then I opened the door to what looked like a private living room with a guy that had just stepped out of the shower - ooops. I apologised but then he explained that it was the right place - this was the hostel! He told me to settle in and the owner would be back later. This was a weird start, but I came to realise that this was normal at the hostel and it turned out to be a really nice, friendly and laid back place. The owner was really friendly and helpful, I had keys to come and go as I wanted and it felt almost like I was staying at a friends house. The other people were great too and I got to hear about their journeys and had good company for exploring the city, or for just sitting and chatting at the end of the day. I stayed in an 8 bed mixed dorm but felt very comfortable.

So.. on to Moscow - here is a quick whizz through the places I visited:

Red Square - just 10/15 minutes walk from the hostel - I went several times because it was the center of everything and easy to navigate from! I was lucky to catch what I think was weekly parade with the guards and horses. I seem to have a lot of photos because it looked different in the sun, night etc.
The Kremlin - including its Cathedrals, churches, etc.
Alexandrovsky Gardens - good for people watching
Lenin's Mausoleum - strange atmosphere as you walk into the tomb to see his body with the solemn guards shhing and clicking their fingers to keep people moving.
St Basil's Cathedral - amazing inside - lots of little rooms and some amazing singers (Yes Lydie - I heard them too!)
Arbat district - including the pedestrianized street and the Wall of Peace - although that had quite a lot.of graffiti
Church of Christ the Savior - just outside this one because it was too late but also had a good walk around the area and found a factory that I later discovered was the Red October chocolate factory.
The sculpture park next to the New Tretyakov gallery - I was too late to go to the gallery itself but it was a nice evening to wander around the park
Russian Contemporary History Museum - very interesting but I could have done with understanding a bit more Russian. Lovely smiley older ladies working there and they didn't even seem to mind when I set off the alarms to get a better look at one of the exhibits!
A Monastery - I don't know which one because we just stumbled across it but it was quite amazing.
All Russian Exhibition Centre (VDNKH) - weird weird place that was created in the 1930's to celebrate the Soviet economic system. it's over 2 km long and is a collection of various odd and wonderful but now decaying pavilions. It would be amazing but is now filled with strange little shops selling anything from medicine to socks to paintings to tvs. It's also covered in adverts - some of which I found just as weired so got a few pictures of those. I went with Lydie - a friend from the hostel and neither of us could quite work it out!
Moscow State University - you can't go in (although I tried sneaking in and then tried sweet-talking the guards - neither of which worked) but it's an amazing building and you also get a good view over Moscow.
Izmaylovo Market - huge and maze-like - there's a part for tourists and for locals - I went to both. A cool place to wander around (I want to come back and collect a load to sell on ebay!) but a bit strange in places - in particular the dancing bears on the way in, and aisle after aisle of socks...
Novodevichy Convent - unfortunately I was too late to see inside.
Café Pushkin - a fantastic 19th century building - the waiters are dressed in old style uniforms to complete the atmosphere - I could just afford to go for a beer but it was such a cool place just to see inside.
Sergiev Posad - actually 60km from the edge of Moscow - this is one of the places that make up the golden ring. A very different feel from Moscow, very religious, calmer and of course much smaller! I visited the beautiful Monastery there.

Wow - I guess I did fit in a lot! I had some chilled out mornings too but also walked A LOT. It was the best way to see everything and get a feel for the place. I also took a boat trip along the river to get a difference perspective.

During my stay I had some good food - and paid a couple of trips to the café in the huge GUM mall on red square, and My My (Moo moo) - both fairly cheap (for Moscow) places to eat with good Russian food. I've tried to try as much Russian food as possible - and particularly enjoyed Pelmeni (a bit like Ravioli) and Borscht (Beetroot soup).

So how is it different? In Petersburg it was 'prettier', smaller (to navigate), and more cultural - with more museums, galleries etc while Moscow I guess was also more of a 'working' city, and in a way more 'real'. More spread out, more money around (you can see the difference in the types of cars on the roads). In general people were a bit more accepting/patient with tourists in Moscow and their were churches and cathedrals everywhere - I got used to putting on a skirt (over my jeans) and headscarf to enter - not quite sure how much of a state I looked at times but that's obviously not important.

A quick mention of one challenge I had here - buying railway tickets! I tried an agency at first but they charged a bit more and couldn't get all the tickets I wanted so I decided to go directly to the railway office. Here I was passed from one counter to another..and another and then I was basically told to go away because I couldn't explain what I wanted in Russian. So I sat down in the office and wrote out all my requirements (for 4 tickets) in Russian but then as I started to queue again I discovered it was then the lunch break for an hour (grrr). I went back later and using my written instructions with a few words in English and Russian I managed to book all my tickets. I matched the next part of this trip (or most of it) with someone else that I met through the travel forums who was also doing the journey at the same time, Damian. I'd met him once in London (to make sure he wasn't an axe murderer) and he arrived in Moscow a couple of days before we left. We're in different places on the train - and one leg of the trip is different but it's good to share some of the sights with someone - and to navigate the directions and hostels. At the same time it gives me a chance to have some time alone on the train to attempt communication with other people.

Here's my plan for the next part:

3rd September - leave Moscow in the evening - two nights and a day on the train
5th September - arrive in Yekaterinburg early morning
6th September - leave Yekaterinburg in the evening
8th September - arrive in Krasnoyarsk early morning
9th September - leave Krasnoyarsk in the evening
10th September - arrive in Irkutsk
11th September - morning bus to Olkhon Island on lake Baikal (7 hours)
14th September - bus back to Irkutsk and then leave on the train
15th September - arrive in Ulan Ude early morning
17th September - leave Ulan Ude early morning
18th September - arrive Ulan Bator (Mongolia) early morning

I'll write again from the other side...

(I have more photos but will have to add them when I get more time!!)

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