From Russia with (ginger) love
Trip Start Aug 27, 2011
99Trip End Jun 01, 2012
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We all have impressions of Moscow and Russia. More recently these have involved terrorist attacks. The bombing of Moscow airport this year, frequent attacks on trains and other attacks on a rock concert, theatre and metro stations. Then, we have the medium of film that always portrays Moscow as a dark, cold and evil city. Has anyone seen a film that included footage of the Kremlin during the day? Like many of the locations on this planet I've visited, I hope to show you a bright, colourful and friendly view of Moscow.
Moscow's heart is the Kremlin. Red square lies east of the Kremlin while the Moscow river flows to the south. From this centre, radial roads spoke out across the city in all directions. Four ring roads spread out from the centre. Most sights are concentrated within the garden ring which is 2kms from the centre. I arrive into Moscow via Leningrad station, 2.8kms north east of the centre. It will be from this area (which holds three train stations) that I will begin my journey east on the trans-siberian railway.
Arriving at 5am is not ideal. The tube station below the train station is packed solid. After a long wait, I purchase, using my best Russian, a subway pass with ten rides. Moscow holds my favourite subway network. London is modern with little character, in my opinion, New York is fun to ride but the stations are run down, Paris stinks, Sao Paulo is overcrowded, Hong Kong lacks charm but Moscow is simply elegant, beautiful and historic. Long escalators transport you deep under the city, each escalator lined with old lighting, chandeliers, in various sizes. Each station is unique and holds many artifacts from USSR times. All the stations are clean, trains run efficiently and you can't help but stand and admire at each metro stop.
My hostel is an eight minute walk from the Red Square, I arrive at 6am to find out that 24 hour reception (as advertised on hostelbookers.com and their website) does not exist. What did exist was a gingerman frequently ringing a doorbell at 6am, no doubt waking the hostel guests. Still, no-one answered the door. An unsecured wifi zone kept me occupied till Evgenia arrived at 7am.
The hostel was ok, Evgenia was awesome, turned out she's the couchsurfing ambassador of Barcelona. She told me some pretty nasty stories about surfing but also booked, online, the first two legs of my trans-Siberian trip. So, no awkward afternoon spent in some travel agency! Sweet! Strangely, the hostel was full of old Russian ladies. The website is in English and is only advertised on English language websites, but they book dorms and treat the place and other guests with little respect! Treating Evgenia like a maid, not cleaning cups/dishes used and frequently waking everyone in the room at all hours of the night. My bed was fine, shower was warm but for three nights I endured four different people snoring at the sand time! Rough!
After a few hours to catch up on my sleep, I headed for the Kremlin. I was so excited! I decided to visit the Red Square first. Once a market place, the name refers to beauty than to blood. Famous for political transformation in the early 90's and Boris Yeltsin leading crowds protesting the attempted coup in 1991. It is also home to Lenins mausoleum and the ultimate symbol of Russia, St Basil's Cathedral. Walking in-between the Kazan Cathedral and State History Museum, I can eventually, in the distance, see St Basil's cathedral. No picture can prepare you for the crazy confusion of colours and shapes. It was created between 1555 and 1561 to celebrate the capture of Kazan by Ivan the Terrible. It is wonderful to gaze upon, angelic infact! A must see for anyone's bucket list.
The west part of Red Square holds the granite tomb of Lenin. His wishes were to be buried beside his mother in St Petersburg, but Stalin had other ideas. I was in two minds about going in, but seeing as it was free and he may be buried sooner than later, I went in. The entrance is guarded by soldiers and continues in that manner till you exit. Cameras are forbidden. It was a weird experience. A waxy, small figure encased in glass in his red and black tomb. Other communists leaders are buried just outside, notably the murderer Josif Stalin. With the fall of the USSR, Lenin should no longer be the sacred shrine of the former communist Russia. The era has passed, and so should he be buried with his original wishes. It seems the subject is debated often but far left politicians and tour guides object and the debate goes no further. So, the mausoleum, sacred shrine of Soviet communism, and the mummy, embodiment of the Russian Revolution, will remain in place for several years.
In walking to the Kremlin entrance, I pass the Tomb of the Unknown soldier and while walking through Alexandrovsky Garden, saw a look a like of Stalin, posing for pictures and shaking hands with tourists!!!!????? WTF!!!! I could not believe what I was seeing! Why would you want to be seen with Stalin? Why would you want to shake his hand? Why? It would have been more realistic if there was blood on his hands and some murdered citizens lying in the park! I was appalled at these ignorant tourists! I questioned why I had seen Lenin, but his lifeless body reflects the death of communism in Soviet Russia. You wouldn't see a look a like of Hitler in Berlin!
The Kremlin was stunning! Cathedrals, Ivan the bell tower, Palaces, the armory, the gate, not what you would expect. On top of this, exquisite grounds and gardens, very peaceful and symbolic.
Other points of interest around the city were old Arbat street, with cute little shops, an art market, complete with instant-portrait painters, soap box poets, jugglers and buskers.
The statue of Peter the Great hugs the Moscow river, but is a little cheesy.
Near the statue is the cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Stalin demolished the original, like he demolished most of Moscow, but the gargantuan cathedral dominates the sky line with a large golden dome roof.
I ventured out of the city centre to VDNH park. There were many monuments, palaces and museums. I particularly liked the monument dedicated to the space race and the three old people selling kittens. I've never liked the idea if selling animals on the street but to just have a couple if kittens down my jumper would be fun. I hope El enjoys the picture!
In Moscow, I ate frequently at a place called My My (pronounced mo mo), it was fairly cheap and offered large glasses of orange squash.
I was a very lucky gingerman as one of my friends from the USA, Katie, spent a month in Moscow earlier in the year. I wrote to her asking for tips on what to see but she went and organized for two of her students to show me around! How awesome, thank you Katie!
Inna was first to meet me, in the Red Square. We walked around, chatted and eventually headed to an Italian place to grab a drink. I had a Siberian beer. A very sweet young lady, her English was good but she lacked confidence with it. Katie warned me she was very attractive, wow, at twenty years old she will be breaking lots of hearts. We look like opposites with my bushy hair, unshaven face and worn clothes. We talked politics, travel, she taught me some Russian and she enjoyed my ginger wisdom. Now I feel old!
It was like a tag team match. We met Alisa and she continued my evening company as Inna had to go home. Alisa and I travelled south of the river, walking through different neighbourhoods. She has more confidence in her English and was a little chatter box! Her energy and enthusiasm reminded me of my friend Katie. To escape the rain we went to a coffee shop where Alisa had a buy one get one free voucher, awesome! We had eaten a local snack before we hit the cafe! We talked into the night. She has a passion for engineering and mechanics, unusual for a young girl but she doesn't care. She likes sky diving and has opportunities to travel with her father. A great evening with wonderful young company! I like to think our negative and fearful impressions of each and every country on this globe comes from those in power, not from the everyday human being that is not obsessed with power. I love meeting these amazing characters and feel very lucky that they generously give me time out of their busy lives! There needs to be a large gap from our thoughts on the citizens of a country and the individuals who run the country. Remember how unpopular the USA was under Bush jnr?
My last day in Moscow was spent with Olga, a 36 year old who is new to couchsurfing. She is available on the 'meet for a coffee' option and signed up with her impending visit to Rome. We met at a subway station and went to visit Kolomenskoye, a wooden museum dedicated to Peter the Great. It was in a splendid part of the city, away from the crazy traffic of Moscow. Olga treated me to the entrance fee for the museum. I knew we would get on well as we left the museum ten minutes later! We walked around a beautiful park, soaking up distant views of outer Moscow. She would argue English is her third language, after German being her second. She works marketing for a company that is represented in Austria. She regularly visits Vienna on business and on her next trip has scheduled in a 5 day break to Rome. As I've blogged before, eastern Europeans love Italy. We walked miles and miles. Olga pointed out interesting parts of Moscow for a story or historical context.
Before heading for lunch, she helped me find a post office to send a postcard to my grandad and she paid!! We grabbed an awesome lunch of borsch soup, with meat filled pastries, fresh thick cranberry juice and some potato pancakes and mushroom wrapped things. Olga also treated me to lunch! From the hours of walking and a large lunch, we both felt sleepy so she let me treat her to a coffee. We chatted for a couple more hours, sharing life stories and experiences. I thoroughly enjoyed her company and know that she's the kind of person that I will stay in touch with for a long time. Already, she addresses me as Ginger Boy, reminding me of a certain Guarino! We finished the day walking through GUM, a fancy department store on Red Square where her company had an exhibit of pictures from Vienna. Upon leaving Red Square, she points out a strangel looking hotel. Built for Stalin, the architect gave Stalin two set of plans to assess and commission the one he wanted. To his confusion, Stalins signature, was started on one document and finished on the second. Not daring to question the murderer or build the wrong one, the architect built portions of both, in the same building. You can't imagine how fearful for his life he must have been.
Sadly, I said goodbye to Olga, but couldn't thank her enough for spoiling me! What a lucky gingerman!
During the days in Moscow I went to a supermarket to grab supplies for my 56 hour train journey to Tomsk!
Excitedly, I grabbed my bags, which now included 14 packs of noodles, tea bags, coffee packs, nuts, soups, bread, some chocolate and a gallon of water.
It took time to find the right train station whilst also looking for an ATM. Finally, train 34, carriage 4 bed 12. My shelf was already made, I mean my bed!
Next stop, Tomsk and Siberia!