The train stations had an old-book smell, which I loved. I think it was because of the wooden escalators.
Until then I hadn’t seen wooden escalators before. In London they’d been banned because of a big fire at King’s Cross in 1987. In Moscow, they are still very much in use.
Moscow is one of the more difficult cities we’ve had to navigate in by far. There are no English translations in the Metro. We tried memorizing the station names to navigate our way around but belatedly realized most of them end in “-skaya” so we got lost anyway. To add to my confusion, the Cyrillic alphabet kept fooling my brain into thinking it understood the signs — but the letters in the alphabet all mean and sound very different here.
We visited Bolshoi Theatre. I had the vague idea of catching a Russian ballet while we were in the city but I didn’t realize the theatre had a dress code (“Women, in our view should keep to a decent dress style, bearing in mind that they may well be sitting next to people in full evening dress.”). I didn’t have anything decent packed.
(As I write this, I’m looking through our trip photos and sensations come back. The light rain and chilly wind. The strange nervousness I felt in the Red Square with its many politsiya. Me squeezing the red brick walls in St Basil’s Cathedral and trying to freeze the moment in my head. These small thoughts go unrecorded and I end up writing in cliché.)
At the edge of the Red Square is Moscow’s Kilometre Zero. People throw coins on it for luck. The coins magically disappear minutes later.
We went to the State Historical Museum while waiting for St Basil’s Cathedral to open. I can’t remember what was inside, only that they refused to store my umbrella in the coat rack because it was wet.
On the other hand, I clearly recall that the interior of St Basil’s Cathedral was just as beautiful as the funky onion domes. Inside there were colorful frescoes, tall ceilings painted with somber-looking icons, and a male choir singing Orthodox chants.
We ducked into the mall opposite the Kremlin, GUM, to look for a money changer. Save yourself the trouble — there’s none in GUM and the pretty ladies at the Information Counter don’t speak English. The nearest money changer to the Red Square is along Tverskaya Street.
There was a Gatsby movie display along the arcade, which was awesome. The mannequins, with their 1920s tweed Brooks Brothers suits and vests, looked more at home in GUM than I did. I tried my best to fake it though.
The Lenin Mausoleum is a strange place to visit. No cameras or camera phones allowed. Visiting times strictly from 10AM to 1PM. No large backpacks. No loud talking, no laughing. Walk in single file, QUICKLY (past the many politsiya lined inside the cold room). No lingering.
It lasted all of 5 seconds. I don’t think the long queue was worth it.
On the other hand, the Kremlin State Armoury is a must, must, must see. Of the many museums we’ve visited, I think it’s by far the most impressive and the richest. The collection was vast and clearly valuable — ancient medieval plates, golden Bibles set with rubies and precious stones, Tsarist-era gowns, dainty French clocks, intricate wooden carriages (with their original wheels!), ingeniously crafted Fabergé eggs. It spanned several ages and even countries (were the pieces donated? were they “borrowed” from other museums?). The Orlov Diamond in the Diamond Fund (where you had to pay a separate entrance fee) was sparkly and crazy huge, it almost hurt my eyes to look. On the bright side, I could stare at it for as long as I wanted.
No photos are allowed inside the armoury, so this is all I have.
The Kremlin ticket price includes the Cathedral of the Assumption and two smaller cathedrals. More medieval, peeling frescoes and golden icons.
We had lunch at the nearby Manezh Mall. We ordered fish salad, sausages, and cold potatoes. In an attempt to eat Russian cuisine we also ordered fast food borscht. It was a bit too pink and too oily, but otherwise tasted like normal vegetable soup.
From the Kremlin we saw a ship with black masts and tried to walk in that direction. We ended up at the new-ish Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, the original having been demolished in 1931 to make way for a Soviet palace which ended up never being built.
I wasn’t leaving Moscow without my own matryoshka doll, so after a failed search at Arbat Street we trekked up to Izmaylovo Market. Izmaylovo is a flea market of sorts and a Russian souvenir paradise: you could find the kitschiest (NBA nesting dolls, anyone?) to the most detailed of dolls (with up to 15 little ones nested inside). Even better, you’re allowed to haggle.
Interestingly, Izmaylovo Market also seemed to have been an amusement park in its former life. If you look up when you enter the market you’ll notice a rusty kiddie-size roller coaster track leading nowhere, and stranded pirate boats in odd locations. (Does anyone know how it ended up as a market?)
We used the Metro to go everywhere. Almost everyone in the city did too, I think. It actually felt quite nice shoving and bumping along with everyone else during rush hour.
Moscow’s train stations are things of beauty and worth a trip by themselves, so towards the end that’s exactly what we did. We station-hopped.
There were stations with Soviet sculptures. (Partisanskaya Station, the stop for Izmaylovo Market)
Stations with even more bronze sculptures of Soviet citizens. Presumably they’re holding the ceilings up? (Ploshchad Revolyutsii Station)
Stations decorated in art deco style. (Mayakovskaya Station)
Stations with mosaics between the arches. (Kiyevskaya Station)
Stations with back-lit, stained-glass panels. (Novoslobodskaya Station)
Stations with Baroque chandeliers. (Komsomolskaya Station)
Komsomolskaya also has a lot of Communist hidden Mickeys. We spotted a bust of Lenin and a ceiling mosaic of him rallying the troops (I guess).
Ironically, we ended up missing our train to the airport and having to race through the airport Home-Alone-style to make it to our flight. We barely made it.