BREAKING NEWS: I have a new favourite city but who’d have thought it’d be in Russia?! This is my post about the amazing 3 days my friends and I spent in Russia’s capital city – get ready to discover the magic of Moscow…
The journey began on a 12 hour night train. We decided to travel Platskartny, which is basically the lowest class you can travel and it was absolutely FINE! If you ever have doubts about which carriage to choose when travelling in Russia, I can’t recommend this one enough: It’s cheaper, it feels less lonely, your stuff is all safely in your possession and it really isn’t much different in regards to comfort. I slept like a baby but I shan’t brag too much because Jenny and Mike were too tall for the beds and suffered a little more than I did, especially seeing as we were RIGHT next to the bathroom and people were brushing past Jenny’s feet every 5 seconds… Perhaps in some cases Platskartny should be avoided, but if you’re a deep sleeper, under 5ft 7 and have a desire to save your cash then it’s perfect!
As soon as we arrived, we dropped our backpacks off at the hotel and headed straight to our first activity – a free tour! But first, it was time to experience the infamous Russian metro. I see now why it’s considered to be one of the prettiest, most efficient metro systems in the world. We never waited more than 20 seconds for a train and the stations were immaculately clean with so many statues and intricate details to admire.
The meeting place for our tour was Kitai-Gorod which literally translates to China Town, yet for some reason there isn’t a single Chinese building, restaurant or person in sight… Strange!
The free walking tour was pretty good as an introduction to the city, and I’d highly recommend it! The guide took us to the main churches and cathedrals of Moscow and shared some interesting facts. For example, since the problems with the Ukraine, tourism has dropped by 40%! I personally think it’s a huge shame because Moscow is one of the most incredible cities I have ever had the pleasure of exploring. I guess it’s hard to break people’s stereotypical opinions when they think of Russia as a cold, corrupt country that isn’t safe to visit. Although the tour guide probably didn’t help when she cracked a joke along the lines of: “Of course we have freedom of speech in Russia, but after you’ve spoken there’s no guarantee of your freedom!” …..Um, haha?
We also saw the statue of St. Cyril and Methodius, the inventors of the cyrillic alphabet. The tour guide asked who was having trouble navigating the metro and reading the road signs and nearly everyone put their hand up except for us. It was only then that we even realised that we had been reading a different alphabet, which was an awesome feeling and made me feel superior for all of about 10 minutes before I tripped over my lace and was quickly brought back down to earth. But yes, our Russian is so much better and because we’re so used to hearing and reading it now, it’s hard to forget that it’s not just like hearing and reading English! Okay, that’s an exaggeration – It’s still really hard, but we’re getting there!
I think the first thing we all noticed was the cold. It was minus something celsius and FREEZING. Luckily me and Jenny came prepared with big coats, snoods, gloves and plenty of layers (so happy to wear my turtle necks with pride here). Mike, however, had to suffice with a very thin jacket and a beanie hat… typical 😉 The question is; if it’s cold in October what the hell will winter be like?! If I’ve learnt anything in Russia, it’s that I will never complain about ‘cold english weather’ ever again!
One of my favourite sights on the tour was St. Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square. Ivan the Terrible ordered it’s construction in 1555 and legend has it that he was so paranoid about the designers and builders creating an even better church that he blinded them all after they’d finished it… lovely, right? It truly is spectacular though, both day and night and of course we took as many pictures as possible seeing as it is one of the signature landmarks of Moscow.
The guide then took us to watch the changing of the guard at the ‘Tomb of the Unknown Soldier’ which happens every hour on the hour. It was kind of underwhelming and I think they waste a lot of time just standing there and then doing a silly over exaggerated march to their next position every 60 minutes, but you can feel free to disagree!
In our spare time we admired the rest of Red Square and took a look around the super expensive GUM shopping mall. Mike made an interesting comment that the shopping mall, a symbol of capitalism, is directly opposite from the Kremlin, a symbol of communism. There’s something to think about (or something to ignore if you dislike history and politics).
We really wanted to get tickets to the Bolshoi theatre to see the ballet, but the line was so long and the tickets were so expensive so instead we settled for a few photos of us in ballet poses outside of the theatre (I was useless – hip hop till I die) and we bought tickets for the circus instead, which turned out to be the best decision of our entire trip!
I’m not too keen on circuses usually because I think a lot of them are annoying and use animals in unethical ways so I was a bit apprehensive. We chose one called ‘UFO’ which happened to be space themed, animal-free and talent-packed… brilliant! It was the best evening imaginable. We laughed, we gasped, we ‘ahhhh-ed’ in admiration, we clapped, we even said ‘Oh no I wish there was more’ after a lengthy 2 hours and 30 minutes of acrobatics and mind boggling tricks. The visual effects were insane, the ceiling detached to make a huge UFO – I was really impressed and I think anyone with a spare evening in Moscow should check it out!
After the circus, we arranged to meet Jenny’s family friends near the Arbat. We’d heard of the Arbat in all of our russian textbooks (it’s just a long road) but when we arrived at the metro station, we were a bit lost and couldn’t seem to locate the Old Arbat, we could only find the New.
After 3 hours of walking, yep… 3 hours, we finally met up with Jenny’s family friends but realised that we were far too tired to socialise at a bar and ended up heading home. The journey home was excellent though. We were so deliriously tired from our jam packed day of adventures, that we were in the ‘hyper-over-excited-drunk-from-tiredness’ stage. You know the one, right? We went the wrong way on the metro due to excessive giggling and misreading the signs, we jumped down the stairs singing the Sound of Music, we had a photo shoot on our empty metro carriage AND we thought going through a ‘no entrance’ exit door was super badass – oh dear. Safe to say, we slept EXTRA soundly in our comfy hotel room that night.
The hotel we stayed at was on Tverskaya Street and called Apelsin na Komsomolskoi (that’s my english equivalent, not sure there’s much point confusing everyone by writing in cyrillic), an ideal central location. We had comfy beds and a kitchen, the only downside was the TERRIBLE check out service. There was never anybody at the front desk (which was problematic when the hot water cut out too), so we had to wait hours before we could finally get hold of someone and let them know that we were checking out and needed to leave the key. This makes the hotel sound pretty bad, I know, but seeing as we paid barely anything and we were just a stones throw away from Red Square I would still recommend it!
Trying to get out of bed in the mornings proved difficult for the other two, so I was always the one to kickstart the movement and shower first – I don’t really understand when people lie in when travelling for a short time. We’re in MOSCOW, make a move people! We decided to wake ourselves up by indulging in an english fry up for breakfast; a real english fry up with baked beans and sausages – perfect start. The first thing on our to-do list of the day was to see the Lenin Mausoleum. We queued for about 15 minutes before we were quickly ushered around a waxy-looking Lenin and the experience was over before we knew it. Our first reaction was ‘There’s no way that’s real, he looks like a Madame Tussauds figure’ – turns out it’s only 10% Lenin and the rest is reconstructed. So basically, it’s kind of rubbish.
We walked by the graves of old Russian leaders, had a coffee break and then headed to the Kremlin. You have to pay to get inside the Kremlin, but with a student card it’s super discounted which was great (Mike forgot his card and paid the price – literally). I wasn’t that thrilled by the Kremlin, but I am glad to have ticked it off the bucket list and say that I’ve seen Putin’s office/helipad and the vast array of cathedrals and grand buildings… No, it’s really not exciting enough to write any more than that!
That evening we headed to a restaurant/bar called Propaganda where we all got significantly merry and enjoyed a super tasty dinner before beginning our night activity – a tour of mystical Moscow. Now, the reviews online were all pretty good. We were told we would find out about witches and ancient legends etc. but instead we ended up with a terrible tour guide who was making up facts and dragging us from place to place without actually showing us anything. On the plus side, we did get to see the backstreets of Moscow and step out of the touristy zones and she left very promptly after delivering her last tour guide speech, so I think she was completely aware that she’d done a terrible job by not waiting around for tips…
We headed over to Red Square to admire the night time views before snuggling up in blankets outside a cute café for some hot chocolate, or in Mike’s case: a shot 👍 I think this was the point when I realised how much I loved Moscow. There’s just so much to see and the whole city gives off such good vibes. Maybe it’s the colourful buildings or the diversity of people, I don’t know – but there’s definitely a magic in the air and for that reason, it takes the number 1 top spot as my favourite city in the world…. so far!
The next day we headed to Gorky Park. We’d googled the park in advance and it said online that you could rent ‘Bicycles, roller-skates, long boards, wheelchairs, scooters and tandem bikes’, so naturally we set out to hire 3 wheelchairs… Just kidding, it was raining so much on the day that we didn’t end up hiring anything and instead decided to go for a good ol’ hike.
I can imagine that the park is really nice in summer, but there’s lots of renovation going on at the moment and the weather isn’t great so I don’t think I can paint the whole picture for you. We had a lot of fun though and it was nice to take it easy and just wander through the woods before catching our train home. It’s safe to say that, at this point, the LAST thing I wanted to do was go back to routine university life…
Moscow was exactly the boost I needed, I think. It revitalised me and made me fall in love with Russia – something I never, ever expected to do. My motivation has increased too, I’ve finally started making a conscious effort to learn things outside of the ‘set homework’ and have longer conversations with my host family – we’ve watched films and cooked together since I’ve been back. I didn’t really realise it until now, but I definitely have Moscow to thank for that. I’m aware that I struggle when I’m cooped up into a routine for too long and so I know that, in order to stay focused and keep persevering on my quest to learn Russian, travel and exploration need to remain an essential role! Moscow was my inspiration to stay positive and I have faith that I’ll be able to cater this experience to suit me, regardless of what anyone else is up to. I need to remember that this is MY year abroad – I’m only going to get out of it what I put into it and so that’s what I shall do. I can’t believe how quickly time has gone but I still have 60-something days left. So, here’s to learning russian, here’s to embracing the culture, here’s to stepping out of my comfort zone but most importantly, here’s to a beautiful life. Where to next… St. Petersburg? The Golden Ring? The Caucasuses? Guess you’ll have to stay tuned to find out 😉