Day 2: Moscow

Moscow Travel Blog

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entry of the Kremlin

The hotel breakfast was quite an experience. A huge banquet hall, where we found a sumptuous breakfast buffet (where literally anything could be found: sliced cheeses, salads, fruit, yoghurts, sweets, sausages, omelette, pancakes, spaghetti, rice with vegetables, meatballs, roast chicken, pizza and more). We were treated by some lovely muzak courtesy of an elderly lady behind a keyboard ('vogeltjesdans' anyone?).

After breakfast we were picked up by Darya, our guide for the day. Though we still had to get used to having everything organised for us in Russia we were quite happy to have someone explain some of the basics of Moscow to us.

The largest cannon in the world (never fired)
We definitely would not have recognised that marble fa├žaded building as a subway station!

Darya was an excellent guide - a student in her twenties, speaking impeccable English, and telling interesting stories with a healthy dose of self-mockery - it became very clear she was more proud of Russia's tsarist history than its communism.
We did a lengthy tour around the Kremlin, where she told us some great anecdotes of Russian megalomania gone wrong. For example in the 1800s the Russians built the largest cannon in the world. They never got to fire it though, as it was too heavy to transport. Another well-known example is the Tsar Bell, which is the largest church-bell in the world, which was rushed into completion and cracked, so this too was has never been used.
The largest churchbell in the world (never toiled)

The tour led past the governmental buildings, the state opera, a huge garden full of Dutch tulips and no less than three cathedrals, all of which are located within the Kremlin walls.

The tour also included a lengthy walk around the armoury, which not only contains a large collection of weapons for Tsarist times, but also imperial clothes, thrones, carriages, crowns, presents from other governments and much, much more.
There is literally for billions of euros worth of treasure in the armoury, so if Russia ever goes bankrupt (and the country has been on the brink for a while) they could always sell their treasuries.

The biggest surprise for me was the fact that all this treasure, as well as the three ornate Russian orthodox cathedrals, have been left intact by 80 years of communism.

tulips from Amsterdam
After all, communism is started after the disposition of the Tsars, and was an atheistic administration where religion was banned. So the fact that they preserved all this heritage is remarkable to say the least.
The only noticable thing that was changed to the Kremlin was when Stalin removed the Tsar symbol, the double-headed eagle, from the watch tower tops and replaced these by red stars.

The tour ended with a walk around the Red square, which is currently host to an amusement park type football festival for the upcoming Champions League finale which is being held in Moscow this Wednesday.

After we had said goodbye to our guide Robbel and I went for lunch in some underground foodcourt near the Kremlin. A Russian specialty is Bliny's, which are pancakes with savoury filling, and according to our guide one of the best Bliny restaurants was in the foodcourt.

Red Square, for years this view was the depiction of ultimate evil
The restaurant was actually a chain, and a fast-food style chain restaurant at that. Not that it mattered, as the Bliny's were delicious, despite the fact that it felt very odd ordering Bliny's with caviar and goose-liver in a fast food joint. You could say decadence is part of every day life.

After dinner we wanted to take a boat trip along the Moscow river, and get off midway at the Gorky park. Before coming to Moscow I knew only three names of places in the city: Kremlin, Red Square and Gorky Park. We'd seen two, so it was only logical we'd go to see the third as well.
However, as we were sitting on the deck enjoying the sun and admiring the views we were way too comfortable to get off for a stroll in a park, so we just continued the boat trip all the way to the end station, a good hour further down the river.

Kremlin view over the Moscow River

The boat trip was an unexpected highlight. The views of the city from the river are unsurpassed, and there are worse ways of travelling than sitting in the sun, sipping beers. Moscow is quite a beautiful city. Unlike many others I quite like the Soviet architecture - it is not particularly beautiful but it is stately and definitely impressive. From the river we had a good view on four or five of the seven so-called "Stalin Skyscrapers". From what Darya had told us most Muscovits hate these huge towers which Stalin had built as landmarks in the 1950's, but I have to say that I quite liked them. Their sheer size and gothic architecture are somewhat oddworldly and surreal, as if they are movie sets from 50's sci-fi movies.
I was also amazed at how green this city is.

For a city that houses 10 million, which has been named the dirtiest city in the world (courtesy of the 23 power stations that can be found within city limites), I found it remarkably clean. The streets and subway stations are completely devoid of any litter, the Moscow river did not have any visible pollution in it (we saw two boats scooping up any litter floating in the river) and even the smog is not as bad as I had anticipated. Furthermore there are many, many trees in the city. Everywhere you look you see huge green leafy trees in between buildings, and there are many, many parks, some the size of forests, within city limits.
No, I must say, Moscow has been a pleasant surprise in every possible way.

The only somewhat lesser pleasant thing is the cost - Moscow is expensive, very expensive.

One of the many power stations in the city
Sure, the subway is very cheap, as are beer and cigarettes, but for the rest everything is as expensive as London or Paris. A cup of coffee costs between 5 and 10 euros in the city center, and a simple meal sets you back between 20 and 40. Which makes it all the stranger that you can get half a litre beer almost anywhere for as little as 1 euro...

Foodwise this isn't the most exciting city either. The popularity of 24/7 Sushi restaurants or pizza places are a good indicator that Russian cuisine isn't particularly exciting. For dinner we followed the recommendation of the Lonely Planet for a typical Georgian restaurant, where we had overpriced food which in no way was bad, but it wasn't anything special either.

By the time we got back to our hotel in the evening we were surprised how quickly we had gotten used to this city.

In front of Kiev station
In the morning we were somewhat timidly following our guide through the Moscow metro system, wondering how we are ever going to be able to decipher the cyrillic script, yet by the evening we were travelling across town, changing trains as if we had lived in the city all our lives.
The funny thing is that it is not difficult at all to decipher cyrillic. Many Russian words are very similar to Dutch, so once you have worked out which letter represents which character in cyrillic you are easily able decipher basic words such as subway stations, shops, restaurants and other tourist necessities.

bluemarbletreader says:
Seeing your Moscow pics brings back such memories!
Posted on: Oct 17, 2008
Devika1985 says:
beautiful pics
strange breakfast! :D
Posted on: Jun 03, 2008
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entry of the Kremlin
entry of the Kremlin
The largest cannon in the world (n…
The largest cannon in the world (…
The largest churchbell in the worl…
The largest churchbell in the wor…
tulips from Amsterdam
tulips from Amsterdam
Red Square, for years this view wa…
Red Square, for years this view w…
Kremlin view over the Moscow River
Kremlin view over the Moscow River
One of the many power stations in …
One of the many power stations in…
In front of Kiev station
In front of Kiev station
Kremlin tower
Kremlin tower
The Armoury, Kremlin
The Armoury, Kremlin
Red square
Red square
photo by: eefab