Day 2: Moscow
Moscow Travel Blog› entry 3 of 34 › view all entries
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.