Arrival in Moscow
Moscow Travel Blog› entry 1 of 17 › view all entries
Every now and then Rens and I have the need to pick a destination that’s a bit closer to home and travel in a somewhat slower pace. We both have busy jobs and every couple of years we crave for some relaxation.
This year we decided to go to western Russia. For ages we had dreamed of visiting the red square in Moscow and see The Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, the summer of 2007 was the ideal moment to take a two week trip starting in Moscow and ending in Saint Petersburg.
We only have to fly for five hours from Amsterdam Airport, which is a wonderful variation to the trips we’ve taken in earlier years where we had to fly for at least twelve hours straight. Since we leave our home country just before noon, we arrive in Moscow late in the afternoon.
The Moscow airport looks grey, resembling the square and gloomy architecture from the socialist sixties and seventies. While we’re waiting in line to get our visa, I notice several Russian looking men smoking cigarettes. One of them is standing right underneath a ‘forbidden to smoke’ sign. I’m dying for a fag and the smell of their tobacco makes every alarm bell of desire go mad in my head, but there’s no way I’m lighting one too. Something tells me this sort of behavior is only accepted from though and grumpy Russians.
Right after we collect our luggage we go through the well-known motions of meeting travel companions, letting the tour leader (a sweet looking maternal type called Tamara) know we are there and finding the bus that will take us to our hotel.
Once we’re all in the bus it takes us about an hour and a half to reach the hotel. Tour guide Tamara has the need to talk the entire time over a microphone while we watch the dull outskirts of Moscow flash by. It’s warm outside, but not sunny, which makes weather a bit sweltering.
Tamara goes on and on, telling us that she is Russian, but married a Dutch man and has been living in The Netherlands for twenty years. Now that her children are old enough to take care of themselves, she decided to do what she loves most: showing Dutch people around her beloved Russia.
She’s very lovable, but quite different from what we are used to from our previous group trips. We enjoy travelling in what we call ‘backpack group travels’. This entails a small group of laidback Dutch people of all walks of life and of all ages and Rens and I are usually the only couple. We travel together from one place to another (preferably by public transport) and once we are there we go our own way. We only eat and drink together if we feel like it, we spend time with the people we hit it off with. There is no tour guide, but a tour LEADER, someone who knows a lot about the country and travels along to take care of hotel reservations and bus- and train tickets. So far we’ve travelled with Dutch backpack group travel companies as ‘Koning Aap’ (China), ‘Shoestring’ (Ecuador and Peru) and ‘Boabab’ (India). We would always book with the company which offered the most attractive travel route in our view and so far, this has always been very satisfactory.
Our trip through Russia was booked with Dutch travel company ‘Djoser’, a business that also claims to offer ‘backpack tour travels’, but before we got on the bus I already noticed that very few of our new travel companions actually had a backpack. Most of them were dragging suitcases around. Also, Tamara doesn’t strike us as the backpack sort of tour leader, and this thought is emphasized when she wants everybody to come forward and introduce themselves over the microphone.
Once we have survived that grueling embarrassing experience, Tamara is back on the microphone, this time elaborating on what WE are going to do in Moscow the next day. Rens and I glance at each other and without uttering a single word, we agree that WE are going our own way, as always.
Once we arrive at the hotel and the room keys are distributed, Tamara gathers everybody together and announces that tomorrow’s tour through Moscow will leave from the hotel lobby at nine. In our itinerary this day is marked as a day to explore Moscow by ourselves, but our entire group greedily jumps at the offer that Tamara will guide them through town. Except Rens and me, we are the only ones who let her know that we prefer to explore on our own.
That evening we have a light dinner in the hotel restaurant. It's decorated as an atmospheric countryside pub, but there are very few vegetarian options and the dishes that are on the menu all seem to have beets as a major ingredient, but it’s not that bad. It’s just very different from what we are used to, just like everything else we have experienced today…