The road to Moscow

Moscow Travel Blog

 › entry 9 of 10 › view all entries

I always thought that the most getting from Moscow airport to our hostel would be the most challenging and daunting part of our entire trip.   And it was.

The flight from Berlin was good, although at the airport it felt more like we should be going home instead of going on to somewhere else for another 10 days.  The flight across was smooth but half way through, after having a little sleep, I had that terrible sudden realization of what we were doing.  The gravity hit me and I quietly asked myself, ‘Alex, what the hell are you doing?’  The apprehension returned.  Thankfully it was short lived.

Arriving into Moscow airport was not what I expected.  The passport control centre was brand new with shiny floors gleaming up at all the new arrivals into Russia.  My first impressions were very good.  Not the image of Russia I had in my head.  I laughed to myself – quietly of course, don’t want to seem mad in front of very serious looking passport control people – when I heard Boyzone – Yes! Boyzone – playing from the speakers.  I couldn’t believe it!  No one even plays that in England anymore, why have the Russians decided to play it?  Then the answer came.  Instead of a wall to keep people out, or the threat of a bullet to the head, they have opted to play terrible  90s pop music as a stern deterrent in the hope people will turn right back round and demand the pilot fly them right back.  Well, maybe not.  But it seemed logical at the time.

Passport control was, how best to put it, thorough - almost to the point of deeply suspicious.  Clutched in my hand was my passport, invitation to Russia, visa, and immigration card and I handed the nice passport control lady all of this with a nice English smile.  Clearly it was wasted upon her.  She scanned every page of my passport under UV light, asked me to take my glasses off when she looked at my picture, (my heart at this point was Pounding while I thought, ‘I wonder if Central do long term deferrals for prison sentences?’) and then she called someone else over.  Dear god was I glad to finally hear the stamps on my passport and visa and finally let through into Russia.  The only up side to all this was that my the time we got to Baggage Reclaim it was only mine and Sam’s bags going round on a loop.  Clearly other nationalities were not privy to the same Royal treatment we Brits had received.

And so the nightmare journey began.  Throughout Europe we had been very lucky with the language.  Nearly everyone had spoken English as a second language and even if they didn’t speak fluently, the knew enough to helpfully sort us out and send us on our way.  Well that’s certainly  not the case here.  No one speaks English.  And to make matters worse, they use a Cyrillic alphabet here, not Roman like us and the rest of Europe.  Thankfully there were Roman alphabet translations underneath.  I’ve no clue what we would have done otherwise.  It did make me wonder how visitors to England cope.  It must be near impossible. 

Having managed to get onto the train to Moscow (although we flew into Moscow airport, it is a 45 minute train journey to the city centre.  Much like arriving into London Stansted.)  Next we had to deal with the Metro underground.  This was mental.  Complete chaos, unlike anything found it London.  Just insane.  But with enough guess work, manic pointing, and a shear amount of luck we managed to get to the hostel.  Napoleon Hostel – where Napoleon himself once stayed (in the building, not the hostel) – is on the 4th floor of large building.  The first 3 floors are privately owned and were dirty, grimy and smelly.  Once again I asked myself – ‘Why Alex, Why?’  The 4th floor however was great.  The hostel is clean and fresh and very helpful and friendly staff.  We had to pay 600R which is about 12GBR to register our visas – more Russia bureaucracy.

Last night was our first night here and we decided just to go to the supermarket, grap some food and then head to bed.  Which is what we did.  After a very long day nothing seemed more appealing that a full stomach and a warm bed.  We ventured to the supermarket armed with out map and bank cards taking on the Moscow evening for the first time.  The amount of police is just astonishing.  I honestly believe that I have seen more police around the streets here than I ever have on the streets of the UK put together in the past 18 years.  However, they do not create a feeling of calm, peace or security.  They have, for me, the adverse affect.  They make me feel slightly more insecure.  The city is said to be no worse than New York or London in terms of safety and I would probably agree with that.  Although I did feel uneasy, it was no more than I would feel about walking around Manchester or London for the first time whilst not being able to speak the language or even understand the street names.      

Red Square is simply amazing.  Housing the Kremlin, St Basil’s Cathedral, the GUM Shopping Centre, the History museum and several other buildings it truly is a remarkable place.  St Basil’s Cathedral is just spectacular.  I am in complete awe of it.  This is the symbol of Russia.  The bright onion shaped domes are known throughout the world, all the books use that picture, all the news report are done infront of them.  A small part of me thinks that it’s just a cathedral with luminous onions on, but most of me is still in amazement.  I could, and probably will, spend hours just looking at it.  The Kremlin was more surprising that anything.  I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t that.  The strangest thing is that inside the walled city – Kremlin simply meaning citadel – there are 4 cathedrals all within 100ms of each other.  Hardly what you expect from the political powerhouse and nerve centre of communism and the cold war.      

I love this city.  I love all that it represents all that it symbolizes, the history, the past and its impact upon the world.  From my geeky political intellectual point of view it’s just incredible.  But for Sam – and the many other people – it really isn’t so spectacular.  Yes the architecture is impressive but, for me certainly, it is the political and historical context that makes it everything that it is.  Without that, it has none of the buzz that maybe Berlin or Krakow had. 

A few small observations.  All Russians do seem miserable!  Maybe that is what 70 years of oppression loosely dubbed as communism does for you.  And probably to slightly make everything better, they all seem to smoke. Everyone is smoking all of the time.  They also have – which horrified me this morning at breakfast – fizzy milk!  We bought it by mistake.  Terrible stuff. 

Much like the buildings throughout Europe, Red Square is a façade for the whole of Russia.  It is so bright, colorful and rich.  The GUM shopping centre houses an vast amount of top designer stores, but it’s empty.  No one seems able to afford to actually shop there.  When we went it, it was tourists inside simply wandering through.  The rest of Russia, well certainly Moscow, does not seem to have the same joyfulness and exuberance that Red Square does.      


But, I just love it.  It’s an amazing place and for me the highlight so far.  Maybe not for Sam, but it really is a kind of heaven for political students. 

Just for the record as well, despite the image I still had in my head, no one is queuing for bread and its not cold and snowy.  Although it is currently pouring it down outside.  Having said that, Sam and I may well be queuing for bread if we don’t stop spending so much money!  Moscow is a pretty expensive place. 

Well quite a long blog considering I’ve only been in the country 24 hours but its such an impressionable place its easy to get lost in it. 

I can’t believe that today is day 20 out of 28.  This time in a week we will be packing things up and preparing the head home in the morning.  Crazy stuff.

Hope everything is good back home.  Thank you again for reading – the blog has now been read over 500 times.  Thank you all!

Alex x



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photo by: eefab