Your mission should you choose to accept it. 48 hours in Moscow. Day 52 & 53
Moscow, the home of the Cold War, home to spies, the Bolshoi ballet, the mighty Kremlin, gizmos and gadgets and of course some of the most incredible secret history of all time. We are here, the busy capital, history hangs like the proverbial iron curtain. Streets of stone feel hard underfoot, a grey cloud balances on top of giant domed churches and just the slightest drop of rain trickles down on the walk through the streets.
Following last nights train ride debacle Jess and I decide that day 52 will be a day spent getting our bearings and finding where exactly things are in this great city. Aboard the metro once again, definitely the easiest way to get about in Moscow, avoid gypsy cabs as much as you can. A metro ticket will set you back around a dollar Aus and it can take you anywhere in the city. Red square feels like it may be a little big to tackle on our first day so we check out some of the other exciting features nearby. I also feel like we’ve been lacking in the food department of late so I want to find something as Russian as possible before we jet off for Sweden and the incredible Faviken.
The Gum shopping centre is the largest in Moscow, located just off Red Square, the building itself is hundreds of years old and an easy way to while away a couple of hours while we work up our appetite. Hundreds of stores stock everything from Louis Vuitton handbags to gorgeous, silky black imperial caviar. Taste tests please! A mosey about the many shops certainly works an appetite and there is a restaurant here that serves food “soviet style” what that is I have no idea but my stomach is ready to find out.
Stolovaya no 57. Where the food is served soviet style. What is soviet style? Is it served in communist fashion with some getting a small portion whilst others get large? Is it served cold like the war? Is it served combined with flavours from other countries like the mighty USSR itself? Not really. What it does involve however is standing silent in line pointing at the different foods you would like whilst intimidating looking servers slop all over your plate. It’s a little prisoney I will admit. Oh, also as Jessica found out, if you hold up the line asking for meatballs with your rice you will be shouted at. Fortunately what this place does have is kicking Russian food and a dining room packed full of locals. The slop on our plates is meatballs, chicken Kiev, another sort of braised chicken wrapped in brick pastry kind of thing and of course cabbage. Loads and loads of stewed cabbage, a little sweet, a little sour, a little demolished. Eat up with loads of fresh rye bread stuffed with a multitude of savoury fillings.
Ok back home now to try and score some fairly elusive tickets. Swan Lake is playing at the world renowned Bolshoi Theatre.
When in Russia.
Behind the great red walls. Day 53
The Kremlin, Red Square. Every American spies dream, the impenetrable fortress of the Russian government. The walls stand like burly security guards, vivid red waiting for their moment. The towers extend into the heavens, casting great shadows over us as we toddle across the stone square. Welcome to Moscow. It is both intimidating and incredible. I can’t believe we’re standing here.
Our morning begins with a serious chill, the frost I had become close friends with has since moved on, only to be replaced by a tyrannous wind that brings with it rain and sleet. The streets we walk are icy and the world of the Moscow inner city seems frantic with movement. Shopkeepers scurry to pack their tables inside, the coffee sipping locals now crouch around the dwindling glow of a cigarette. It seems a fitting day to visit the inner kingdom that is The Kremlin. Even the metro seems oddly empty, locals have left the streets, even they recognise a bad day for travel, the mercury dips below two degrees as we shuffle aboard the train bound for the Red Square.
We exit the station scarves strangling our necks and jumpers weighing down our bodies. Ready to face the dreaded weather we pull open the door… To nothing, a still calm has come over the square. The cold remains but the wind is no more. Colourful street vendors are setting their stalls brimming with Faberge eggs and fur hats, for some strange reason disney characters are walking the streets, because we tourists came to the Kremlin especially for a photo with Shrek? Perhaps even the weather finds this place intimidating. Standing beneath the mighty palace walls one cannot help but feel small and young. I feel ready to explore, to know the history and the stories that lie behind these great red walls.
St Basil’s Cathedral stands proud in the background, an explosion of technicolor domes and spires. Actually this space is the combination of several different cathedrals dedicated to various saints within Christianity. Now a museum to the public. The building hums with a wisdom of age as we climb the crooked steps into the base of the church. Gold emblems blossom on walls, religious icons stare from high above and the church becomes more and more of a labyrinth as we explore. A quick turn here reveals several iconography, a turn there holds the stories of the passion of Christ, it is beauty that words fail. Belief in something that even history cannot fully comprehend is a complex thought that leaves many a man wondering, but standing in this space one cannot help but feel the soul breathe.
With a little religion comes a lot of history, The Kremlin is in fact the name given to several buildings within the safety of the great red walls. The senate resides here, government officials walk stiff in tailored suits as the cold air takes hold. We walk through the walls and into the giant square, the arsenal cannons peer from behind hedges, guards stand at attention with rifle at their side. Wow, what have we gotten ourselves in to? The security check alone would be enough to deter the average tourist.
An air of power cuts through the bitter cold that now grips Jess and I. We are here, I can’t believe we’re here. For any tourist this is the culmination of weeks of effort, sending our passports away, having to be sponsored for a tourist visa, the security check, the customs officials. This is a journey of a lifetime. This is travel that not everybody gets to see, and it is beautiful. Superbly austere the Tsar Cannon sits in the grounds outside the many museums and cathedrals here. Now Jess could make a remark here about the size of the balls…but that would not be in my lovely fiancées nature. With photos snapped we walk into the Cathedral of annunciation, now a museum dedicated to Russian royalty. We are greeted by the wedding coat of Alexander III’s bride to be, a stunning fur trailing metres behind and studded with gold, that’s just one of the dozens of royal artefacts on display here. From slop bowl to solid gold there is plenty to dazzle the eye here.
Outside the wind has returned, bringing with it a little winter love. Snowflakes drop down in amongst the stones of the aged square, white powder falls onto our jackets as we huddle together in this sudden winter wonderland. There are many other cathedrals dotted in amongst the Kremlin and we take the time to visit them all. The tomb of communist maestro Lenin is also here, but for some reason it is not open today? Hmm perhaps he needed a bit of freshening up seeing as he lies embalmed under glass with the whole world staring at him?
I must say if you’re a traveller keen on history, beautiful architecture and an inspired city, add Russia to your list. Filled with wonderfully cheery locals, picturesque cityscapes and an incredible lust for living it is a destination that Jess and I have both loved. However our journey must continue. Sweden calls and with it the culinary delights of one of the most peculiar food destinations in the world.
But that’s for later
Josh and Jess