21st - 24th June - Moscow
Tuesday 21st June 2011
We added Moscow on to a Cox and Kings organised tour of the Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. We had only booked this holiday a couple of weeks earlier and had found C&K problematic on this occasion since they took a week to confirm elements of the booking meaning that we were very tight on time to arrange our Russian visas. This involved us in paying £180.00 each and we only received the visas, and our returned passports, on the Friday before we were leaving home on the Sunday in order to visit Zac and Ava and families. We arrived late afternoon and limited ourselves to an evening meal at our hotel (the Holiday Inn Lesnaya). At around £65.00 + tip for the two of us we began to experience just how expensive Moscow is. Breakfast is priced at £25.00 but formed part of our deal.
Wednesday 22nd June
With some difficulty, we conquered the Metro system which has no signage in English and uses the Cyrillic alphabet.
Red Square was all fenced off. We later found that this, and the presence of many police, was due to the 70th anniversary today of the start of World War II for Russia with the Battle of Brest.
We asked to go through the barricades, as did many others, and we visited Lenin’s Mausoleum. It was extremely dark inside, apart from the eerie wax-work appearance of Lenin himself in his sarcophagus.
We then visited the Gum Departmental Store – this 19th century building is enormous and was the State Department Store for many years but is now an upmarket shopping mall. Surprisingly, this afforded us a modestly priced lunch of reasonable quality.
We had arranged a tour of the Kremlin for the afternoon but looked into Red Square first, including the exterior of the multi-domed 16th Century Intercession Cathedral also known as St. Basil’s.
Due to the closure of the main part of Red Square, our tour first took us on the Metro to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. This is a highly impressive and lavishly decorated marble cathedral which has had a chequered history. The original cathedral (built 1839 – 1860) was demolished by the Soviets and replaced with the Palace of Soviets with a proposed huge statue of Lenin on the top. This was never completed due to the intervention of the second world war. The partially built structure was then itself demolished to make way for an enormous swimming pool. The latter caused damage to nearby buildings and the present cathedral was only built in the years 1995 – 2000.
From the viewing platforms all around the cathedral, we saw the entirety of the Moscow skyline. As well as modern glass buildings in the city business centre, we saw some of the Seven Sisters. These were high rise buildings, usually with a spire on the top, built by Stalin immediately after the war and looking quite forbidding.
We then took the Metro back to the Kremlin. This was the original heart of Moscow and the present red-brick walls date from the 15th century but with considerable re-building. Inside are the Government Offices of the President and the meeting place of the Soviet Congresses. Our visit concentrated on the Cathedral Square and the Assumption Cathedral with its impressive 15th – 17th century frescoes. We also visited the Archangel Cathedral where many of the Czars are buried.
The barriers had been removed around Red Square when we emerged from the Kremlin and we were able to visit the Alexander Gardens and to have another fast food meal in one of the nearby cafés.
We found the Metro easier to negotiate on our return to our hotel in the evening and arrived back to our room there at about 8.00 p.m.
Thursday 23rd June
We took a City Tour with the same company we had used yesterday. This was a 13 stop bus tour of the south western part of the city and included a low range of hills from which we could see most of the centre of Moscow. In that area were embassies and the houses and apartments of rich people as well as Moscow University. The latter occupies the largest of the “Seven Sisters”. These are seven multi-storey buildings constructed in Stalin’s time to a uniquely Russian pattern – rather like a wedding cake with a spire on the top!
We enjoyed the tour but realised that we had missed a number of the buildings which were on the other side of the bus. Therefore, and also because of tiredness from the previous day, we spent the afternoon repeating the tour but sitting on the opposite side. During this we met again a couple from Mexico City who had been on yesterday’s tour – Cecilia and John
We had again enjoyed a perfectly good but slightly expensive meal in the Gum Department Store complex. Whilst this simple meal cost £22.00 for the two of us, it was a similar price to the café style meals we had taken the previous day and about one third of the cost of that in the hotel.
The centre of Moscow was again cordoned off with many police, this time for a pop concert taking place at 9.30 in the evening in Red Square. We also saw members of a Military Academy celebrating their graduation with impromptu dance and hat throwing. Acrobats were performing for them and there were television cameras recording the proceedings.
Today we returned to our hotel room by about 6.00 p.m. – stopping shortly after emerging from our local metro station to buy some cakes and a couple of bottles of fruit juice to serve as our evening meal.
Friday 24th June
We walked from our hotel down to the Tverskaya area, which we had been told was Moscow’s main shopping street. There was nothing of particular interest but we spent a short while in a café where we were able to use the free internet to upload some of our photos and email the children. We then headed back to the hotel in good time for our 1.20 p.m. departure to the airport and our flight to Tallinn on Estonia Air.
Generally, we found Moscow had many attractive buildings and large open areas as well as wide streets. Some of this had been achieved in the 1930s by the demolition of older buildings but we had to admit to ourselves that the overall impression of the city was good. There were some elements of the oppressive nature of the regime that we had expected – such as some of the buildings and also a high police presence. To be fair, this latter may have been due entirely to the existence of a holiday and pop concert as well as military graduations. It was the 70th anniversary of the date that Russia entered WWII.
The streets were very clean and the people more friendly than we had expected. English was spoken by enough people to enable us to manage.
We found Russia to be very expensive with food being at least twice the price that it is in England. We were aware that there were great disparities in wealth but saw little poverty. By way of contrast, we noted many expensive German cars and many shops selling designer labels.