In Moscow we stayed at the Status hotel for AUD$100 per night. The hotel was in the theatre district just outside the Kremlin and was in a very good location to the main tourist hotspots. Please bear in mind we only had two full days in Moscow so it was going to be a frantic two days. The hotel was good and was run by a Kyrgyzstan man who spoke pretty good English, but with that Russian bluntness, that takes a little getting used to and he always looked like he was miserable. Surprisingly, the manager said our room had been given to someone else, so he received ‘bonus points’ from us for giving us an upgrade to the “Luxury” room, though those ‘bonus points’ were rescinded when we saw the room!
Our room was good but basic – except for the ‘cathouse’ round, Austin Powersish, tacky bed – which we had for some reason known only to the hotel manager.
A real negative for the hotel is that it is situated on the fourth floor of a building and there is no elevator – you lug your luggage up – there are dazzling chandeliers and mirrors to admire though as you trudge up step after step.
I can say that stepping under a shower, even an ordinary cramped shower, was sensational after five days without a shower on the Trans Mongolian train – the little luxuries of life are often the best.
The hotel had a basic breakfast included in the price, which you ordered the night before and they brought it to your room at a designated time the next morning – we asked for 8am. Of course, we were both dressed and ready to leave the hotel room at 8am the next morning. The plan was to devour our breakfast and hit the streets of Moscow early. At 8.20am, Di went in search of our gracious host and found him lying on a lounge playing on his phone – the breakfast he provided was then a rushed effort of a rubbery omelette and gluggy porridge – he forgot!!!
The Kremlin was a kilometre stroll away, it opened at 9am and we wanted to beat the crowds. The cost was 500 rubles to enter the Kremlin (AUD$10.50) but that just gets you into the Kremlin grounds, if you want to get into the Armoury for example, it costs an additional amount. You walk across a medieval looking bridge and then enter a small gate cut through a tower. The gate is guarded, so you must get your photo with the Russian guard, and then you enter the Kremlin complex.
We found there are few English signs in the tourist area – apparently though, with the oncoming Football World Cup in 2018 being held in Russia, there are moves to make the touristy areas better signposted for foreigners. We soon came across an example of this lack of foreign information. Inside the Kremlin you have to walk on the footpath and can ONLY cross a road on a marked footpath. The minute you walk on the road a guard, or in some cases several guards, will start blowing a loud whistle and waving at you – they will continue to blow the whistle until you step back on the footpath – there is a clearly marked sign as you enter the complex advising you of this footpath rule, in RUSSIAN!!! I had a hoot of a time watching the mass grouped flag following tourists casually step on the road and then jump when a whistle started bleating continuously nearby. This also meant the tourists were congregated together in a dense mass – I am glad we beat the crowds.
The Kremlin is basically a fortified complex in the heart of the city which overlooks Moscow. Within the Kremlin are five palaces, four cathedrals, numerous towers and a wall. It is also the residence of President Putin – we had hoped to see him riding his horse bareback through the grounds, with his shirt off, and a Commando knife wedged between his teeth looking for a bear to fight, but alas we were not so lucky!
Thus once you enter the Kremlin your camera clicking finger will get a workout. Personally I enjoyed watching the unsuspecting wayward wandering tourist get a whistle blast!!
As we left the Kremlin the queues to get in had grown considerably, so get there early if you can. From there you just wander from place to place through either lovely gardens or old cobblestoned historical streets.
We exited the Kremlin and turned right to the Kremlin old wall and then on to the tomb of the forgotten soldier.
From there you walk on into a large square with statues and gorgeous large red buildings. Here you will find Lenin’s mausoleum. The queue to enter the mausoleum was very long so we declined entering. Then we came to gates to enter Red Square which are certainly grand old gates.
We did not see the best of Red Square; the reason being there was a seven day Military Tattoo event on. The Square was occupied by a giant stage and we were confined to walkways through the square. It was unfortunate but it was interesting to watch the displays put on by the Military performers who used to practice throughout the day for their night time performances.
Red Square is full of little stalls selling all things Russian. You can get t-shirts depicting a bare chested Putin if that is your taste. The hats for sale are amazing in their variety and tackiness – it’s tastelessly Russia!!!
From there you follow the metal fences, when the Tattoo is on at night, you cannot come into Red Square and the fences stop you, all the way to the iconic Saint Basil’s Cathedral. Ivan the Terrible built Saint Basil’s Cathedral back in 1555. This is a magnificent structure, but again the view was spoilt by the Military Tattoo arena nearby and the bottleneck caused by all the metal fences. We actually moved away from the Cathedral to get better photos on the opposite side of the street.
We headed down to the river and the bridge to then get views back to the Kremlin, Red Square and Saint Basil’s Cathedral.
What was very obvious was the vast amount of road works and restoration that was occurring. On top of this was the construction of new parks and walkways. The city was a construction mess and it was nearly impossible to get a photo without a crane or some form of construction going on. The reason is the beautification of the city for the upcoming Football World Cup in June 2018 – we were just there at a bad time.
A walk then along the river brought us to the other side of the Kremlin and more monuments, statues and buildings that were just so regally grand but were, ….. well, just buildings. There was also a constant wailing of emergency vehicles, whether police or ambulance, and vehicles would come screaming past with lights and their unique sirens going – the sound and sight of it all – yep, I was living my Jason Bourne fantasy again!!!
We then made our way down to Arbat Street. Arbat Street is a pedestrian walking street and is one of the oldest streets in Moscow. The street is littered with bars, restaurants, shops, statues, theatres, there are street performers, historic buildings…… basically it is a tourist magnet.
The street runs for well over a kilometre and is an enjoyable walk. This was the only place we really saw street touts trying to get you to enter the commercialised restaurants, eg American 50’s Diner to eat overpriced Hamburgers.
We had dinner and waited for the sunset as we had read the lights of Red Square, Saint Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin are something special at night. Sadly, the lights were not on because of the Tattoo and because of the Tattoo we could not even get close to the Red Square at night – so it was rather disappointing.
We were, though, able to wander through the iconic GUM department store at night. This store has thousands of lights adorning it and looks like a fairy tale castle when ablaze.
With sore feet and tired muscles we crashed out exhausted on our round leather bed that night, I looked for the place to insert my 50 ruble coin to make the bed vibrate but couldn’t find it. So we rested our weary muscles and prepared for our next day of a marathon walk.
The next morning breakfast arrived at the pre-ordered time, however the manager’s culinary skills had not improved and he served up drab cold lifeless cheese, ham and tomato toasted sandwiches. This was complimented with cold, chewy rice pudding – we were now energised to hit the streets.
We actually hit the subway system. Yes, Moscow subway system is a unique tourist attraction in itself!! The subway entrance was near the Kremlin entrance. The subway ticket machines were all in Russian, believe it or not but most subway ticket machines throughout the world have the English language option, this was the first time we had not had one to use. We gave the machine away and went to a ticket office and the lady there spoke enough English, and our miming, to get the tickets purchased. The tickets all cost the same regardless how far you go. Thus on our little subway sightseeing adventure, provided we never left the subway system, we would not have to buy another ticket and could move from one subway station to the next on the one ticket. The cost was 50 rubles or AUD$1.10.
Each Russian subway station is a work of art. Di and I spent two hours simply moving from subway station to subway station. We had searched online to find the main stations to see and several of these were literally one after the other on the same line. The subway stations are a unique architectural wonder.
We did of course make a couple of errors and found ourselves on the steepest and longest escalators I have ever been on, which led to an exit and we found ourselves out of the subway station. We simply bought another ticket and went back in – this happened twice, so we ended up buying three tickets – it’s all in Russian is my defence.
The trains were not that crowded during our subway adventure and this made hopping on and off easy enough. You can go on official 90 minute tours of the subway, they cost Euro35 or AUD$50ish. We saw these tours on the platforms. The tour guide held a flag and the thirty odd following tourists all had earphones and listened to commentary in their own language. We just jumped on and off the trains and weaved our way from train line to train line.
After two hours of doing this we found the diesel smell and the train fumes were beginning to hurt our eyes and we had seen enough – but I must say it was a fun and different little adventure. These are some of the main train stations to visit, there are many more: Taganskaya, Prospekt Mira, Novoslobodskaya, Mayakovskaya, Kroptkinskaya, Komsomolskaya, Kiyevskaya, Elektrozavodskaya, Belorusskaya, Arbatskaya, Sokol, Aeroport, ……………the list goes on, pretty much every station has its own unique design and artwork. If you visit Moscow you must give this a go!!!
We caught our last subway train out to Gorky Park. We did this to get fresh air and of course to see the park made famous by the novel and movie of the same name. We can report there was no murder, mystery and mayhem the day we were there. In fact the park was stunningly beautiful in glorious sunshine. The gates to the park are quite imposing and are worth the visit to the park alone just to see the gates.
Once inside the park you stroll around a lovely parkland setting with magnificent fountains and lakes. We were there on the last days of school holidays and the park had a good number of children riding bikes, scooters, etc. We had an ice cream and watched the world go by.
We exited Gorky Park through the main gates and turned left and crossed the road and headed towards the bridge.
Once at the bridge we walked along the river walkway and past an art exhibition set up on the walkway. In the distance we could see the growing figure of the mighty statue of Peter the Great.
The statue of Peter the Great is 98 metres tall and is situated in the Moskva River where it meets Vodootvodny Canal. It is a monument to celebrate 300 years of the Russian navy and was erected in 1997. The statue is different and shall we say not very pretty. It has the unlikely honour of continually being named in the ugliest statutes in the world list – so for that reason alone it is a must see.
The Peter the Great statute actually makes a good photo with its river setting and the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in the background.
We continued to follow the river along the walkway until we reached the bridge that went to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The walk towards this Cathedral is pretty special and the cathedral itself is very special. The cathedral stands at an imposing 103 metre height, making it the tallest Orthodox Christian Church in the world.
The original Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was built in 1883, but when Stalin took power the church was destroyed in 1931. With the fall of hard communism the new Cathedral’s construction began in 1995 and was completed in 2000.
We had the added bonus of seeing a bride and groom having their wedding photos taken in front of the cathedral – the photographer went to great lengths to get THAT photo!!
From the Cathedral you get great views along the river back towards the Kremlin and Red Square.
When Di and walk around on our tourist jaunts we use the MapMyWalk App to log our distances walked. The day before we hit 20 kilometres walked and we hit the 20 kilometre walked mark at the Cathedral. Our feet were getting very sore and Di had blisters – in fact for the first time I started to get blisters on my big toe. We decided to catch a subway to a cinema and rest for two hours watching a movie. Sadly even the greatest of plans become a little flawed. Once we exited the subway we walked a kilometre only to find the cinema closed due to construction – we bravely turned around and hobbled back to the subway station – our feet were killing us.
It was now getting dark as we made our way past Red Square and several of the Military Tattoo performers were putting on displays in the square nearby. We watched the Swiss army flag throwers and the Georgian army drummers – all good fun and gave the area a real party atmosphere.
We then made the agonising walk back to our hotel and into a round non vibrating bed.
Early the next morning we heard a band going down the street outside our hotel. We saw a procession of people behind the band (dressed as clowns) – it turned out it was the first day of Kindergarten and all the new children with their parents were heading to school together – with the band playing the ominous role of the Pied Piper!!!!
We had a few hours on our last morning in Moscow to hobble around the streets to admire a truly wonderful city that I would love to come back to – two full days was simply not enough. We caught a taxi to the train station that afternoon and we headed off to Saint Petersburg.
The adventure continues………….