Russia: Moscow

It’s a rare day when Russia doesn’t feature in our western news. We’ve been served up platters of stories, mostly negative, mostly dark. There’s been Crimea, MH 17, Sergei Skripal’s poisoning, Syria, and before; the Communist doctrine, Cold War, space race, 1980 Olympics boycott, Kursk submarine and Chechen crisis. The list is not exhaustive but you get the bleak drift.

Hand on heart, I could not wait to plant my feet firmly on Russian soil. My strong travel belief is this; the government and the people operate as separate entities. People should not be judged because of their government. After all, I would not want Russians forming an opinion of me based on my government’s juvenile antics of revolving door prime ministers.

We figured 6 days each in Moscow and Saint Petersburg would give us time to soak up some history, sights and culture. And, digest a little of what makes this country tick.

Ural Airlines from Batumi Georgia flew us into Moscow’s Domodedevo Airport in a short two and a half hours. It’s been a long time (early 1970s I think) since I’ve been on a plane that’s landed to thunderous applause from the passengers. I liked it.

Gett taxi transported us from the airport quickly and efficiently to our hotel, The Red Brick. The hotel doesn’t have a Russian sounding name I know, but the comfy room, friendly bar and close proximity to the Kremlin were well and truly appreciated.

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We hit the ground running on Day 1 by visiting the Kremlin, an enormous fortress/citadel built in 1482 and housing palaces and cathedrals. The official residence of Vladimir Putin is here as well as Lenin’s Mausoleum.

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Saint Basil’s Cathedral – it features in every tourist’s snaps

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Tsar bell – largest bell in the world

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Alexander Gardens

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Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. All are ‘united on the other front’.

A few days later, we returned to the Kremlin to visit The Armoury, a treasure house of Russia’s finest gold and silverware, Faberge eggs, bridal dresses, arms, armour and carriages. It was quite surreal to see such an extravaganza of sheer wealth. The Tsars certainly led privileged lives. Can feel a revolution in the making! No photos allowed, so these two photos are courtesy of Google!

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It’s easy to buy tickets online through the Kremlin website. I bought two tickets; one for Architectural Ensemble in Cathedral Square and one for Armoury. Each ticket was $A10; excellent value. The bonus of buying tickets online is that with your printed ticket and passport, you can jump the queues at the ticket office. Book several weeks ahead for the Armoury.

Just outside the Kremlin lies Red Square, the scene of many military parades. In 1945, USSR staged a magnificent Victory Parade here after defeating the Germans. The square is massive and on the beautiful sunny day we were rewarded with, we simply enjoyed walking around it.

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State Museum

Outside the Kremlin is a wonderful shopping centre called GUM. It’s high end shopping with beautiful displays throughout.

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Walking around the streets near the Kremlin we lapped up these scenes – very nice.

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A walk along the Moskva River to Gorky Park was a day well spent. Along the way is a 98 metre statue of Peter the Great who ruled Russia in the late 1600’s and is credited with establishing the country’s navy. The statue gets its fair share of criticism from tourists as well as Muscovites who dub it ‘ugly’. Adding salt to the wound, is the story that Peter the Great actually did not like Moscow and moved his court to Saint Petersburg.

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Gorky Park is a 300 acre leisure park and its huge grassy areas, gardens, fountains, kids’ rides and ice skating rink are a real asset in the middle of the city. Maxim Gorky who died in 1936 was an influential writer and political activist.

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These photos are of Arbat Street, a little touristy, but on this cloudless, t shirt wearing sunny day, it was a delight to walk.

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We indulged ourselves in these very tasty Russian dumplings. Dumplings and mulled wine – bliss!

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Riding the Moscow Metro was on our bucket list. Some of the stations which lie deep down in the bowels of subterrania exhibit stunning art work.

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We met up with friends in Moscow who, lucky for us, had friends living in the town of Alexandrov. The two hour drive into the countryside past green fields was very pleasant. Alexandrov forms part of Russia’s golden circle, one of a number of beautiful Russian towns arranged in a circular route.

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In Alexandrov, we visited Ivan the Terrible’s Kremlin. It dates from 1564.

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The torture room

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Interior of one of the churches in the Kremlin

We were treated to kind and warm Russian hospitality right here in Alexandrov. Thanks Yulya, Kostya, Sonya and Roman for the wonderful feast you prepared for us.

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We made our way back to Moscow by train.

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There are many Italian restaurants in Moscow. This restaurant had just opened near our hotel and the very friendly owner bent over backwards helping us choose our meals. He uses the freshest ingredients in his homemade pasta dishes and the cherries from Uzbekistan were the best I’ve ever tasted.

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We even found time to attend a play – Ray Bradbury’s dystopic, antitotalitarian Farenheit 451 believe it or not! All in Russian, but we were familiar with the novel, so could follow it. Thanks Vika and Tatiana.

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Russia is in full swing gearing up for the FIFA World Cup, and security here in Moscow is very visible. It’s a massive effort to host a competition of this scale; there are 11 host cities and we are in awe of the Russian organisational logistics. We will have left Russia before the first ball is kicked, but will follow it from the Baltic.

There is much in Moscow to like. Bleak – it is not! Yet again, western media’s got it wrong for tourists. Obviously over 6 days, we simply touched the tip of the iceberg, but what we saw, we liked – very much. It was a wonderful introduction to Russia, a nation of 144 million people (12 million live in Moscow). Its incredibly rich history and culture though, deserve more time.

Worth noting; Australians need visas to enter Russia. These are issued by the Russian Consulate in Sydney at a cost of $135. If you have been in the military or you are a journalist, there are extra questions for you!

Tomorrow, we are off to Saint Petersburg.

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