From Russia with love

I’m so excited to tell you all about my recent trip to Russia, taking in a short break in Moscow and then totally chilling in St Petersburg…haha! Russia is a fascinating country – it has a strange way of getting under your skin…. a magnetic draw, a layered intensity that slowly seeps into your consciousness.

Since returning home, I find myself drawn to all things Russian, searching out details on its traumatic history, intrigued by the passion and drama of Russian films and researching the fascinating art and literature that defines much of its psyche.

However, I do draw a line at the language…the language is an entirely different matter! The only word I picked up was ‘да ‘ (sounds like da in English)… it means yes. It was our very sweet Russian guide who didn’t speak any English but spent her time laughing and nodding enthusiastically with ‘da da das’ to our constant questioning that taught me this one word so well. (If you’re wondering….. we had a friend who translated for us!)

Cultural musings aside, first impressions were unexpected!. It was all a bit rough and ready when I arrived in Moscow Domodedovo airport at night. I was travelling on my own ( my husband was meeting me at the airport.) Getting through passport control was a feat in itself – there must have been about a thousand people, mostly Russians, milling and pushing towards the booths en masse. I really don’t know how I ended up being at the very back when I was in the middle at one stage – it’s an art in itself getting through (and passport control agents are undoubtedly on a power trip) but I was on a new adventure and I was up for whatever was to happen!

It took about another 45 minutes to find the taxi we had called (the taxidriver only spoke Russian!) but we did eventually get going. Russian taxis are very reasonable and I would only have good things to say about them I had a great taxi driver from Georgia on the return trip to the airport – he was so unbelievably sweet and good humored (again no English no Russian but we managed to communicate somehow, lots of laughing, gesturing and the odd word that seems translatable in all languages)

 

Moscow airport

          AAAHH>>>>CHAOS AT MOSCOW AIRPORT!

We only spent two days in Moscow – one at the start of the trip and the second at the other end so it was hard to get a proper feel for such a big city (12 million inhabitants) –  I will return! Everyone had advised us to spend time in St Petersburg and to just pass through Moscow. We had our guide who took us off the beaten track and showed us some interesting sights. We visited most of the major attractions and ate typical Russian food so we got a taste of Moscow literally and figuratively!

Russia is famous for its hearty soups and stews and given the cold climate you can see why.. They also eat a lot of pies, meat and stews. We tried the blinis (pancakes) which are very tasty and eaten with toppings such as soured cottage cheese particularly for breakfast. However some of the more unusual tastes did not agree with me, or to be more specific, the unusual combination of borscht ( beetroot soup with sour milk), vegetarian pie and vodka for lunch! As honoured guests (aka naïve tourists) we felt ‘obliged’ to drink the complimentary vodkas (we learnt later that drinking vodka at lunchtime is not actually the norm for Russians!)

 

                              RUSSIAN SOUP

 

I had to cut the sightseeing tour short that day, running from restaurant to wc after lunch – it warmed me up at the time but slowed me down big time later!!

Moscow is a very large city and Russia is a vast country -the majority of Russians live outside the main cities and are very poor. You need money to live in Moscow  – the hotels are very expensive but eating out is comparable to home and getting around the city is cheap. The Russian metro was the first in the world and Russians are very proud of their metro – every one is a work of art and I must say it’s so much cleaner and airier than either Paris or London. We were based close to the centre and it was easy to get around on the metro.

Having said that finding specific landmarks could be slightly confusing – almost everything is in Russian. However there was  no point in asking Muscovites  for directions – the vast majority will not engage,  most don’t speak English and are also very wary of strangers. If we needed directions we asked anyone who looked like a student and that worked most of the time. A more unexpected aspect of  Russian life is the constant presence of security, visible and then sometimes not ,via PA systems  down small dark alleyways. (just the PA system..nothing else – we were innocent!) But even when you get on the train bags are scanned!) These seem to be still in place after a number of recent suicide bombings. ( which I only learnt about when I was over there – ignorance is bliss!)

 

         METRO IN MOSCOW

The size of Moscow is breathtaking – the buildings and avenues are enormous – imagine a city scaled up to 8 times its normal size. So you are looking up and into the distance all the time. This was Stalin at his best – the concept of making the proletariat feel small and insignificant relative to the power and might of the state, It was Stalin who oversaw the destruction of many of the beautifully designed Russian Orthodox churches.

Moscow is a melting pot of so many different architectural  styles, reflecting the turbulent history of the city. You have the beautiful historical buildings that predate Stalin, many on the outskirts of the city, the golden domes of the Russian Orthodox churches in the historical centre. Then, you have the Seven sisters skyscrapers and a few modern high-rise business centres punctuating the skyline.  However the backdrop to these stunning buildings is the more mundane and depressing apartment blocks from the communist period.

We didn’t have a lot of time in Moscow so we decided we should visit the main historic landmarks namely the Kremlin, Red Square, Saint Basil’s Cathedral and Gorky’s museum. As it turned out, The Kremlin and Red Square are in the centre of the old city so it’s easy to cover most of the more popular landmarks in one day.

 

CATHEDRAL OF THE ANNUNCIATION, THE KREMLIN

 

St Basil's Cathedral, Moscow

ST BASIL”S CATHEDRAL

 

 

IMG_6992 1

 

The Kremlin is a walled in citadel and the private residence of the President. and the magnitude of the place is breathtaking – it really is ginormous. It’s an intriguing, austere and slightly foreboding place – lots of very imposing buildings – some beautiful like the snow white cathedrals with the golden cupolas and some austere like the anonymous government buildings. Most of the Kremlin is closed to visitors but there is still loads to see from the museums to the stunning churches. Russia’s imperialist history is visible everywhere in Moscow from the massive military statues to the changing of the guard in front of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier ,outside the Kremlin. We got a great photo of the soldiers  goose-stepping their way back to the barracks in the Kremlin.

 

 

   GOOSE STEPPING IN THE KREMLIN

Gorky’s house Museum is not too far from the Kremlin. It’s a masterpiece in art deco architectural style with so many stunning examples of artdeco style particularly the central staircase. We also got to see St Peter and Paul Cathedral where the tragic Romanovs ( the last Tsar and his family )were buried. This has reignited my  fascination with this tragic family, their fabulously idyllic life, the Tsar’s total naivety and lack of connection with the proletariat  and ultimately in their untimely demise.

 

                       ART DECO IN GORKY HOUSE

All in all it was an eye-opener and so different to romantic St Petersburgh,  aka ‘Venice of the North’ and home of the Tsars. Check in again for my  post on St Petersburg  – have some really lovely photos to share …’til then XE

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