We stayed to the North of the main city of Moscow, although still very much in the city. Moscow is reportedly the biggest city in Europe – more than 10 million people – yet arriving by train we passed many “city” stations that were surrounded by small forests and parks and not a lot of high rise or industry. No doubt that exists in the city but we didn’t see it.
We swapped inter-city trains for the underground – in Moscow the Metro is a tourist excursion in itself. Many of the stations were built 60 – 75 years ago and in addition to being set so far underground that they doubled as air raid shelters, the platform areas and hallways were individually styled and decorated. Mosaics, chandeliers, marble pillars and war time murals are all represented and make the experience very enjoyable. Every station is accessed by escalators that seem to go forever and the best part is that you never wait more than 2 or 3 minutes for a train.
By now the Russian alphabet was getting manageable and we successfully negotiated a line and train change before popping up in a Hotel area. In front of us was a giant rocket ship zooming into the sky in tribute of the cosmonauts, above us some light rain to remind us we had arrived in Europe…….
After several hours of wandering around we eventually found the Hotel that had drawn us into this particular part of Moscow. As it turned out, it was quite new, well appointed and the cheapest Hotel we had stayed in since arriving in Irkutsk. We checked in and had dinner at 10.00pm, before resting up for some traditional sigh-seeing.
First full day in Moscow was wet but we grabbed a metro train into the city and wondered what we would see. Our expectations of Moscow were probably not high – we expected drab, soviet era buildings with the occasional classic church and some highlights around the Kremlin and Red Square.
When we came up out of the underground near to Red Square, we were amazed to be in Russia. We could have been in any European city – lots of Victorian style architecture, cobblestoned side streets, gargoyles, statues and grand buildings, none of which seemed to be more than 3 or 4 stories high.
The first challenge is then finding your bearings – very nearly impossible with cloud, drizzle and about 6 exits to each Metro station. We walked a block and a half before establishing that we were going the wrong way, so then turned back and headed for St Basil’s Cathedral.
The first glimpse we got of St Basil’s was a double-take moment – you really don’t expect it and it is difficult to believe that it is as big as it is. Sitting at the Southern end of Red Square, St Basil’s Cathedral is adorned with spiraling swirls of colour, shapes and decoration, none of which you would expect to go together yet it remains incredibly impressive.
In front of the Kremlin walls, on the side of Red Square is the Mausoleum of Lenin. Julia and Molly visited the father of Russian communism - against his wishes Lenin's body was embalmed and laid out for viewing by the nation back in the 1920's......and it remains so even now! His resting place was shared for some time by Stalin but he has since taken on less importance (well still important to Russian history but no longer revered for his efforts) within Russia and is now entombed behind the mausoleum with other former heads of state.
For 4 of the next 5 days we were drawn back to Red Square, St Basil’s and the Kremlin. We saw them in brilliant sunshine amongst large crowds and under drizzle and cloud with barely a tourist in sight. We viewed them from bridges, boats and vantage points at other spectacular sites and never bored of their presence. I think we fell in love with Moscow.