Moscow, Moscow……..

I have always wanted to come to Moscow ever since 1980 when i spent most waking hours watching the Olympics and getting my head around that the Soviets weren’t going to bomb us as I grew up being told in Primary school. And of course that crazy Moscow song and the dance that went with it!

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Moscow is an extremely interesting, loud, enthralling and yet crazy place that’s quite un tourist friendly. If it hadn’t been for meeting our SERVAS host Nikita and his friend and our incredible guide, Pasha, then we may have written off on the list of ‘too hard, not interested in going back.’ Nikita is an academic doing post grad studies and seemed to know the answer to all our questions whether it was about the russian revolution, or the current political corruption. Pasha is a historian who has done a PHD in French foreign policy. He literally new the answer to every obscure or general Russian question we could throw at him. His passion for Moscow and showing people around was so evident and infectious. A wonderful way to be introduced to the city.

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These are some of the buildings that he told us about:

St Basil’s cathedral
First built in the 1400s (and still looks incredible today) with more spires added in the 1600s. It is meant to be the geometric centre of Moscow and the building is shaped as a bonfire rising into the sky. Quite incredible architecture.

Kremlin
The Kremlin is like a big fort in the middle of Moscow bordering Red Square on one side and the Moscow river on the other. It’s pretty huge and has lots of buildings and churches. The site has been continuously inhabited since the second century BC! Some of the buildings today were built in the 1300s. Quite beautiful and incredible.

Zero Moscow
This is the exact point that everything in Russia is measured from. Every distance is always calculated from Moscow. Even on the trains every timetable is in Moscow time which takes some getting used to when your train leaves at 1430 but when you’re in Irkutsk that means 1930 local time. I guess it is the easiest way to do it in a country with eight time zones.

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Merchant building

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I forget the name of this building but it was quite unusual architecture and built but the son on a rich merchant a few hundred years ago. Of course at the time it was shunned by everyone including his family as far too outrageous and different. Tough when he died it became a Moscow icon and is now where the government has many of its diplomatic meetings with other world leaders.

It was difficult to not compare Moscow to St. Petersburg as we arrived from the latter by train. St Petersburg seemed to be so much more tourist friendly. It is of course not as populated – Moscow has an official population of 13 or so million with lots more illegal immigrants so it is a massive city and with that comes other issues like safety and transport. I think it actually won an award last year for the city that housed the most people in Europe. In general we found Moscow much less tourist friendly. For example we went to the kremlin and opted not to go to every museum as that ticket was over $20 so we did a walk around he property and wanted to visit the Diamond Fund armour collection which we were told by Pasha and Nikita was fabulous.

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We got there at 1.03 pm and they closed for lunch till 2pm. Well if we were on our own we would probably hang around but when there are 5 kids really getting hungry – another question. Well we thought we would go back after finding something to eat but the entrance closest to that part of the Kremlin was a busy highway that took so long to find a way to cross and also a place to eat – within a kilometre was only a Ukrainian Restraunt that was far too expensive. Russia was pretty expensive compared to any other country we’ve been to so far but moscow was even more expensive to get into things and for food.
We tried to go to Lenin’s mausoleum three times the first day we were there it had already closed – apparently he doesn’t like visitors except for between 10am and 1pm – he must get a bit too tired with all the bright lights after that!

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The second time we found out it was closed on Monday and the third time we had about 45 minutes before it closed but we went up to the mausoleum and we were told we had to go a line up and be searched – cause you can’t come into it with any photographic material or anything like that. We went to the line – but Russians could enter there – others had to go and get a ticket (even though it was free) and wait in line – but go outside the Red Square first to get to the line – which didn’t seem too long though at all this we just threw our arms up in horror and said – ‘ this is too hard and just to see the dead father of their country – lets go to a cake shop’ so that’s just what we did and it was utterly delicious. The kids were quite enthralled with the thought of seeing Lenin even though he’s been dead for a good 70 or 80 years. I saw Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi ages ago and remember it was quite amazing (and quick as you just literally walk past). Well Ho Chi Minh comes to Moscow for a month every year on holidays to get retouched cause the Russian are so good at ‘mausoleuming’!
The other place we were very much looking forward to seeing was the Gulag museum which depicts some of the stories and horrors of Stalin’s Gulag prison camps and pretty much lots of slave labour.

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The kids couldn’t fathom that he had killed (or asked others to kill as they pointed out) between 10-20 million people. A shocking time. Even the Russians we asked about it said that they had never been or know where it is because it is not really spoken about and is a very sensitive topic for most Russians. Anyway – on the last day we had come into town to the Kiev station to leave all our baggage in lockers. Then we excitedly caught the metro to the Gulag museum though lo and behold it had closed a couple of days before for 6 weeks of renovations. Bummer – right in the middle of the peak summer period. It was times like this that made us frustrated with Moscow though meeting Nikita and Pasha definitely wet our appetite and made us be hungry for more – like we left unsatisfied.

By Baba Miliking

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