A Travellerspoint blog

Russia

Москва

hmmm not the most tourist friendly place

rain 18 °C
View Honeymoon World Tour on Nick-n-Charlie's travel map.

Even though everything was in Cyrillic we easily navigated ourselves from the airport to the Hostel using the very good airport express train (320 Rubles each £6.20) and the metro (a 5 trip card is a bargain at 150 Rubles £3 and can be used up to 90 days). Transport is about the only thing that is cheap in Moscow. The metro was very similar to the one in St petersburg with amazing architecture and escalators that seemed to go on forever.

Faro Hostel http://faro-hostel.com/gallery/ was above a Torture Museum which was kinda quirky and meant it was on a main street near all the tourist spots. Unfortunately this hostel appeared to have mostly Russian occupants who were actually living in the Hostel. One guy who was a student had been there 6 months and was planning to stay for longer. This made the Hostel feel like you were intruding in someones house. The first day we sat down to do some googling the rest of the guest got up and left making us feel very insecure. It seemed to only be the younger ones that made an effort to talk to us, we soon decided we would only go back when we needed to. Rant over now to Moscow.

This was more like the Russia we were expecting to see; the buildings are massive, the roads wide and no tourist signs. After checking in we decided to go for a ‘small’ walk to get our bearings, and soon found ourselves at the Kremlin and the Red Square which looks really nice lit up at night. Now this is humungous it took nearly 10 mins to walk along one side of the fortress wall to Red Square and St Basil’s Cathedral which again looked great night. Along side Red Square there is a posh shopping mall called GUM, again super sized and lit up like as if christmas time. We decided to go inside to warm up and discovered it was as beautiful inside as well as was outside http://www.gum.ru/en/history/. Down all the aisles were small fake trees with beautiful autumnal leaves between two white benches and then in the centre where all the isles met there is a lovely fountain with water shooting up in different formations in to a smaller fountain. Apparently this is the main meeting place in Moscow like our Left Lion if you say met at the fountain they know it's this one. By this time it was getting late so we walked back in drizzly rain, popped to a supermarket and tried to settle in for a good nights sleeps...

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...however, our room mates had other ideas. Since we have been traveling neither Nick or I have slept as badly as we did in this hostel. It was smelly, all 4 four of room mates snored so loudly and there was a lot of noise from the street outside. Somehow I managed to fall asleep, but poor Nick only got about 1 hour.

Feeling pretty lousy after very little sleep and hostile Russians, we ate our breakfast (with yet more stares!). Our plan was to do the walking tour run by the same company as the St Petersburg one, but the weather was lousy. Instead we headed to The Kremlin and despite all of the warnings about giant queues we waked straight in (well through strict security first). RUB 350 (£7) each. I think both Nick and I had something very different in our heads when we pictured the Kremin thinking it was like their version of the Pentagon. How wrong we were. Kremlin simply means Walled City, meaning many of Russia’s towns and cities have their own version. It is huge and very beautiful, with ornate towers along the walls circling it. Understandably you are only able to walk around a very small part of the complex - it is where their government is housed after all. The main area is centered on Cathedral Square where 5 golden domed Russian Orthodox churches have stood in one form or another since the Middle Ages. They are beautiful in carved white marble and with every interior surface elaborately painted, however they are all virtually the same, so once you have been in one, you have kinda seen them all. You are also able to pay an extra entry fee to go to the Armory (which surprisingly does not hold any weapons) where Russia’s greatest treasures are held - the Crown Jewels, Guilted Carriages and numerous Faberge Eggs - however the entry fee was too expensive for our meager budget! Feeling a little underwhelmed, we set off to buy some extremely expensive coffee to try and warm up and dry off.

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After another sleepless night we were up and on the Metro heading to the meeting point of the walking tour, however somehow while we were underground we had managed to get ourselves turned around, coming out of the wrong exit. We then spent 15 minutes trying to find the meeting point, but by now we were far too late and were both getting very annoyed at Moscow...

..but then, I spotted what looked like a tour group not too far away. We went for it and luckily for us it was the right one. The tour guide Elena was great, welcoming us straight away, telling us what we had missed. So feeling less annoyed at Moscow we settled in for the tour which took us to another couple of churches before returning to St Basil’s and Red Square, the GUM shopping Mall, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to see the changing of the guards. Even though this route repeated some of what we had done the previous day it was great to revisit it and get some background from her.

As the tour ended we decided we would meet her again later that evening to do their Communist Russia walking tour (as we had been jilted by the one in St Petersburg!!), so after an early dinner we made it to the meeting point in plenty of time although in torrential rain! We were joined on the tour by Kalvin (another Australian - they really are everywhere!), so it was great to be in such a small group so we could ask as many questions as we waned - which we did! The tour started at the former headquarters of the KGB which is now the headquarters of the FSB (arguably the same organisation!) before heading across town. Elena explained what life was like under the Communist Regime and how brainwashed and terrified people were. She told us a story of a famous 13 year old Russian child who told the KGB that his father had made anti-Communist remarks. His father was executed! She was a fascinating guide and shared loads of personal stories about her family and how her grandparents had queued for days to get a coat. She even remembered when she was a child her parents had smuggled a Snickers bar and some cans of Coke back from a trip outside the USSR - the Snickers bar was split 5 ways and one day a month she was allowed a can of Coke - her favourite day! Really interesting!

Stalin actually did a lot of good things for the city building the metro system, creating theatres, concert halls, knocking down run down buildings (building exact replicas in their place) and even widening a busy street to help traffic flow and fit his tanks down for parades- although this meant moving a few buildings back 45 feet as he didn't want to destroy them. They dug tunnels under the buildings put them on rails and pushed them forward. Admittedly he did use the slave labour of the Russian people to do it.

Moving buildings 45 feet

Moving buildings 45 feet

Next we went to the beautiful Eliseevsky supermarket a bit like Harrods or Fortnum and Mason after the war and during the whole communist regime this was one of only a few places where so could get a variety of products although you would have to be there early and queue for for hours. Today it is a very reasonably priced supermarket, we even brought food for dinner.

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The tour finished at the worlds 3rd largest McDonalds, literally days after the iron curtain fell, the huge fast food restaurant was built and had massive queues of people wanting to experience their first ever Big Mac. Elena showed us a picture of the queues snaking round the block and commented on how similar it this looked like the queues of people going to see Lenin when he died.

Queue to Lenin's body

Queue to Lenin's body

Queue for McDonalds 1990

Queue for McDonalds 1990

Our flight the next day was an evening flight so we decided to have a lazy morning before going to the Fallen Monument Park. After getting a little lost finding the park and ending up in the beautiful Gorky Park (Moscow's Central Park) we finally arrived at this unusual place. Basically it where statues come to die. When all the statues of Stalin were torn down this is where they came, along with lots of other communist statues and other controversial statues. This place is eerie with winding paths taking you past small and incredibly large statues some which are pretty, some that are weird and some that really make you think. It was in the process of being renovated when we visited so wasn't completely open but was free to enter and will look fab when it's finished. From here we headed back collected our bags and went to the airport. Yet again we had to go through lots of security and used the last of our Rubles to buy an over priced bottle of water and sprite at £6 (we couldn't afford a coffee). Then we set off on our Areoflot flight...

Gorky Park

Gorky Park


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Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Russia Tagged moscow fallen_monument_park communist_russia_walking_tour faro_hostel Comments (0)

Санкт-Петербург, Russia

Where East Meets West

sunny 20 °C
View Honeymoon World Tour on Nick-n-Charlie's travel map.

Up way too early we packed and walked to our airport bus which took just 45 mins to get to Arlanda airport to catch our flight from Stockholm to St Petersburg. We ended up arriving a little early to the airport, so had to wait before we could check-in. We decided to make up an airport version of the Nelly game; the Dolly game (Only a few of you will get this) to keep ourselves entertained until we could check-in. All checked in we went to get a coffee but couldn't afford one (airport prices and Sweden very expensive), so we brought bottled water instead and then proceeded through the airport rituals as usual. We went through boarding and even made it onto the bridge, where we stood for 15 mins not being allowed on the plane?? A few moments later we were turned around back to our gate and told the plane had to refuel which they couldn't do with us stood there?? By this time people needed the toilet including us and we were soon all mingled in with the other passengers at the gate waiting for other planes. 30 mins later they announced that our plane had a technical fault and it would be another hour until we boarded! In the mean time the staff were looking stressed and trying to figure out how they were going to re-board everyone. After another 30 mins they announced our flight would be delayed a further 2 hours and we would get food and drinks vouchers (which made us laugh as the only place for food was a stall with bottled drinks, coffee, crisps and chocolate bars?). They then started to board another flight from the same gate who had to go down some stairs to a bus as our plane was in the way for their plane. Seconds after the other flight had gone they suddenly announced that we were going to board now and it would take a little longer as they had to check our passes again tick us off the list. The rest of the flight went without a hitch and we ended up landing only a two hours late.

Once in the airport we knew we had to get a bus to the centre then the metro, only this airport was tiny and had no signs to buses or taxi's. So we went to the TI which was luckily right by the exit. They told us to get a different bus to the centre and then we would be within walking distance of our hostel and we could get it outside for only 35 Rubles (70p) brilliant. This bus was an upgrade to the ones in Zakopane but only jus! It was packed and we had to stand with our backpacks on the whole time. Being rather difficult to move and constantly knocking people with our bags we realised we didn't know where to get off? We knew it was going to be at least 40 mins but the bus stops had no names nor did the bus or driver announce the stops. I had managed to catch a few street signs so knew kinda where we were on our map but it was a guess as the signs were in Cyrillic and the map Latin alphabet. Eventually the bus thinned out enough for me to get to the driver and ask, to which he made a gesture of straight on! hmmm this was going to be fun. 10 mins later the bus stopped switched off it's engine and everyone got off so we assumed this must be it, which it was thank goodness and it was only about a 10 minute walk to our hostel.

Soul Kitchen, our hostel http://www.soulkitchenhostel.com was amazing, one of the best hostels we have stayed in so far. The girls who checked us in were lovely, showing us around giving us tips on where to go and what to do and inviting us to free Pasta Night that evening to help us socialise and get some free food!! There was free tea and coffee which is always a winner, and she even wrote down what Milk was in Cyrillic to prevent us buying the wrong thing (they have weird yoghurt type thing that looks like milk which she said everyone always buys by mistake). We dumped our bags in our dorm being very excited by the double bunk-beds - of course we had one each!

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We decided to go for a walk before heading to the supermarket to buy our usual provisions and could not believe how amazing the location of our hostel was! It took us seconds to get to St Isac's Cathedral and only another 5 minutes from there to The Winter Palace and the Hermitage. We made it back just in time to help make the pasta, so while I put away the shopping Nick got busy in the kitchen (I know shocking right!). While prepping we met a lovely German couple with a great sense of humour who were both translators so had perfect English. The pasta turned out to be really good and the German guys introduced us to putting raw crushed garlic on top which was really tasty but made you a little smelly. After dinner we chatted some more and decided to watch a film together in the huge living room. The hostel had a huge book of world films you could choose from, we decided on The Intouchables; a French comedy about a quadriplegic and his career. We all thought it would be on the massive 52" TV but instead they pulled down a huge screen for the projector. The film was brilliant and had us laughing the whole time, it was the perfect way to end a long day.

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The next morning we had a little bit of a lazy start getting up later then usual, we ate breakfast and went out to join our free walking tour, but were running a little late so were happy to discover our guide was too, so for once our timing was perfect! The tour took in the old town, The Hermitage, The Admiralty (which was in scaffolding), St Isac's Cathedral, The Winters Place, Place Bridge, Statue of Peter the Great, Church of the Savior on Blood and St Petersburg's history. St Petersburg used to be a swamp that belonged to Sweden but during the Russo-Swedish war, Russia claimed it back. Then when Peter the Great became Tsar of Russia he made it the capital tearing down any settlements on the land and building an amazing town based on the architecture of Paris and Florence that he greatly admired. He even went further and made all the noble families leave there homes in Moscow. They were to build new houses in St Petersburg in the same style even making them talk in French and Italian! A lot of this architecture remains today making it feel like a very European city, especially with all the canals and bridges. At the end of the tour we went to see the Church of the Savior of Blood up close as it had a 250 Rubles (£5) entrance fee so we didn't go in but took lots of photo's and took in the amazing roof.

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We then decided to visit The Hermitage at 800 Rubles (£15) each it's the most we have payed for a museum but it's a must see, it's compares to the Louvre in size and collection. We spent 2 hours in there and probably only saw a 5th of it. If you plan to visit get a map and head to the exhibits you want to see as it would take days to see it all. Once finished at the museum we stopped for a coffee and cake and then went back to find accommodation for Hong Kong (which took about 4 hours!).

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The next day we walked over the Place Bridge (which was in scaffolding) to the Island that houses the Peter and Paul Fortress; another building of Peter the Great's. Now a museum with Peter and Paul Cathedral in the centre and a beach just outside the Fortress wall it was lovely place to walk on the hot day it turned out to be. Later that day we had planned to go on another tour about the communist rule of St Petersburg so after the Fortress and a bit of mooching we headed back to make an early dinner ready to go to Lenin Square to start our tour. To get there we decided to take the famous underground as we were told they were worth a look as they are the 3rd deepest in the world and that you can't see the end of the escalator down. The metro is easy to navigate and is a bargain at 28 Rubles (55p) for a single trip anywhere in the city. You get given a token which you need to for the barrier to enter the station and then you can be on as long as you like until you exit. The metro was designed around the 1920's and built after WWII so is a beautiful art deco style with impressive chandeliers and it was true the escalators were so long that people were reading books and sitting down while waiting for it to get to the bottom. Once we arrived at Lenin Square we waited 20 minutes for our guide who never turned up (when we phoned the company they simply said "tour cancelled" - nice!), slightly annoyed as we really wanted to do this tour we decided to take an evening stroll back to hostel making up our own "facts" along the way! As soon as we got into the hostel they told us there were fresh pancakes in the kitchen and to get tucked in, they were brilliant and cheered us up. We ended up spending our last night chatting to two Aussies we had met that day until it was late and time for bed.

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The next day we spent as a lazy day getting up late and packing our bags we went our for breakfast and much to my delight were given dot to dot placemats and a pencil, I spent the whole time doing mine adding in extra detail while Nick laughed at me. After breakfast we before grabbing our bags we went up St Isaac's to see the view.

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We managed to make it back to the bus stop we needed ok and headed to the airport easy...

... however upon arriving at the airport we discovered the terminal we wanted was not at that airport but 15 mins away at another airport CRAP!! after a little panic and some help from a very nice Russian pilot we got the correct bus and ran to our terminal now running late. Russian Airports turned out to be very secure, we rushed to the entrance of the building and discovered that you had to put your luggage through a scanner and then go through a metal detector! Finally through we headed for our checkin desk where there was a huge queue for the same flight so we could relax and go for a much needed and over-priced coffee. We then had to go through security checking our bags and patting us down again and we were finally able to board our flight to Moscow.

Posted by Nick-n-Charlie 17:00 Archived in Russia Comments (1)

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