I arrived at 8 am in Moscow, but before we arrived at the station I had breakfast delivered to the cabin which consisted of pancakes, blueberry jam and tea which cost only 50 euro cents. I ate in silence while the rest of my cabin mates spoke in Russian with each other and occasionally Roman would talk to me in English. I did not mind it at all, it was nice to have some quite time for myself to process the previous few days and prepare myself for the next city trip. Once in Moscow I found my way to the metro station and had to change midway to another metro to get to my hotel. When changing metros I found myself caught in rush hour and it was incredible. Have you ever since videos of sheep being herded into a narrow enclosure? Well, that is exactly what it felt like, I am pretty sure that at one point I got lifted up with the crowd and was literally carried with the crowd. In these types of situations it is best to just go with it and not fight it since it will sort itself out in the end which it did! I managed to get to my next metro platform.
The metrostations in Moscow are once again a sight to be seen. During my stay in Moscow I saw quite a few metro stations and each more extravagant than the one before. One of the main architects of the Soviet subway beautifully sums up the extravangance in this one quote:
“They used to have palaces for kings, we are going to build palaces for the people!”
I finally arrived at my hotel after accidentally ringing the wrong doorbell after misreading a sign and having an annoyed man yell at me in Russian through the intercom. I stayed at Moskou Hotel Zarya Maxima. It was a comfortable hotel to stay at with quite a large bathroom which meant I could so some quick laundry! #backpackerlife
Midway the afternoon I decided to head out to see the Moscow University Building. The building looks like a skyscraper and does not resemble anything what a university usually looks like. The building was part of the “7 sisters” project from the Stalin era in which 7 skyscrapers were commissioned to be built across the city. I would recommend sitting in the gardens in front of the university building for a break and just watch people pass by since it is quite relaxing.
I had a small break in a nearby café which was part restaurant and part grocery shop. They played European music videos on a TV so while casually listening to some English music I also did some crosswords and had some food. Afterwards I decided to get some drink and food from the grocery shop, I bought a pink juice which I regretted instantly when I took a sip. The colour should have warned me which was bordering on neon pink that the drink would taste incredibly sweet. Note to self, avoid luminous drinks!
I headed over to Gorky Park in the evening to have a stroll around. It was nice having a small break in nature after being surrounded by concrete fortresses in the afternoon. The park is very big and lively. It was such a nice ambience with people either relaxing on huge beany bags on the grass or playing ping pong in another area or simply just socializing with one another. I ended up sitting in a restaurant in the Garage Museum located somewhere in the centre of the park for about 3 hours eating nice foods: Salmon with avocado, gazpacho, a vanilla milkshake and to finish it off crème brûlée. Eating out in Moscow means you will be eating at restaurants which have a lot of European influences and so you will see a lot of familiar meals on menus like the ones I mentioned.
I took a walk through the park after my meal and walked towards a massive fountain located somewhat in the centre of the park. The fountain was shooting colourful water to the beat of music playing in the background. It was very entertaining to watch and the park seemed to come alive even more with this display. I left the park via the entrance and even here there is music playing to greet you and also bid you farewell when you leave.
My second day in Moscow was spent doing different tours through the Moscow Free Tours company. The first meeting point was in a park. I arrived at the park a bit early and walked around a bit and while I was walking I saw two men sprawled in the grass with empty bottles strewn all around them. It was a bit shocking and sad to see and somewhat unexpected. The tour was led by Marina and she led us through all the important historical sites. Some interesting facts I learned on the tour:
Ivan the terrible brought the concept of pubs to Russia, so the country blames him for the amount of alcoholics in the country.
The meaning of an area of Moscow called “Kitai-Gorod”. “Kitai” is Russian for China so essentially the name of the area is China-town but the district has nothing resembling anything to do with China. Apparently the word “Kitai” has a second meaning which is a type of construction of a wall that ran through this quarter so the name refers actually to that and not China.
There were more interesting facts but you will have to go on the tour to find out more!
After this tour I also took part in the Kremlin tour with the same touring company. This tour was led by Irina. The Kremlin was packed with tourists and some parts were closed off due to reconstruction which made navigating slightly trickier with the crowds. Within the Kremlin walls you see many small chapels and buildings, it is a city within a city. There are three main chapels inside the walls and each chapel has a purpose. One for coronations, one for marriage and another for funerals of the Tsars. As royalty you are born within these walls and you die within these walls; the circle of life as royalty is completed within these walls.
You will notice many cannons positioned around the Kremlin area as well. There are around 800 cannons. All these cannons were victory memorabilia from when Russia won against Napoleon. There is a very large cannon situated in the Kremlin called the Tsar Cannon weighing about 39,000 tonnes making its way into the Guinness Book of records but has never been fired. It is located next to the Tsar Bell which is the largest bell in the world and has also never been rung. Two attractions that out do their competitors but have not performed their basic functionality, very ironic!
Being a guard in the Kremlin is considered an auspicious position and all the guards go through a stringent selection process. The characteristics that will give you a stronger chance of being selected are being above 1.80m in height, you must look Russian (not entirely sure what this means…) and if you are a twin that is even better!
After the Kremlin tour I went on to the third tour of the day which was the Communist tour. Irina who led the Kremlin tour guided a part of the group doing the next tour to the next meeting point. We all went with a metro to the next meeting point. While meeting for the metro Irina pointed to a chest located near the metro rails where we were standing and said that it was for bombs. It is in case a bomb needs to be safely disposed of. If the bomb explodes in the chest then all passers-by will be safe from the explosion. It was an interesting fact to learn considering that if she had not pointed this out I would have not even noticed it.
The rest of the tour was very informative as well with very unusual facts and we had Marina leading it. I learned that Russians actually moved a couple buildings 14 meters away with people still inside the apartment complex on Tverskaya street to widen the street. They moved those buildings onto rolling logs and managed to move them under 38 minutes. All those buildings still had running water and sewage facilities still working while they were being moved!
Marina, our guide, told us some anecdotes from her youth during the revolution when food was being rationed. She took us to a spot where she would wait in line as a little girl with her mother to exchange a food ration coupon for food. Her mother would take her along because if two people present a coupon then two rations are presented rather than if only her mother went on her own then she would only receive one ration. She mentioned that people would lie and point to children playing near the line stating that it was their child just so they would receive more rations. Sometimes one kid would be the kid to 10 families with this tactic! It makes you think twice about taking things for granted like how easy and available food is to us nowadays, at least it did for me when I heard this story.
Marina took us to see a special grocery store called Eliversky Store. This is definitely worth a visit because I guarantee you will have never seen a grocery store as extravagant as this. When you walk in you are unsure whether you set foot in a palace or not since the whole stores interior is lavishly decorate in gold designs and pillars and a larger chandelier hanging from the roof. It is beautiful to see and it is open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.
After the communist tour I raced to catch my 4th tour of the day which was the mystical tour. Our first stop was Khitrovka which in present day is very pleasant to walk around but in the years before the revolution this was an area best avoided since it was very dangerous. The area used to be occupied by thieves, criminals and prostitutes and even policeman did not dare venture into the area willingly but only to pick up dead bodies. People used to gamble here and lose their clothing as payment for their gambling loses which is unthinkable to be unclothed in Russian winters! You would never have thought that this place was once a criminal haven when walking passed large houses and beautifully kept gardens. It currently is an area which houses the rich and wealthy of Moscow.
We went to an alternative area covered with graffiti which had various thrift shops and areas for all types of arts and crafts. When we walked around we stumbled upon a dance lesson happening in one of the buildings in that area which was nice to see. There was also a small book store which was a chaos of all kinds of Russian books and you could have something to drink there as well while you read. It had a very hippie/hipster feel to it and such a contrast from the rest of the city. It is a fun change of pace and definitely worth a short visit if you are nearby.
We had another stop at a building which is now a library but used to be the home of a rich merchant who was quite the prankster. He did not want noblewomen picking flowers from his garden so he would have men paint themselves white and pretend to be statues and scare the women when they tried to do so!
After a whole day of touring I had worked up an appetite. There is this Georgian restaurant franchise called Grabli and I definitely recommend going to one when in Russia. I went to one in Moscow after the tour and the place is usually packed with locals which is a good indicator that the food is good. It is self-service and buffet style. I ate herring with beetroot and potato, a salad with cheese and dark chocolate mousse. It was all delicious. I also had a glass of wine with it and only spent 4 euros in total…If you are looking for budget good food I would definitely recommend coming here. This was also my first encounter with Georgian cuisine and walking around the food hall it was so interesting to see all these different dishes.
The next day I packed up all my things in the morning and checked out of my hotel and headed back towards the Red Square to buy a magnet of Moscow. Each city or place I visited on my trip I bought a magnet as a souvenir since it is easy to take with me and does not way much #backpackerstruggles. So far, I had two in my backpack!
I headed to the station to catch the train to my next destination which was Perm. While at the station I was standing at the board which mentioned all the train times and platforms but it was all in Cyrillic. I stood for a good 10 minutes trying to decipher the letters and looking at my ticket to try and find any sign or resemblance on the board that could give me an indication of which platform I needed to take. At one point a Russian lady came towards me and she did not speak English but she took one look at my ticket and at the board and suddenly grabbed my arm and guided me to the platform I needed to be at. I was so grateful that she helped me even without me having to ask!
While waiting in line to get into the wagon I was holding my passport and train pack ready to show the conductor and suddenly I heard someone ask me in Dutch whether I was from The Netherlands. The person who called out introduced himself and his wife who was also Dutch. Their names are Marnix and Annemijn and they were a newlywed couple travelling to Asia on a yearlong trip. I had a blast with them on the train ride to Perm and will give more details in my next story so stay tuned!