I always find it exhilarating and a bit overwhelming stepping out into a new city. There is so much to take in, and you’re never sure which direction to head in. At the same time you have to give an air of vaguely knowing where you are going, so as not to attract the attention of people who might want to take advantage of your vulnerability. In Moscow we kept stopping in our tracks as we came across iconic buildings we’d only seen on TV or in pictures, somewhat giving away our tourist status. Seeing them in person, and appreciating their size and stunning colours took our breath away. It’s surprising what an emotive experience it can be.
After enjoying our first shower in days after four days on a train, we set out from hotel late in the afternoon and went in the direction of Red Square in the rain. We hadn’t wandered far before coming face to face with Karl Marx.
This grand monument carved out of granite is opposite the Bolshoi Theatre which still looked beautiful despite grey skies.
Next we ambled along pretty Nikolskaya Street,
before turning left where the magnificent St. Basil’s Cathedral came into view.
In the evening we met up with a Russian friend, Dmitry, who lives in Moscow. We had met many years ago via email when he helped me set up filming for that documentary on Nureyev I mentioned in part 3. It was so nice to see him and we went to a great restaurant called Lavka Lavka where food is sourced from small farms across Russia. We had our first vodka on this trip which was amazing. It was so amazing that the notes I made about the meal when we were back at our hotel say ‘cod for main after cylindrical starter, and ball for desert’. Oh dear.
Next morning we strode back out to Red Square to see the Kremlin. We arrived at the gates outside and couldn’t find anywhere to buy tickets. In the end, with the help of a German family, we worked out that you had to go to a square glass building in Alexander Garden. Alexander Garden is 865m long, and it was quite a hike to find the ticket office and then double back to the Kremlin. The choice of tickets is quite confusing and we opted for one saying Cathedral Square, not really knowing what that meant.
The Kremlin is a fortified city (within a city) containing 800 years of Russian history.
Having only one full free day in Moscow, we didn’t tarry long, just spent an hour or so admiring the beautiful cathedrals and walking around the gardens. We then undertook the challenge of using the Metro and managed to make our way to one of the impressive Seven Sisters (a group of seven skyscrapers built in the Stalinist style).
Then it was time to do some Russian watch shopping at SMIRS at 11 Arbat Street. The Shop Assistant was super patient and helpful as we browsed around the store. We opted for Vostok timepieces, beautiful mechanical watches at an affordable price.
Very happy with our purchases we marched on towards Muzeon Park of Arts. With such a lot to cram into a short space of time, I turned roaming on my phone (top tip -purchase an add on package before travelling) and we used the CityMapper app for Moscow. We’d already spent too much time getting lost and standing on dodgy street corners with a map wrapped around our faces. I just checked my iPhone and note that we did 29,186 steps that day! And that didn’t include our evening walk to eat out because I didn’t take my phone.
Eventually we arrived at the park in an area not dissimilar to the South Bank in London where we came across relics from the USSR.
We finished our day in Gorky Park where I was so tired I didn’t have the energy to take any photos. Next time.. That evening we met up with John and Lindsay and had our final dinner of the trip at a restaurant not far from the hotel called The Old Tower, which funnily enough is situated in an actual old tower at the foot of the Kremlin. We ate traditional Russian fare in medieval surroundings and made plans for our final morning in Moscow which included some last minute shopping in the splendid GUM department store.
From my brief research it appears to have been opened in 1893, converted into offices by Stalin in 1928, and not opened as a shopping centre again until 1953. Russian doll and vodka purchased, we had a last wander around the streets taking in the contrasting architecture from very different eras.
It sounds a bit ungracious, but we had time to kill before heading back to the hotel for our taxi to the airport, and decided we’d have a quick visit to Lenin’s tomb as the queue was relatively short. I was wearing my glasses with reactive lenses and as we entered the mausoleum, passing stern guards we were suddenly thrust into darkness. I couldn’t see a thing and stumbled down the stairs, only just regaining my balance as I reached the line of people solemnly walking around Lenin. Not my most elegant entrance it must be said, but I managed to maintain my composure while taking my turn peering into the coffin. It was an extraordinary experience, especially as we hadn’t planned on visiting the Russian revolutionary. And quite an end to our adventure. What a trip! Two weeks ago we’d been walking along the Great Wall of China. Since then we’d travelled 7,621km/4,735 miles by train and ended up at Lenin’s tomb in Moscow.
Sadly our journey was over, and it was time to fly home. It was a beautiful clear night as we arrived back in London.
Reflecting on the trip, I’d like to thank John and Lindsay, the perfect travelling companions. It was a privilege to share this experience with you. We’ll never forget that hot pot experience in Beijing. Huge gratitude to my husband, Howard, for going along with my dream with enthusiasm. What memories we have created! Thank you also to Chris at Trans -Siberian Travel Company for arranging our itinerary and answering all our pre-trip questions. And I’d like to randomly mention the Backdoor shoes company who supply the best shoes for long distance train travel – both for onboard, and hopping off and off at stations.
We never did find out why you should pack a cork.
[ALL PHOTOS OWNED BY CHRISTINE NEWBY. PLEASE ASK PERMISSION TO USE]