Tag Archives: Moscow

Moscow

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.

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This grand monument carved out of granite is opposite the Bolshoi Theatre which still looked beautiful despite grey skies.

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Next we ambled along pretty Nikolskaya Street,

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before turning left where the magnificent St. Basil’s Cathedral came into view.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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]

Ulaanbaatar to Moscow (part 3 of 4)

Knowing the next leg of our journey was to take four days, it was with excitement and a little trepidation that we boarded Train 5 to Moscow.  We hurriedly found our cabin which had a different layout to the one in our train from Beijing.  There was a seat/bed on either side of a table, and this time the toilets/washrooms were either end of the carriage.  Each side of the door was a handle.  We couldn’t work out what they were for, but would find out in the early hours of the following day.

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As we rumbled through the Mongolian landscape on our way to the Russian border, passing houses surrounded by wooden fences against a backdrop of mountains covered in a light sprinkling of snow, we took in our new surroundings.

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We had read about, how shall I put it, less than friendly Provodnitsas, but our Mongolian train attendants, while not exactly ready to crack jokes with us, were polite and attentive.  During our journey, they kept the washrooms spotless, and the samovar topped up with hot water.  Contrary to our experience on the Chinese train, they also turned a blind eye when we opened the windows in the corridor.  You do crave a bit of fresh air when you’re travelling on a train for such a long stretch of time.

Our view constantly changed, it was like watching a non-stop National Geographic documentary.  Small communities started to merge into picturesque snowy scenery.

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Followed by an amazing sunset.

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Here is John and Lindsay absorbed in the vista.

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It was soon time to eat our picnic food bought in Mongolia for dinner and prepare ourselves for the Mongolia-Russia border at Sukhe-Bator.  It wasn’t until about 1am that we were through customs and on our way again, but only for about an hour.  There was a sharp knock on the door, and as Howard slid it open I awoke with a migraine crawling around my cranium and a stern Russian in uniform waiting with little patience for my passport.  Paperwork having been studied thoroughly, we were instructed to leave our compartment.

Standing in our pjs in the corridor, we looked on sleepily and obediently as a lady from border control yanked down the mystery handles either side of the doorway, and proceeded to use them as footholds to clamber up and search our storage area.  So that’s what they were for!  It was a relief when we were allowed back into our berth, I could take a couple of strong painkillers, and we were left alone to get some sleep before waking up in Siberia.  It’s a strange thing when you travel by train that you start to find it hard to get to sleep when you aren’t moving and being rocked by the gentle rhythm of the wheels beneath you.  It becomes a beguiling comfort.

Lifting the window blind on waking, we were greeted with beautiful views of Lake Baikal.

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Originating 25 million years ago and at a maximum depth of 1,632m, it’s the deepest and most ancient lake in the world.  Sitting back enjoying travelling around this 640km stretch of water, I remembered from working on a documentary about Nureyev, that he was born on a train by this very lake!

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At our very first stop this side of the Russian border, we hopped off the train, and sprinted out of the station, crossing the road to a grocery store to spend some roubles on more provisions.  You had to make precision strikes so you made it back on board in time.

We then settled into a routine of non-electronic activities.  In addition to reading and gazing out of the windows, I liked old fashioned puzzle books as I could annoy everyone by asking crossword questions when I got stuck.  We discovered that our brains didn’t work as fast as google and sometimes John would pop his head around the door with the answer to 6 across or 10 down that we’d been trying to think of 24 hours previously.

Occasionally we’d unpack the cork and try and figure out what it could possibly be used for.  Or we’d pop down along to the samovar for hot water and have a cup of tea.  Then when we’d really run out of things to do, we’d wash up and make use of our Mongolian tea towel.  We took living in the moment to a whole new level.

Of course the real joy of such a long train journey is having glimpses of life in a part of the world that has only existed in your imagination; someone galloping bareback on a horse through a Steppe in Mongolia, a gardener busy in their Siberian back garden, small hamlets in Russia with cosy looking wooden houses.

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The dining car was a little different to the Mongolian one.

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We spent our evenings here in the dazzling light of a swirling disco ball, eating, playing cards and listening to the waiter’s selection of Eurovision style music .  It was quite an exhilarating walk to get there swaying by many berths, and experiencing quick blasts of exterior noise and fresh air as we passed between carriages.  Other than a few squats and stretches it was the most exercise we did.

At one late night stop, we stepped onto the platform and watched as coal was loaded on board.  Such sights become your entertainment when there’s no TV or wifi and 4G is only sporadically available.

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We also enjoyed making the most of day time train stops, buying local food from platform vendors,

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and running around taking snaps.

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For about a day and a half, we past by miles and miles of silver birch.  Thousands of them.  Millions.  While we were reassured that there was still a huge area of the world covered by trees we started to look forward to our approach to the capital.

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But just before we pull into Moscow, I want to share a picture of how the many nationalities on our carriage shared the one and only power supply available.  It made our Provodnitsas chuckle and I think serves as a great example of how people from around the world can all work amicably together and share.

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And so it was that on a damp afternoon, after four days aboard the train, we pulled into Moscow, our final destination

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As we stood on the platform in the rain, we had a sense of déjà vu, as once again we searched in vain for a guide holding our name.  It took a few phone calls and a search around the station for a driver to appear, soggy name card in hand.  He didn’t speak English so we weren’t able to comprehend what had happened.  It could well have been bad traffic as that’s what we hit on our way to the hotel.  Regardless, we couldn’t wait to settle in and explore this new city.

 

[ALL PHOTOS OWNED BY CHRISTINE NEWBY.  PLEASE ASK PERMISSION TO USE]