Transsiberian Part 4 - Moscow

17-03-2015

We enter Moscow on the "Red Star" number 1 service from St Petersburg. This is the first true railway journey of the trip. I'm quite excited! The train is the pride of the Russian Railway service, along with the "Rossiya". The carriages are all decked out with embroidered curtains and tassels, with nice clean carpets in every cabin. We are sharing with an older Russian man amd an older, somewhat particular Russian lady who speaks some English. As the train pulls away, the Hymn to the City is played over the station PA.

The trip itself is, for me, like the Caledonian sleeper. Despite the smooth ride and comfy bed, I get very little sleep! I don't do sleeping on anything moving, for sure! The breakfast isn't too bad - some yoghurts, reasonable coffee, bread and biscuits. Packing everything up, we leave for the Moscow Metro.

Katie at St Basils

We end up in what appears to be the underground rush-hour! Imagine the Central line at 8pm, only this time, we are the annoying people with the large backpacks who don't speak the local language very well! Nevermind though. Buying a ticket is as easy as holding up 5 fingers to a ticket clerk who then gives you an RFID ticket with 5 rides on it. The station platforms are gorgeous! Large halls with fantastic lighting - even mezzanine levels over the tracks in some stations. Bits of the stations are showing their age; the arrivals and departure boards are all of the physical flip-dot style. The paneling on the escalators remind me of my Mum's fridge from the 80s; all fake wood and metal. The murals, mosaics, paintings and architecture are, for an underground, staggering!

Navigating the Metro to Kitay Gorod (which means China town by the way), we hunt for the hotel. After a little searching, we get to our room and perform the familiar dance of crashing on the bed, followed by plugging in all our electrical devices one by one. At present, both our iPhone 3G and the Galaxy Y are having issues with their GPS logging, which is quite sad.

Metro

I'm not exaggerating when I say the PA system near Red Square sounds just like the one in Papers Please. It's hard to believe this cobbled square used to have tank parades, massive ranks of marching soldiers and waving Soviet Banners. But Moscow and Russia have changed a bit since the days Martin Sixsmith used to tell us all the news from the Kremlin on the BBC news.

Red Square does reflect modern Russia in some ways. There is the amazing St Basil's Cathedral at one end, reflecting Russian religiosity. The Kremlin wall, with the tomb of Lenin has some rather sombre government buildings behind it. The far end has an impressive red building which is now a museum. Finally, opposite the Kremlin wall is the GUM; an audacious arcade full of stores to rival Harrods. Much like the song says, "When in Red Square, don't despair. There's Levi's and MacDonalds there." It's true! I've photographed them both!

Red Square

The Armory at the Kremlin contains the largest amount of Gold and Jewels I've ever seen, beating even the Tower of London (though perhaps not for particular stones)! There is more bling in one hall than all the rappers living in the US Combined, for ever! Even the smallest items are encrusted with jewels or plated with gold! The silver collection is just as impressive. Just like the Hermitage, it underlies just how much of a different life the Tsars and their ilk had.

The Kremlin itself, as far as I can tell, is mostly mad up of churches! Can't say I'm a fan of Churches, though I do appreciate the art and skill that goes into making them. As an atheist and skeptic I'm somewhat dismayed to see the prevalence of religion here in Russia. During our walking tour, I saw several children crossing themselves as they walked inside. That said, there is an huge broken bell and massive, unused cannon outside two of the churches (as Katie remarked 'the canon looks impressive but has never given satisfaction'). There are state buildings too but these are off-limits.

My favourite museum in Moscow has to be the Cosmonaut Museum. It is situated underneath the Monument to the Conquerors of Space, which in my opinion, is beautiful. It's large but elegant, triumphant yet simple. Down the sides of the base are engravings of Russian folk working towards the dream of spaceflight. Inside, the museum covers all the bases, starting with Yuri Gagarin, Sputnik and Soviet Space Dogs (Katie's favourite), moving into other areas such space clothing, space food and a large, walk through mockup of MIR.

Monument to the Conquerors of Space

Very close to the cosmonaut museum is a rather strange park, reminiscent of the Worlds Fair. It's called VNDKh, and was commissioned by Stalin. Imagine a sort of run down Epcot (I know, Epcot kind of is rundown), with most of the rides replaced by Soci 2012 Olympic tat, broken radar dishes and electrical pylons. In the centre of the park is a statue of Lenin (of course!) standing infront of the Soviet Pavilion. Surrounding this are the pavilions for the members of the USSR (as was). Just like that former institution, this park has had it's day and was probably an embarrassment for a while.

Lenin being Lenin

At the end of the park is a monument to the Vostok Rocket; an actual Vostok test flight rocket, mounted on a gantry above ground. As a little suprise, next door to it, is the Buryan. The Buryan seems to have fallen upon hard times. Apparently, it used to be a restaurant in Gorky Park before it was moved here. It's now a anchored to the ground where children play and climb up the undercarriage. Somewhat different to Endeavor we saw in California.

This park doesn't sound appealing at first glance, but I really enjoyed walking around it. To understand why, one can consider the coffee-shop we stopped off at in the middle of the park. From outside it looked like a concrete box. Inside, it's all black painted walls, smart cutlery, and cappucinos served by a glamouress waitress. As you look out towards the former, deserted Armenian pavilion, past the heras fencing around the building site, you can't help but feel that this place represents the modern Russia. Swanky restaurants embracing capitalism, but in their own way. Looking back at their past and seeing it in a different light, coming to terms with it and the new world, and moving on.

Katie with Lenin

North of Gorky Park is another cultural clue; the Muzeon Sculpture Park. This park started off life as little more than a dumping ground for all the statues the USSR didn't want on display around the city and elsewhere. Nowadays, people are huge fans of the busts and statues. The Lenins and Gorkys have been joined by contemporary sculptures. There are some real gems to be found around this place. So far, my trip total of Lenin statues sits at 7, with 3 of them from this park alone!

Thus far, we've not had too much problem with vegetarian food. Fortunately, Katie has me as her official, court food taster. Georgian food is quite nice, with it's cheese bread and tasty dumplings. Thus far, tasty food, coffee and beer has not been hard to come by. It's quite amusing to wander into an expensive department store and see Wychwood Beer on the shelves as a special import. Breakfasts tend to be yoghurts, bread and blinis (small pancakes basically), which suit us well. I've had the occasional fishy treat; dried fish snacks that stink mostly (and are damn tasty!).

We leave for Kazan on a second class, overnight train from the Kazan station in Moscow; a little less eighties than the one in St Petersburg. The train is much like the Red Arrow from St Petersburg though with less tassels. While Kazan is not a small town, Moscow is the last of the large, European (-ish) cities we will visit on this trip.