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Russia cont., Moscow day 1 April 28, 2007

Posted by thebigswede in Uncategorized.

Moscow. Before I even started seriously planning my trip I knew that I had to see both St. Petersburg AND Moscow. Its the whole reason I chose this particular trip. Anything less would just be incomplete. Boy I’m glad I went. Its hard to know where exactly to begin with such a city, the capital of Russia. Its a gem. First you should know that it took a really long time to drive between the cities, and we took some back roads which were bumpy to say the least. Russia, get your act together and repave those roads, double time! My friends actually warned me that I wouldn’t get much sleep on the bus; they lamented the fact that a massive group of Spanish students were singing, drinking cheap vodka and acting up the whole way to Moscow. Thankfully our bus was completely different. Most people were dead tired and the whole duration was very quiet, people were sleeping and I even managed a few hours of shuteye.

Upon arriving in the big capital, we were all struck with awe – for two reasons. First the architecture was just overwhelming in every sense of the word. I was expecting soviet looking buildings, you know, the depressing kind. Far from it, the main center of the city was jaw-dropping. Maybe not as beautiful as St. Petersburg or Stockholm or something, but still high class. Okey, sometimes I exaggerate, to be honest there were a few dull looking areas, but what do you expect? Its Russia.

The second reason we were in awe was because of the hundreds of thousands of Russian police, Russian army, special forces and riot police swarming over the entire city. Unbeknownst to us, the city was having protests in opposition to President Vladimir Putin. While we didn’t see a single protester in the city, we did see the entire red army patrolling it.

We learned once we were back in Uppsala that chess legend Garry Kasparov was the leader of said protest and was arrested. You can read about it here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6554989.stm

Instead of dropping us off at the hotel right away we had to endure 3 more hours in the bus, doing site seeing. There was no way I could get out of this, unfortunately, so I made the best of it. All of us were feeling very grubby after a full night (with little sleep) on the bus and all we could think about was a warm shower and a change of clothes. The kind Russian tour lady did her best (with a thick accent) to point out buildings of interest and finally we stopped at one major site I’ve wanted to see for a long time – the Red Square. So much history has taken place here, I don’t even know where to begin. First of all, I was expecting it to be a little bigger. We at the University of Washington have our own ‘red square’, and I was expecting the real deal to be twice as large, but it was still impressive. On one side is the most iconic building in Russia, St. Basil’s cathedral. On the other, the foreboding and massive complex known as the Kremlin.

And of course what would a visit to Red Square be without a bunch of communist lunatics waving soviet flags outside of Lenin’s mausoleum?

So we walked around Red Square a bit then went back to the buses. We didn’t have time to see much except the square, and because Moscow was on such a tight lock-down due to protests we actually got kicked off by guards who were closing the area early. Thanks guys! Off we went to a couple more sites, including some kind of convent, I forget. On a side note, it seemed like all of Russia was getting married the last couple days. No joke, we saw at least a dozen newly weds in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Apparently in Russia its tradition to go around to tourist sites when you get married and get your picture taken; random! In any case, it was amusing, love was definitely in the air. Here we are with the Kremlin behind us.

The next really cool site was the University of Moscow, built by Stalin himself.

Impressive. Just off to the side of the university is a very famous hill (I forget the name) where people come to make wishes, overlooking the capital below. The view is supposedly impressive but unfortunately we couldn’t see much – the whole area was blocked off by a sizable Russian security force – a demonstration was underway. We actually learned these people were part of the pro-Putin camp and were rallying in response to the anti-Putin protesters. Why so many police were required to keep this small, calm demonstration in line? No clue, although our tour guide said it’s Russian tradition. It was amusing to see the looks the police were giving us – a massive group of completely foreign, young, student tourists.

Seen enough soldiers yet?! Yeah me too. Tired and badly in need of a change of clothes, we got back in the bus to finally head for the hotel. Upon getting there we had to sit and wait again (no surprise) and had the opportunity to purchase tickets to the world famous Bolshoi ballet that very night. Heard of it? You should have. Being in Moscow once…we were not going to pass up this chance. Unfortunately the poor women who was responsible for organizing our bus, and our tickets, was very disorganized and somehow my group ended up with a bunch of random tickets, only a few sitting together. Great. We finally got off the bus, found our luggage, and because I’m such a stud and remembered what my name looks like in Russian was able to get my room keys first. Booya. Time to shower and change. Ahh, that feels so much better. Our rooms were fairly nice, but I forgot to take a picture. The hotel itself was constructed for the 1980 Olympics and definitely had that whole… *cough*…80’s soviet charm going on.

We met up in the lobby, hungry but refreshed and headed for the Moscow subway. Something you should know about the underground in Moscow, its like an art museum. Every stop has its own theme but pretty much all have statues and some kind of impressive feature. Its illegal to take pictures down there, but that made us take even more. Its not fun without a little dash of danger, right? Fearful of Russian retribution? Not us.

We got off close to the center of town and walked around a bit, just admiring everything on foot for the first time. I had to pinch myself: here I was in the capital of the Russian Federation, wandering around with friends from every part of the world, searching around for culinary inspiration among a host of interesting looking restaurants. And what my friends, what kind of food do people journey from the world over to enjoy in Russia? Why Mexican of course! Yes, somehow, during one of the very rare nights we had in the city to enjoy a meal we chose Mexican. Yes, you can start the laughter, it doesn’t bother me. To be perfect fair, the Mexican fare was tasty and sizable; in short just what we needed.

Feeling much better and full of Hispanic hospitality we ventured forth to the one, the only, the world’s best known ballet – the Bolshoi! Russia and ballet…it just goes together like peanut butter and jelly…or Nutella and jelly if you’re crazy and your name is Mark. In any case, to figure out who would sit alone (because of random Ms-I-can’t-organize-anything-right) we cast lots (just like Biblical times!) and somehow myself and Tom ended up with the short end of the stick(s). Bad times! All in all it worked out perfectly though and the show was spectacular. I’ve never seen such flexibility and artistry before – the way those dancers moved it just seemed like they were floating on clouds. The whole experience was unforgettable and if you ever plan on coming to Russia, plan on seeing a show here, you’ll not soon regret it.

At this point I was tired, having gone about 48 hours or so on 2 hours of sleep total. What to do when sleep deprived? Go find a some nightlife after the ballet of course! I have no idea how the group convinced me not to go back to the hotel but I’m glad I didn’t. We wandered around the streets in the center of town, looking for inspiration and a bar which could serve us some world famous Russian vodka. I have no idea how we stumbled upon the bar that we did, it was some nondescript looking place without any flashy signs, we were all too nervous to even open the door. Finally Jan and I worked up the courage to take a peek and I’m glad we did, the place opened up inside and was very comfortable, with only a few local Russians enjoying a beer. You won’t find this pub in any guidebook, I promise, but it ended up being the perfect place for good conversation, laughs and a few hours of liquid enjoyment.

Seriously. That was one amazing time out. We laughed until our sides hurt, about what exactly I have no idea. I’ve never tasted better straight vodka and the Russian beer was tasteful as well. On the way back to the metro we walked through Red Square at night, which is so much more beautiful then during the day. The lights casts a special glow over the whole place and adds to the dramatic atmosphere already present. To the right of Theresa you see the famous G.U.M. shopping mall, and behind me you see the building which houses the Russian National History Museum.

I don’t remember much about taking the metro home, or walking to the hotel, but I do remember having a big smile on my face when my head finally hit the pillow. And that concludes day 1 in Moscow, a busy day to be sure. Stay tuned in a few days for the next installment, it sure has been fun remembering all that went on just a few short weeks ago. To be continued.



1. marcovinicio - April 29, 2007

Where else can one turn for such a splendid melding of brilliant narrative and handsome photography? Keep a good thing going Mike! I can’t wait to read on about Moscow!

2. J.Skaff - May 2, 2007

Nakh Nakh Nakh! Ruski….

3. Ann - June 4, 2007


Looking forward to the next instalment – we are going to Moscow followed by St Petersburg next week. Then onwards to Helsinki and Stockholm. Any tips welcome!
Ann & Paul

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