Last Friday, I was given the opportunity to participate in a 4-day trip tp Russia, including 2 nights in the country’s sparkling capital MOSCOW! Of course, the preparations have started weeks ago, since I had to make prepayment and leave my passport in the hands of the local travel agency.
On early Friday morning, a group of around 25 people gathered in front of the dormitory at Raatuse, waiting for the bus to arrive. Among those I could count more than 10 Germans 🙂 The bus would arrive with the woman from the agency who was going to guide us during the trip and take care of all (language-related) problems and obstacles. It turned out to be more than necessary… After about 3 hours of driving, we arrived at the Estonian-Russian border. It took a good 2 hours to first exit Estonia, drive through a 2oom “no-mans-land” and finally to enter Russia, including several check ups on the passport, the pictures and, in my case only, a good look into my luggage. Once done, I witnessed the first heavy snow of this season.After we have successfully entered Russia, we stopped to pick up a tiny old woman, who turned out to be our tour guide for Pskov (NB: Tartu’s partnercity). We drove to this old (over 1,100 years) city and spend a couple of hours visiting the local Kremlin. It was rather interesting, yet the omnipresence of the snow and cold was a drawback to this excursion.
“You are not allowed to take pictures of the nuns and the monkeys!”
After about 2 hours in the very extreme cold of Pskov, we drove to a small café where we had the opportunity to get some lunch. Next to that place we found a small supermarket and bought the groceries for what we believed should be a quite relaxing trip in the night train towards Moscow. I was mistaken… 😛 The bottle of really cheap vodka (100 ruble, around 2,30€) I took was to get us in a dizzy sleeping mood so we could have gotten up in with explordinary ambitions in the morning, ready to experience Moscow. However, what stood between this idea was the comfort of the train + 150 russian soldiers, who just finished their military service as paratroops and were looking forward to finally going home to their families, girlfriends, wives and kids (the soldiers’ ages: 20-25). At first, I was afraid my “non-russian-looks” could be the cause for an unpleasant night with 150 bold headed drunken ones staring at me. But then I opened my bottle of vodka, saluted to the next guy I could see and drank – the ice was broken! Following this was 4 hours of drinking, learning Russian (us), learning English (them) and experiencing a typical russian-style rooster fight, when the train militia tried to prevent the soldiers from excessive drinking. At 11pm, we were told to go to “bed” and sleep. Surprisingly (or maybe not, taking into consideration the gallons of booze those people drank) everyone obeyed. Everyone? No! 1 brave tall and very drunken German from Rostock decided to fight for resistance against this, what he called “Stalinist” idea of suppressing authorities. He was chased up and down the train for about 1 hour before being convinced by both our guide and the militia that sleeping would be a much better solution than spending the upcoming 15 days in a prison in Moscow – he was a very smart kid then 🙂
Saturday morning, 6.30am. Moscow. Cold. Windy. But still: Moscow! We took a bus to the hotel but unfortunately it was still pitch black outside, so I cannot much recall the first impression of this city. The hotel was…all right. The rooms were fine (I even got a single room, not the worst idea after having travelled in the same shoes for almost 24 hours!), and the view from the 16th floor could not have been better (I have never seen so many blocks of houses in my life – and I have been to Berlin Marzahn) but it was the breakfast that made me realise I finally came to the capital of the former Soviet Union: Noodles with cheese for me (with 1 sausage for those who eat roadkill), 1 yoghurt, 1 teabag, a little bit of hot water. Taking a second teabag equalled the amount of 15 days of prison as I am convinced…
Having eaten, having freshened up a little, were ready to hop on a bus and get our first guided bus trip around the city – big fail! 5 minutes after I was seated comfortably, I fell asleep. I was woken around 40 minutes later for a stop at something which I cannot recall. It has not even been the first stop we have made. The first one was something called “Kreml”, but that did not seem to be too interesting, so I haven’t missed a thing. Now since I do not remember what it was that we visited, I will just post the picture and whoever guesses correctly will help me a lot. Next to the unknown spot, we drove by the Moscow State University, the Olympic Stadium from 1980 and finally stopped at some tourist spot for taking photos, given the explicit order not to buy anything from the sellers, something we almost obeyed.
We also saw the ski-jump tower which has never been used, as it could not have been guaranteed that the athletes could land within the designated area. After that part, we went to the city to get some “typical russian food” which in my case was potatoes with salad, a vegetable soup and some ice cream for dessert. Afterwards, we were given 3 hours of spare time in the All-Russian Exhibition Center. Once a sparkling area for demonstrating the economic and agricultural success of the Russian republics it is now a rather sad place for buying old garbage, spending money on touristic products and saluting to the Lenin-statue every now and then. 3 hours was way to much, except the pavilion of Armenia, which hosts a fiddle, half the size of a match. And, of course, the amazing 5D cinema. For 500 ruble I was given a 3D-glass, was seated in a movable chair with wind blowing around my face and drove through outer space, the midwest and many rollercoasters. Big fun! The 90 minutes it took me afterwards to convince my stomach to remain on the inside were less fun, still it was worth the money 🙂
Later, we drove with the monorail (!) to a shopping mall, ate some overpriced (but nonetheless extraordinarily cheap) food, did the groceries in the supermarket and took the metro back to the hotel. After this really long travel and this long day with a lot of walking, I fell asleep at around 10pm.
Waking up in Moscow! After a morning shower and another Russian-breakfast-experience, we again took the metro, but this time to outer town. Kolomenskoye was the destination, which used to be a residential place for tsars of the Russian Empire. The museum was quite interesting, as many information were given about the time this place was of major importance to the empire. The areal has many beautiful-looking churches, the main one being the Church of Our Lady of Kazan, which seemed to have hosted a baby convention on that particular day… After yet another typical Russian lunch, salad, soup, deep-fried califlower (for all vegetarians!), we drove back to the city centre, buying tickets for the Moscow Circus! Before we entered the circus, we had yet another 3 hour trip to the Tretyakov Gallery which can be considered as the best art museum for Russian fine art in the world. As I prefer walking around a museum without getting explanations about 250 different paintings, I started comparing the tour guides from different countries. Obviously our Russian one was unwiling to make our trip anything but static, but the Germans were way more enthusiastic (did you hear that, Germany!!!). And to a much wider extent the Dutch guide was sort of reanacting certain historical scenes captured in paintings – fantastic! I also developed some talent in alternative interpretations of art… 😀
Finally, it became evening. Finally, we could go the circus! The famous Moscow Circus! It was worth every ruble (I have waited all my life to actually say this sentence with justifications!). Unfortunately I was not allowed to take pictures with flash and those I did without are sort of useless, but I’ll let you decide. I have taken videos though with promising footage. Everything one could expect was shown during the show. However, a great amount of time was dedicated to humiliating animals in the arena, namely horses, dogs, lions and even car-driving bears. In general, the show was sparkling and I am very glad to have gotten the opportunity to see it 🙂
After the show, we driving around the city at night, but the concentration among all of us was rather low, so I am sorry to not be able to provide you with any stories and/or pictures. Once back at the hotel, we hoped to get to the supermarket in time for a bottle of vodka, but it seems that strong booze can only be bought before 10am, which meant we came in a quarter of an hour late. Well, a couple of beers and some snacks would also do it, so we stayed in with a bunch of people in someone’s hotel room for some time, then went to bed.
Monday morning. I showered, I ate (no comment on the what I ate), I packed my suitcase. Then we left to enter the Kreml, this time from the inside! To be honest, I had no idea what to expect from that since I ever really paid attention to the pictures on the news, but I was only partially impressed. I mean, the areal itself looks just stunning, with plenty of huge buildings used for a lot of very important political reasons, but nonetheless I had always pictured it differently. We entered nearby the famous Spasskaya Tower and quickly made our way across the roads towards the “Tsar Canon”. We ended up in the “Cathedrale of the Assumption” where we again compared tourist guides, again with the same result 🙂
Time for the Red Square! Within walking distance from the Kreml, we reached it. Words cannot really describe the moment I have seen it for the first time. The place actually is not very much bigger than the Vismarket in Groningen nor the Pferdemarkt in Oldenburg, but with its surrounding buildings and its two main ones on both ends it feels just stunning to be standing there, on a square which has witnessed tremendous amounts of history! I could have spent hours on the bricks, just walking and looking around, taking picture after picture, entering the State Historical Museum or the St.Basil’s Cathedral, but unfortunately time was limited. We still had to visit the newly (1995) built Cathedrale of Christ the Saviour. Also a very beautiful building, but again we were rushed through by the guide, who would in turn for the usual “5 minutes for pictures” grand us 90 minutes of excessive shopping in the main tourism street of Moscow where thousands of people trying to sell crap to us. Surely an interesting way of setting priorities…
The rest of the story is not worth spending too much time on. We took the same night train back to Pskov (this time without any soldiers!), arrived at 8am, had breakfast, did some groceries (well, mainly vodka) and then went on the border. This time the border control only took around 45 minutes so that by 1pm, we were back home in good old Tartu! It was a fun trip but way to short to experience a city with nearly as many inhabitants as the Netherlands. For a first visit it was very good, but I know that coming back next time, I will get a tailor-made plan of what to see and what to do.