At last, at 4.30am Moscow time on 17th April, we arrived in the darkness at Moscow station. The Provost collected all the bedding and made a motion that we should get up, wash face and clean teeth! We had already been up for a while, but no teeth cleaning was going to take place until we had reached our hotel! We were filthy, tired and chucked away all our mugs, left over food etc and were packed and ready for the off!
We arrived at the Arbat House Hotel around 5am. Got immediately into the shower and watched the brown water come off my hands! They hadn’t been washed with soap for 5 days! A washing pile was ready for the laundry and now that we were clean we got ourselves to breakfast and had complete culture shock at the sophisticated cafe with smartly dressed Russians, with a decent breakfast and endless coffee made by a Barista. Two worlds and only a train ride to separate them!
We were now in Moscow and we were excited!
We walked from the hotel to Red Square, passing Tchaikovky’s concert hall, University of Moscow, The Kremlin and finally, Red Square. It was all jaw dropping stuff! We watched the changing of the guards at the statue of ‘The Unknown Soldier’ and then walked past Lenin’s Mausoleum, History museum and when we saw St Basil’s Cathedral in the distance, we all stopped and just stared… it was amazing! As we stood in the middle of Red Square, we saw GUM shopping mall on the left, Kremlin on the right, History museum behind and St Basil’s in front. A massive wide open space, which was calm, quiet despite being quite busy and just beautiful!
We walked further on to The Bolshoi Theatre and saw behind a huge building that would not look out of place in Princes Street in Edinburgh. Turns out it was built by 2 Scotsmen who opened up a department store early 1900s called ‘Muir and Mirrielees’ which is still in existence now called TsUM.
Tomorrow, is Jack’s birthday, so we visited the ‘Children’s World Department Store’ just up the road from the Bolshoi. It was a beautiful designed building. We visited a few shops before heading up the to the 6th floor to find something to eat for lunch. Richard snuck of to buy a few gifts for Jack – a Star Wars figure, Star Wars Hot Wheels and some lego. Meanwhile, Jack played with some local boys on the play area but ended it shortly as one boy bit him on the arm leaving a well defined bite mark.
We heard that there was a KGB themed bar nearby, so we managed to find it and went in. It had 2 wooden guns as door handles on the outside, and lots of memorabilia inside. They played James Bond movies on the screens and had countless pictures of spy related ‘meetings’ going on. Inside the bathroom there were a bunch of ‘spy’ cameras on the ceiling with infra red lights on, we think were fake but you never really know!
We walked to find the Pushkin Cafe – quite far but it was a beautiful night. I was hot for the first time in ages and completely overdressed. We found it, too formal and walked home via 2/3 children’s playgrounds. We noticed people were smily here, not seen that many Russians smile before and life seemed pretty normal and energetic here. We really liked Moscow.
Jack’s birthday started with a 6am opening of his presents then went for breakfast without rushing too much. We had a busy day – really enjoyed the Space museum. We got a metro to the station we had researched. When we got out, it was freezing cold and raining quite heavily. We walked the wrong way at first, but eventually found it. It’s only afterwards we couldn’t believe how we could have missed it… it has a massive space rocket at the top of a concrete ‘flame’ of fire that must stand about 100ft high!
We got there soaked, gave in our jackets etc and as I went to the bathroom, got bashed on the head by a toilet door flung open at rocket speed as I entered! No apology or concern shown by the old dear. It really does feel like ‘every man for himself’ culture in Russia.
We saw Sputnik, propaganda posters about the space race and lots of decommissioned Space station stuff. Also lots of USA gifts to USSR during the Space Race.
We found a cafe and Jack saw what we all thought was a toy rocket in a packet. It turned to be space food consisting of a tube, 2 packets of something squishy and what looked like a corkscrew – but as it was all in Russian we had no idea at the time.
The next morning when we were packing up, I squeezed the tube to try to make it up and the whole thing exploded right over my head and onto the carpet, chair and over me! It’s also the one hotel that lists in Roubles every item in the hotel room you have to pay for if you cause damage! I tried to clean it up, but as I did, it dried so quickly, it curled up into a ball and I ended up picking it up as a solid. Meanwhile, my top smelled for days before I could wash it again in Latvia 20 days later!
After the Space Museum, we went back to GUM department store to find a Russian hat and ice cream for Jack’s birthday. We also hopped on the tour bus to take us round Moscow as it was so wet. We jumped off at the KGB bar again and had a drink before calling a taxi to take us to what we thought was Pizza Express, but even better, it was a Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese restaurant instead. Jack had sushi, I had Pho and Richard had a Thai curry. I had Brought a ‘9’ candle with me, and I asked the waiter to please put this on a piece of cake that I pointed to on the menu. There was also, Hong Kong Custard Egg tart! So we had those and he lit the candle on Jack’s chocolate cake.
Exhausted, we walked home. We have half a day tomorrow, before we get the train to St Petersburg. Moscow is a lot of fun!