The first thing we noticed in Moscow was the milder weather – it couldn’t have been less than zero as we pulled into the railway station and located the driver who was waiting to pick us up. It took a while to locate our hotel, which had a particularly unassuming exterior, the entrance to which looked like nothing more than the back alley of a run-down apartment block. Walking up the four flights of stairs, we were both curious as to what we’d gotten ourselves into until we opened the door to the small, boutique hotel that was simple but beautifully renovated inside.
After settling in, we went for a walk around the local area and discovered we were in fact very close to the centre of Moscow and only a short walk from the Red Square and the Kremlin. It was only once we’d returned from our walk that we realised we had walked straight past the Bolshoi Theatre, just a couple of hundred metres from our doorstep. The other thing that struck us was the mechanical sense of purpose and determination that seemed to be driving everyone as they walked down the street. It couldn’t have been less evident that we were tourists as we were the only people in our street without some kind of real fur adoring our hats, coats or boots, not to mention the fact that I was also at least a foot shorter than the abundance of Russian supermodels, parading throughout central Moscow.
It seems we have also arrived in time for the Great Spring Melt, during which the entire city appears to be living under the threat of melting snow and shards of ice falling from the rooftops, and if you’re lucky enough to avoid being hit, then there’s no doubt you’ll at some point fall victim to the slippery ice coating the footpaths. The removal of snow and ice from the rooftops seems to be big business around here – entire laneways and streets are shut off in order for workmen to shovel the stuff off the roofs, down onto the road and then arrange it in neat piles along the way until it’s ready to melt down the drains.
On our second day, we decided to visit the Moscow Museum of Modern Art. If you’re ever planning on visiting in the future, I would definitely recommend indulging in the English audio guide as a lot of this felt like it went above and beyond us. While we both thoroughly enjoyed the exhibits, we were left a little baffled by some of the works that attempted to ‘involve’ the viewer. Given we were the only people in sight, the volunteers took great delight in encouraging us to be a part of the video displays and to sketch our own pieces of work as part of an exhibit. The pressure was on as we created a rather feeble sketch of our travels so far and pinned it up on the wall, though we did rather enjoy scribbling on iPad displays and controlling the movements of virtual Arctic explorers through the speed at which we moved through a particular room.
After the Museum, we went for a wander around Red Square, taking in the surrounds of the Kremlin, St Basil’s Cathedral, Lenin’s Mausoleum and the GUM Department Store. It was quite surreal to be walking around in a space so full of history, but quite modern in the sense that it was full of foreigners and had a huge, colourful ice skating rink parked to one side. After leaving the area we both remarked at how much the calmness of the place felt like the pre-cursor to the action sequence of a movie, beginning with the flutter of a few pigeons, followed by a pan to some local security guards and surveillance cameras, then to some unassuming tourists taking photos, unaware of what they were about to be caught up in. Of course, this was just any other day in the Red Square – probably a most uneventful place frequented these days mostly by tourists, guides and souvenir vendors.
We have spent a fair bit of time enjoying the nice restaurants and cafes in our area, in particular, one Russian/Turkish restaurant at which we have had a couple of incredible meals, at prices that may be considered expensive here, but very affordable at home. While Moscow is certainly the most expensive place we have visited so far, it’s not as pricy as we expected. It’s possible to have a nice meal, with drinks and dessert for two people for around AUD$50, which has surprised us.
A beautiful city with a real buzz to it, Moscow has been quite a contrast to lots of places we’ve visited along the way – it’s been the perfect final stop on our Trans-Siberian trip.
© Richard Munckton