Moscow, political center of Russia

This was a 8D/7N package tour taken with Chan Brothers.

Finally ticked off this bucket list item. And on a Thursday evening, the excited pair that is Mel and Suan made their way to the airport 4 hours ahead of the flight departure. This was the extent of the excitement. You see, Mel could not stand watching Suan churn and pace about the house as she looked at the clock every 5 minutes.

“Enough already! Let’s just get to the air terminal and if we cannot check in, then we’ll just go watch planes land or takeoff”.

Fortunately we could and soon we were in the lounge having our meals. A relatively bumpy flight 11 hours later, we are on the start of another exciting adventure!

20th May
It was a 2:30am flight (SQ62) arriving early in the morning followed by a lot of sightseeing in the area around red square.
Drive to Moscow2 Wet weather greeted us as we arrived. It is expected to stay like this throughout! Our guide is Sasha, and she is a bubbly person who would be with us for 4 days. She told of the really bad traffic, and probably this is exacerbated by the rain! Drive to Moscow8
Our first stop today is to be the Red square and St Basil Cathedral area.
Being dropped off near the edge of the Kremlin wall, we made our way gingerly to St Basil’s. Despite the gloomy background, the cathedral refused to lose its splendor. Finally we are witness to the “Onion shaped” domes of the Orthodox church of Russia. Red Square1We have a guided tour of the interior and St Basil exterior8surprisingly photos are allowed though no flash.
St Basil exterior19 St Basil exterior26 St Basil Chapels11
There was a choir in the refectory of the cathedral and I recorded their near 2.5 minutes rendition. But the real treat was being able to photograph the murals and treasures that are housed within the Cathedral.
St Basil Chapels1 St Basil Chapels2 St Basil Chapels3
Yes the treasures here are all religious in nature, after all this is a church, all these bestowed by the Russian Princes and Tsars.
The cathedral was commissioned by Ivan the terrible for victories over the tartars. Each time there was a victory, a new dome was constructed. So in total there is nine.
Today it is open from 11-6pm every day except the first Monday of the month.
St Basil Chapels15
St Basil Chapels17
St Basil Chapels29Which means no point trying to get here too early.  Enjoy Red square instead if you do.
For many years after the communist revolution, there were not many churches in service. In fact, many were pulled down! Some of them (eg Church of our savior) was flattened and turned into a swimming pool! It was only in the 1990s when many of the former sites were restored. So, many of these cathedrals are reconstructed only and not the original. Fortunately literature survives to provide modern day architects the blueprint to render these to be almost exact copies. After listening to a choir sing, we made our way out to the most expensive mall in the city.
GUM Store exterior1GUM Store supermarket3 GUM Store view15 GUM Store Caviar2
GUM department store is reputedly the city’s most prestigious “mall”. Unfortunately we could not afford much here except the ice cream. The supermarket here hawks upscale stuff, or at least normal stuff at inflated prices. Caviar sampling is one thing to try here… On the second floor there are more sitting benches. Many of them are painted over by school children with various themes. It was sure a nice thing to do some bench picture hunting here!
View from Sparrow Hill7 View from Sparrow Hill3 View from room5
After lunch we had a drive to Sparrow hill. The intent was to view the entire panorama of the city and to pick up the 7 “sisters” – ie monolithic buildings from the soviet era. The only one we managed to really visit and photograph was the University of Moscow. This one located here on the hill itself was easily accessible.
The rain had become so intense that it had become impossible to do much of touring. So it was a drive to check into our hotel before we headed out to another meal.
Too bad an afternoon “lost”!

Well it was not really cold (around 16-18°C). Just wet. It had cleared up in the evening, and we had thought of running out to the city for the night lights or at least to try viewing red square without the clouds.

But being exhausted, we opted to bath and soak in the bathtub for the evening and to turn in early for the day. Throughout our stay in Moscow it will be the Holiday Inn Suschevsky, about 7 stations from Red Square. Tomorrow will be a long day!

21st May
Taking the Moscow Metro, we stopped at a few beautiful stations before heading to the Vodka museum and market. The Kremlin is a really large complex! Evening circus was tiring but still worth the trip.
The history of the Moscow metro is rather interesting.Metro Map1  Dug on average at deeper than most countries, the metro system doubles up as an elaborate system of shelters. There are now 11 lines operating in the city, including one circle line that makes sure all the linked up together should any part fail. Walk to Park Pobedy station4
We had started the day from the Park Pobedy station today, one of the beautiful stations acclaimed on the web. There was certainly something classy about this station, with the curved ceiling and checkered floor. It is the third deepest station in the world and opened in 2003. Park Pobedy Station5 Kiyevskaya station2
Kiyevskaya station8We took the train to the next stop – Kiyevskaya station. Here, the murals are plastered all over the station walls, making it an art gallery on the platforms.Kiyevskaya station5 Aside from the murals, one must observe the lighting – chandeliers hang from the ceiling. Certainly no other country would build their stations where the shaking comes from not only the trains but also from these crystals that hang over you! The system runs at the rate of a train call every 90 seconds. This is to help facilitate the near 11 million commuters make their way around daily. The stop is also much briefer than in Singapore, thus don’t get left behind!
Ploshhcad Revolyutsii station1 Next stop (3 stations later) was Ploschad Revolyutsii right under the square itself, and was opened in 1938. This station’s not got murals but bronze statues instead. As many as 76 of these sculptures adorn the pillars of the station.Ploshhcad Revolyutsii station7 Izmaylovskaya station2The statues are in various state of pose. Some, like the one we pictured appeared to be pausing for a thought. Many depict workers toiling away. Five stops later, we are at Partizanskaya station.
We are walking to the old Izmaylovo market, where we will be embarking on some vodka tasting. This museum is located within a theme-park like section of the market and it is also where we had our lunch. The museum has a large collection of historical bottles, from various regions of Russia. A history lesson took place, where we learnt about the origins of making Vodka, and how it was rationed in the late Soviet era.
Vodka Museum2 Vodka Museum16 Vodka Museum33
Vodka tasting1Vodka tasting9 Many interesting stories were told to us about how folks rationed or shared a bottle of vodka in those tough years.
Part of the experience at the Vodka museum is the tasting.Each of us were given 3 different glasses of Vodka to taste.
The middle one tasted herbal.
To prevent us from falling drunk, they provided some pancakes made with potato filling.
Vodka tasting5
Stretch Limo3 Stretch Limo2 Stretch Limo1
There must be something about stretch limos that the Russians really like about. We seem to see them everywhere! Perhaps today is an auspicious wedding day? Because we saw a lot of brides too…
Izmaylovskaya market2 Izmaylovskaya market3 Izmaylovskaya antiques3
Izmaylovo market is where we spent a little bit of time after lunch. Aside from selling the usual souvenirs, there is a section further in that seems to specialize in the sale of vintage stuff and antiques.
See the folks poring over the badges and pins from the Soviet era?? If only we had time to bargain and buy some too!
Real wolf skin all hung up for sale?
There appeared to be bear skins there too!Izmaylovskaya market7 45 minutes was all we had for this market. Recommended for just a walk through, not much to buy as they are all the same as elsewhere. There are a number of shops that sell unique stuff such as the one for Russian watches.Izmaylovskaya market20
Trinity tower entranceThen it is off to the Kremlin. The seat of Russian power, the complex is actually a palace. Much like the forbidden palace, it was the home of the Russian emperors, called Tsars – the Russianized term for Caesar. Kremlin means “fortress within a city” and this red bricked palace was designed by Italians in the 14th century.Kremlin Entrance at Trinity tower2 The Senate2We are entering the Kremlin from the Trinity tower. The queue requires one to scan belongings like the airport. Large bags are prohibited. There is no place to store your bags should you get turned back at this point. So beware!
Walking pass the State Palace, we did not see Putin… But we did see the world’s largest cannon? The Russians seem to want to be number one in everything. The world’s largest bell? Unfortunately it is cracked…Biggest Cannon6  Biggest Bell3Today the Kremlin is still the seat of power of the country. Anunciaion Cathedral4 Today where the Palace of Congress stands, it used to be a monastery and convent. Those were pulled down during the Soviet era.
Would you believe that the Kremlin museums were opened in the 1960s and received world heritage status in 1990!
After a walk through the gardens and along the wall we entered the Cathedral of Annunciation where we managed to sneak in a few shots before being stopped. It had been raining throughout the time we were in the Kremlin. It was amazing with the number of visiting folks despite the pouring rain. View from Krelmlin wall over Moscow river2 Assumption cathedral5
Moscow Circus7And so ended the visit to the center of power of Russia. Moscow Circus5The day concluded with a 2-hour Circus show. This one’s got animals – though this time we got an Indian themed Elephant performance. Before the show and during intermission, we could wander in the lobby area where handlers showcased their animals for photo taking (for a fee of course – 1000 roubles).

Yeah, it’s still wet. And we are beginning to give up hope that we’ll ever get any sunshine during the days here. Perhaps it will be like yesterday when it clears up, only in the evening!! Only that it continued to rain so heavily in the evening as we made our way to the coach from the theatre after the end of the circus show.

One thing we learned at the Circus. When posing for a photo with a tiger, don’t try to mount the cat. You might get thrown off! Sometimes you learn from others who make the mistake.

22nd May
Today is a drive out to the largest monastery of the land, but not before painting ad keeping our own Russian dolls. We managed to get back to city early and spent some time in red square.
Matryoshka doll factory4 Matryoshka doll making5 Matryoshka doll making2
It was a 1½ hour’s drive (~75km) to Sergiev Posad, Matryoshka doll making3 the home of the largest monastery in Russia. It is also one of the richest, well adorned and built in such a fashion as a fortress. However, we start the day with some work – ie painting our own Matryoshka dolls at the factory that is on the outskirts of this old town.Matryoshka completed4
Pretty much an old factory where even the doors are antique! We were given about 45-minutes to paint our own dolls.Matryoshka doll factory2 Matryoshka buying7Matryoshka buying6 Our creations (ie paintings) were certainly nothing compared with the professionally made ones.
That brings up how it is rather challenging to paint the really small ones! They can be less than 1cm in height! Finally entering the monastery, we were only allowed to take photos in the refectory.
At all times we were chaperoned by a monk, who’s job seemed to be to ensure we do not wander off to perhaps “forbidden” areas?
Entry to St Sergius Lavra2 Bell Tower Assumption Cahtedral6Certainly the highlight of the visit was the Assumption Cathedral with its blue and gold dome. Note that the blue dome has gold stars on it.
In the centre of the square is a chapel over the well from which holy water can be drank. Many were bottling copious amounts of the water…
Chapel over the well1 Chapel next to Assumption4 Nikon Chapel3
Leaving Sergiev Posad, we made our way back to Moscow only to be greeted by improving weather! The skies are starting to clear up a little and out group got a little bit of free time to explore Red Square and its vicinity again.GUM department store fascade2 Guard at the Trinity tower2 St Basil Cathedral16
While we did not see any changing of the guard, the entrance to the exit near Ivan the terrible’s tower was not cordoned off.We walked along the square which still had the scaffolding and perimeter fences from May’s Victory day parade. Fortunately we managed to sneak in a couple of photos of St Basil’s as the skies cleared. Finally! After near 3 full days of rain and gloom, we are beginning to see some hope that at least some part of the holiday would not be totally shrouded in rain.

Making us work for our own dolls instead of just giving us the free ones is a neat idea – from the perspective of the factory. Why is it that tourists pay to work?? The painted dolls also seem to reflect the characteristics of each of us. While Mel painted his in lighter hues, Suan did hers in a more intense or stronger shade. Did that teach us about ourselves? Probably not, but it certainly threw up some funny moments as we took it out on the dolls.

The visit to the monastery threw up some questions. Why did they have to fortify the place as if it was a military installation?

See how contrasting the photos are of St Basil’s cathedral compared to two days back. A world of difference the weather brings.

23rd May
We were given 2 hours to get around Arbat street. Then it was off on a 4-hour train journey to St Petersburg. And from there we drove around the city as it was still bright!
Arbat Street toilet2 Arbat Street8 Arbat Street sign
Public toilets. Careful, they open at a pre-determined time. Dropped off here before 9am, the shops are not opened yet! Arbat street was considered to be a good place to live by the nobility of the times in the 18th century. After its destruction by Napoleon in 1812, the street fell to petty nobles, artists etc. Supermarket Foodfare4 Supermarket Foodfare1
Moscow Fast Train3 During the Soviet era, the houses were home to high ranked bureaucrats, being so near their place of work in and around the Kremlin
After about nearly three hours of exploring the street on our own (and shopping for the most part), we headed to the Leningradsky station for our 4 hour ride to St Petersburg. Being luggage free is a blessing as the cobbled walkways and long drag to the carriage could be really taxing.
Moscow Fast Train5
Departing Moscow1 Rail journey Moscow to St Petersburg15 Arriving at St Petersburg station

This concludes the Moscow segment of our travelogue.

The morning was spent with some free time along the shopping street. Needless to say, Suan took the opportunity to fill the bags up with her shopping. And we skipped lunch here, after a heartier breakfast.

Cannot imagine how we can quickly navigate our way at the train station with the crowd, Russian signage, crowd and luggage. Critical thing is – there is a security scan before you can get to the platform. The high speed rail that we took had 19 carriages! Getting to your carriage takes time unless you are in the first one (“business class”). And then you need your passport to verify identity before being allowed onboard. This is the nice thing about package tours, you have all the arrangements made for you, including porterage!

Onward we press on to explore St Petersburg. Continue reading here.

May 2016

Tell us your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s