Monday, 2 January 2012

From Russia With Love

Those of you who follow us on Twitter will know that we departed for Moscow late on Boxing Day night. The flight was just under 4 hours and we must say, Aeroflot is a really nice airline! Everything on board was super efficient (Russian style) and for the first hour or so we were extemely excited - until they gave us the 'landing card'. Now Sarah freaks out at forms, even without the Russian language, so with the Russian language - FREAK OUT! After a brief conversation about how the form was not helping with 'how nervous we were about Moscow' we made friends with our 3rd seat-mate, who also happened to be scared about going to Russia. The flight attendant was very nice helping with the form but we started to get a little worried when we came to leave the plane and she said 'Welcome to Moscow - good luck!' Lost in translation? We hoped so!

Worth it.
On arrival we were really impressed with the modern airport and signposts that pointed us in the direction of the train to Moscow. As we left the airport we got our first 'official' view of the snow - beautiful white fields as far as we could see- which wasn't very as it was dark! Who knew, but it's dark in Moscow until after 10am and then gets dark again at 5pm at this time of year. Such short days! From the train we swapped to the metro and half an hour later we were pulling our cases through a very snowing street to our hotel - which was AMAZING! Only one downside, even though we requested one king, we got SEPARATE BEDS! As we had heard about the fines you can get for doing anything 'gay' or hawking the 'gay agenda', we didn't argue the point. Instead, we pushed the beds together and plugged the gap with pillows and the spare blanket - viola! Double bed made. We're regular MacGyvers!

As we couldn't check in until 12, and it was only 9am Moscow time, we had 3 hours to explore. It was still dark, so it was an interesting walk/slide/shuffle (Laura) towards the city centre. First tourist attraction we spotted was the Bolshoi Theatre, home of the oldest ballet company in the world, and a very beautiful building. Laura has a bag with Stephen Colbert's face on it (amazing, right?), and here we had someone come up and ask who he was - when we told him, he got really excited and said 'STEVE JOBS!', gave us a big thumbs up, and ran away! Random!!


From there we cut across the park opposite, admiring the New Year Trees and Christmas market, and as we reached the end we set eyes on the RED SQUARE! Home to the St Basil's Cathedral, Lenin's Mausoleum, GUM, the Kremlin, and the Historical Museum, the best bit was that we saw it all just as the sun was rising. We had finally made it.

Red Square at sunrise (10:30am ish)
St Basil's Cathedral was our favourite site in Moscow, and I think it's fair to say it was our most photographed! GUM (Gosudarstvennyy Universalnyy Magazin) was a shopping centre spanning the length of the Red Square and containing free toilets (a rarity in Moscow) - it was beautiful, Christmasy and another highlight!

video


Inside GUM - Check out previously mentioned Colbert bag!
After a four hour nap back at the hotel, we went in search of food and gave up trying to translate local restaurant menus and ended up in McDonald's - what we thought was a safe bet. Oh, how wrong could we be! I think our order was meant to be a quarter-pounder meal and a chicken nugget kids meal, but the result was two lots of chicken nuggets, a kids meal and a cheeseburger! If only they had numbered their menu like at home, it would have been SO much easier!


Day 2 - Back to Moscow's centre. After a LONG night's sleep we set about exploring Moscow in daylight and our plan was to spend the day at the Kremlin - the citadel of the Tsars and now home to the Russian President. Starting its life as a fortress, the 'Kremlin' refers to everything inside the 4 walls - including the world's largest bell (that cracked before it was ever rung), a 20ft cannon (that's never been fired), the senate, the palace, the arsenal, Cathedral Square and the Armoury! The Armoury was where we spent our morning (after running back down the park to put our bags in the cloakroom (note: Russia hates you taking anything in ANY of the tourist attractions with you, so you have to pay to check your bags, cameras, etc.)). It contains the Faberge eggs given to his wife by the last Russian Czar, Nicholas III - they were smaller than you'd think - and weapons, carriages, silverware, diamonds and ornate, decorated royal clothing - it was all very impressive and well worth seeing!


Equally impressive was Cathedral Square, with its three cathedrals and church it is well worth a visit. Here was also where we experienced just how little we understood of Russian language. As we came out of one of the cathedrals we saw a crowd gathering, all waiting for something. Laura decided we should wait to see what was happening. Before long, the tannoys were directing people to form a circle, of course we followed, thinking we were about to see the changing of the guards or something equally exciting. BAD DECISION- 40 freezing minutes, and lots of yelled instructions later, our 'changing of the guard' turned out to be the arrival of school kids, and the crowd was their waiting parents! WTF!! Talk about disappointment haha!

Cathedral Square, the strange crowd, and the COLD
Day 3 saw us brave the metro system. We say brave, not because it was scary, per say, but you try finding your way around when all you have to rely on is you 'snap decision-making' ability - that is, your ability to match really long words to each other in a totally foreign language, without directions or much colour coding, and when the crowd is giving you NO time to think - it's a challenge! The metro got us to the 'fake Kremlin' in the hotel district, which is in a dodgy area, and after going through an 'interesting' market we arrived at the Vodka museum! Here's another thing worth noting - the Russians aren't great with helping English tourists - we got an overview of the history of Vodka from an A4 piece of paper - everything else was in Russian only! We learned a bit anyway, and the important thing was that we got a free shot of Russian Vodka, so it was worth the trip.

Russian vodka and pickles - our reactions!
After that warming up, we headed Izmayloskaya park to see the ice sculptures - lets just say Sarah on the ice slide was all the vodka's fault!


On our walk back to the hotel, again via Red Square, we got involved in watching an ice hockey game - St Basil's Cathedral was not a bad backdrop! They ushered us in and gave us noisemakers, and we watched more than one quarter without being able to figure out which team we were cheering for!


Day 4, and our Christmas detox was well and truly happening - in the form of a LOT of walking! First stop that day was the Moscow Circus.....sold out (boo) but the park opposite had some great sculptures, which we took the opportunity to pose next to! Next stop was Old Arbat Street- the oldest street in Moscow and home to the scariest costumed dinosaurs who tried to rob our camera and grab us - weird! Finally, to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour/Redeemer - rebuilt in 1997 after Stalin destroyed it during his reign. Inside it is BEAUTIFUL and is painted floor to ceiling in magnificent detail.


Along the river from the cathedral is a statue of Peter the Great - the biggest, most detailed and most imposing statue we saw...and that is impressive in Russia, where every metro station has massive statues and every park has a sculpture. It was also the scene of Laura's near death experience - we were walking back from the statue along the Mockba River, and she had hic-cups, so Sarah decided to 'scare' them away by jumping at her and yelling 'BOO!' - what she did not realise was that Laura would jump out of her skin and (nearly) into the river! Wuss!


Our FINAL day, was (excuse the pun) 'dead good' (I kill me haha), because we started the day at Lenin's Mausoleum - a room where you can see his embalmed corpse! He has been laying there for almost 100 years now, and his tomb is guarded like no where else in Russia (except Red Square on NYE), but that comes later. Sarah was quite pleased to sneak the camera passed the massive amounts of security (saving us Rp 40 heck yes!). He lays in his best suit in the middle of a room with 2 guards per person in there at a time - you walk around him, but aren't supposed to stop moving or put your hands in your pockets, etc - it's a very weird experience! After lunch we headed back to the hotel to chill out and left for the New Year celebrations at 8pm. On arrival back at Red Square we were faced with hundreds, maybe thousands, of police/army, and they are very intimidating! We had to go through metal detectors to get into Red Square, too! They didn't like Laura taking photos of them. We had been warned that the crowds got heavy from 9pm onwards and didn't want to miss out, so we got there 4 hours early - the advice was WRONG - The crowds didn't arrive! It was a great place to meet the only other English speaking people in Moscow (who up until this point had remained well hidden- seriously almost five days without coming across a single native English speaking person) and we left the square with two extra friends who happened to be staying at our hotel. The fireworks looked great set against the back drop of St Basil's, but the highlight had to be the cheesy EuroPop concert on a roundabout that we stumbled across on the way back. If you want to see our video at midnight, click HERE!! .... and for the fireworks check out below...


video




Moscow was AMAZING, but a trip to Russia is definitely not for the inexperienced traveler, or those who want a nice easy holiday! It's fair to say that the language barrier held us back a bit, mainly when it came to food, and probably transport. Laura is game for trying just about anything, but when you can't even understand the menu enough to guess what things are, let alone portray what you want to the staff, the challenge is too great! Thankfully the hotel breakfast was really, really good and filled us up for most of the day so lasted us to dinner time. Dinner was either at the Beverley Hills American Diner, SO GOOD, or Il Natino - an Italian restaurant chain than does AMAZING food. They both do menus with English translations, and they both have staff that speak a little bit of English, and when it comes to food that's exactly what you need!

Russian dolls xo
спасибо (pronounced: SpaSEEba), or thank you, for reading, and if you do plan on heading to Russia any time soon let us know - it was a winter wonderland for us, and if we can provide any assistance we'd be happy to. 


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Love always, Laura & Sarah xoxo


4 comments:

  1. This is excellent! I am so glad you had a wonderful time! Now I'm sure you can imagine just how difficult it was for Dad and I when we went to the USSR some 30-years ago! Love youz! Mum xxx

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  2. Enjoyed reading this! Laughed at some points too.. mainly the crowd for school kids and nearly scaring her into the river.. haha. The pics of sunrise are stunning! That's pretty weird/ awesome the sun rises so late.

    Moscow does sound a little bit scary tho :/ and well done on moving the beds together!

    M x

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  3. Oh I'm so jealous! I haves always wanted to see Russia! Great post!

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  4. Looks sooooo much fun.... Love the vodka photos.. X

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