Moscow - A Much Friendlier Place to Visit

23 Mar 2015

Moscow to me has always been one of those unsympathetic places in a far off land… But only a three and a half hour flight away from London to Moscow, it’s much closer and a lot less scary than I first thought. I had booked a 3 night stay at the Mercure Arbat Moscow hotel located just off of the main street of Arbat, opposite Smolenskaya Metro station and only a 25 minute walk into Red Square.

travelled-from-london-to-moscow

Arriving into a snow covered Domodedovo Airport I got my first sniff of a Russian winter and it was nippy. Travelling with my partner and brother, we took the Aeroexpress train into central Moscow which took 45 minutes (avoid the pushy touts offering taxis, the traffic looked a nightmare) and then dove straight into the infamous metro system. The Moscow metro is a daunting place even for a London Underground expert… The signage and stations are in Cyrillic and our maps and directions to the hotel were in Latin script! A bad move at the start saw us on the wrong line, heading in the wrong direction. Luckily a kind local pointed us to the right direction and we were back on our way, otherwise not sure where we would have ended up! Finally at the right station we then needed to change lines which presented another challenge and again we ended up going in the wrong direction. We made it eventually to Smolenskaya station and ultimately we were better off for it, having discovered the many wonders the metro has to offer. The next morning we threw ourselves back into the underground world and at the end of our first full day were traversing it like true Muscovites.

The metro was built under the direction of Josef Stalin and the grand, decadent stations felt at odd with the socialist ideal of the Soviet Union in the 1930s. It is one of the busiest underground systems in the world and the preferred mode of transport for the masses. We saw more people down there than we did on the streets! A reflection of the cold weather, or the free WiFi perhaps…? It is worth getting lost on the metro, as every station is designed differently and each is a surprise. My personal favourites were Mayakovskaya and Ploschad Revolyutsii.

decor-of-moscow-metro-stations

The first full day we planned to spend around Red Square and there’s plenty to keep you occupied. At first sight of Red Square it’s hard to relate it to the news clips of marching soldiers and the austerity that I associate with communism. It is huge, lined one side with the walled Kremlin, the other with the glizy GUM shopping mall and at the far end the iconic sight of St Basil’s Cathedral with its coloured onion domes. After exploring the square we stopped for lunch and a lemon tea in a café in GUM, surrounded by Chanel, Gucci and luxury shops with hardly a soul there!

beauty-of-kremlin-moscow

Shaking off our disappointment of not seeing Lenin’s mausoleum which was closed (perhaps off having his annual spa treatment) the afternoon was spent at the Kremlin which we had pre-booked tickets for online. There’s lots to see in there and the highlight has to be the Armoury which holds Russia’s historic treasures, and is truly awe inspiring. The collection of Karl Faberge items and the Imperial Easter Eggs had me captivated and I can totally see what all the fuss is about.

The next day we explored the outer reaches of the city, starting with the Cosmonaut Museum an ode to extraordinary achievements and the first man in space. The All Russia Exhibition Centre is also nearby, a display of Soviet monuments and an amuzement park which seems to be where Muscovites spend their weekend. As well as a whopping McDonalds that a statue of Lenin looks solemnly over. Gorky Park was next and the statues of the fallen heroes and a well earned stop for a cocktail in a former chocolate factory called Red October, now a hangout for arstists, musicians and Russian hipsters. The last day we explored the area around the parliament building (Russia’s White House) and the financial district. There’s an abundance of museums and galleries in Moscow, not all have English translations but that shouldn’t stop the enjoyment of them.

russias-white-house

Russia from what I had been told is not known for its great food but we found some lovely restaurants around the Patriarch Pond area. Khachapuri (named after the Georgian cheesey bread) is a trendy little place packed to the ratfers for it tasty food and lemon vodka. On our last night we went to Mari Vanna which is an old Soviet styled restaurant serving traditional Russian fare. The décor is based on a typical Soviet home in the 1950/60s with chintzy wallpaper, shelves of books and curios, plus a gorgeous cat that wonders around greeting his guests!

Moscow is a much friendlier place than I was anticipating and I was surprised at how many people spoke English, or at least enough to get by. It’s big, a bit rough around the edges but it has a soft centre and it’s ready to captivate even the most seasoned of travellers.

gorgeous-cat-wonders-greeting-guest