After our glorious time in St Petersburg, we headed south by train to Moscow, the home of Lenin’s Mausoleum, Red Square, St Basil’s Cathedral, the busiest McDonalds in the world and more Lenin statues than you can poke a stick at.
Moscow is huge, noisy, crowded, busy and manic, the traffic jams on the ring roads can sometimes last 8 hours! The vibe is far more LA than St Petersburg, only the ultra rich can afford to live in Moscow and they enjoy their designer clothes, cars and dogs. Lucky them.
Right off the bat, we visited the Fallen Monument Park, a lovely grassy park on the river, full of old communist relics and statues. There are still hundreds of Lenin statures in every Russian city, however the ones of Stalin have mostly been hidden away, or popped off to this park . I loved it, the nerdy politics gal in me had a total ball picking out who was who.
Another ‘do first’ in Moscow is Red Square. Red Square has St Basil’s Cathedral, Lenin’s tomb, the Kremlin and the ritzy, crazy expensive department store GUM (ГУМ) all in one spot. Oh, the irony of Lenin’s final resting place facing such a symbol of capitalism.
St Basil’s is just as cartoony and overwhelming in real life as it is in pictures. Helpfully, there was a military tattoo being set up in Red Square while we were there, (oh look, you can watch a whole hour of it here on YouTube!) ruining the vibe slightly. However we still got the sense of how huge the square is, and how intimidating the red walls of the Kremlin are.
I have a confession to make. We didn’t actually make it in to the Kremlin for a tour, we only saw the outside. This is for a number of reasons, mostly because the lines were mental, then I was pick pocketed (grrr), then we were lazy and just drank beer in the park outside instead. Meh. The outside is cool anyway.
However, we did brave the lines to see Lenin in his tomb. Totally weird. It was a very soviet experience, we had to line up to check all of our bags at one window, then line up to see him in another spot, then we had to NOT SPEAK OR WALK TOO FAST OR WALK TOO SLOW while being in the tomb. Needless to say I still got told off for walking too slow and talking before I was entirely out of the mausoleum, and Luke made the grave error of putting his hands in his pockets. Lenin was very small and yellow and waxy. It made me feel sorry for him, he apparently wanted to be buried in the country with his mother, but the soviet machine had other plans.
Now, onto shopping! We visited the Izmaylovo Market, a huge sprawling outdoor market with food, souvenirs, trash and treasure and antiques. We, of course, bought ourselves some matryoshka dolls, and some woollen babushka scarves for our mums. We then ventured into the trash and treasure section. I could have spent all of our money and filled a shipping container with the treasures I found. Tea cups, tin toys, rocking chairs, soviet bits and bobs, I almost lost my mind. But, alas these items don’t backpack well, so I settled on some vintage dresses and lunch.
I nabbed a table for us to eat our barbecued salmon and bread, only to have a large Kazakh man go for the table at the same time. I indicated that we were only two, and that he could join us. He and his two friends took me up on my offer, we all squeezed in together and shared our lunch. They had a 600ml bottle of vodka to share, and a large beer each for washing it down. They were very friendly and insisted that Luke and I join them in some vodka. After one shot, I pulled the ‘oh I’m only a lady’ card, which I rarely do, but it got me out drinking the very average vodka! Luke had to prove his manliness and drink two more, lucky boy! They then shared their lunch with us, pushing meat and more bread onto our plates. They were so friendly, they reminded me more of Greek grandmothers than burly mining magnates from Kazakhstan.
One of my favourite things to do in new places is sit somewhere comfy and people watch. What did I learn while people watching in Russia? I learnt that the modern Russian woman loves a glamour shot. Everywhere we went, we saw Russian women perched at the edge of gardens, in front of statues or at the ballet, posing for their husbands and boyfriends. More often than not she was dressed in her best mini skirt, with huge hair, pouting and bossing her fake leather jacket clad photographer about. Hysterical.
One of our other highlights was hunting down the Stalinist era sky-scrapers, or Stalin-scrapers as I liked to call them. Called the ‘Seven Sisters‘, they are spread out around the city and are now hotels, government buildings and part of the Moscow State University. I love the gothic, baroque style of the buildings, they are all the same, but a little bit different. Who would have though Stalin had such good style? They are a bit scary looking though.
After taking our fill of Moscow’s museums, train stations, expensive restaurants and statues, we took our leave and headed eastward to Beijing.
It’s just a short train ride …