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Long route home Our trip all the way home, trying to catch no planes and stay on the ground like civilised people. It's taking us via India all the way to Europe from Japan, the furthest of the Far East...

Don't have a mos-cow

RUSSIAN FEDERATION | Saturday, 20 November 2010 | Views [530]

The first genuine city we've been to for some time and it's alive! There's energy, bustle, no hint of the repressive behaviour we got used to in parts of Asia; people kiss in public, wear wonderful bright clothes and short skirts and mostly pay no attention to us as they've got better things to do. It's bye bye to identikit buildings too, there's something new to see round every corner. The pomp of Kazakhstan is nothing compared to this epic city - it just oozes history and character.

The directions to our hostel (which was just 15mins from Red Square) tell us to come out of the metro and follow the road towards the bell tower. Great if you're in an ordinary city, but Moscow is filled with bell towers, spires, churches and golden onion topped turrets. We can see 3 bell-tower-esque structures in three different directions and that's before we started to turn corners. As has been the case many times here in Russia, someone saw us frowning at the map and pointed us in the right direction. We saw lots of central Moscow on foot, which was a real boon, and used the metro when we got too cold or had further to go. The metro was another treat, trains every two minutes, platforms which looked more like concert halls with huge murals, marble columns and even chandeliers! It's a great city to walk around, with the circus roof tops of St Basils peeking out from various angles, one of the seven sisters (Stalin's rejoinder to the NY skyline) towering just round the corner from the hostel and lighting the way home, plenty of statues, parks and places to pause and warm up.

For Oli, visiting our third great frozen leader was a must. The Lenin memorial was more relaxed than Uncle Ho or Chairman Mao, after several security checks we passed through on our own, and the guards didn't force respectful behaviour as they did in China. Red Square was imposing by both day and night. Tickets to the Kremlin were not as straightfoward as we'd hoped, we were at the wrong time to get into the armoury and the other tickets got us into the Cathedrals and Museums in the complex. Lots of gold, lots of saints and princes in oils, surrounded by more gold, and more oil paintings and gold. The trip up the bell tower was the most impressive bit of the trip, as they'd put together a clever audio visual guide showing how the Kremlin came to be, the various (and mostly Italian) architects, the attacks repelled by the walls and the succession of Kings/Queens making changes and additions to show their dominance. Right outside is GUM, the famous soviet shopping centre where the likes of Prada, Bogner and YSL flog their wares. We indulged in a not so expensive beer on the top floor, watching the lights and people in our very own Victorian Christmas card.

Emma had spent some time in Moscow for work, but very little of that had been spent exploring, so she was happy to have time there as a tourist. We caught up with one of her bid friends, another mark of the final leg is knowing people in most of the cities we'll stop in. The Propaganda bar was the first club we've been to since Cambodia, and we boogied to Euro-pop and Emma experienced the subtleties of several slavic pick ups.  Clubbing aside, we did most of our eating and drinking in Arbat Street, an 'arty' area that's heavily populated by tourists and tourist tat shops. There we found a farm themed traditional restaurant with fake chickens on fences and country maids to bring our food. We squeezed into a music bus, an which was actual bus with a man playing guitar in the drivers seat, and sampled various self service coffee-snack places. We also found the best Russian doll seller, who says he's been there for 25 years and has a doll of himself with which he poses for pictures. The second best one was drunk, in the Ismailovo market and jumped up from his slumber to knock over/drop more dolls than he managed to show us.  Moscow was full of characters, often slightly the worse for alcohol - we met a guy on the metro whose two stop monologue consisted of lines like "I never could understand how people in London coped with life in London, but now I know - it's the same here! People can get used to anything". And "I'll never get married. My Finnish friend is married, and he had to work all his life just to pay for his house and his wife. I tell him he's crazy - a lifetime of work just for sex..."

The New Tretyakov Gallery was so good we wanted to make time for the old one too, but 3 days is not long in a city like Moscow. Outside, there were a whole bunch of old soviet sculptures to go along with the new art.  Quite eerie - a Stalin surrounded by decapitated heads, a Dzerzhinsky with paint still marking his coat.
Inside, there was a lady who had lived in Brixton taking tickets who eagerly told us what we should see
We wandered through the ages of Russian art, the images reflecting the politics and moods of the time, with a few slightly dull sections filled with salt of the earth peasants, as everybody loved the common people, but mostly wonderful Soviet Propganda, Socialist Realism and underground art of 'enemies of the revolution'. There were lots of ov's and ova's like Tretyakov, Goncherova and Mashkov. 

Our big night out slowed our departure on the final day, but we had time to go to a huge flea market after dumping our bags. The Ismailovo Market is overshadowed by the next door Ismailovo Kremlin, a fairy tale blue and white castle structure. It is aimed at tourists and locals alike, with stalls selling soviet era relics, thousands of russian dolls, fakerge eggs and all kinds of flea market bric-a-brac. Sadly, the cold meant 40% of the stalls were shut, and the bustle of people we'd hoped for was missing as they chose not to brave the icy sleet. We blew the last of our cash on souveniers, and boarded the overnight train to St Petersburg with heavier loads than we'd planned.

If you're going

Plan your day in the Kremlin carefully - tickets for the armoury have set times, and go on sale 45 minutes before the tours start.

We stayed in the Basilica Hostel, staff were really helpful, hostel was occasionally noisy

Arbat Street sells lots of tourist tat, and has various cheap-ish restaurants if you choose carefully, look for the self service places!  Also check the guy at a stall with the giant beard - picture of him in the album

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