Garry and I finally arrived in Moscow late on Saturday afternoon, after our long Trans Siberian journey. Moscow is the largest city in Europe, with 12 million people in the city and a total of 17 million in the region.
We walked on Sunday to Red Square. Red, not because of its colour but because the word for ‘beautiful’ sounds like the word for the colour. The square (a rectangle, really) is bordered by the Kremlin and the tomb of Lenin on the west side, St Basil’s Cathedral at the south end, the History Museum at the north end, and the former GUM department store on the other long eastern side. GUM is now a very up-market shopping mall.
I’ve posted a panorama shot of part of Red Square, which I took today, as a new header for this blog. It also shows the Lenin Mausoleum, which I had always thought to be a much higher building. We didn’t bother with making a visit to see Mr Lenin in his icy glass box. There are enough statues of him around the country without going to see the ‘real’ thing also.
The day was cold and windy, and the large open spaces provided no shelter. We walked a little further to see the Bolshoi Theatre building, but then returned to seek refuge in the warmth and comfort of our hotel.
Our hotel is in the Arbat district. Arbat Street is a long, historic, pedestrianised street, lined with tourist oriented businesses. Closer to the Kremlin, Arbat Street is not pedestrianised, but caters instead to the local speed-hog set, without seeming to attract the attention of the local Police.
Since Sunday, we have continued our walks around Moscow, culminating in a mega-walk on Tuesday. We think we covered maybe 20km, from the White House building (the former Russian Parliament building, which featured in the 1990s tank attack by the military, against the political changes that were taking place then in Russian society), and back to Red Square by a long and diverse route. Thankfully, Moscow is a very flat city, and unlike in other Russian cities we visited, the footpaths are in a generally good state of repair and cleanliness.
Moscow has a series of concentric ring roads, several of which we crossed today. Usually, pedestrians are forced through underpasses, but one road we crossed at-grade had 9 lanes of traffic travelling in each direction. Thankfully the traffic lights gave sufficient time to cross.
Apart from the volume of the traffic, and the speeds that drivers achieve as they race to the next red light, the most obvious aspect of the traffic in Moscow is the composition of the car population. I have never seen so many Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi vehicles. All near new, and not the cheaper, small engine models – I mean E and S Class Mercs, BMW 7 series, Audi A8s – and also their expensive SUV and Coupe models. There are also Lexus, Jaguars, Range Rovers, Cadillacs, Bentleys, Porsches, Maserati, Rolls Royces and Maybachs aplenty. And Toyota Land Cruisers too. Clearly this is a city where if people have money, they appear to be very keen to flaunt it.
Wednesday will be our final day in Moscow, and at 1.30pm we are due to depart on the ‘high-speed’ Sapsan train to St Petersburg. We may brave the Metro system (underground railway) to get from the hotel to the railway station. There is a Metro station 50m from the hotel, and it appears we will need to change subway trains only once to get to the big train station (Leninskaya, named after you know who).
I think we were both surprised by Moscow, after some of the ‘cities’ we had visited before arriving there. It is big, but it’s clean, well maintained, with substantial buildings and facilities. There are modern buildings, and historic buildings, there are fancy boutiques and luxury shops, there are beautiful parks and open spaces, the food is vastly plentiful and of very high quality. It’s a sophisticated city. But the one thing that we still find perplexing is the attitudes of so many of the people – grim, dour, unfriendly and unhelpful – just as they have been across all of Russia. There have been maybe a few exceptions, but not many.
A few days have passed since I wrote all of the above, and we are now in St Petersburg, but that is another story for another post. We did take the Metro to get to the Moscow train station, and the ‘high-speed’ train turned out to be only moderately fast. We were entertained en route by a woman a few rows behind us who talked non-stop and loudly on her mobile phone for the entire journey. And I mean non-stop. It was a relief to leave the train.
The internet is very slow at our hotel in St Petersburg, so I will add photos to the this post at a later date.
More in the next post, from St Petersburg. St Petersburg is certainly the jewel in the Russian tourist landscape, and we are very much enjoying our visit here.