Archive for October, 2011

Moscow (Russia)

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

September 6, 2010 (Monday) – September 9, 2010 (Thursday):

Farmer’s son: “Hey Pa, where’s Moscow?”
Farmer: “Why, it’s out in the barn next to Pa’s cow.”

Welcome to Mother Russia! For a former socialist economy, everything in Russia sure is expensive. “Free” economy is a misnomer. Even before we arrived, planning our trip to Russia back in June was expensive, starting with the visa. Whereas most visas (China, Vietnam) were relatively inexpensive, at most $40; and the allowable length of stay was lenient (i.e., 1-month, 3-months), Russian visas were over $200 each and dates of entry/exit had to be exact. Did we really want to pay that, and risk the inflexibility in our travel schedule (planning ahead 3-months in advance)? Obviously the final answer was yes; mainly because I had a good friend living in Russia.  When else might we have the opportunity to have a local show us around Mother Russia.  So onward and upward.

Arriving at the airport in Moscow, you immediately know things are going to be a bit different. Walking towards the passport control area, we notice hordes of people inching their way closer and closer to the passport booths. Clearly, they are all waiting to get through immigration, but there’s no visible sign of organized queuing. Everybody is just nudging their way through the crowd to get ahead as much as possible. I reckon this Russian mentality of “survival of the fittest” stems from communist days where people had to fight and claw their way to get to the bread trucks. If you’re not aggressive and make your way to the front, you don’t eat for the day. So I was game. I didn’t want to hang around and be last. Any empty, unoccupied space I saw, I quickly filled it in. After about 30 minutes we finally made it through immigration, and met up with the taxi driver my friend had arranged to pick us up. Once we got into the car and were trying to leave the airport parking lot, the “survival queuing” continued, only this time with cars. Something told me this was going to be the norm in Russia. Polite and yielding Frank would have to be replaced with ruthless and fierce Frank.

On our first full day in Moscow, we walked over to the Red Square and the Kremlin (which lucky for us, our hotel was directly across the street from the Red Square). We took a tour of the Amoury, which was great because we saw lots of Russia’s historical relics including beautiful, original Faberge eggs, ceremonial thrones and regalia, and original carriages used by emperors /empresses. The Kremlin, itself housed the government buildings, palaces, and the historical churches and cathedrals, many dating back several hundred years.


Afterwards, we made our way over to Arbat street (a pedestrian street lined with shops, restaurants, and street-performers. At one end of the street, stood Hard Rock Cafe Moscow. Having never been to a Hard Rock Cafe in my life (yup, amazing), I really wanted to go for some reason. Maybe for the irony – capitalistic (total touristy) chain restaurant in a former socialist and communist state; or maybe just because I was really craving a “real American” cheeseburger. Either way, the meal was delicious and the music was good. Good first day in Mother Russia, she has been kind.

The next day was just as packed: Lenin mausoleum, St. Basil”s Cathedral, Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Fallen Monument Park, Peter the Great statue, Pushinskaya (where we just walked down main street and perused inside local specialty shops).  Then we took a brief breather back at the hotel before meeting up with Sergei for dinner. I have to say, the Lenin mausoleum was a trip. Not really knowing what to expect, other than obviously a mausoleum for Lenin, we proceeded through the various security screenings required to enter. We went to the entrance, about a 100 yards from the actual mausoleum, then we were directed to another separate building where we had to check our bag and camera. After dropping those off, we went back to the original entrance, and went through the metal detector.  And only then were we finally proceeding towards the mausoleum.  Once we entered the building, there was no talking allowed, just silence and quiet observation.  Walking towards the center of the mausoleum, where Lenin’s preserved body is laid to rest, feels like walking into the building of Disneyland’s Space Mountain.  There are narrow hallways which are dark with only subtle lighting.  Then once you arrive into the center, you see the shine of light that is highlighting Lenin’s body.  Quite eerie and surreal.  Not only that, but the whole way in and out, you see Russian soldiers standing guard making sure no shenanigans occur.


For dinner, we met up with my friend who graciously treated us to a wonderful Russian meal at Cafe Pushkin.  The vibe of the restaurant was really cool, with the decor and staff dressed as one would imagine it would look in Pushkin’s time.  The food was equally impressive; where we had real Russian borscht and dumpling.  And of course, no Russian meal in Russia would be complete without vodka.  The vodka of choice for the evening, vodka infused with cranberry.  mmm mmm good.


The next day, we had an afternoon train to take us to St. Petersburg so we spent the day relaxing in our wonderful room planning the next few legs of our trip.  Once thing I definitely noticed about Russia and Russians, they’re like Donald Trump…they love their gold.  Everything (buildings, walls, decorations) seems like is gilded in gold.

Communist era apartment blocks and government buildings marching monotonously into the sky

To view more pictures from Moscow, view the Photos.