I arrived in Moscow dead on time the next morning. Russian trains in my experience so far are extremely punctual, even when they run more than the length of the UK. Or indeed many multiples of the length of the UK!
As we pulled into Leningradsky station the familiar travel apprehension crept in, not helped by the knowledge I would soon have to be navigating the Moscow metro…
Luckily the dire warnings about lack of English signage compared to St. Petersburg proved to be in vain, and the arrival station even had a handy bilingual route planner.
Therefore, with minimal fuss I navigated myself to Pushkinskaya station and followed the hostel’s pictorial guide to find them… Very lucky it was that clear as I would never have otherwise found the obscure apartment block entrance in the corner of the yard etc.
I am staying at Vagabond Hostel. There seems to be a massive variation price-wise within Moscow budget accommodation. Mine was at the higher end of the scale, around £12 a night, however I’ve heard of people being equally happy with their £5 a night accommodation. I tend to value a bit of peace, so avoided any of the obvious “Party Hostel” places- If nothing else, I had heard concerning tales of theft from one of them, which coincidentally sounded like it was filled with utter muppets anyway, so a win-win situation.
I was welcomed immediately by Tanya. The hostel is on the 6th floor of an apartment block, so it was smaller than I’d been used to, but was pleasant enough and the kitchen with sofas and a table made a good meeting place. Showers were somewhat thin on the ground.
Putting aside my night on the train and distinct lack of sleep, I headed straight out to meet Sarah and see the sites. We made our way to Gorky Park as a first port of call.
Gorky Park is ace, and very forward-looking with all sorts of activities for kids, bike trails, modern art and a generally good atmosphere, with people playing ping-pong on the rows of tables, riding hired bikes around the park, feeding the ducks (Russians love ducks) and generally enjoying being outside in the heart of the city. It was also good to see an emerging network of bike trails.
After that, we headed into the city proper for some Kremlin action. Just to see what was what. Obviously this involved miles of walking- I think it’s a bad habit of mine on holiday to just trek everywhere- but we got there in the end.
We worked out the ticket requirements, and more pertinently the fact that neither of us were up for such involved sightseeing after the sum total of stuff-all sleep therefore headed to our respective hostels and regrouped before our world record pizza eating attempt in the evening. Particularly if you’re vegetarian it’s hard to fill up properly sometimes so the occasional carbfest is very much required.
The next morning we re-convened for some proper, American-style ALL THE SIGHTS sightseeing. Sarah had grabbed breakfast on the way, probably the most impractical thing you could ever choose to take away and appropriate feedback on her error was provided. This did leave the issue of where to eat them since Red Square does not have benches and, even less so, designated pancake eating areas, therefore I stepped into the breach:
We enjoyed a pleasant stroll around the Kremlin and surrounds, including St. Basil’s Cathedral which is one of the most bizarre reverse-Tardis buildings I have ever seen, there simply doesn’t seem to be any room for actual worship inside. There are however lots of ancient relics. I’m definitely suffering from slight ancient stuff fatigue as they seem to all blend into one now. Don’t expect much in the way of Judith Chalmers historical action from now on in.
The Kremlin contains some great sights. Sadly we missed out on the Bell Tower since it has timed tickets for which we failed to get up in time. ALL THE SIGHTS clearly requires greater commitment.
One of the odder sights was these fake rocks dotted around the borders. Shenanigans afoot:
And so, having had a quiet night the previous day the natural instinct was to pick back up on the St. Petersburg vibe and go and meet some locals. After a brief regroup at the hostel we headed to My Bar nearby to Tsverskaya Street, which tends to get good reviews. Strangely, it was hidden inside a courtyard and didn’t even have a sign on the door, which can’t help passing trade.
However, once inside we were warmly welcomed once more by a great group of locals, who all spoke enough English for a chat. Whilst in the courtyard outside with the dirty smokers a group of Armenian builders came out from the building opposite. It’s funny how language and culture distorts things, initially I thought they were taking the piss out of us but actually one of the builders was very taken with one of the Russian women in the group so a bit of cross-cultural exchange was initiated. One of the builders put some distinctly Borat music on from his car, and some of the braver souls from the Armenian group started a bit of shonky folk dancing. In any case I think the Armenian got the Russian’s number so it was a successful evening on one front.
We also met Yousef, a young Egyptian guy and a great laugh, who had escaped the clutches of his family holiday for a few hours to see some of Moscow’s nightlife.
The next day, Sarah had to go to the travel company’s offices, coincidentally the next metro stop to our next attraction so quite handy. We are both using http://www.RealRussia.co.uk for some of our trains and actually in Sarah’s case they were very helpful about changing them once given a slight prod, which bodes well for me.
VDNK is basically a huge Soviet pleasure park, celebrating the achievements of the USSR with numerous Pavillions, each concentrating on areas of achievement, and also beautiful surrounding gardens, and a huge fun fair. There are all sort of wheeled vehicles to hire to go around the park, and we ended up having a brief go on the Segways there- Although I was told off very often for reckless endangerment. In a good-natured manner.
VDNK turned into somewhat of a walkfest, but it was a great day in any case including some slightly rickety fairground rides and some comedy sexy posing. Russia is the land of the selfie, and also the land of slightly posey shots, so it was only fair to join in with the fun. Although I do clearly look fabulous:
VDNK is also home to the Cosmonautics Museum, right next to the Metro station. Clearly a great deal of the park focuses on space-related achievements, and the museum is both multi-lingual, huge and very impressive with a number of fascinating exhibits and genuine escape pods, rockets and the like from the past. Well worth a look and only about 200Rub to get in, probably my favourite museum in Russia so far:
So, another day led to another night on the tiles, starting at The Standard, a fairly decent bar- Yousef had helpfully blagged some fliers from his hotel for free cocktails so the night went well, and it was nice to chat to a couple of the other guys from the hostel such as Jun from South Korea. A lot of the people travelling here have really interesting stories and he was no exception, studying at Uni here and giving us some interesting insights into life over there.
It also emerged over the course of the night that since Youssef only brought his Egyptian ID out with him the bouncers couldn’t read it. They could however speak German therefore I confidently asserted to them that he was definitely over 20. He revealed at the end of the night he was actually 17 and this was why he brought the Egyptian ID out. I feel had!
So, hometime around 0400, and up slightly less than fresh to catch the lunchtime train to Yekatarinburg. Onwards and Eastwards!