Zdravstvuyte Russia! We were so excited to be making our way back to Europe after 7 months in Asia/Oceania. Before our trip, Matt was very intent on making Russia one of our stops. But we weren’t given the most ringing endorsement for it, probably due to the prolonged tensions between the USA and Russia. Don’t Russians hate Americans? Won’t you feel threatened on their turf? But honestly, Russia is a fantastic country full of history, great food and interesting culture!
After a long flight and a bit of jet lag, we started with some much-needed food. Our first stop was the infamous, vibrant St. Basil’s Basilica. It was amazing just to walk up on it and see the colorful bulbs sticking up through the city. It was absolutely stunning, and much more impressive in real life. The inside was just as remarkable, not really for the size of the rooms, but for the paintings and colors that covered every inch of the church. At one point while I was wandering through the tiny corridors, I was drawn into a small chapel by 4 men singing beautiful music. After the basilica, we walked through the GUM Mall, Moscow State University, the Bolshoi Theatre and a local street market. When the rain started and our exhaustion kicked in, we grabbed a quick dinner and headed back for a good night’s sleep.
The next day, we did the free walking tour of the city. We love free city walking tours because they are always a great introduction to a new city, and provide with some interesting stories and history. We saw the Kremlin, the office where Putin works, KGB headquarters, Lenin’s tomb and the burial grounds for the Romanovs. We ended the tour with a yummy lunch of borscht and bread. Next, we tried a self-guided subway tour of Moscow. The subways stations were very different from those we’d seen in other counties and were so decorated that they could be deemed monuments on their own. Some had marble columns, stained glass ceilings, tiled mosaics, sculptures and even a futuristic, space-themed station!
The rain continued onto the next day, which we tried not to let ruin our plans. Our destination for the day was to the Kremlin, home for the Russian government and where Mr. Putin does his 9-5. We saw the lovely grounds inside the walls, cathedrals, and an old cannon. We also saw the Armory where they housed some of the national treasures, many that belonged to the royal families in Russia. My favorite parts were the clothing and carriage collections; they were so elaborately decorated and well preserved. The carriages seriously looked like they were made for Cinderella. After lunch, we headed to the Children’s World Mall, similar to FAO Schwarz in NYC. It was just exciting to see toys from our childhood that were making a comeback, and the huge displays they had around the store. On the top floor, there was a soviet toy museum, which we found pretty interesting, and access to the rooftop. From there, we had great panoramic views of Moscow, even with a bit of fog and rain. That night, we decided to try a restaurant called Bunker 42, that used to be an old Cold War bunker! When you first walk in, the entrance is decorated to look like the actual Cold War bunker, complete with hidden doors and a maze of metal stairwells lined with pipes until you reach the bottom floor. But the restaurant/bar was lined in red lights and looked like a luxury jazz club. We had some Moscow Mules (obviously!) and this amazing cheese plate! Who knew that smoked gouda cheese with honey would be our favorite? It was an amazing night out, one we surely won’t forget!
On our last day in Moscow, we went to the Izmailovsky Market. As you walk up on it, it looked more like a castle themed amusement park, covered in turrets and childishly bright colors. Inside, there were lines of stalls selling every souvenir you could think of – stacking Russian dolls, soviet hats, Fabergé eggs and army supplies. We grabbed a little soup and kielbasa, and did some stall shopping. Afterwards, we went to the Eliseevsky grocery store…yes a grocery store! But this is the oldest and most beautiful in Moscow. Imagine a gorgeous room from a palace, with gold decorations lining the ceiling and elaborate paintings on the wall – that was what this grocery store looked like inside. While it may be the oldest and most beautiful, it also seemed a bit more expensive. When the sun finally came out, we went for a walk in Pushkin Park and then down the touristy Arbat street. We actually found a restaurant called the Krusty Krab which is 100% modelled after Sponge Bob Square Pants! Our last stop was the Christ our Savior Cathedral, where the we caught a beautiful sunset as we left the cathedral. We got dinner at the GUM mall and spent the night wandering the Red Square one last time.
So far, we’ve really enjoyed our trip to Russia! Against all the bad recommendations and the fear, its truly a beautiful country. The few people that we’ve met were kind and welcoming, the food is really tasty, and the history is just incredible! We hope that fellow travelers are not deterred by whatever political tensions may be and can experience Russia for all the wonder she has to offer! Now, off to St. Petersburg!