Moscow was the first stop on our journey across western Russia and the Baltic States. Dennis and I visited in November, autumn was coming to an end and the weather was getting a little crisp, perfect touring weather.
Moscow is the heart and soul of Russia. It’s the country’s largest city and its political, economic, cultural and academic capital, making it the centre of all life in Russia. With a population of over 11 million people and the highest concentration of billionaires on earth, Moscow is fast becoming a modern mega city for the super-rich. All that said, there is another side of the city that tourists come to see – the grand buildings, historic sites and massive monuments to the mighty Soviet Empire.
Located in the heart of Moscow, Red Square is on the UNESCO World Heritage list (along with the Kremlin and St Basil’s Cathedral) and once you walk on it you will know why. It is surrounded by the Kremlin, Saint Basil’s Cathedral and the grand Gum Department Store and is the originating point for all major highways in Russia. It’s also been the scene of many military parades that were the norm during the Cold War where the Soviets wanted to show off their military might. It’s a very impressive setting and worth visiting both during the day and at night as the buildings and monuments take on a completely different feel when illuminated.
One of the nights during our visit in Moscow we visited the square and Dennis went a little crazy with his camera, to the point that the local police came and questioned us on why we had set up a tripod in Red Square. Take it from me, Dennis will go to extreme lengths to take a good photo.
The Kremlin is an enormous fortified complex located in the city centre, bordered by the Moskva River on one side and Red Square on the other. It’s the official residence of the president of Russia, similar to the White House in Washington D.C. The imposing complex is surrounded by a fortified wall with protective towers guarding the inner area which comprises of 4 palaces, 4 churches, an armoury and a few museums.
Saint Basil’s Cathedral
Once the tallest building in Moscow, Saint Basil’s Cathedral still is an inspiring site to be seen sitting at the end of Red Square. Built in 1550 by Ivan the Terrible, Saint Basil’s Cathedral is an iconic globally recognised building due to its unique architectural style of cylindrical shape domes and rich bright colourful outer. The Cathedral is still used by the Russian Orthodox Church and is best seen at night when it is light up like a Christmas tree.
When in Moscow go out and experience the many restaurants offering local and eastern foods from the former Soviet Union states. We enjoyed a fantastic feast in an authentic Georgian restaurant as well as a traditional Russian dinner in small restaurant near Red Square; both of which were real highlights of our time in Moscow.
On every menu in each restaurant we ate at, there was always a potato dish, always with interesting name, like “country potatoes, peasant potatoes, Ukrainian potatoes or Russian potatoes’, they all ended up being the same, just hot potato chips just with a fancy name.
Garlic, soup, garlic soup, potatoes, garlic and did I say garlic, all make up the backbone of Russian cuisine as well as healthy doses of meat and bread. When it comes to drinking, the drink of choice in Russia is vodka.
Gum Department Store
The famous Gum Department Store on Red Square was owned by the state during the Cold War and was one of the only places in Moscow where there was no shortage of consumer goods, thus became equally famous for its long lines of shoppers extending deep into Red Square waiting to get in and buy something, anything. The building was built on a grand scale and is very impressive, with a huge glass roof bringing in natural light with over 20,000 panes of glass. The department store has long gone and has been replaced by high end fashion boutiques for the new breed of super-rich Russians. The lines of people waiting to buy consumer goods have also gone as the prices are a little high for the average Muscovite. When you visit Red Square, pop in for a look, as it is well worth the effort, even if it’s just for a bit of window shopping.
No trip to Moscow would be complete without a visit underground to ride the metro. The metro system is over 300 kilometres long and a tourist attraction in its own right. Some of the older metro stations in the city centre were built in a grand style, a real mix of art deco and socialist themes all rolled in to one, with a good helping of marble, tile mosaics and massive murals depicting soviet life and of course, chandeliers to light it all up. Dennis and I went underground to explore the metro ourselves, only to get a little lost due to the long Russian names for almost all places on the metro map. If it was not for the help of a New Zealander who happened to walk past and hear us speak English, I would assume we would still be somewhere deep under Moscow riding the train system.