On the 25th December 2009, Sarah and I both shut our eyes and pointed to a map of the world to decide the location of our next adventure. It was decided, Russia was our next stop. It wasn’t. But four years and two days later, we boarded a flight to Helsinki in preparation for our overnight train to Moscow.
After a couple of cheeky beers before a short night’s sleep in Helsinki, we packed our bags and met most of our group at the main station. We had originally debated over whether we should do this trip on our own or through a group and based our final decision on crossing the border at midnight, so it might be worth having someone who could read Cyrillic and understand Russian. Also, it would help with the invitations needed for the Russian visa, and everyone knows that majority of Nationalities need a visa to visit Russia. Well almost everyone… turns out 30/31 of the group knew and with one minute before our departure, our new Canadian friend discovered he needed one and from then on, we were down to 30. Who knew how many more people we would lose in the next 8 days? (One actually, an Australian called Wade, but we will get to that!)
Anyway, we were all aboard and on our way. Somehow we had ended up in a compartment to ourselves so made the most of it with our Salami & Cheese Sandwiches and our token bottle of red wine. (Over the years we have managed to create many different wine glasses ‘MacGyver Style’ but in this case we opted for recycling our McDonald’s paper cups, not a great choice as the wine leaks through eventually. See the best DIY Wine Plasses here) A few hours later and we had been stamped out of Finland and were awaiting the Russian Border Control. The option for going with a group turned out well as most of us filled out the forms incorrectly and needed replacements from the overly aggressive carriage attendants. I am sure they were nice; however, when I unintentionally entered their personal carriage, buttocks first, it was not taken well. International diplomatic relations restored, we went to bed anticipating our arrival in Moscow.
Bleary eyed and unrested, our bedroom rolled into Moscow under darkness and we were swiftly ordered ushered off the train and onto the platform.
Our first glimpse of Moscow was through a gap in the platform roof that exposed a red light glowing through the early morning haze, eerily lighting up one of her seven imposing ‘Stalin Skyscrapers’. Although architecturally beautiful, these buildings shoot from the ground encircling Moscow and you can sense how overpowering they must have been in the Soviet regime.
Feeling small and worthless by a building, it was time for breakfast at a Russian Café. Wow, what a place! Upon entering, we were welcomed by a tower of mechanical dancing bears and enticed with a breakfast of ‘eggy mash’. It was basically an omelette and a good one at that, so set us up for a few hours touring the city.
We were lucky enough to be entrusted with a local guide who, has to be said, was hilarious. First impressions proved to last as he presented himself with his fly undone and a stain on the back of his trousers that still cannot be confirmed. (The three main stain contenders were chocolate, a form of faecal matter or dried blood) With the trouser stain question burning in all our minds we set off for our first taste of Moscow. On the bus, our guide would inform us about everything he had to know about the city, erratically burst into laughter with his favourite ‘anecdotes’ about Dictatorships/Massacres/Police/North Korean Embassies etc. and then contradicted everything our guide, Zane, had told him we were doing. And off the bus, well, it was the same and just as entertaining.
Our first stop was at St Basil’s Cathedral. When we first arrived it was a grey, gloomy day but the building still looked beautiful and impressed Sarah and I. By the time we left, the sun had come out and the intricate details of the building were even more noticeable. This part of Moscow – St Basil’s, Red Square & the Kremlin – is quite amazing, and you can’t help but think about evrything that has happened there in the past. In the middle of the Red Square is a mausoleum that displays Vladimir Lenin’s embalmed body. Our ever knowledgeable guide gave a brief description before entering so we knew what to expect.
“He is short. He is bald. And he is dead”
There you have it, from the horse’s mouth. To be true to him, he was right, but it was a bizarre sight to see. There is a debate as to whether or not the body on display is real or fake, and you need to see it to make your own opinion. For us, we think he is real and base it on Sarah’s expertise in lifelike sculptures and, well, his fingernails.
With the first day nicely capped off with a few beers and the obligatory vodka’s, we woke a little shady (Sarah more so) and set off for a visit to the Cold War Museum in an underground bunker (Bunker 42). Definitely worth a visit and our guide was great.
After a quick lunch of Russian pancakes, we back on the insanely decorated Metro and back to the city centre to visit the Kremlin.