24 hours in Moscow
We had always planned a brief stop in Moscow. It’s one of the major cities along the Trans-Siberian route (obviously) and a highlight for many travelers, but it’s also a city that’s relatively easy to come back to. I’m far less likely to make my way back to Irkutsk, or Kazan, than to Moscow. So in the initial planning Moscow got only about 12 hours; off the train from Vladimir in the morning, and back on the train to Minsk the same night.
But one of the nice things about buying our tickets as we go is that we get to change plans. And so we decided to spend Monday night in Moscow rather than Vladimir. That gave us a full 24 hours (really more like 28) in Moscow, although not all were waking hours.
We found ourselves a hotel in the perfect location: on the second floor of the train station where we would be departing from Wednesday night, and about two steps from a metro stop. I was determined to have our hotel be either near the train station or near Red Square (and one of those locations is more expensive than the other) because I didn’t want to spend a lot of time schlepping bags back and forth across Moscow. So this hotel was perfect because our bags were in the right place from the get-go.
We were expecting the hotel to be a bit of a dive, but it was actually fairly nice. (Notwithstanding a persistent smell of smoke in the room despite our having been asked to sign a declaration that we wouldn’t smoke, and the worst water pressure we’ve encountered on our trip.) Also, there was something pretty nice about staying at the train station on the night after ending the offiicial Trans-Siberian route. It didn’t feel like our trip was over yet–there was still a train to Minsk to take–but that was our own add-on, not part of the regular route.
We arrived in time for dinner, so asked our hotel receptionist for a recommendation.
What kind of food do you want?
Maybe Russian, maybe something different. Ajerbaijanski? Armenian
She thought for a minute. Then she smiled. Her eyes lit up. There’s a great diner not far from here! It’s an American retro diner! They have burgers, and it’s a theme place!
And that is how we ended up having dinner in Moscow at an American retro diner, eating hamburgers and ordering milkshakes. There was something delightfully absurdist about the whole thing.
And let me tell you: Starlite got the American diner right. Right down to the English-language menu descriptions.
The following morning dawned bright and cold, and for the first time on our trip I started the day off with long sleeves, fleece, and scarf applied. (However, my winter hat and gloves remain along for the ride but never having left my suitcase.) Honestly, I enjoyed the cooler weather.
We started off in Red Square.
Next up was a longish walk to the newly built/restored Church of Christ the Savior (probably the most enormous church I’ve ever seen–although I suppose Westminster has it beat in some respects). I like the story Steve told me about this one (partially confirmed by Wikipedia, but more entertaining with the unconfirmed gossipy details): The original church was built in the 19th century, then blown up (literally) by Stalin in order to build a monument to communism and Lenin. Only after the demolition nothing much happened until years later, when Nikita Khrushchev turned the flooded foundation into a swimming pool. In the 1990s, the Russian government granted permission to rebuild the church, and here’s where the gossipy bit comes in: apparently Putin went around to all his oligarch friends and stressed how great it would be if they all donated lots of money to the reconstruction. For the people, you know. The result is pretty….outstanding.
This same church was the site of that Pussy Riot concert that landed its performers in jail.
More walking after we were finished being impressed by the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, followed by lunch back in Red Square. Steve indulged me with a lunch at an outdoor cafe, where I could glance over at St. Basil’s cathedral while eating and where Steve draped himself in a blanket to keep from freezing. (The temperature continued to drop.)
In the afternoon, we met a young woman whom I first knew 10 years ago while living in Chernomorskoye, and who now lives and studies in Moscow. Yulia went through St. Basil’s with us, then walked us through the Kremlin and around Moscow a bit. The day ended with dinner at a nice restaurant near the train station, and our day in Moscow was over.
It was a good day, and I felt surprisingly comfortable in Moscow. It was easy to more around, and easy to navigate. I didn’t feel crowded or as though I needed to be hyper-conscious of my personal belongings or safety. I enjoyed walking around, and enjoyed seeing some of the famous sights that I have seen in pictures since childhood.
For myself, I didn’t take all that many photos of Moscow. Most of these buildings are so famous and so well represented online, it seemed like my paltry photography skills were not needed. Also, most of the places I would have wanted to take pictures were in the churches, where photography wasn’t allowed. So this post is lighter on the photos that others….
Edited to add: Steve’s post on Moscow is appropriately titled Moscow.