My wife and I had a wonderful 8 days in Moscow at the end of May. Travel forums are so helpful in planning our holiday, to see & do as much as possible in a very relaxed & thoroughly enjoyable way. I want to pass on some of our lovely experiences, which may also benefit others.
We were astonished at modern bustling Moscow and loved the art, architecture, history and cutting-edge cosmopolitanism of the city. I’m glad to say that our very high expectations were far exceeded.
The few hours we spent learning Cyrillic and common Russian phrases paid dividends especially for Metro & street names and Извините пожалуйста (excuse me please) led to generous & friendly help from locals. The weather was great throughout, dawn to dusk sunshine which was ideal for sightseeing.
We got a Megafon SIM with International package. We used extensively the (in every sense) fabulous Metro clocking up 41 trips in all so we were soon unfazed by even ‘complex’ intersections like Arbatskaya!
Wednesday 25th May
Lufthansa flights from Dublin via Frankfurt were on time, through DME very quickly, followed by Aeroexpress and Metro to Tverskaya and we had checked into the Golden Apple Boutique Hotel by 6pm.
After dinner we walked down Ul Tverskaya to Red Square. Loved the architecture along the way including Yeliseyev's and many other impressive buildings. We got our first breathtaking view of approaches to Red Square. Seeing these iconic areas, images we had seen on TV growing up, the vastness and beauty & scale of the Square and the Kremlim in reality was tremendous. Walked around Red Square and past St Basil’s Cathedral. There was a troupe of young dancers in costume moving through the Square in high spirits. Walked over to Sofiyskaya Nab for great views of the Kremlin and domes.
Next morning we woke early and decided to do a tour of the palatial Metro before the hectic rush hour, beginning with Mayakovskaya. What a splendid introduction with its spacious halls, columns and vaulted mosaics. Then to fantastic Novoslobodskaya and the glowing stained-glass decorations. Next to Komsomolskaya and Ploshchad Revolutsii where we saw the bronze border guard with his dog and its talisman much-rubbed shiny nose. We found Novokuznetskaya amazing with the fabulous ceiling mosaics. It was sobering to know that these scenes were created in Leningrad during the dreadful siege. We finished this particular tour at Arbatskaya with its marvellous central hall and gorgeous lighting.
A Muscovite who saw us perusing the Metro map offered help. He told us (in English) that when a school kid in the early 1980s he and his pals used to be intrigued at groups of tourists standing around gazing up at the Metro ceilings and taking photos.
We wanted to see Mr Lenin in his Mausoleum so joined the short queue at the NW corner of Red Square. It was interesting to see the pantheon-like Kremlin wall as was the funerary chamber itself and the reverence still accorded the remains.
Afterwards we went to the beautiful Russian Historical Museum in the lovely red building. A great collection of treasures including holy book/bible covers, carriages and sledge and we enjoyed the marvellous sweep of Russian history presented.
We took Metro to Kropotkinskaya to visit the vast Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer with its sumptuous interior. There were a number of worshippers in front of icons and lighted candles.
We were fortunate that our Moscow visit coincided with the appearance of some acclaimed performers. The first of these was the great soprano Maria Guleghina whom we saw in the lovely Tchaikovsky Concert Hall that evening. It was nice to see so many of the audience presenting flower bouquets to the artists, something we also saw at other performances.
We got tickets for both the Kremlin and the Armoury Museum, the latter with a 10am entrance. It was after this by the time the queue had cleared security but no problem or time limit. We were fascinated with this treasure trove and decorative arts representing wealth accumulated over many centuries. We were particularly taken with the exquisite bible covers given by Royalty to religious institutions, the wonderful small number of Faberge eggs (many I believe being on tour), jewellery and the great collection of Royal carriages & sledges including the delightful miniature ones for the Tsar’s children.
Also visited the Diamond Fund. After further strict security we were allowed in. The two darkened rooms accentuate the rich collection of jewels and precious stones.
While reading about Moscow we were surprised at the sheer number of wonderful churches there, with the magnificent Cathedral Square being a great exemplar. We visited the lovely cathedrals seeing the numerous tombs in Cathedral of the Archangel and the glorious Cathedral of the Assumption completely covered with frescoes and icons and with its gleaming iconostasis. We were very impressed with the Tsar bell and the 11.5 tonne broken bit.
Walked around the other accessible areas in the lovely sunshine including the State Kremlin Palace with its banners advertising cultural events.
Art-wise we wished to see the great collections of Russian painting that we would never see at home. We began with the marvellous Glazunov Gallery and his lifetime’s work. We loved his huge colourful paintings such as Eternal Russia, Mystery of the 20th Century and Market of Our Democracy. We also liked earlier works such as ‘Morning’ and ‘Dying Man’.
Then back to Hotel to get ready for a 7pm concert in the New Opera House in the Hermitage Gardens which is only a few minutes walk from our hotel. This was Bravissimo! an opera mix celebrating the tenth anniversary of Novaya Opera. It was very joyous and enjoyable.
We had a lovely late evening walk along pedestrianised (Old) Arbat ending at the impressively lit-up Ministry of Foreign Affairs skyscraper. We went right up to the massive front doors and looked around the terrace in front.
We enjoyed a delightful trip to riverside Kolomenskoe arriving at the imposing Saviour Black Gates by 10am. We entered the blue domed Church of our Lady of Kazan during an Orthodox ceremony that was accompanied by ethereal singing and chanting. Then through the highly decorative green-roofed front gate getting great views of the soaring Church of the Ascension with its fine tent roof. The interior is beautifully light and white and surprisingly small due to the thickness of the walls.
We made our way to the cruise boat mooring at the Moskva River and enjoyed an hour long cruise, passing nothing spectacular just lots of apartment blocks on both river banks. On our way back to the Metro many people with picnic bags were arriving.
In the afternoon we visited the tranquil Tolstoy Museum-Estate in Khamovniki. We found the museum very interesting portraying ordered happy family life. However we felt that it didn’t convey any of the tensions or conflicts this great writer had during his years here. We liked the stuffed bear holding a tray for visitors to leave their cards and also the bike that Tolstoy is supposed to have learned to ride at 67.
In the grounds we saw the only cats we came across in Moscow which reminded us of our pets back home.
On our way to the International Performing Arts Centre we had cappuccino and dessert in the stylish City Space Bar on the top floor of the Swissotel Krasnye Holmy Hotel. We walked around the huge lounge identifying Moscow landmarks in the clear sunny evening.
We were very impressed with the modernistic, cylindrical Performing Centre and the great acoustics. We marvelled at the dazzling electrifying ‘Classics and Jazz’ piano performance by Daniel Kramer. The soprano Maria Maksakova also featured.
We wanted to see more of the famous decorative Seven Sisters buildings, whose architecture we much admire, so we headed to MGU in its night glory. After Metro to Universitet we had a pleasant walk to MGU the latter part of which was suffused with a delightful fragrance from the blossoms in the warm night air. We passed the circular Circus and the children’s Musical Theatre with the Luzhniki Olympic Stadium also visible. We found the stupendous building awe inspiring. We went through the security hut unquestioned and into the impressive foyer. We bought a few chocolate bars in the student tuck-shop.
Another definite highlight was our visit to the All Russia Exhibition Centre, seeing the astonishing space obelisk on the walk from the Metro. We were struck by Lenin’s statue in front of the ornamental House of the Peoples of Russia which is now home to mobile phone and similar shops. We liked the Golden fountain, spectacular when the water started around 11am, and the mineral encrusted Stone Fountain, lying empty with the piping clearly visible.
We thought the Pavilions very impressive and striking, albeit now mostly filled with cafes and shops of all kinds. We particularly liked Karelia with its splendid wooden frieze of lumberjacks and farmers, Culture with its star pagoda and tiled arabesques and the decorative Ukrainian one. We thought that the avenue ended fittingly with the Soviet airline and Vostok rocket.
We found the Exhibition Park a very moving experience It struck us as sad that it was designed to glorify a system that at least probably at its beginning had the betterment of all the people at heart but became corrupted leading to eventual collapse.
Having read about Count Sheremetev and the famous opera singer, we were keen to see the gorgeous Ostankino Palace. When we saw it enveloped in scaffolding and plastic covering we weren’t hopeful of a visit but thankfully it was open. We joined the lengthy guided tour in Russian which of course we didn’t understand but it allowed us plenty of time to examine rooms and décor in detail. We thought the Italian Pavilion and vaulted gallery particularly sumptuous.
We wondered about visiting the famous Ostankino TV tower but locals were uncertain whether the observation deck and restaurant were open so we did not pursue. On our way back to the Metro in the lovely sunshine crowds were arriving laden with bags.
We spent the afternoon in the (old) Tretyakov Gallery. We found the collection marvellous and enjoyed the brilliant paintings starting with Portraiture and making sure we viewed the Realists, Wanderers & Vrubel, all reflecting changes in Russian society down the past few centuries.
That evening we attended the wonderful Coppelia in the lovely Bolshoi New Stage which we were amazed to discover was built in about 6 months. We thought the ballet a great production with sublime dancing and marvellous costumes.
After the performance we decided to walk down New Arbat so took Metro to Arbatskaya. We stopped at the ultra modern Globosushi for a snack. Most impressive lighting which changes every 15 minutes, cycling through bluish, purple and green while we were there. All décor including tables, chairs are clear plastic which adds to the somewhat surreal lightness.
It was wonderful to see the brightly-lit White House and another of the gothic skyscrapers, the Radisson Ukraina Hotel. We continued to the richly decorated Kievskaya for Metro back.
We wished to see more of the older monumental works so took local Metro to Rechnoy Vokzal to visit the North River Terminal. Walking through the Park of Friendship we caught sight of the dazzlingly white statue of the girl holding aloft a ship. Saw the Port Building and the huge cruise ships on the Canal. Purely out of interest we enquired whether any were destined for St Petersburg but not that day.
Back in the centre we viewed the infamous Lubyanka dominating the square. After a meal in the lovely GUM mall we moved on to the wonderful St Basil’s Cathedral where we hired a very informative audio guide. We loved moving through the coloured and painted galleries from one small chapel to another listening to the history. In one of the spaces upstairs a 3 man choir gave a brief recital and then pointed to their CDs.
We visited the Palace of the Romanov Boyars seeing some of the lovely churches on the way down Ul Varvarka. We thought the Palace marvellously evocative of its era with downstairs dining room, study, library and the women upstairs doing needle work.
That evening after dinner we took a trip to the Moscow Hilton (Lenningradskaya) Hotel, another skyscraper, and had coffee and cake in the highly decorative lobby bar. On the way back to Komsomolskaya Metro we dropped into to one of the adjacent strikingly ornate railway stations bathed in green light.
We looked forward to visiting Victory Park so Metro to Park Pobedy, emerging in the central portion with great views of the Arch against the deep blue sky. Walking up the fountain-bordered avenue approaching the massive obelisk with the colossal concave museum on stilts was tremendous. The Museum is vast and fabulous portraying the enormous wartime sacrifices. We thought the dioramas, Hall of Glory with the monumental ‘Soldier of Victory’ so impressive and found the hall of teardrop pendants very moving.
On our way back to the Metro, Kutuzovskiy Prospekt was eerily silent, the police having stopped the traffic on both sides. Shortly afterwards a convoy sped by at great speed, which a local said was the President on the Chaika Lane.
Continuing our theme of Russian paintings we spent a few hours in the New Tretyakov Gallery which we enjoyed very much, including the huge assemblage of Socialism Realism works.
Afterwards we walked down the embankment to see the controversial monumental Peter the Great, which audaciousness I must say we quite liked.
That evening we went to Tosca at Bolshoi New Stage. Not the best Tosca we have seen and we found it below par and somewhat disappointing.
On our way home we dropped into the Ritz Carlton Hotel for a lovely cappuccino and cake. Interesting to discover that it is built on the site of the old Intourist Hotel.
On our last day we had two treats lined up. The first was to serene Novodevichiy Convent entering through the gorgeous 5-domed gate. Given that we arrived at 9am we had the place practically to ourselves adding to the tranquillity.
We saw a couple of the resident nuns heading for the church service using their mobile phones discretely under their heavy veils, which we thought a charming example of tradition and modernity.
We walked the short distance to the fascinating Novodevichiy Cemetery where with the help of a guide we saw many of the famous burial sites. The most intriguing is Boris Yeltsin’s Art Deco one. Also liked Shalyapin’s life size statue languidly reclining and the ballerina in pose.
Our final attraction was Gorky's House Museum. We walked down lovely Tverskoy Bul’var park past the impressive photographic exhibition. We experienced our first shower of ‘summer snow’ from the nearby trees. We loved the Art Nouveau house with its amazing décor particularly the fascinating liquid staircase. The staff were kind enough to open the tiny chapel upstairs for a view.
We had a wonderful time in Moscow and have many many precious memories!
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