Russia-stepping into the unknown

Russia is not an obvious tourist destination for us in the west. I took a leap of faith and visited Moscow and St Petersburg. Why I hear you ask?
Because I love adventure and an experience! Going to Russia offered me both.
I had an incredible experience. I expected that Russia would be grey, gloomy, unfriendly and unwelcoming. My preconceptions changed on arrival.

Getting a visa to Russia was pretty straightforward.  I made all the arrangements for the hotels, transfers and sightseeing tours (local taxis and tour companies in Russia) for Moscow and St Petersburg before leaving the U.K. I was not sure what to expect and didn’t want to take any chances in a country I could not speak their language. Everything went well as planned and I wondered why I was anxious in the first place!

I visited all the famous sites using the local guide I had booked directly from the UK. The transport system is good and easy to navigate and I particularly loved the underground Metro in Moscow with their beautiful architecture. I tried the vodka of course, both shop bought and locally made varieties. I enjoyed  both and I didn’t  get drunk!  I am not a fan of their food generally  but I loved the Russian salad and dumplings. I ate very lovely meals at the hotels who do international cuisine very well. For those who miss or want fast food,  there were plenty of the famous brands around.   And for the important questions some of you are keen to ask – yes – I felt safe moving around both during the day and at night! I visited some places by myself including the Kremlin. I found that people, while aware of what is happening outside the country, they  just want to get on with their everyday lives.

My overall experience of Russia was positive and  my fears about visiting were unjustified.  The language barrier was of course an issue. The younger generation spoke good English and were willing to help. The use of local guides also helped and I recommend using them.  Russia is rich in history, culture and architecture.   I  found that Russians do have a sense of humour!! People were friendly and helpful.  I also found out that I could pop into a 4 or 5 star hotel and ask to use their wi-fi to book Uber taxi (yes they had Uber!) without any problems.  I was treated like one of the hotel guests and given assistance without any fuss.  

Red Square, Moscow

I couldn’t believe I was actually in the Red Square in Moscow – it was surreal! 

The Red Square is the place everyone starts the tour of Moscow from. It is the heart of Russia and the most visited landmark in Moscow. There are several historic buildings in the Red Square including the State History Museum. 

Above is the famous clock on the Red Square and also inside the Kremlin. The clock is in working order and is used to signal the arrival of the new year. It is similar to Big Ben in London.

To the right is the tomb of the unknown soldier on the Alexander Garden, next to the Red Square with the changing of the guards, similar to that in London. The guards are carefully selected and are very handsome young men!

Does the name of the square had anything to do with communism or with the red bricks of the buildings on it? Or did it  derive from the word “krasnyi” which meant ‘beautiful’ but grew to be known as the “Red Square”. True or false?

Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow

St Basil’s Cathedral is located right on the Red Square and it is quite majestic. It is naturally a UNESCO World Heritage site and it is considered the most recognised symbol of Moscow. It  was built by Ivan the Terrible who wanted to show off the great wealth and prosperity of Moscow. The onion-shaped domes and colourful decorations on the outside of St Basil’s are typical of Russian Orthodox churches. Legend has it that Ivan the Terrible had the architects blinded so as to prevent them from designing anything as beautiful and ensuring that the building remained unique.   The building is made up of nine chapels and has had many names since its completion. We did not go inside the Church but viewed it from different angles around the square. This is me from another angle in front of TV crew that made me look important and like I was reporting some important news! But I wasn’t.

Other historical buildings and monuments on the Red Square include their famous GUM department store and Lenin’s tomb (below left). It is believed that it is lucky to throw a coin over your left shoulder on zero kilometre, so all tourists do! Our guide told us that the spot is not technically zero kilometre, which is actually quite a way away. There is a man behind me in the photo who is making a small business of collecting the coins that tourist throw- genius! 

The Kremlin

First photo below is the entrance to the Kremlin from Alexander Garden where the tomb of the unknown soldier and changing of the guards are located outside the Kremlin walls. 

Here I am inside the Kremlin!  I visited on my own. I took the underground Metro and I bought the ticket at the entrance gate, and I walked in.   I  stood there for a while in amazement, half expecting something to happen  but nothing happened! I was free to walk around and to take lots of photos and I did. 

First photo below is the entrance to the Kremlin from Alexander Garden where the tomb of the unknown soldier and changing of the guards are located outside the Kremlin walls. 

There are nine historical and architectural buildings inside the Kremlin grounds. Each one with its own history. The following information was provided with the entry ticket. (1)The Armoury Chamber – is the most ancient museum depository occupies the building which was specially constructed for it in 1844-1851. (2) The Assumption Cathedral erected in 1475-1479 was the major church of the state in which all Russian Tsars were crowned. (3) The Annunciation Cathedral was built in 1484-1489 and it was the home of Moscow Great Princes and later Russian Tsars. (4)The Archangel’s Cathedral, constructed in 1505-1508 was used as a burial vault for Moscow Great Princes, and Tsars. I was able to visit the inside to see the vaults but no photos were allowed.

(5) The Patriarch’s Palace and the Twelve Apostles’ Church was built in 1653-1655 for Patriarch Nikon. At present, the ground Eloor of the Single column chamber houses an exhibition hall of the museum. (6) The Church of Laying Our Lady’s Holy Robe was erected in 1484-1485 and it was the home church of Russian Metropolitans and later Patriarchs. (7) The Ivan the Great Bell – Tower Ensemble had been taking shape during he XVI -XVII centuries . Nowadays, the ground Eloor of the Assumption Belfry houses an exhibition hall of the museum. 

Honestly Guv, I didn't break the bell! It wasn't me.

(8) Tsar Cannon was casted in 1586 – weighs 40 ton. (9) Tsar Bell was casted in 1733- 1735 and weighs 200 ton.  

Still inside the Kremlin

There is still more to Moscow so will write about them in my next post. Watch out for The Gum, Manege Square, Nikolskaya Street,  Zaryadye Park, Samara Arena, The Seven Sisters, and Hotel Metropol. 

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