Let me start this writing by stating my surprise with the punctuality of Russian everything. I suppose I had a stereotypical idea of Russian strictness, in a rather negative or bureaucratic way. But so far I am happy to say that I’ve only experienced the benefits of it (let’s keep it that way!)
A good example is my journey from Saint Petersburg to Moscow. I took the first metro to the train station and as usually, I arrived early. However, the gates opened exactly the minute they were advertised to open, and the first metro – which was already waiting – closed it’s doors exactly the minute it was supposed to. So did the doors of the Sapsan high speed train, which arrived at the capital precisely on time. Travel is a bliss this way – I’m quite sure it won’t be like this every where I’ll go. But then, it isn’t like this in Belgium, either!
Moscow impressed me on first sight. Just walking out of the railway station and into the mild air and warm sun made me incredibly happy. I had enjoyed Saint Petersburg, but I can’t say I’m in love with it. It’s ever busy, ugly avenues are filled with noise and once outside of the touristy centre streets quickly get gritty. In between the (splendid) sights, I guess the city simply isn’t well made for strolling.
Moscow is nothing like it.
It is airy, bright, and filled with parks which are in turn filled with fashionable women, street artists and ice cream vendors.
My hostel couldn’t be in a better location, at the end of charming little Christye Prudy park, and close to many nice restaurants en route to Kitay Gorod. The staff happened to be heart-warmingly welcoming and, despite the language barrier, helpful. Needless to say I felt at home instantly.
So what does a tourist do on her first afternoon in Moscow? Go see the Red Square, of course! When I wrestles my way out of the metro carriage, the noise from above ground instantly overruled the noise of the trains. Something was happening, and as it turned out, it wasn’t just any party. It was Moscow’s 870th birthday celebration!
The whole city was filled with stages, and all kinds of sports and shows were performed for the many, many visitors. The square behind the Fonta Vitali was transformed in a little jolly food village, where dozens of white, flower clad stalls sold sweets and – most importantly – BBQ. The meat seemed crazy popular with the Russians and so I didn’t hesitate to try me some pork as well.
While munching on the big chunks of grill and raw onion, the lady in front of me gave me her festive hat. Half of the spectators walked around with one of those, not just the children, and I loved how even the most serious looking adults kept theirs on even while on the metro back home. I felt that by being granted a hat and a piece of the barbecued meat, I had already found myself a place in Moscow. It was a great start of my stay.
Then came the time for some serious business. I woke up a little ill but decided to get into tourist mode anyway; off to the Kremlin I went. I grabbed some tea on my way (and some cake, because nothing lifts a sour-throated spirit like cake) and due to translation issues I was given ginger tea. It turned out to be hideously strong, but I think it cured my cold instantly. Credit to the waiter who didn’t understand the words “green”, “black” and “English breakfast” for preventing further ear-ache damage!
Communication issues would remain throughout my stay in Russia, feeling even more prominent because the largest part of tourists here seems to be Russian speaking. There are the Russians from further afield, as well as people from Ukraine, Belarus, etc. And beside those, I think China must be on a visa waiver program because the whole country seems to have landed here! English speaking tourists are a minority, and quite often it seemed that people were rather surprised to hear me ask or order in English. They’re just not really prepared for it. That said, everyone is super helpful and – not to brag – my sign language is golden.
Back to the Kremlin. What a place that is! The site, surprisingly compact but yet a little awkward to navigate, highly impressed me with it’s churches. My God! They made me question why I even bothered paying for the Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg! Never have I seen so many gorgeous icons and colourful fresco’s together in one place. Although insanely touristy, I managed to escape the huge Chinese tour groups most of the time and even those herds of people couldn’t distract from the beauty that lay before me.
Unfortunately, pictures are not allowed inside of the buildings and while the tourists around me easily got away with snapping selfies, I got scolded on my first try and didn’t even bother after. I’m not the person to mess with Russian security people. They look a fair bit scarier than the military standing outside Brussels Central Station, that’s for sure.
Because of the glorious weather that blessed my stay, I decided against visiting any more museums in Moscow. The city was just too pretty clad in that autumn sunlight and not to spend time aimlessly wandering it’s streets would have been a sin.
I cruised the many neighbourhoods surrounding the Kremlin, most loving the areas in the North East (around my hostel) and the leafy avenues and vista galore bridges at Gorky Park and the Tretyakov museum. Those pedestrianised lanes are most atmospheric in the evening, when music is playing, kids have fun around the fountains and sporty people ride rollerblades and steps (which seem to be insanely popular in Russia!) around the many gardens.
And so there comes an end to my stay in Russia.
I must say that it was a great start to this trip.
As for Saint Petersburg, I wouldn’t suggest it as a city trip unless you’re spending time in other Russian (or Finnish) places too. As nice as the Museums are, they’re not worth the cost of the visa. If impressionists are the main reason for your visit, I suggest going to the Parisian Musée D’Orsay instead.
But then again, a combined visit with Moscow (on the high speed train) is super easy and Moscow… Oh Moscow! I can not recommend it enough. It’s a metropolis that’s definitely on a par with places like Paris, London and Rome: incredibly energetic, beyond beautiful and bursting at the seams with things to see and do.