For more posts about Russia: St Petersburg
It’s been a couple of years but Russia was one of those unforgettable destinations that still today I just can’t believe I’ve really been there! This was only my second big trip after India and I was sure that it would result in a minor culture shock.
Since the visa requirements are pretty strict (even for tourists) and it is necessary to obtain a so-called Letter of Invitation, we decided to go with an organized tour and chose Tucan Travel. Through a visa service we got the LOI and received the full-page visa sticker into our passports. Now all we had to do was book some flights and get a Lonely Planet!
Our route took us via Denmark (click here for my Copenhagen Picture Book) and then on to Moscow. We had heard horror stories about Sheremetyevo airport and were really surprised when everything from immigration to baggage claim went super smooth. Our driver was already waiting for us in the arrivals hall and drove us to our hotel where we met our tour group – this time we were two New Zealanders, two Australians, one American lady, myself and our tour leader who was from Sweden. After our introduction and completing the usual paperwork we headed out for our first group dinner together – I vaguely remember eating something called Borscht (so yes, that was right before I went vegetarian in April 2009).
We had a couple of days to spend in Moscow and visited the Kremlin buildings, many beautiful orthodox cathedrals and of course the famous Red Square where we admired St Basil’s from the inside and out and all possible angles. Unfortunately, Lenin’s tomb was closed for restoration when we visited.
We were offered different options as evening activities outside the official tour itinerary and decided to check out the Moscow State Circus. The acrobats were absolutely brilliant and there were many hold-your-breath moments in the audience. Unfortunately, the animal acts bordered on cruelty. I don’t know why I expected something different – I hadn’t been to a circus in over 10 years – but this certainly put me off animal shows and I haven’t been to one since. It was quite uncomfortable watching those majestic white tigers and lions, who were clearly sedated, perform stupid tricks. Needless to say everybody in our group agreed that it wasn’t a great experience. So yes, I became veggie and avoided all kinds of animal shows after visiting Russia – if that wasn’t a life-changing trip!
But enough talking, here are some impressions of Moscow for you!
The City & The Kremlin
The GUM Shopping Mall
Statues, planes and a cosmonaut memorial
Now one thing I wish I had done before leaving on this trip was to learn a little Russian or at least get familiar with the Cyrillic alphabet. Metro stations, information in museums, menus... pretty much everything here was only in written in Russian! In all fairness, this was 2009 and things might have changed but it was quite an adventure trying not to take the subway in the wrong directions. If the people here spoke English then they hid it well from us. Not many people were able or willing to help us out when we asked for the way. But hey, we’re in their country so maybe next time I’m in Russia I will do my homework ;)
My weirdest experience in Moscow? We ate at an Italian restaurant with an Asian girl serving us, a menu completely in Cyrillic, German beer and Bony M playing “Rivers of Babylon” in the background. How’s that for a cultural overload?
After a couple of days here we took the overnight train up to St Petersburg and that’s what I’ll show you next week. Stay tuned! ;)