Tuesday, 3 December 2013

A little jaunt to Moscow...Day 1.

Time is flying here in Voronezh! It feels like only yesterday that I was telling you guys that our tickets had been purchased and here I am now, with only 17 days left in Russia, letting you in on the delights of our trip - I really can't believe it! So here we are...72 hours in Moscow...

Our adventure began on the 083B - the night train to Moscow. We opted for 3rd class tickets...the infamous плацкарт! Плацкарт is set out in groups of six beds in a carriage without partitions (those are a luxury for 2nd class and above!). Some dub it the ultimate Russian cultural experience, and I can see why...58 people in a confined space all eating, sleeping and drinking together. It must be an eye-opener on long haul journeys but for the fast train (12 hours or thereabouts) you don't get much time to become acquainted with your neighbours...

The train to Moscow was pretty uneventful the return journey, however, was interesting...but that can wait until later. 

Arriving in Moscow at 9.05am, we managed to successfully navigate the metro and the snowy streets to find our hotel (after the standard couple of wrong turns) and dropped off our bags. It was decided that first stop would be Red Square, after a warming, traditional Russian breakfast...
*note the sarcasm ;)*
After only a 15 minute walk, we reached our destination, confronted with the looming red façade of the State History Museum. Entering through the archway we were expecting to be greeted by the much-photographed view of St Basils but instead found this...
Who doesn't love a bit of Louis Vuitton?...apparently this installation has caused a bit of a fuss - no one quite knows who authorised it and how long it will be before the authorities remove it for obstructing tourist photo-ops! Fun for now though!

For us, there has always been a bit of morbid curiosity about seeing Lenin laying in state in his mausoleum on Red Square. 

His body has been on public display there since his death in 1924. After learning so much about him, and the impact he had on Russia, we thought it rude not to pay him a visit. 

After putting all electronic devices in to lockers, we made our way inside the mausoleum. It was all very solemn, black marble walls with armed guards every 10 metres or so, one of which told me off for having my hands in my pockets (Sorry, Lenin!). In the chamber itself, Lenin lays peacefully in an elaborate display box. You climb a couple of stairs to be able to walk around the box with Lenin at eye level. Woe betide you if you try to stop to take in the spectacle...you will be hurried along by the stern faced guard of honour.

It is a very strange thing to describe to you all. On one hand, he doesn't look real at all - evidence suggests that up to 70% of him is now wax - but at the same time, it looks like he could quite easily open his eyes or turn his head to look at you! Very strange indeed. After politely having a look at the graves behind mausoleum (where Stalin and other Soviet greats lay), we went to retrieve our belongings and continued on our merry way...if slightly perturbed. If nothing else, it was nice to put a face to the name...

Second stop was St Basils...the iconic landmark of Moscow. After numerous attempts at failed selfies, we managed to get a fellow Englishman to take the traditional tourist snap for us!
The interior is just as beautiful as the exterior...here are some of my favourite snaps from inside...

Russian orthodox churches never fail to impress me. I am not religious but their beauty, grandeur and jewel-like colour schemes are breathtaking! 

A short wander took us to the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier in Alexander Gardens - Moscow's famous war monument. 

As with many WW2 monuments in Russia, it boasts an ever burning flame, but what makes this monument special is its guard of honour. It is watched over by the presidential regiment, who at 2pm perform their very own changing of the guard. We arrived at about 1.45 and decided it may be worth the wait...
The sounds their rifles made when they hit them in time with their marching was pretty ominous, and from what I saw of their brand of marching I feel I can safely conclude that these guys could do a mean can-can. 

Knowing that our ballet at the Bolshoi was starting at 7pm, we thought a bit of late afternoon relaxation, beautifying and wine drinking was in order. We grabbed some sushi sets and off we went.
Wine, tickets and ferrero rochers!

Determined not to miss out on getting a programme as I had at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg, we set off early, leaving plenty of time for in theatre photo sessions!

The ballet itself was pretty spectacular - just the scale of the sets and some of the tricks they pulled out of their sleeves (at one point the Sylphide disappeared up the chimney, at another she disappeared from sitting on a chair). The dancers were all fantastic, most notably a little girl who joined in with the corp de ballet scenes...she can't have been more than 8 or 9 but she kept up with all the choreography that the adults were dancing with ease (no modifications required). We gave her the biggest cheer...I have a feeling we may have seen the first tentative steps of a future Bolshoi prima ballerina! 

After the performance, we thought we would take the opportunity to take a look at Red Square by night...ГУМ, Russia's answer to Harrods looked so festive that we couldn't resist having a peak inside!

ГУМ is celebrating its 120th birthday this year...as a result the arcades are lined with mannequins showing the changing fashions that ГУМ has sold since its opening all those years ago...
...we certainly had some fun!
Birthdays were not the only celebrations on the cards...it was also well and truly decked out for Christmas...
After a night of travelling and a delightful day of sightseeing and dreams come true, we decided to call it a night, toddle on home to finish our bottle of wine and prepare for day 2...coming soon ;)


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