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  1. Clare

    Day 8: Moscow

    After our big day of travelling yesterday, we decided to have a more leisurely start to today. We arranged to meet for breakfast at 9am, although I ended up being slightly late because I was trying to write up yesterday's blog, and then we agreed to leave the hotel at 10.15 and head straight to Red Square in the hope of being able to see Lenin. From the sign we'd seen on Thursday, we understood that the mausoleum was going to be open between 10am and 1pm on Saturday. We caught the metro to Okhotny Ryad and probably got the world's best view from a metro station as we walked up the stairs to exit. When we saw how close to Red Square the metro was, we felt a bit silly for not having been able to find it on Thursday. But it really wasn't obvious - we had emerged from an underpass which had no red "M" sign on it or any other indication that it was leading to a metro. It was busy in Red Square this morning with more tour groups than there had been earlier in the week, but for some reason there weren't any security bag checks to go through today. There had been a book fair in the square on Thursday, so maybe that had required increased security. It was great to be in the square again. And, of course, brilliant to get another opportunity to see St Basil's. Unfortunately, when we got to the place where we were expecting the queue to start for the mausoleum, the gates were closed. There were lots of other tourists standing around looking confused. We overheard one of the guards saying that the mausoleum was closed today. What a shame We got to see it from the outside anyway, and then we had more time to enjoy the views of St Basil's. Helen suggested that we walk around the side of it, which was a really good idea because we got to see this beautiful pink and white dome which we hadn't noticed the other day. All the famous pictures of the church are taken from the other side, but it's actually really pretty from the back too And as we got further away we could see both the blue and pink domes We walked away from St Basil's and past a succession of other, smaller churches. I don't know what the bright red one is called, but it was a really striking colour. We were heading towards Moscow's newest park: Park Zaryadye. As we began to climb up through it, we got some wonderful views back towards St Basil's. It was a struggle to keep my eyes open with the really bright sunlight, hence me looking a bit startled in this photo Tim somehow managed to keep his open! The views of the entire Kremlin were great from here too. We could also see down towards some of the churches we'd just walked past. The park, which was built on the site of a former Soviet hotel, has a "floating bridge" which extends out over the Moscow river. From here we were able to look out across the river and see some of the sights we'd noticed on our boat trip the other day. We could also see the other way, towards the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour with its huge golden dome. The bridge was quite busy with tour groups, but other parts of the park were quite peaceful. I only realised when we were partway around it that the vegetation was divided into different zones, I think representing different regions of Russia. Overall it was a really fun park to explore, and much bigger than I expected when I'd seen it from the boat the other day. Our second plan for the day was a slightly unusual one: a tour of some of Moscow's most impressive metro stations. This was something we'd read about in the Lonely Planet Moscow book and deliberately saved for Saturday in the hope that the metro would be less busy then. Mom and Helen had taken notes of a route for us to follow, which started at the Komsomolskaya metro station. This was a really grand station, with some impressive pillars at platform level. The station is named after youth workers who helped with the construction of it. You can see the Komsomol emblem at the top of the pillars. As we walked through the interchange between one line and another, there were also some very pretty tiled pillars. We passed a military-looking decoration on the wall... ...walked down a lovely tiled corridor... ...and emerged onto an absolutely beautiful platform for the circle line. It looked more like a museum than a metro station! At the end of the platform we even found a little bust of Lenin From this station we got onto the circle line and travelled one stop to our next destination: Prospekt Mira. The guidebook told us that this station would feature porcelain depictions of people planting trees, bringing in the harvest and generally living in harmony. That did indeed seem to be the case. Another stop further on took us to Novoslobodskaya. The highlight of this station was a mosaic called "Peace in the whole world". The white doves in the mosaic have been added in later, replacing what was formerly a portrait of Stalin. The other beautiful thing about this metro station was the stained glass. The walls of the tunnel between the platform were lined with these colourful stained glass panels. There were too many to take pictures of them all, so we had to pick our favourites From Novoslobodskaya we travelled one more stop to Belorusskaya. Just the platform itself was impressive at this station! In the passage outside, the ceiling panels depicted different scenes relating to Belarus. Again, there were too many to take a photo of so we had to pick our favourites At this station we had to leave the brown circle line and switch to the green line. As we were travelling between different parts of the station, we passed this rather imposing sculpture. It was amazing to see how in this part of the station, even the lights and pipes were decorated with patterns. A little bit blurry, but our first stop on the green line was Mayakovskaya. The guidebook seemed to think this was the metro station to end all metro stations, but it wasn't my favourite overall. There were some cool features, like these little stars and hammer and sickles which were decorating the light fittings. The ceiling also featured little mosaics, which seemed to be depicting military themes. Some of them were a bit dark so it was hard to make out what they were. From Mayakovskaya we skipped a stop and went two stops down to Teatralnaya. The porcelain figures which decorate this station depict people from other Soviet republics wearing their national dress. The overall effect was quite grand Our next stop was a very exciting one: Ploshchad Revolyutsii. This station is full of sculptures which depict the different roles people played in the revolution. Some of them were quite scary-looking characters! This was definitely the station with the best statues Moving on again, we came to Arbatskaya. This station was described as having a baroque atmosphere. It did indeed have a rather elegant feel. We were getting towards the end of our tour now. The next destination was Kievskaya. This station was decorated with friezes of life in Ukraine. Lots and lots of friezes of life in Ukraine This seemed like quite a busy interchange station though, so we had to be careful not to get in people's way as we were taking our photos. There is a big fresco at the end of the hall which celebrates Russian-Ukrainian co-operation. As Tim and I had been in Kiev quite recently, this was exciting to see. We recognised the cathedral in the picture The final station on our tour was Park Pobedy. I've lost track of how many stations we visited, but this felt like excellent value for 55 rubles (67p). I was quite excited about getting to Park Pobedy, because apparently it has the longest escalators in the world. They certainly felt very long; I timed the journey up and it took approximately 5 minutes. Once we got to the top of the escalators, the exit walkway was decorated with a military mural. When we came up above ground, we found ourselves outside a triumphal arch, celebrating Russia's victory over Napoleon. On the other side of the road, we found a flower display spelling out the name of the city It was mid-afternoon by this point and everyone felt starving. My parents located a cafe just around the corner and we all sat down for some much-needed lunch. The weather wasn't great by this point and it was starting to spot with rain a bit. After lunch, Tim and I explored the park a bit while my family went to look for a post office. Park Pobedy, or Victory Park, was created in the 1960s as an open-air museum to commemorate Russia's victory over Napoleon. Since then it has been expanded to commemorate the Russian victory in WW2 also. There were some very impressive statues here. There were also a lot of fountains, although they weren't quite as impressive as the ones we'd seen at Peterhof In the distance we could also see a church with a huge golden dome. The rain started to get a bit stronger while we were walking around the park, so we headed back in the direction of the metro station. Before we set off back for the hotel, we stopped off to buy some souvenirs. I've never seen so many matroyshka dolls in one place When talking about the Park Pobedy metro station, the guidebook had said that there were enamel panels at both ends of the hall, depicting military victories in 1812 and 1945. We hadn't been able to locate either of them when we were coming out and going up the escalators, but on the way back down we found the 1812 one We also found another Lenin monument. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped off at a nearby cafe for a coffee. Well, I had an iced coffee and Tim had a beer Tim suggested that we order some cake as well and when it came it was absolutely massive! I had Prague cake again, which was extremely chocolatey. Tim had a Moscow cake, which we've never heard of before, but which seemed to involve nuts and red icing. It was a fun end to what had been a very busy day (and a very busy holiday!!)
  2. We had quite an adventure planned today, travelling to the small town of Suzdal which is approximately 150 miles east of Moscow. The guidebook advertised it as a day-trip from Moscow, but it's just about at the limit of the distance which you can do there and back in a day. Our journey was going to involve travelling to the nearby town of Vladimir by train, before attempting to catch a bus to Suzdal itself. The first step was to get to Moscow's Kursky train station. We left the hotel an hour before we needed to catch our train, but things still ended up being a little bit frantic when we couldn't find the entrance to the metro station we needed (only the exit!). We got there in the end, passed through the train station security and found our platform with a few minutes to spare. Boarding the train was a complicated process; we had bought tickets online in advance, so we had allocated seats in a specific carriage, but trying to find the correct carriage was a bit of a nightmare. In the end we realised that there were small signs with the carriage number stuck on a window in each carriage, but they weren't very prominent. Everyone who wanted to get on at that carriage had to join a queue to have their ID checked by the conductor and then be pointed in the direction of their seat. You have to give your ID number at the time of booking and then it seems like no one wants to see your actual ticket; the conductor was just typing the ID numbers into a little machine to check that we had a reservation. Eventually we got on and the train departed promptly. The journey from Moscow to Vladimir took around 1 hour 45 minutes on a Lastochka train, which only made one intermediate stop. As on our journey from St Petersburg the other day, the vast majority of the view which we saw consisted of forest. Russia definitely has a lot of trees We arrived in Vladimir around 11.15 and made our way to the bus station, which is helpfully situated just across the road from the train station. Neither building is particularly scenic. Once we were in the bus station, the next challenge was to buy tickets to Suzdal. The bus station had all manner of different counters, some of which seemed to be for buying specific types of tickets or tickets in specific directions. Unfortunately I couldn't understand what all the signs meant, so I chose a counter which I hoped said could be used to purchase all types of ticket and decided to give it a go. Luckily, in answer to my question as to whether it was possible to buy tickets to Suzdal here, the lady behind the counter said yes and sold me five. Phew The tickets turned out to be very good value once again, costing around 100 rubles each. We had just missed a bus at 11.30, so had been sold tickets for the next bus which was at 12.00. That meant we had some time to kill in the bus station, which was an interesting experience as it was lined with all manner of strange stalls selling everything from passport covers with the face of Putin to Transformers. The one thing they didn't sell was a spare screw for Helen's sunglasses, although she did look up the word and give it a try! The bus tickets had what looked like a seat number on them, though it wasn't 100% clear whether this was really a seat number or whether this was just the number of tickets which the lady had already sold for this bus. When the bus arrived, we joined the queue and decided to attempt to sit in our numbered seats anyway. It worked, although I'm still not sure whether this was luck or because everyone was really obeying the numbering system. The bus quickly became very crowded anyway, with more people joining at stops within Vladimir once we had left the bus station, and it was full to standing as we eventually made our way our of the town and onto the main road towards Suzdal. Vladimir felt like a big place and it took us a while to get to the outskirts of it, but we weren't actually sure how large it was. Having now looked it up, it turns out the population is around 345,000 which is indeed a significant size. Once we left the city behind, the views became much more scenic. We could see splashes of purple in lots of the fields that we passed through, but initially weren't sure what they were. Eventually we realised that they were wild lupins. How beautiful The journey to Suzdal took around 50 minutes. We arrived at the bus station and went inside to take a photo of the times for the return journey. The bus station is located about a mile outside of the main town but it's quite an easy walk, all along one main road. As we walked along, we got a view of our first church. The road was lined with beautiful wooden houses. Some were brightly coloured... ...some were more traditional... ...and some were really grand. We also passed some rather unusual floral displays housed in old tyres! As we got closer to the centre of the town, there was a children's play area with some rather spectacular wood carvings. And then we were in the centre of town, and could see the trading arcades and resurrection church. It was definitely lunch time by this point, so we decided to investigate the trading arcades to see whether we could find something to eat. We eventually settled on this restaurant, which was serving traditional Russian cuisine. Some of us had soup, others had pelmeni (Russian dumplings, a bit like ravioli). The thing I was most excited about though was the fact that Helen and I got an entire litre jug of cranberry juice to share Cranberry juice seems to be really popular over here! Once we'd eaten, we went out to explore Suzdal. The reason we wanted to come here is that it is one of the "Golden Ring" towns and also one of the oldest towns in Russia. The town avoided industrialisation because it wasn't on the railway, and so is still home to lots of churches and historic buildings. This red building is the Assumption Church. We went inside and I think it must have been the coolest place in Suzdal today It was absolutely baking outside and stepping into the church was like going into a fridge! We walked past a park, heading towards the Suzdal Kremlin. The Suzdal Kremlin dates from the 10th century. The most impressive building which is housed by the Kremlin walls is the Cathedral of the Nativity. The cathedral was originally constructed in the 11th century and today is a World Heritage Site. The blue roof with golden stars was absolutely stunning You can buy a ticket to go into the Kremlin, but today we didn't have time. Navigated by Helen, we pressed on through a field... ...and crossed a river. On the far side of the river was the main thing which we had come to see; the Museum of Wooden Architecture and Peasant Life. It cost 400 rubles each (around £4.85) to buy a ticket to get into this open-air museum, which is home to examples of wooden architecture from all around the region. The first building which we saw when we entered was this absolutely stunning wooden church. That was the wooden Transfiguration Church and next to it was the equally beautiful wooden Resurrection Church. It was incredible that something so intricate had been built completely out of wood. The museum was also home to a couple of peasant houses which you could go inside to see what life would have been like for Russian peasants. There was one for a well-off peasant and one for a peasant that was less well off. The house for the well-off peasant in particular didn't look too bad, although I wouldn't have fancied sleeping on this bed-shelf right up by the ceiling! The thing which I was most excited about seeing was the wooden windmill! There was a map showing how many water mills and wind mills there had been in Suzdal. It looked like they had a lot of windmills in the past! We could definitely all have stayed in the museum longer, but Tim pointed out that we needed to start making tracks back towards the bus station if we wanted to catch the 5pm bus to Vladimir. And so we went back across the river and through fields to get back to the bus station. Tim and I went ahead to buy bus tickets and before too long we were sitting on the bus back to Vladimir. It wasn't as crowded as it had been on the journey out, but it was still extremely hot! When we arrived in Vladimir we had a slight problem as we weren't sure where the centre of the town was. We could see what looked like an enormous cathedral perched on the side of a hill and figured that the town must be in that direction. While my parents tried unsuccessfully to get a taxi, Tim and I began to climb up towards the cathedral. Our strategy was partly just to walk towards it and partly to follow the directions on my offline map. This led to us taking a very strange route, up some extremely steep steps which were overgrown with nettles and along some dirt tracks, before finally emerging at the top of the hill outside the cathedral. This is the Assumption Cathedral, which is also part of a World Heritage Site. Vladimir was one of the medieval capitals of Russia and a cathedral was originally built here in the 12th century. For over 300 years it was the biggest church in Russia, and it still looks pretty big today! The golden domes on the roof were absolutely beautiful We'd just got around to the front of the cathedral when my family rejoined us, having found a much more civilised route up the main road towards the town centre In front of the cathedral we found this cool "I love Vladimir" sign We didn't have loads of time in Vladimir before we needed to catch our train home, but there was one more thing I wanted to see. Tim and I raced off down the main street in search of the Golden Gate. The gate was constructed between 1158 and 1164 and survived the Mongol destruction of Vladimir in 1237. It was reconstructed in 1795 after being damaged in a fire. We rejoined the others, who had found a nice restaurant to get pizza. We all had time to eat, before heading back to the train station and setting off on the long journey back to Moscow. As we passed by a park outside the cathedral in Vladimir, I was slightly surprised to see a small child driving a toy tank On the way to the station we also passed another beautiful church... ...and this pretty yellow building which looked very official. It was a long journey home, but all in all we had a brilliant day It would have been nice to be able to spend longer in both Vladimir and Suzdal, but I'm really glad that we got to see at least part of them today
  3. Clare

    Day 6: Moscow

    We woke up this morning excited to explore Moscow... and also to explore the breakfast buffet of our new hotel It's smaller than the one in St Petersburg so the buffet wasn't quite so extensive, but it was still pretty good. There were proper pancakes, in addition to the unusual deep-fried ones. And the coffee was very nice once someone showed me how to use the machine! After spending some time consulting our Moscow guidebooks, we decided that we were close enough to Red Square to walk. We hadn't got very far from our hotel when we caught sight of this striking church. It turns out this is the Conception Convent. The doors were open so we decided to go inside. The views were even better from inside the walls. Tim had shorts on, so he stayed outside while the rest of us went into the church. We had dressed ourselves to look suitably modest The interior of the church was as beautiful as the exterior. It was decorated with all kinds of icons, although we struggled to work out who most of them were depicting. After this unexpected diversion, we continued on our route towards the river. We emerged opposite a huge statue of Peter the Great. From there we were able to stroll along the river for a while and, very excitingly, we got our first glimpse of the Kremlin. Before we went there we had something else we wanted to see, though: the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. This is the tallest Orthodox church in the world and as we got closer to it, we could indeed see that it was enormous! If you think that the cathedral looks really new, that's because it is. There was an older church here, built during the 19th century, but it was destroyed by Stalin in 1931. Today's church was rebuilt on the same site between 1995 and 2000. While Tim waited outside on a shady bench, the rest of us ventured inside via this little door. We passed through security then ended up in what seemed to be a smaller chapel. From there, we followed signs which led us up a winding staircase and into the main cathedral. The inside was absolutely stunning, with beautiful paintings and more icons, but no pictures were allowed. Once we'd finished exploring the cathedral, we had to retrieve Tim. That took a while, as we came out of a different door from the one where we'd entered and had to figure out a way to get back down and round to where we'd started, which was complicated by the fact that there were some works going on outside the cathedral. We succeeded in the end, then made our way back across the main road. We were getting closer to the Kremlin! We needed to cross the main road again, but got stuck for a while because there seemed to have been an accident. The traffic police turned up to sort it out and eventually we managed to get across. The Kremlin walls were very imposing. We walked past a square with a huge statue. At the time we weren't sure who it was of, but it turns out to be a monument to Vladimir the Great. This is quite a new statue and was only erected in 2016. From there we walked into the Alexander Gardens, which stretch alongside the Kremlin walls. There were all kinds of things to see here. We think this monument was commemorating the 1812 war. We recognised the picture of the cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan which we'd been into in St Petersburg on Sunday As we strolled along we enjoyed wonderful views of the Kremlin towers. We found an obelisk, celebrating 300 years of the Romanov dynasty. Poignantly, the original was erected in 1914 by which point the dynasty wasn't going to last much longer. We liked this grotto, although we'd not sure what it was for. Helen and I climbed to the top and got some good views There was a row of monuments commemorating towns where battles took place during the Second World War. Coincidentally, considering I've just been to both places, the blocks for Kiev and Leningrad were right next to each other. From here we just had to pass through a security check and we were in Red Square. Most excitingly, we finally got our first glimpse of St Basil's Cathedral Once in the square, it was hard to know where to look first. In one direction we could see the historical museum... ...and in the other we could see the Kremlin and the cathedral. We also got a glimpse of this smaller pink church, which is the Kazan cathedral. One of the things we'd really wanted to do was see Lenin. We got to his mausoleum, which you can see to the right of the photo below, but couldn't see the way in. Eventually we figured out that we had to go all the way back to where we'd been at the entrance of the square and join a queue for another security check. Unfortunately, the mausoleum is only open until 1pm and at this point it was around 12.54. We got to the point where the queue started but the gates were closed and they weren't letting any more people in Never mind, maybe we can come back on Saturday! There was lots to see in the square, but St Basil's was definitely the thing I was most excited about It's such a beautiful building, and so unique! We all experimented with taking selfies We could have stood and admired the cathedral all day, but it was a very hot day and we were hungry, so we decided to go into the GUM department store. It was a really beautiful building, although all the shops seemed very posh. We ate at a canteen called Stolovaya 57. We had to join a long line to queue to get in, with a couple of aggressive ladies behind us who seemed intent on pushing in. Once we had trays we were able to pick from a very varied selection of food, some of which we could help ourselves to and some of which had to be served. Slightly bizarrely, the first food we came to were the deserts. I took a large slice of chocolate cake, just in case I didn't like any of the main courses But the main courses actually turned out to be really good and I ended up with one of the nicest chicken kievs I've ever eaten! There was no dill in it, which was a good start I had "macaroni" (actually penne!) with it, and a beautiful glass of cranberry juice. Our next challenge was to find our way out of GUM, which is easier said that done. There seem to be escalators going up, but only stairs going down. It was all a bit confusing. We found an exit in the end and emerged outside the pink cathedral. It looked really beautiful here, but we were suddenly in a bit of a rush because we'd booked tickets for a boat tour and there was a departure we'd wanted to catch at 3pm. We were looking for the metro station Okhotny Ryad and Helen managed to navigate us to approximately the right area, but we couldn't see the entrance to the metro anywhere. We were running around in different directions in the hope of spotting a red "M" somewhere. Mom asked a person who suggested it was to the left, so I suggested that she, Dad and Helen go on ahead to find it. Tim was out of sight at that point in time, but I was hoping that he'd return shortly and we could catch them up... He was quite a long way away though, so it took longer than I expected for us to be reunited and when he did return, it turned out that he'd also asked someone who had shown him a route through the shopping centre I was standing outside. So we decided to go that way, quickly bought tickets and got on the metro in record time, getting off a couple of stops down the line outside the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. I phoned Helen to see where they were, hoping they might have beat us to the boat! Unfortunately, they'd been directed to a different metro station to the one we actually wanted and so were still on their way. We were going to have to give up on the 3pm boat! The good news was that there was another boat at 4pm so we all sat and had a drink while we waited for that. The boat felt rather old and rickety and had a very loud engine which meant that we didn't stand much chance of hearing the commentary. But we were able to buy drinks on board and sit and watch the views go by We passed the cathedral... ...and the Kremlin. From here we got a much better view of the churches inside the Kremlin walls We got to see St Basil's again... ...and we saw the new Park Zaryadye. We also saw this really unusual building, but I'm not sure what it was! The boat took us around in a circle, returning us to where we'd got on outside the cathedral. From there, we were able to walk back along the river towards our hotel, where we could relax a bit before going out again for dinner in the evening.
  4. Today has been a day of travelling! It was around 3am this morning before Tim and I got to bed and as a result I was rather tired this morning. I accidentally managed to dismiss rather than snooze my 08.30 alarm, with the result that we were slightly late for our prearranged 9am breakfast time. After enjoying the hotel's breakfast buffet for a final time, we went back to our rooms to pack and - in Tim's case - write up last night's blog. We checked out of the hotel around 11.30 and set off on the metro towards St Petersburg's Moskovsky railway station. After our issues with getting to the hydrofoil on Monday, we weren't taking any chances and left with plenty of time to spare. It wasn't actually that far away, and so we arrived with plenty of time to get through security and board our train. We were travelling on a train called the Nevsky Express, which covers the approximately 445 miles between St Petersburg and Moscow in around 4 hours. We had booked five seats out of six in a compartment and were pleasantly surprised when we found that a sixth person didn't turn up to claim the spare seat The train set off punctually and soon we were on our way, speeding through the suburbs of St Petersburg before emerging into the forested countryside. My impression from the views today is that there isn't a lot between St Petersburg and Moscow except trees Some aspects of the train journey were rather confusing. An official-looking lady came into our carriage and I assumed she wanted to check our tickets. But it turned out that she just wanted to tell us that a sandwich was included in our ticket and that we could buy tea and coffee from her. A bit later another lady turned up with the sandwiches. We all chose chicken, but I couldn't eat mine because of a combination of carrots, gherkins and mayonnaise! Luckily Mom had been out shopping in the morning and picked up some bread so I didn't starve We also got some free chocolate, which was a nice surprise, and it was great to be able to have a coffee, although it felt like we got served our hot drinks at one of the bumpiest parts of the journey. Tim and Helen ordered tea, which was served in these amazing Russian railway mugs. Tim was so impressed by his that he bought one The train was beautifully air-conditioned, so it felt like the journey passed quite quickly. Every so often there were gaps in the trees and we got glimpses of lakes and rivers. The train was mostly going too fast for us to see the names of the places we passed through but most of them looked quite small, with the exception of Tver. We arrived in Moscow right on schedule and then had to negotiate our way to the hotel. I had been dreading this slightly as I thought the metro would be dreadful in rush hour, but either we were going on a really unpopular route or rush hour starts later than I expected, because the journey turned out to be absolutely fine and we got seats with no problems. The Moscow metro is different to the ones in St Petersburg and Kiev in that it doesn't use a system of tokens. Instead, we bought cardboard tickets for a certain number of journeys out of a machine. It was 55 rubles (66p) per trip, which is more expensive than St Petersburg but still nothing compared to the minimum charge on the London Underground (which I think is about £2.40). We checked into the hotel and I was impressed by the size of my room As well as the bed, we've got a desk and sofa. By this point we were all tired and hungry so we set out to find food, eventually tracking down an Italian restaurant where we could get pizza. So far we haven't seen anything of Moscow, but we're looking forward to exploring after a good night's sleep tomorrow
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