Friday, March 25

Ирония Судьбы... An impromptu trip to Moscow.

So, I went to Moscow on a whim last weekend. I'll write in detail about my trip in this post, but first I'll write a little about Троице-Измайловский Собор (translates to English as 'Trinity Cathedral'), where I went after school last Thursday.

After seeing its distinctive blue and gold domes on the horizon every day on my way to school for the last few months, I finally decided to visit Trinity Cathedral. Sadly, during its restoration following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the cathedral caught on fire in 2006. Since then, the renovation of the exterior has been completed, but the interior is still being restored. We decided to go inside, but I wasn't able to take any photos as it's a working cathedral and not a tourist attraction like many others - this means it's free to get in, but you have to be very quiet, and women must cover their heads. There's not a lot else to say about the cathedral other than the fact that it's stunningly beautiful (on the outside, at least), so I'll just put some pictures of it here:

(Top: The whole cathedral; Bottom Left: Front-on view; Bottom Right: A memorial column in front of the cathedral, made out of cannons)

Also, if anyone is interested, this is a picture of the cathedral when it was ablaze in 2006, stolen from Wikipedia. I think it's great to see how lovely it looks now - the Russians sure do work hard when it comes to restoring their old buildings.

Another great thing we discovered upon visiting the cathedral is that there's a huge market right next to it. The market sells a whole range of extremely cheap clothing, shoes, bags and household goods, including a whole host of fakes. Though we didn't buy anything on our first trip there, Pippa and I decided to go back again this week and buy some fake Fred Perry shoes we'd seen. They are extremely good fakes and truly lovely shoes, and only cost around £12. 

You can see from my pictures above that we've been having absolutely gorgeous weather here in Petersburg. It's started to get a bit colder again unfortunately, but I don't really mind because most days the sun is shining and the blue sky makes everything look better! I can't say the same for the weather in Moscow, sadly, but we'll get to that shortly...

As I said in my last two posts on here, I was planning to go to Novgorod with some friends at the weekend. This plan somewhat backfired when I realised the information I'd found online was really quite out of date, which was confirmed by my landlady phoning the train station and being told there isn't even a direct train there anymore. Upon hearing this news, we started researching different cities to go to and went to the ticket office to buy tickets on Friday, though when we got there we were met with a few too many unfriendly cashiers who were confused by our Russian and us theirs. Luckily, they were kind enough to provide some touch-screen monitors which allow you to browse journeys and available seats. After a few stressful moments of browsing, we realised our newly-chosen destination of Старая Ладога (Old Ladoga) also didn't seem to be served by a direct train from Petersburg. Though this finally made me learn the lesson to never trust information on the internet, it was fairly annoying that we had nowhere to go. Then, on a whim, Pippa and I decided to finally go to Moscow, a trip we'd been wanting to do for a few months. Our fellow potential travel companions decided that buying tickets on a train to Moscow 4 hours before the train's departure was a little too adventurous for them, so backed out of the trip. We are going to go to Novgorod together after this reading week though, just on the bus rather than the train. We found the cheapest tickets to Moscow (about £8 there and £16 back!), wrote down the train times and bought the tickets. Photos from the train ticket buying debacle:

(Top Left: Saint Petersburg ticket office - Soviet architecture at it's strangest; Top Right: Close-up of sci-fi-esque skylights; Bottom: Train tickets! A lot fancier than they are in the UK)

Once our tickets were bought, the race was on... The train left at 10pm, and it was already around 5 o'clock, so we had to rush home and pack. We met up later that evening, both paranoid that we'd forgotten to pack essentials in our haste (though actually neither of us had) and waited on the platform to board our train. On the way there, we'd bought the cheapest of the cheap tickets, which were seated... I thought having seats on a sleeper train wouldn't be a problem, and really it wasn't actually the seats that ended up making the journey terrible - it was the heat! Everything was pretty much fine, excluding the scary-looking gypsy men surrounding us on all sides, up until about an hour into the journey, when the heating obviously kicked in and the carriage turned into a moving sauna. Anyway, we made it and arrived in Moscow at about 5.30am, feeling surprisingly energetic following our 3 hour sleep on the train. When we got off the train, we instantly recognised where we were - we were in the same station we'd left from. Well, not exactly, but the two stations we'd passed through were obviously identical, which was rather confusing, especially at 5.30 in the morning. Both inside and outside, they were the same - only the names were different... The station we'd left from in Petersburg was called 'Moskovsky Vokzal' (Moscow Station) and the one we'd arrived at was called 'Leningradsky Vokzal' (Leningrad/Petersburg Station). It was like being in a parallel universe or something.

Anyway, once we'd navigated our way out of the familiar-feeling station, we went straight to a 24-hour coffee shop for a sit down and a drink, accompanied by the sudden realisation that we'd just spontaneously come to Moscow. Once we'd finished our drinks it was already getting light, so we decided to head to Red Square nice and early to avoid all the tourists. This plan was quite successful, as the place was almost deserted and we had a nice walk around, including walking the entire Kremlin wall during a moment of poor navigation by yours truly. Here are a few pictures from our early-morning walk around the usually bustling centre of Moscow:

(Top Left: Me throwing a coin behind me whilst standing on a (surprisingly slippery) metal circle - this is supposed to be lucky... This early in the morning you avoid all the old ladies who come and stand around all day instantly grabbing any coins of value that get thrown by tourists; Top Right: Me in front of St. Basil's Cathedral; Top Middle: Pippa on Red Square; Middle Left: The clock tower of the Kremlin; Middle Right: St. Basil's Cathedral; Bottom Middle: Lenin's mausoleum; Bottom Left: Archways and tiny chapel at one of the entrances to Red Square; Bottom Right: One of the more fancy parts of the Kremlin wall, featuring blocks with names of Soviet cities)

After our epic walk around Red Square and the entirety of the Kremlin, we stopped in McDonald's for breakfast. I had my first ever Egg McMuffin, which was absolutely delightful. It's a good job they only sell them in the mornings, otherwise I'd become addicted! After a long sit down, we decided we should probably find somewhere to stay. We'd done a little bit of research beforehand, and Pippa had an address for a hostel, but the map in my lecturer's guidebook for Moscow (she left it here when she stayed) was totally useless, listing only the main streets, so we had to find an internet cafe. We walked around the vicinity for hours and hours looking for either a hostel or an internet cafe, and gave up all hope at around 10.30am. I thought I knew a place where we could find an internet cafe, so we got on the metro and went there. There was indeed an internet cafe there, so we managed to find a suitable hostel which still had space and got the metro there. The Moscow metro is ridiculously difficult to use, something I failed to notice the last time I visited... They have stations with the same names on different colour lines, which aren't in the same place! How stupid is that?! Here are photos of random things we saw on our trek around the area whilst looking for a hostel:



(Top Left: A plaque about Lenin; Top Right: View down a path in some park; Middle: An extremely Soviet-looking building; Bottom Left: A lovely little church near our hostel; Bottom Right: One of Stalin's 'Seven Sisters' skyscrapers)

Anyway, we found our hostel finally and checked in. We got a private room with 2 beds all to ourselves, so we refreshed by having showers and a lie down. Feeling rather a lot cleaner and better, we headed out for dinner and then headed to a bar for drinks with some friends who studied in Petersburg last semester. First we went to an Irish Pub which was lovely and which I'd been to the last time I was in Moscow. Here we were bought a couple of drinks by a lovely (albeit very drunk) Irish man, who had obviously got a bit over-excited in the build-up to the rugby match between England and Ireland. It turned out he actually works as a manager for a huge oil and gas company for the whole of Russia :o After the Irish Pub, we were taken to a bar called Radio City by our friend Lauren, who Pippa knows from uni in England and who I met last semester here in Petersburg. The bar was New York/jazz themed and was really quite nice, though it was full of British expats, who were there to watch the rugby. I don't think you'd ever find that in Petersburg! I saw more British people (who I didn't know) in Moscow in two days than I've seen here in 7 months! Anyway, we had a lovely evening and it was nice catching up with Lauren and seeing what a night out is like in Moscow. We didn't stay too late though as we were extremely tired from our lack of sleep the previous night, and we retired back to our hostel in a frighteningly fast taxi...

On the Sunday, after a great night's sleep in the hostel, we checked out at 11am and headed back towards Red Square. En route, we came across a number of lovely little churches, much older than anything you'd find in Petersburg (which only came into existence in 1703). We also stumbled upon 'The Old English Court', a very old building which claimed to be the first English embassy in Russia. Intrigued, we went up to get a closer look and realised you could go inside. Since it was free for students, we went in and had a look around - it was interesting being in such an old building, and it was full of artifacts documenting the history of Russia's relationship with England, including letters from British monarchs to Russian tsars. I didn't take any photos inside since I wasn't sure if it was allowed, but here are a few pictures of the churches and the outside of The Old English Court:



(Top Left: Very old, beautiful Russian Orthodox church; Top Right: Another lovely church; Top Middle: The Old English Court; Bottom Middle: Sign for The Old English Court; Bottom Left: Yet another gorgeous church; Bottom Right: Extremely cute stray kitten - I wanted to take it home!)

We carried on walking to Red Square, where stopped off for some lunch. I got in touch with my friend Flick, who I met last semester whilst she was studying in Petersburg, and we arranged to meet up and go to the State Historical Museum. I didn't go there last time I was in Moscow, and I have to say I wasn't expecting a great deal after constantly hearing that Petersburg was the capital of culture and assuming its museums would be better than any in Moscow. I was pleasantly surprised though, as we were greeted by an absolutely lovely building both inside and out, containing a whole load of interesting objects, including a huge collection of the Tsars' gold, guarded by police. Talking of police, when Pippa and I first entered the museum with our huge rucksacks, we were ordered to take them off and show a policeman what was inside. This policeman must have been about 20 years old and was a complete jobsworth, forcing us to chuck our stuff out in the middle of the floor in front of everyone. Obviously we looked like complete terrorists or something. He really got on our nerves, and when we started trying to talk about him in English we were scolded and told to only speak in Russian! Bah! Anyway, here are my photos from the State Historical Museum, which are mostly just pictures of the beautiful ceilings...

(Top Left: Outside of The State Historical Museum; Top Right: Ceiling in the main hall bit in the State Historical Museum; Others: Lovely ceilings inside the museum)

After our trip to the museum, we went with Flick to the Arbat - a very touristy street in the middle of Moscow, full of souvenir shops and street entertainers. Here we wasted time wandering around browsing souvenirs and watching performers, including a man painting really good posters with spray paint, then we ate at Moo Moo, a chain of cool restaurants in Moscow. After just a couple of hours, it was already time for Pippa and I to head to the train station to await our journey back to Petersburg. Here are a couple of photos from our walk down the Arbat:


(Top: Me and Flick, who it was lovely to see again; Bottom Left: Me with the cuuuuute cow outside Moo Moo; Bottom Right: Really weird graffiti - it seemed funnier at the time, possibly due to tiredness)

The only thing left to talk about is the train home. We weren't sure what to expect, since when we bought the return ticket we didn't specify whether we wanted seats or beds. The tickets were twice as expensive (at the princely sum of £16!) so we were hoping for beds, but we still weren't sure. After getting completely confused and not finding our seat numbers anywhere, we were shown to our beds (yay!) by a friendly conductor lady. Upon finding our beds, we weren't sure if we actually got the whole bed to ourselves, or whether other people just sat on them with us like seats. We asked a friendly old lady, who told us 'Of course you get your own beds!' and helped us out with the confusing things such as bedlinen. A nice guy came and spoke to us, and also a lady in a nearby bed. The whole journey was 100% better than on the way to Moscow, and I'd definitely recommend getting a bed instead of a seat, since it was nowhere near as warm and the people were much friendlier! That's all I have to say about Moscow really... I'll end by saying that though I do like the city, it's a lot harder to get around and a lot easier to get by just speaking English there than in Petersburg, and all in all I'm really glad I chose to spend 9 months here rather than there. I'm sure I'll go back there one day, though!

As a final note - I finished knitting my scarf! I actually finished it ages ago, but I've only just thought to post about it on my blog now. It's so long and warm and lovely! Here it is:

As a final final note, I am going to Helsinki tomorrow to meet my dad. I'm really excited, but also a little nervous! It's the first time I've left Russia since I got here in September, and I'm flying with a pretty budget Russian airline. I'm sure all will be fine though, and expect another similarly lengthy post about Helsinki sometime next week! 

Naomi :D

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