During October and November 2007 I set off on an adventure that took me from Australia to Japan, then on to Russia and China before returning home to Australia. I have kept my travel emails from that trip, so I thought it might be fun to repost them here and add a few photos. This blog is Part 2 of that journey (Russia).
I only started to send travel emails in 2007 and only upgraded to a blog in 2011, so I think I will post a series of them from my other trips around the world between those years in further posts as a retrospective view of my travels.
October 11th, 2007
Arrived safely in Moscow last night from Tokyo (had a great time there – really liked it).
My god what a nightmare the Moscow airport is!! Of all the customs passport control I have been through in the world…..Russia is the slowest most inefficient I have ever seen – it was absolute chaos – customs police yelling, lines all over the place. The flight was an hour late and then customs took over an hour to get through.
Unfortunately I had arranged for a taxi to pick me up at the airport – of course the guy only waited so long and left before I got out – the person who arranged this for me still had to pay for it!!! So anyway I had to pay for 2 taxis in the end – expensive night!!! The good news is since then everything has gone really well!
I am staying in a hostel that is close to the city centre – within walking distance and in a nice area. It is a converted apartment that is really nice – good group of people here including a bunch of Russian kids who are running it. They cracked out the Vodka and a lot was consumed by all at the hostel……welcome to Russia!!!
This morning I had breakfast at McDonald’s just outside the walls of the Kremlin – old Lenin and Stalin would be turning in their graves at the thought of such symbols of the free west just outside the seat of Communism! So I thought I will go and pay my respects to them!
Lenin is preserved in wax like form in a tomb right in the middle of Red Square, the guards usher you through very quickly but you get to have a good look at him (god knows what chemicals they use to preserve him, but they also dip him in wax)!!! You must be extremeley respectful, no hands in pockets and no photos!
It was amazing to be walking around Red Square, St. Basils cathedral, the GUM Department Store (a former Communist store that has now been renovated as a high end shopping centre). Always been fascinated by this place since I was a kid watching the 1980 Moscow Olympics and watching all those May Day parades over the years. The Kremlin was closed today, so I will be going to have a look there tomorrow. Then late tomorrow night I am on the train to St. Petersburg (will be back in Moscow late next week for a few days more).
The language is a hurdle but I am having no trouble getting around, buying food (no not just McDonald’s!!) etc. Funnily enough I must look Russian as I have been asked directions by many Russians today!!! The illusion is shattered as soon as I speak!
An interesting place I visited not far from Red Square was Detskiy Mir (“Childrens World“). It opened in 1957 and was the largest toy store in the Soviet Union. Back in Communist times it contained rare toys and clothes that most Russian kids could only dream of having. They not only sold the latest Soviet toys but also those from other Eastern Bloc countries such as Czechoslovakia. It must have been fascinating for kids in what were very austere times to see this place. Today it is still a huge toy store that everyone can now enjoy.
The Kremlin was a fascinating place with palaces and cathedrals and given how much history had resonated behind the huge towered walls of this place throughout history it is a privilege just to visit there (Kremlin construction began in the 1320′s but was ongoing until 1851). It was the seat of power for Ivan the Great, Tsars, the Soviets (1922–1991) and remains so for the Russian Federation today. There are a number of interesting items on display within the grounds including the massive Tsar Cannon – cast in 1586, it was never fired in war and was more for symbolic power and the Tsar Bell – cast in 1735, it is the largest bell in the world, weighing almost 202 tons and standing more than 6 metres high and 6.6 metres across. During a fire in 1737 overheating and uneven cooling caused a large chunk weighing more than 11 tons to crack from the bell (It has never been rung). In the Armoury Building are the very impressive royal jewels of the Tsars.