“You must remember that there was virtually no air travel in the early 1930s. Africa was two weeks away from England by boat and it took you about five weeks to get to China. These were distant and magic lands and nobody went to them just for a holiday. You went there to work. Nowadays you can go anywhere in the world in a few hours and nothing is fabulous anymore.”
Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl
Midnight. Every now and then a sharp whistle and a flash or two of light illuminated the cabin from the crack in the window blind. I lay on my narrow top bunk in a state of semi-sleep. The train rolled south, the clank and blatter of machinery somehow peaceful. I slept. Smoked fish, pine forests and icons visited me in my dreams all the way to the capital.
Moscow. A city of squeaky-clean-newness, works-like-clockwork-efficiency, labels and bling.
Why? Like every proper W.A.G., Moscow has found a perfectly good reason for a make-over – FIFA World Cup Football 2018.
On arrival we were met by a friend who took our luggage and dropped us at the Kremlin, where he’d booked us on a tour of the Armoury Chamber. 35 degrees C it was. We were disheveled and a bit on the smelly side after our night on the train. I’d packed badly for the unexpected heat of Russia, but a happy band of travellers we were.
Unfortunately our school-marm-ish, ‘English-speaking’ (sort of) guide was not in the mood for quips and laughs: “PAY ATTENTION!” she said to us. This was perhaps our 20th ‘pay attention’ of the morning. “Pay attention to the fine detail on the gown of the priest. You can see the icon of Archangel Mike.” Archangel Mike? We looked at each other. Hubby raised an eyebrow and I stifled my 20th childish giggle.
The problem was not just Archangel Mike, nor was it the impossibility of discerning any English words from her very think accent. Rather it’s just that her immense bosom (and rather see-through blouse) was at my eye-level. It was simply not possible to PAY ATTENTION!
We saw …
The Kremlin, The Armoury, St Basils, the Gum Shopping Centre, the gardens of Abramtsevo Artist Colony, Moscow City‘s glass high rise district, Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty at the Moscow School of Classical Ballet, Varvarka Street on the Moscow River, Izmaylovo craft market with every imaginable souvenir and the Kazbek Georgian restaurant with a view of the cityscape, delivered exactly what they said on the tin – and more.
If you’re planning to visit any of these, start your day as early as possible because the heaving noise and sweat of tourist humanity will invariably be joining you. Alternatively, be brave – visit Russia in winter. Winter is beautiful.
Dorogomilovsky Food Market is where you’d regularly find me if I lived in Moscow. This market will delight you with every kind of fruit and vegetable you’ve ever imagined, rabbit meat, lamb, poultry, fish, crayfish, prawns and crab, red and black caviar, spices, chilli, smoked-anything, pickled-everything and jammed-berries piled high for as far as the eye can see. Taste, but then buy. Or bravely walk away from the disappointed face that first lured your in with a smile and a “Come, come. Taste, taste.”
Moscow Metro Stations are all named after wars, revolutions, uprisings and revolutionaries. Moscow has turned an ordinary commute, into a walk through Russian history and politics. I could have traveled the Metro all day. There is a story for every station. For instance, Partizanska Metro Station tells how the partisans fought the Germans from the forests. Elektro Zavodzkaya commemorates the electrification of Russia with murals and lights. Kievskaya is decorated with painted murals of Kiev as the ‘wheat basket’ of the Soviet Union, made all the more poignant given the cover up propaganda of the famine in Ukraine at the time. Ploshchad Revolyutsii Metro Station is all about the revolution. It’s fascinating.
Park Patriot made me wonder if I’d been beamed over to the confederate Deep South during a reenactment of the American civil war. It’s a ‘theme park’ outside Moscow for the patriot in you. Tanks, bombs, air battles, trenches, live animals, bunkers and manoeuvres of all kinds … even for a pacifist, gun-hating small Nyamazela, this is an interesting place. By the way, it’s brand new so be one of the first to visit. I dare you.
We were wined and dined on this, the last leg of our trip, by our Muscovite friends, who, on the last evening, over a glass of wine, just happened to mention, as-you-do, that they had once been… Members. Of. The. Party. I choked on my wine. I leave you with that.
If you managed to get through all 4 parts of my epic Russian blog, I mean journey, then well done. You’re braver than most.
By way of thanks, I give you The Toilet Index below.
P.s. ‘Pay attention’ is a direct translation from Russian which absolutely does not work in English. She meant something more akin to ‘may I draw your attention to’ or ‘note the delicate design of’, but she had her script and, well … there was no messing with her.
P.p.s. The famous Bolshoy and Marinskiy professional ballet troops are on tour over summer, so you won’t catch them unless you visit Russia from Autumn – Spring. Incidentally the Russian ballet was touring South Africa when we were in Russia.
P.p.p.s. Some Russian commuter trains, certainly all international and intercity trains do announcements in both Russian and English – part of the FIFA make-over.
P.p.p.p.s. Did you know? Peter the Great shared a Double throne with his brother Ivan. A small throne was placed out of sight at the back of their double throne for their sister Sophia, who was older and wiser and fed answers to the boys. Later Peter had her sent to a monastery. Nice.
P.p.p.p.p.s. Disappointments: We didn’t get a good look at Red Square because it was covered with seating for a concert. Lenin’s mausoleum was closed – he probably needed fresh pickling.
The Toilet Index:
|Faberge Museum||Fragrant #thegoodkind||Double ply||Yes||Yea||Blue lighting|
|Georgian Restaurant (Khochu Kharcho)||Like roses!||Choice of paper, towel & wet wipes||Yip||Absolutely||Fluff remover, mirror, nail file.|
|Valaam Island||Tried not to breath||Found a tissue in my bag||Yes, outside the portaloo||Nope||No lights|
|Orthodox Church Drug Rehabilitation Centre||Fragrant (the bad kind)||No||No||No||Had to pay 50 Roubles|
|Loos on edge of Pine Forest||Oh. My. Word.||Yes||No – Cleaned my hands on lichen in forest.||Natty peddle removed things.||Long queue|
|Museum of Karelia in Petrozavodsk||WARP FACTOR||Yes||Yes||Waste paper basket||A lingering smell remained in my nostrils!|
|Hydrofoil||Breezy, mixed with chemical smell & gas.||Soap container fell off wall||Yes||Yes||View of Lake Onega|
|Gum Shopping Centre, Historic toilet||Hubby wouldn’t let me go||because we were||already late for||dinner with friends||Please let me know if you go!|