Sheremetyevo Airport sucks balls…

So our initial impressions of Sheremetyevo Airport were not so favourable – I mentioned how we came off our flight and were ushered down two flights of stairs into a tiny ‘holding area’ for two plane loads of people, with no rope lines to ‘assist’ with queuing before getting processed through customs…? Well, I found this map:

The holding area is the dark grey parallelogram shape at the top (left one for us) of this diagram next to the little customs dude icon.  The unlinked circular squiggles are a baggage claim area that is roughly the size of a usual baggage claim area… meaning the holding area was stupidly fucking tiny for 700+ people to wait, cheek to jowl, for over an hour. No wonder people were getting restless and in each other’s faces.  And what a bloody fire hazard!

Our, now cemented, impressions are that this place, this particular airport, is a Traveller’s Special Circle of Hell.  What a nightmare.  We left our hotel this morning early, very early, given that our transfer from the airport TO the city took a full two hours instead of the 43 minutes that Google maps said it should.  I had tried to look for an airport map of Sheremetyevo Airport on the way to Moscow in the in-flight magazine, as is my habit, but the maps were all in Russian and I couldn’t make head nor hide of it.  Then I promptly forgot all about it until we went to fly out through here this morning.

With the benefit of high speed internet, I have found one and provided it here for illustration purposes… it is much more detailed and useful than the mud map I saw on the plane.
Our taxi driver dropped us off at Terminal D, as was indicated on our pre-checked in boarding passes that we printed out at the hotel, which is the grey funnel shaped area at the bottom of this picture.  When we went through the process of handing over our passports and dropping off our luggage, it was just in that first grey area where there was approximately 50 or more numbered check in counters. Vitaly, who checked us in, told us our gate had changed from Gate 5 to Gate 44 and he directed us to go to Terminal F to find our gate.  So, we walked all the way around to Terminal F (about 1.4kms) on the outside immigration and clearance, ‘grey area’, on the map, landing us at the red ‘i’ site on the concourse (it’s depicted just above the green text boxes in the map above).  When we got there, there were check-in counters all numbered 100-150, but no signs directing patrons to Gate 44 at all.  Each terminal has multiple security clearance entrance points, but we had no idea where we were going so we asked the lady as the ‘i’ site to check if we were in the right area.

Big mistake – we handed over our boarding passes, and the woman told us that we needed to enter through Terminal D!  Seriously?  Fucking unimpressed. It is at this point that I should probably mention that I have walked my chronically pained body more than 50kms on foot over the previous 3 days or so… which, while exhilarating and amazing things were seen, had left me in a state of more than usual sleep deprivation (it’s hard to sleep when your pain levels are up) and serious energy depletion all round.  So at this point, ‘Hey, you need to waste time and energy walking 1.4kms back the way you came!’ was NOT happy news.  I did what usually do in these situations though, and STFU, gritted my teeth and trudged back to Terminal D.  There’s nothing else to be done.

So we walk back the way we came and enter the customs area through Terminal D, only to finally find signs with numbered gate directions on them and wouldn’t you know it – Gate 44 was back in Terminal F only we now had to navigate the 1.4kms back there again, wiggling back and forth through the most overcrowded shopping centre you have ever seen. It is at this point I started to have to fight to hold back the tears.  My back pain is through the roof, my feet are stupidly sore and I’m done.  Just done.  This is what happens when expectations don’t match reality for chronic pain sufferers – I anticipated a fairly easy morning of check-in, find gate, sit and wait patiently for our flight to board.  When reality turns out to be an ever increasing amount of walking required, when I am already feeling shattered, I just had no energy budgeted to do this.

Additionally we discovered this wasn’t a normal airport concourse with large open spaces, lots of seating areas and a few shops scattered about.  No, it is full on, tight and tiny shopping centre that seems to incidentally to have planes arriving and leaving from it!  No shit…  So many stores, so few seats, and crowds of people to navigate around, as we walked all the way back to where we went originally.  A great deal of the signage directed you through the duty-free stores to find your gate too, so dodging ladies with perfume samples and display stands of alcohol were more obstacles to be navigated.

The further we went, the more incredulous I became. Nearly the entire gate ‘lounge’ area (and I use that term loosely, as there is no space to lounge at all), is taken over by shopping and retail past the immigration control.  I should have taken some photographs.  And not even useful retail spaces if they wanted people to spend some money – cafes and restaurants and newsagents or bookstores may have been more heavily patronised… no, all this area is taken up with duty-free alcohol and cosmetics stores, and stand alone Chanel, Rolex, J’Adore, Raybans and all sorts of other bullshit high end retail spaces where rows and rows of seats should be for weary travellers to sit.

We finally find our gate, which is squished in beside a Subway and yet another duty-free cosmetics store, and there are people standing around everywhere – and this is fun… people were sitting on the stairs that are marked near Gate 44/45 that leads to the upper part of the concourse.  So we drag ourselves and our hand luggage over to the flight of stairs where we can keep an eye on movement at our gate and finally plonk ourselves down to wait for our flight – on the cold hard and dubiously clean concrete steps.

See this map?  And the icons for ‘Shop’ and ‘Dury-Free Shop’… note also how there are not present on the map?  That is because the entire map would have measles if they were included.

We sat on the hard and uncomfortable steps for about half an hour, watching the people enter and leave the ladies toilets, and for me, taking the opportunity to try and calm my pain and regain my composure,  And during that time, I saw no one, and I mean that literally, NO ONE shopping in these retail spaces. The staff were lollygagging around bored, and the travellers were all exasperatedly looking around for somewhere to sit.  If they had lined the concourse with cafes and restaurants people would have gone in, bought a drink and maybe a snack, just to have a chair to wait on instead of cramming onto the flight of concrete stairs with us.  I don’t get it at all.

Eventually we started to board and ‘lo and behold, two lines had formed on either side of the round Chanel counter/stand thing and then it became a bullshit, ‘can you people fucking merge politely?’ clusterfuck.  Jebus… not looking forward to coming through here on the way back, though mind you, now we know the lay of the land, we will just go find a seat in TGI Friday’s near the central D terminal and wait it out.  Though Mr K is likely to just go buy lounge access somewhere to skip the entire mess.

Sheremetyevo Airport – 2 out of 10.  Do not recommend.



Izmailovsky Markets and Gorky Park

The village of Izmailovo dates back to the 14thC when it would have been on the edge of a thick forest that stretched to the east.  It reportedly took its name from a boyar family – Izmailov – who owned the village at the time.  Sometime in the early 1600s, Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich decided to build a model economy in this village and more than 700 families were moved there in just six months.  Parks and gardens were developed, exotic crops were introduced – melons, cotton, grapes and orangeries, a menagerie of rare birds and animals was built, and large ponds were dug out for fish farming as well.


The market was the thriving centre of this village and is still located near the ceremonial gate house and the bridge tower near the town’s cathedral.  So much amazing architecture in Moscow – it was actually the images of these building that enticed me to come see these markets.

The Izmailovsky Markets (aka the Vernisazh Markets. I don’t know why… I’ve given up trying to figure out why everything has more than one name?!), are contained in a crazy, eclectic, remarkable collection of old timber buildings with a very alpine feel to them…

The Izmailovsky Markets are Moscow’s largest flea markets. With plenty of permanent vendors selling all the usual tourist offerings – dolls, furs, scarves, ceramics, wooden wares – right along side part-time or one-off vendors, selling collectable coins, military paraphernalia, tools, lapidary supplies, Soviet era memorabilia, gemstones and bayonets and spare magazines for your AK47.
So many dolls!

The markets are very heavily patronised, particularly on weekends – though I was told that if you visit in winter, it is often the case that there will only be a couple of die hard vendors set up, so it’s really a ‘summer must do’ for Moscow.

After our visit to the market, we decided to take the trains to Gorky Park, aka The Central Park of Culture and Recreation (TSKKiO) that was named after the famous author and philosopher Whatsisname Gorky.  Built in the 1920s, the 219.7ha site is now a favourite place for Muscovites to come meet friends, participate in community activities and enjoy the rare sunshine in the summer.  Today there was water ski jumping activities, a hot rod and car show going on, a retail expo seemingly aimed at young people as well as all the usual activities, including a mini Luna Park and lots of people enjoying cafes restaurants and sunbathing on the lawns.

The car show was unexpected.  Lots of fancy looking hotted up cars – all dropped to the deck, very flashy paint jobs and obviously lots of time and attention lavished on them. The locals were loving it – taking their photos in front of the cars, and some of the young girls even managing to convince the owners to let them drape themselves on the bonnets.  🙂

Not far from Gorky Park and the Oktyabryskya metro station is the Muzeon Park of Arts (aka the Park of the Fallen Heroes, or the Fallen Monument Park. It surrounds the Krymsky Val building which houses the modern art division of the Tretyakov Gallery.  The Muzeon Part of Arts is a large open-air sculpture museum which has over 700 pieces of sculpture on display throughout the open space, which was once a military site.   Being right beside the important Krymsky Bridge, this space was used to house military hardware and anti-aircraft weaponry during WWII (or the ‘Great Patriotic War, as WWII is known in Russia).   After that, the vast empty space was laughingly referred to as ‘snow storage’ until the ’60s when all sorts of proposals for the site were put forward.  The Central House of Artists was started in 1965 and a thriving artists’ community has been here since.

Around the Central House of Artists are a number of these large pavillions where local artists are exhibiting and presumably selling their paintings.  The artistic genres and styles vary as much as the subject matter, and it is a great place to see how Muscovites are interpreting and representing their experiences here.  The artworks were very impressive, if they were not so annoying to transport home, I would have loved to have delved in and chosen a special piece.

The Muzeon Park and the fallen monuments themselves turned up here in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union in October 1991.  Statues of Soviet leaders, representations of social realism, and unidentified workers and peasants, were removed from their locations and pedestals and brought to the park left literally fallen on the ground.  They were later re-established though without their original pedestals and they were the start of the sculpture gardens.  Now, with many modern art sculpture pieces added, the Soviet monuments are only a minority part of the collection in the park.

After this, we decided to head back into the city (via a small nightmare on the buses… Why so many number 4 buses?  All we want is one number 1 bus?) to pop into the Kremlin Museum shop to try and find some English catalogues of the collections.  Some had English translations but many did not.  Russia is a little behind on this front, most European museums have their collection catalogues available in a multitude of language – we have found so far that Russia seems reluctant to publish this way.

Already it had been a long day – we have walked 15kms each day since we got here and were well on target to exceed that today, was feeling mighty footsore, though pleased to have been able to walk around on grass instead of pavement for quite a bit of the day.  We had planned to hang around Red Square until dark to see these amazing buildings lit up at night.  So we found ourselves a bar (actually we were looking for the Beluga Caviar and Vodka Bar, but the one in the GVM doesn’t have the same menu as the others *sad face*) and had an early dinner and a few drinks and enjoyed some people watching.  Moscow Mules, chicken Kiev with mashed potato and pureed beets, and layered honey cake for the people!

Over dinner, and waiting for nightfall, we spent some time discussing Russian Weirdnesses – little things that are different from home that you notice when you travel, and came up with the following list:

Dining out is fairly cheap compared to home.
There is always lots of staff everywhere, and lots of older people in cleaning jobs.
Nothing opens until 10-11am but shops and museums are open until really late.
Free caviar tastings in the delis and markets are amazing!
Soft drinks and water bought from cafes and shops are never cold (what’s with that?)
Even when it’s stupid hot and the sun is scorching, locals are not wearing hats.
Public bathrooms are super clean (well, compared to China, Greece, and Turkey!)
No ice in your cold drinks unless you ask for it.
Men wear wicking work out shirts as everyday wear with jeans.
Women seem to wear whatever the hell they want – no obvious fashion trends.
People don’t smile much – and apparently, won’t unless there is something to smile about.
The toilet paper is rough everywhere – airport, hotel, cafes, public bathrooms.
Brand label tracksuits, fitted t-shirts, bright white sneakers are a stereotype for a reason.
Man bags are totally a thing here… every guy has one.
Children are remarkably well behaved here, I did not see one screaming nightmare of a kid in a shop or public space.

One thing we both noticed was the lack of any major security presence.  We don’t know why, perhaps it is because we both grew up with the ever present propaganda associated with the Cold War in the 80s, but we both had a sense that there was something menacing about Russia.  It wasn’t until we actually entered the Kremlin complex yesterday that I realised I was expecting a sense of impending menace.  Mr K said he was surprised not to see security guards with machine guns in the street – and come to think of it I have seen this in the last few years in places like Rio and Barcelona and Rome, but there was none of that here.  We haven’t seen even any regular cops here carrying side arms.  Everything feels calm, relaxed and safe – and we weren’t expecting that.  Perhaps these expectations weren’t helped by the Australian Government’s current travel advisory:

Overall, I have to ask… ‘exercise a high degree of caution’.  Yeah.  Why exactly?  We have thoroughly enjoyed our time here and are looking forward to seeing St Petersburg in a few weeks on the way back too.

It was getting dark so we found ourselves a space to sit in the middle of Red Square and watched the crowds taking their last selfies in front of St Basil’s and the Spasskaya Tower before nightfall.  Saw some German guy taking photographs of his heavily pregnant wife/partner in front of the Cathedral – I did my good deed for the day and offered to take some photos of the two of them together.  He was thankful but obviously not expecting much, but when I handed the camera back, and he looked at the results his jaw dropped and he was near tripping over himself with gratitude.  He was shooting in the wrong mode for those lighting conditions, and I altered a few settings and framed some nice off centre portraits of the two of them… I hope they made for a nice souvenir.
I am just in love with this building.  It is simply spectacular.
So I got some night pictures and was very happy with my wash.  Another big day.  Off to the hotel with us after that – we have an early start tomorrow to transit to Stockholm… and I was now officially ‘trudging’ all the way there.  My poor feet!


The Kremlin and St Basils and the Cosmonaut Museum, oh my!

Up and at ’em!  We had a quick and early breakfast this morning in the hopes that we could get ourselves up to Red Square before the hordes of tourists arrived so we could take some better photographs of the Cathedral, without people and in better light.  The efforts paid off and I must have taken about 50 photos, many of which were completely devoid of tourists!  Sweet success!  Anything else that happens today is now pure gravy!  😀
Such an impressively unique building.  Spasskaya Tower – currently the exit from the Moscow Kremlin State Museum precinct, which we are going to explore this morning before doubling back on St Basil’s to go inside once it is open.Red Square – currently drowning in bleachers under construction for an upcoming military tattoo.So, first up the Kremlin.  We arrived early to line up and get tickets – along with everyone else it seems!  No Red Square was empty!  There were hundreds of people queued here to buy tickets to enter the complex.  Mr K, who like me, tends to do some research before arriving at our destination, walked right around the queues and used an automated machine in the ticket hall to buy our tickets!  An hour saved right there… at least!  We did, however, line up with massive lines of tour groups at the entrance gates – for about 15 minutes before realising they were staggering the entry of said large tour groups, and that people who were entering on their own could just march right around those huge groups and walk on in… which we promptly did once it dawned on us.  This is one of the disadvantages of not speaking the language – there were possibly plenty of people around us saying that the long queue was for tour groups only, but we couldn’t read any of the signs and couldn’t overhear any instructions.  Oh well.

Our only disappointment in this morning’s endeavours was the discovery that there were only 200 tickets available to enter the Kremlin Armoury for the day and that we were definitely not going to be one of the lucky 200 to get some judging by the never ending line for them.  So we had to abandon that part of our planned day.

C’est la vie.  We will just have to come back some other day. We got away from the tour groups and entered the Kremlin.  The first building you notice is the Kremlin State Palace, which is better known apparently as the Kremlin Palace of Congresses. It is a very large modern building just inside the complex of the Kremlin and it stands out like dog’s balls as you enter through the Troitskaya Tower.  It feels like it doesn’t belong in here at all.  More than half the building, 17m of it, is underground and it contains over 800 rooms, including the main hall which seats about 6000 people.  It was mainly used for state congresses but now is also used for concerts and such – the Bolshoi ballet performed here while their theatre was undergoing restorations, and people like Tina Turner, Cher and Mariah Cary and Lenard Cohen have performed here as well.  Unfortunately, rock concerts are the only time plebs like us are allowed inside.

The Patriarch’s Palace and the Church of the Twelve Apostles houses museum exhibits that represent the everyday life of wealthy 17thC Muscovites.  Many of the items in the exhibit were owned by famous people – items of patriarch clothing, silverware, household items, paintings and furniture were on display.  Unfortunately, there is a no photography allowed – as per usual.  But I did manage to sneak a couple of pics because the staff here were heavily distracted by a large Chinese tour group who walked in just behind us being loud and setting off alarms by walking into barrier ropes… like I said, the group kept them very distracted.  We were ushered quickly through one room that was set up like a 17thC home interior with exquisite furniture, lovely caskets and household items, only to see the museum staff then hurriedly close the door to that room entirely, so that the tour group couldn’t enter – the staff were probably concerned that the tour group would have all tried to squeeze into the small space and put the items on display at risk!

The iconostasis from the Church of the Twelve Apostles.  This altar/edifice was moved here in 1929 from the cathedral of the demolished site of the Ascension Monastery. Oddly it reminded me of many of the displaced altars I’ve seen in various monasteries and museum sites in South America… similar iconography, loads of heavy gilt woodwork, and not entirely dissimilar painting styles and subject matter.

A medieval casket I tried to sneak a photograph of this drinking vessel – it was made in Nuremberg in the 1600s in the shape of a crowned person with chicken’s feet.  These style of goblets were made to be kept in cupboards to amuse guests, but not for actual use…? 

Unfortunately, I could not get photos of the textiles in the Patriarch’s Palace, of which there were many elaborately embroidered and beaded items… and, of course, there is no guide book with pictures of them either.  *sad face*

Around the corner from the Patriarch’s Palace is the Tsar Cannon.  The Tsar Cannon is the largest piece of medieval artillery in the Moscow Kremlin museum and it is an amazing testament to the art of Russian artillery casting… cast in bronze in 1586, right here in Moscow by a master bronze caster named Andrey Chokhov, it was never actually used in war.  It apparently has signs of having been fired once, so perhaps test fired and it is the largest calibre bombard in the world, but it has never been fired in war.  Now it seems it is mainly a major tourist attraction – and I know this based on how long you have to wait to get a photo with no one standing in front of it!  😉   It is seriously impressive.

Next stop was Uspensky Sobor, the Assumption Cathedral, which is an Orthodox church located in the centre of Cathedral Square inside the Kremlin.  It was built around 1475-79, having been designed by an Italian architect, Aristotle Fioravanti.  It is the main cathedral in the square and contains the burial tombs of all the Moscow Patriarchs of the initial patriarchal period (roughly 1580-1720).  Of course, you are not allowed to take photographs inside, so I have blatantly stolen some photos from Wikipedia that have obviously been taken by braver souls than I!

Fresco of the Virgin Mary and the Archangels Micheal and Gabriel. There are 246 scenes painted in the frescoes inside the church with 2066 individuals depicted… no, I didn’t count them, that is what guide books are for!
Across Cathedral Square from the Uspensky Sobor, is the Arkhangelsky Sobor, Archangel Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin, which is a Russian Orthodox church dedicated (oddly enough) to the Archangel Michael.  It sits between the Great Kremlin Palace and the Ivan the Great Bell Tower and is the main necropolis of all the Tsars of Russia until the capital was relocated to St Petersburg.  The cathedral was built by another Italian architect, Aloisio the New in 1505-08, on top of an older cathedral that was on this site since 1333. The inside of this Cathedral is also a no-photo zone and the museum staff were very diligent and very stern here.  The interior is similar in style to the Assumption Cathedral, but this place is full of stone tombs, taking up nearly every bit of floor space.

Behind this cathedral is the Ivan the Great Bell Tower aka Kolokol’nya Ivana Velikogo (I like to try and pronounce these things, though I tend to fail miserably).  The bell tower is 81 metres tall and is the tallest structures inside the Kremlin.  It was built in 1508 by another Italian architect named… name? name? where is his name?  Bon Frianzin!  Seems the medieval Russians preferred their architects to be Italian. Anyway, it was built because the three main cathedrals in Cathedral Square do not have their own belfries.

There is a story of questionable origins, that when Napoleon invaded Moscow in 1812 after the Battle of Borodino, he attempted to remove the cross on the central dome of the Annunciation Cathedral because he had been told it was cast in solid gold. Apparently, he confused the cathedral with the Ivan the Great Bell Tower – the cross on which is only gilded iron.  Anyway, the French engineers were unable to remove it from the tower and it was only after a Russian peasant volunteered to climb up to the dome to dismantle it, that the cross was eventually lowered down on ropes. As the story has it, when the peasant approached Napoleon seeking a reward, the little man had him shot for being a traitor to his fatherland.  As I said, of questionable veracity, but interesting nonetheless.

Beside the Ivan the Great Bell Tower is the Tsar Bell, also known as the Tsarksy Kolokol or the Tsar Kolokol III or the Royal Bell (no idea why things have so many names here!).  It is enormous!  Being approximately 6.1m tall, and 6.6m in diameter it is on display in the ground here because it cracked during a fire after casting.  It is considered the largest bell in the world and weighs a whopping 201 tonnes.  The fragment that has broken off the bell weights 11.5 tonnes alone.  It was commissioned by Empress Anna Ivanova who was niece to Peter the Great and the decorations on the bell depict Alexius I and Empress Anna, as well as images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and various canonised Moscow citizens.  The bell has never been suspended or rung. Which is kinda sad.  So now it sits forlornly beside the bell tower swamped by tourists all day.

After this, we had a stroll around the grounds of the Kremlin before coming out the Spasskaya Tower back into Red Square to go into St Basil’s Cathedral.

That would be St Basil’s Cathedral aka:  Sovor Vasiliya Blazhennogo OR the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat OR Sobor Pokrova Presvyatory Bogoroditsy, chto na Rvu, OR Pokrovsky Cathedral!!! Crazy.  When we arrived, one of those rare tourist confluences happened to occur – there was no queue for tickets to enter the cathedral museum, and we were ten minutes before the ticket booths were going to close for a lunch break… so there were not many people coming in after us!  Brilliant!

Scale model of the Cathedral. Sanctuary of St Basil the Blessed.

So much detail in every panel…Holy Banners bearing the Image of the Mother of God “Eleuza” (“Tenderness) of St Serafim.  c1904.  Copper alloy, enamel, oil; forging, stamping, embossing, engraving, gilding, and painting on metal… WOW!  These are unique monuments of the church made for the 350th anniversary of the launching of the construction of the Cathedral of the Protecting Veil.

I aslo took photos of the many interiors – the Cathedral is made up of nine interconnecting chapels, so it is a winding rabbit warren of archways, corridors and small chambers.  All of which is lavishly covered in colourful frescoes.  I can’t include many of the photos I took here (yale will kill me for the number of images in this post already!), but here are some samples of what is inside…

Detail of frescoes: Floor – stamped copper? bronze?Inside the domes:
One of the cathedral altars: Detail of the painting on the alter panels: Everything inside is so lavishly decorated…  but there are also museum artefacts in here too – most dating from the 16th to 17th centuries.
FETTERS:  Moscow, 17th century.  Forged and engraved iron.  Heavy chains and other metal articles such as bands, girdles and crosses.  The wearing of fetters on one’s body became one of the types of Christian asceticism.  Presumably the iron cap, cross and girdle belonged to St Ioann the Blessed, called the Big Cap… Church banners c.1930. Iron roof panel – forged and painted. Examples of the colourful tiles on the external sections of the cathedral. Medieval locks.We finished up at St Basil’s around 2pm, I could have spent all day in there discovering the little chapels and photographing the tiny details of the place – but my camera battery went flat and I had to go find a cord so I could charge it over lunch.  After we did this, we were having a slight change of pace and heading for the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics which meant – hitting the Metro!  Since we were going to be using the subway, we had looked up where some of the most beautiful and famous Metro stations were and circuitously planned our route to the Cosmonaut Museum via these stops.

I will come back and label these pictures with the names of the stations that they were at… but off the top of my head – I can’t remember where the names at all! So after our train adventures, we make it to the Cosmonauts Museum… which is probably all very exciting, but it turns out the bulk of the information available here is in Russian!  I guess they don’t get many foreign tourists here either, as they were out of English audio guides.  :/  Oh well, I have a bunch of photos so am adding them to a gallery here… Many of you may know more about all this than do!


The most interesting thing here (given I couldn’t read anything!) was the puppies in space.  These are the actual stuffed puppies who went to space pioneering men being sent into space.  Their names are probably google-able, but our google translate we thought would help – but kinda amusingly let us down a little I am sure!  🙂

These are the space dogs.  🙂  And their space craft…
And what Russian Cosmonautics Museum would be complete without a mixed genre modern art exhibition in a random corridor!

So, our plan after this was to go back to the hotel for a break, then head to town for dinner near the GVM… but instead I got side tracked by a fur store, and then we decided that 15kms and 14 hours on our feet was more than enough so we pulled the pin, called it a day and set about planning tomorrow!

I’m really, really tired and there’s still so much to see!
Sorry for so many images…  #sorrynotsorry


Moscow Walking Tour

“In Russia, we have saying… ‘Come visit Russia; before Russia visits you!'”

This morning we did a walking tour as a sort of welcome to Moscow, orientation thing.  Irina was our very petite but very vocal guide, and this is how she greeted us – thankfully with a warm grin.

Moscow as a city is roughly 870 years old, which Irina asserts makes it a ‘very, very old city’.  The Germans standing beside me snort in derision at this claim, but given that it is over four times older than when Australia was ‘founded’ (no, so not getting into that); well, I’m inclined to agree with her – it is quite an old city.  Having been founded in 1147… yes, a date that precise apparently, when two guys, whose names I have forgotten, met at an existing Slavic settlement and decided to fortify the township and built a moat. Then they were invaded by Mongols. Then came a period of Grand Duchys. Then came the Tsars. Then there was the Russian Empire. Then they had the Soviet Era. And more recently the Russian Federation… and that pretty much sums that up.  Nah, just kidding.  Russian history is colourful and complex but there’s no way I can relate all the Princes, Ivans and Romanovs here that we heard about today.

On our way to the walking tour this morning, we came past the famous Bolshoi Theatre.  The Bolshoi ballet and opera companies were founded over 200 years ago, and I was really looking forward to seeing an opera here. Unfortunately, they close every summer for renovations, maintenance, and annual holidays for the companies.  So at the moment, we can’t even go in to tour the building. There has been a theatre on this site since 1776; the first was destroyed by fire, the second was destroyed by the invading French in 1812, but this current building was constructed shortly after in the 1820s and has recently undergone extensive renovations.  Photos of the inside look amazing, but I will have to return to Moscow if I ever want to see it myself.

After this, we met our tour at a monument dedicated to Saints Cyril and Methodius, in Kitay-Gorod. These 9thC Christian missionary brothers are attributed with creating the first Cyrillic alphabet before which, the Slavic people had no written alphabet and as such no written history.  Irina states that this was very important to the Russian people, as they translated the Bible into their languages and they were able to read and pray in Slavic languages after this. They were canonized in the 80s at some point and are considered co-patron saints of all of Europe.

Right beside the statue of St Cyril is the Church of the All Saints with its leaning bell tower. Built after the Battle of Kulikovo in 1380, as far away from the border of Moscow as possible it is also known as the Church of Kulichki – which literally means, the church at the the world’s end, or the church in the middle of nowhere.  Now, of course, it is practically in the CBD.  The church has a spotted history, having been closed by the NKVD in the 1930s as a place of mass executions… a cross was laid at the church in the 1990s as a symbol to the victims of repression who were executed here.

From Kitay-Gorod (which quixotically translates literally to ‘China Town’, but has nothing to do with communities of diasporic Chinese or China towns worldwide as we tend to think of them…?  Go figure.) we made our way around to St Basils Cathedral, which is officially known as the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat, or Собор Покрова Пресвятой Богородицы, что на Рву, for short. It was a functioning church for centuries but is now primarily a museum consisting of nine interconnecting chapels. Built from 1555 to 1561 on orders from Ivan the Terrible (whom Irina affectionally refers to as Ivan the Poor), it was built to commemorate the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan.  It seems most churches in Russia are built more in the way that triumphal arches are built in western Europe – to mark some political or military triumph.  It is designed to look like the flames of a bonfire rising into the sky and it is iconically connected to Russia, Moscow and the Kremlin in the Western eye.

It is a crazy stunningly beautiful building the likes of which I have never seen before.  We are planning on touring the museum tomorrow, and hopefully, I’ll have better light in the morning and with fewer people about…  So fingers crossed, more photos to follow.

We then we made our way over the the GVM, (Glávnyj Universáĺnyj Magazín, literally meaning “Main Universal Store”), which was the name given to the main department stores during the Soviet era.  It faces directly onto Red Square opposite the Kremlin.  I was unable to gain any decent photos of this area today, as the entire space is under construction with bleachers being installed for an upcoming music festival.  We stopped at the Gvm for ice creams and bathrooms, though not necessarily in that order… weirdest thing ever for such a large department store – down stairs right near the entrance is a ‘Historical Toilet’ which costs you 150 rubles to go into $3AUD.  I wondered at the ‘historical’ bit… was the plumbing the first ever indoor plumbing in Mosocw? Was someone important assassinated there? Did the first ever Russian cosmonaut take a crap in there?  No, apparently nothing that exciting. The ‘historical’ bit, is because it is a bathroom renovated to pre-revolution style… So I kept my $3 and followed Irina directed us to an obscure bathroom three levels up and in behind a weird eatery space.

Across from the GVM and on the edge of Red Square (TIL that ‘red’ in Russian is synonymous with ‘beautiful’ which has nothing to do with anything, but I thought I’d throw that tid-bit in!), is the imposing State Historical Museum of Russia.  Hopefully we will have time to go explore here tomorrow. I love the bright red brick facade.

Kazan Cathedral is a 17thC style church built directly opposite the State Historical Museum. It was the first church rebuilt after the period of atheism that of the Stalin regime… which means, for all its 17thC style architecture, it is barely 25 years old. The original gatehouse into the Red Square. This site just outside the gatehouse to Red Square is considered the very centre of Moscow.  There is a folk story that claims there was a girl who dreamed she was going to get married, and if she threw a coin in town the man who picked it up would marry her.  She came here, dropped a coin, the man who picked it up then married her.  So now people come here, stand in the centre of the Kilometre Zero and throw small coins about to make wishes… or something like that. Our walking tour ended in Alexander Gardens, where we saw the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and were given some excellent suggestions on places to shop and dine and sights to see.  It was an excellent free tour to orient visitors to the city and well worth the 1,000 RUB tip that we gave Irina for showing us around.  Below is a photo of Irina doing her best for international relations and trying to show that not all Russians are as severe as their external demeanour.   🙂 

We took some time to wander and enjoy the gardens. Lovingly kept the high yellow walls of the Kremlin over look the entire space.  Moscow is a city of some 13 million residents, having grown rapidly since the turn of the 20th century when it was a city of barely 1 million people.  The reason for this rapid expansion was population movement of people looking for work after the revolution… which now means that 10% of Russia’s entire population live and work in Moscow, but for all that – the city has many lovely parks and green zones which gives a wonderful open feel to the area. The Geyser Fountain depicts four sculptural horses that represent the Four Seasons… 
After this we had a very late lunch and decided to head indoors out of the heat for a while.  We went to a shopping centre to buy (of all things!) hats.  Both of us had forgotten to pack hats for this trip, which makes me feel like a failure as an Australian… but in my defence, I thought I was coming to Moscow, and the projected temperatures were supposed to be in the low 20s, not high 20s and absolutely scorching sun.  🙂  Nevermind, I am now the proud new owner of two rather odd hats – a blue suede baseball cap, (Yes! Actual blue suede!) and a black news cap.

We head back towards Red Square to have a look at some of the souvenir shops and things as we wound our way back towards the Budapest Hotel… the shops are bright and colourful and the offerings are very Russian.

(^ See? Blue suede cap!)

Mr K bought himself a Russian football scarf – because, well it’s bloody hot.  And I picked up a coffee mug because all the tea cups are tiny everywhere we go and I have no intention of suffering through the tiny cups for the next four weeks.

On the way back tot he hotel, we stopped at TSVM – another large and well known department store to look for, of all things, some Coke Zero (Moscow seems to be a place of very few diet soft drinks), and found ourselves in their gourmet food hall… where a lovely lady offered me samples of caviar that cost about $100AUD for a 50gm tub.  Delicious.  Sadly it was going to be a while before we got back to our hotel, and I had no way to keep any refrigerated.  :/  So it stayed in the shop.

Our walking tour, by the time we meandered our way back to the hotel at 6pm was approximately 14.67km – okay, not approximately, exactly 14.67km according to my watch thingy.  No wonder my feet were aching from all that pavement!  We came back, relaxed for a bit, and went out for a late dinner at a nearby pub called ‘Haggis’ (yep, so adventurous of us to take in the local food), feeling absolutely wrecked after a long day.

Looking forward to tomorrow – we have a big line up of things to see and delve into properly.



Hong Kong to Moscow transit.

Up early, dressed, breakfasted, packed, checked out and off to the airport all before 8am to race to the Hong Kong International terminal because all the information on the Aeroflot literature insisted that check-in for flights CLOSES 2 hours before scheduled departure time… only to get to the airport and be faced with completely empty counters, devoid of signage or staff.  So we waited, and waited…  Check-in eventually OPENED a little over 2 hours before scheduled departure times – le sigh, so much for that!  We did the thing, got rid of the luggage and then had a bit of time in what should be Duty Free Shopping Mecca. It should be, but each time I’ve been through here, it invariably disappoints.  Loads of expensive cosmetics, clothing and watches – Burberry, Fendi, Rolex, Chanel, Coach, Tiffany & Co, and other hoity toity fancy shit for sale, as well as all the alcohol in Christendom – but nothing is actually any cheaper than what you can buy for retail if you are prepared to shop around a little.  Even the electronics are ‘airport prices’ rather than duty free prices… what’s with that?

Meh.  Found a cafe and had a smoothie while waiting for our flight instead of shopping the hallowed concourse of Hong Kong International Airport.  Our flight was scheduled to board just before 11am and we made it to the right gate with heaps of time.  We had a very strange flight… strange, and yet also familiar.  We had booked seats in what Aeroflot calls their ‘Comfort Class’, which looks like premium economy, but given there is this or First Class, I guess it is what passes for Business Class too.  We were severely outnumbered on the plane (and this is where the familiarity came in)… 90% of the plane was probably Chinese folk?  And judging by their queuing and personal space behaviours – I’d warrant not many of them were from Hong Kong.  It was like being on China Eastern Airlines all over again… children running in the aisles, people speaking really loudly in their seats, personal devices with the sound turned on.  :/  Needless to say, this is not my happy place.

Thankfully the ‘Comfort Class’ (I hate that term… maybe something to do with reading a book recently on the Korean ‘comfort women’ of WWII), was half empty so it was mostly quiet – except for those two kids that kept running up from the back of the plane so they could start thumping on the floor for no discernable reason.  Immediate impressions of Aeroflot premium economy seating – nice, large comfy chairs, with a lot of extra legroom, nice cosy pods, foot rests, food served on china, real cutlery and all good things.  Later impressions of Aeroflot premium economy – chairs have no lumbar support, the extra legroom meant I couldn’t actually reach the footrest for it to be useful to me without seriously slumping in my seat, the food was lovely, but they ran out of the main choices (and I know not how – there were only about 15 of us in that cabin), drinks came luke warm, and ice was a long time coming… shan’t complain, I could have been back there in that tide of Chinese humanity all hacking up lugies as loudly as possible.

Our flight was uneventful – just the way we like ’em – but, at 9hrs, was another fairly long haul.  I managed to watch a pile of stuff on the in-flight entertainment system (in spite of having a headphone jack that only provided input to one output… would madam like the sound in her right or left ear, today?)…  Table 19, Passengers, Collateral Beauty and some episodes of Billions kept me from boredom.  Mr K spent most of the flight reading ALL the academic papers associated with the Thredbo conference that we are attending – which I thought was particularly diligent of him, and excellent news for me because I got the TL;DR once he was done.

As is customary in these situations we eventually arrived at our destination where upon we made our way off the plane on a rather shabby and filthy air bridge (well compared to Hong Kong, you know), along a corridor, and down two flights of stairs – no escalators, just one of those chair staircase lifts down the side that your elderly Aunty Mabel might install so doesn’t have to move house – that spilled into a space about the size of a large McDonalds restaurant for the EIGHT HUNDRED people that had just teemed off two flights from Asia.  Straight away, an immigration official tried to direct us (in Russian) into the ‘Returning Citizens’ line, then recognised his mistake as soon as I said, ‘Um, sorry, I don’t speak Russian’.

You know, I’ve always railed against the Disneyland-esque rope lines that direct you in places like airports and busy events – but seriously Moscow airport… you need them!  We were in among hundreds of Chinese for whom queues simply do. not. exist.  I swear the one guy who was trying to tell people to go to the back of the queue was my hero this afternoon… he was vociferously trying to stop these people from jumping the line and cutting in everywhere, and I swear it nearly came to fisticuffs at one point, but eventually people got the idea and waited in the lines that had sort of formed which meant half of them were on the flights of stairs with standing room only.  Thankfully, those Comfort Class seats paid off, and we had disembarked at the front of our flight, which happily landed us about 12 deep in the queue. You’d think that would be a cored advantage, but it still took us over an hour to be processed out – an hour stood standing about with Chinese people staring and pointing at me, some weird cat toy noise going off constantly (which after about 45 mins we discovered was an actual, seriously distressed, cat in an animal carrier in the middle of this mess), a French family in front of us who were standing there for 30 mins before realising they were transiting to France and should have gone left for ‘International Transits’ instead of walking into this wall to wall loud Asian clusterfuck, and the weirdest immigration official I have ever seen!  This lady had clearly – clearly! – had enough for one day.  She was processing in tour groups of Chinese people, and each person is supposed to sign an immigration form that

This immigration lady had clearly – clearly! – had enough for one day.  She was processing in the tour groups of Chinese people, and each person is supposed to sign an immigration form that they keep on them and hand over when they leave the country… but she was obviously sick and tired of trying to tell these non-Russian, non-English speaking people where to sign, so she was giving them a pen, waving the paper in front of them, scribbling on the paper in the two spots HERSELF and whisking it away from them straight away.  No shit, she was physically forcing them to grab the pen, hold it near the paper (for the benefit of cameras), and then ‘signed’ the official Russian immigration papers for about ten people while we stood there watching… mind you, it did make her queue move quicker, that and the frequent stepping out of her booth to yell at the tour operator to tell the people to just stand up and hold the damn pen, don’t do anything else.

Thankfully the lady processing our queue was not so riled up, and she let us sign our papers ourselves (we are supposed to carry them everywhere and while it is unlikely that we could be stopped and asked for our papers, I don’t want to be explaining to a Russian cop that that wasn’t my signature…) and we were eventually deposited out in the baggage claim area.  All up from alighting the plane to picking up baggage – about 1hr 15 mins – and we were barely 12 deep in the queue with hundreds behind us.  Baggage collection was a little interesting.  There were four carousels and none of them working.  Guys came in pushing massive trolleys with the bags and unloaded the luggage all over the not-moving carousels.  Just scattered the bags all over the place for people to come find.

I had a sneaking suspicion that dealing with a decided lack of language skills, various public transport options in a post-long haul flight fatigue was not going to make for a comfortable or easy transit into the city, so I took the path of least resistance (which I rarely do) and ordered a transfer through our hotel.  Some guy in a suit, (who failed to introduce himself, but who I was calling Ivan in my head anyway), was happily standing outside the airport gates waiting for us and led us to a smart shiny black Mercedes for what I hoped would be a speedy ‘where’s my seat belt?’ ride into the city.  It is supposed to be 43 mins from the Sheremetyevo Airport into town, but alas, Muscovites can’t fucking merge, and even though there were no traffic hold ups, it took exactly 1 hr and 58 minutes to get there.  Three hours early to the airport, ten hours sitting on the plane, two hours stuck in a traffic jam, a five hour time difference from Hong Kong, so roughly 1 am for us by the time we arrived at the hotel. Dead tired.

Pringles in the fridge? Who does that?

Checked in, did the thing, found the room, sorted the power for everything (when did that become such an overwhelmingly important part of travel – keeping your laptop, ipad, phones, camera, power banks and shit all charged?!), put shoes back on, went out for supplies and something cheap, cheerful and forgettable for dinner.

Now – to bed.  Be back tomorrow night with hopefully something interesting to report of Moscow!