19/09/2013 - 24/09/2013
We took the overnight train from St Petersburg to Moscow. We were sharing a cabin with a Russian couple but we all just slept for the entire journey. On arrival in Moscow we were met by my friend Anna and her boyfriend Kirill. I lived with Anna in my last year of university and hadn't seen her in about 10 years, so it was great to catch up and get to spend a few days with her.
Kirill took our backpacks back to their flat and Anna took us to Red Square on the metro. She showed us around a little but then had to get back to work, so we spent the afternoon having a wander round Red Square and that general area. It was pretty cool to see it all, though a shame it was quite overcast. It wasn't raining though, at least, but it did for practically all of the rest of our time in Moscow. We'd not really packed for cold or wet weather either, as we're almost entirely visiting hot countries during this leg of the trip. Saint Petersburg was quite nice and cool after the heat of Iran, but Moscow was pretty cold.
Saint Basil's Cathedral:
Anna met back up with us once she'd finished work and took us back to her flat. Her and Kirill were great hosts - making us breakfast and dinner every day and giving us shots of various spirits, including vodka of course.
Aside from the obvious Red Square / Kremlin area, what else did we do during our time in Moscow? Well, the bad weather limited us quite a bit, which was a shame. Moscow seemed like a really nice city but I don't think we got to see it at its best. Still, some of the things we did manage to do were...
- On one day we searched out a book shop with some English-language books. I'd bought a second hand copy of 'The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle' by Haruki Murakami when we were in Madrid. It's a pretty long book so I thought it would be good to have for the Trans-Mongolian Railway. However, I managed to finish it before we'd even made it to Moscow, so I needed something new to read. The book shop we found in Moscow had a pretty impressive English-language selection so we spent quite a while browsing. I know it's not hugely practical to lug around a load of books while backpacking, so I could have downloaded e-books on my tablet instead, but I couldn't bring myself to do it; I like having proper books. Plus they're not reliant on an electricity supply, so that's a bonus too. Anyway, I ended up buying 'Stonemouth' by Iain Banks. It was only released last year but its existence had passed me by somehow. It was only about £1 more than the UK RRP, plus it was a decent length, so I was happy with that. Jamie bought another book too, just to ensure we had enough between us (as we'll read each others books as well of course). He got 'The Brothers Karamazov' by Dostoevsky, which I've been wanting to read for a while anyway, so that was cool. It's really long as well, so hopefully that might last us until the end of our trip.
Once we were done in the book shop we used the Tripadvisor app to search for any nearby attractions. It told us that we were close to the Gogol Museum, which had pretty good reviews. We weren't really familiar with Gogol but thought we'd check it out. It's his former residence which has been turned into a museum about his life and work. That mightn't sound hugely exciting or memorable, but it was definitely the most bizarre museum experience I've ever had. We paid for our tickets, which were the equivalent of about £2, then we were given A4 laminated booklets that explained each room (in English). We went to move in to what looked like the first room but a woman stopped us and gestured that we had to read the first page of the booklet first. We did as told, slightly amused by the strictness of it, then moved into the first room. We read the corresponding page for that room, had a look around, then went to move on to the next room. Again we were stopped. This time we had to stand in a specific place and look in a specific direction - all conveyed by gestures as we couldn't speak each others' laguages. The woman pressed a button, the lights dimmed and we were treated to some kind of audio-visual display. It basically involved some mood lighting and the sound of horses running. This seemed to go on for quite a while and we were struggling not to laugh. We were then allowed to move on to the next room. Here we had a similar experience, except we got to sit down for the audio-visual delight. This trend continued for all the remaining rooms. It was surreal. I don't remember anything about Gogol but I was highly entertained by the whole experience.
- On a day when it wasn't actually raining (at least not for the whole day) we went to Gorky Park. It was a really nice area, though again it would have been nicer in the sunshine:
- Anna took us out and about on the Saturday. Even though it was raining and we got quite wet, it was a fun day. She took us to the university to start with as there's a good look-out point. It was quite hazy in the rain though that didn't stop a few wedding couples from having their photos taken there.
After that we popped into a church for a bit and then made our way to an Ukranian restaurant to dry out and have some lunch. The food was really good and it was Anna's treat as well, so that was really nice,
Finally we then went to the Honey Market. Yes, it was literally a market full of honey and honey products. And it was a pretty big market! I'm not really keen on honey, though I tried a few samples. The samples of the mead were better (although some weren't so good). I had no notion that there were so many different types of honey - it was quite enlightening.
On the day that we left we took the metro to the train station. We found the train station quite confusing as the platforms are outside and not connected to the main station building, but we figured it out eventually and started our Trans-Mongolian adventure.