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1 Oct – Moscow

We started the day with an interesting Russian breakfast – pasta with mince, little pancakes, an omelet that had clearly been cooked in a cake tin (it was an inch thick) and just didn’t look right, ham, salami, cheese, shredded carrot, yogurt, tea and coffee. After breakfast we joined Chris and Lisa and another couple – Hamish and Kath – in the lobby and headed off for our guided walking tour of Moscow. We were to meet up with the other 7 of the 13 on the tour at lunch time.

Our first stop was the National Library named after no other than Lenin, it has been renamed though you would never know it. From here we walked to the wall of the Kremlin, where our lovely guide provided some much needed information on the Kremlin and also Russian history – why is it that history is so so boring at school yet now its so interesting (and needed) ? I definitely needed to have listened more in those classes. From the Kremlin wall, and the Kutafya Tower – the main entry, we proceeded to walk around the outside of the Kremlin wall past the marble caskets containing soil from the Hero Cities of the USSR (those that lost the most soldiers and civilians in W.W.II), along to the Eternal flame where the Changing of the Guard is held every hour – which we managed to catch. After the USSR folded and the guards were removed from the mausoleum the guard-changing ceremony has been held at the eternal flame instead. The removal of the guards from the mausoleum caused such an uproar that the guards where returned to the mausoleum but not the changing ceremony.

After watching the changing ceremony we headed towards the gates that lead into the Red Square area, where we pass the long queue of people waiting for the mausoleum – who’s mausoleum you ask .. Lenin of course! We leave the queue behind us and walk past the History Museum, where everything is in Russian and history mysteriously stops in 1917 – needless to say it wasn’t put on our to-do list. We then turned the corner walked a little and we were standing on the edge of Red Square – the historic market square of Moscow named in the 15th century, no connection with communism ! As it was morning the square was closed – the sq. is closed whilst the mausoleum is open (until 1pm).

We walked down around the square, being careful not to cross any lines – imaginary or not – and incur a whistling offence from the many guards and police stationed around the square, past the GUM, a shopping centre and in older times the government trading shop. Continuing down further to the internationally instantly recognisable St. Basil’s Cathedral – which I might add looks as much like a circus tent in the flesh as it does in the postcards! On saying that it is a pretty spectacular sight. The cathedral was built by Ivan the Terrible to celebrate driving out the tartar tax-collectors of the Mongols who ruled Russia for over 100 years.

We wandered around St. Basil’s down to the river, where the British and foreigners would trade from (only Russians were allowed to trade in red sq.), following the river and Kremlin wall, past the chocolate factory, and views of 2 of the seven sisters – seven very similar sky-scraper blocks in over blown supremacist style – all built during Stalin’s reign and of typical soviet style architecture, which funnily enough have some striking resemblance to one we saw in NYC I think and also one that looks like Gotham city. Now on the fourth and final side of the walls of the Kremlin (its kind of square like) we pass by the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, turn the corner and are back on the original wall at the Alexander Gardens end, which is also the entrance for the Kremlin Armoury.

We return to our starting point and head for the Manege Shopping Centre, a three storey subterranean shopping mall – with all the latest western fashions and brands. According to our guide it has the best pancake shop in Moscow. Our tour host is waiting for us and goes through what I am sure must be a form of slow torture for her, of deciphering the menu, ordering for us and helping us work out the money – 174 for lunch what the .. Then you work out that 28 Russian ruble = $US1, so your lunch just cost $US6 (for the two of us) .. Why $US because we changed our money before we left so we convert based on that and we know what we spent on things there so its a pretty good base.

So after pretty yummy pancakes, that are probably more like crepes, which by the way you get with just about anything – ham and cheese, chicken and cheese, salmon or maybe you feel like caviar or maybe you don’t so try a sweet raspberry instead – the 6 of us headed out to the Izmailovsky Vernissage (or flea market) for some souvenir shopping, and we all managed to spend a little money and do some bargaining as well. From the flea market we headed back into the city for Gorky Park. Oh come on you all know where I am talking about, apparently there is a movie about 3 bodies or something and clearly I am the only one who hasn’t seen it or heard about it. It was pretty ordinary (as was the movie according to the others) and it had a gate fee so we didn’t go in.

From Gorky we headed across the road to Statue Park, which it appeared also had a gate fee based on the angry yelling Russian lady in the booth. We weren’t sure what was there and figured we would just walk around it and take photo’s over and through the fence .. Hmm it appears we can’t go round so Hamish professionally bargains a cheaper price for us get in as we were almost at the end and it really wasn’t that great, particularly seeing how it was all in Russian and we had no idea who or what we were looking at. From statue park we walked past the monstrosity of Peter the Great, Christopher Columbus wanna be monument that really is pretty ugly and which the yanks understandably politely refused on offer. It was then along the river to find the chocolate shop to no avail unfortunately and then back to red square to figure out where we should have dinner.

Our guide had marked a lovely little place for us on the map, so we all decided to head there. On the way to the restaurant we passed the Bolshoi theatre slowly being fixed up, it is in a state of total disrepair like many other federal buildings in Moscow. We arrived at the restaurant to find that it was closed for a private function. So now to find somewhere else. We consulted our tour book and decided on PirOGI. We found the little dungeon café without a hitch and whilst on first appearance appeared very dodgey once we got down into the café it was a great little place with good atmosphere. Ordering was an absolute hoot, we managed to get an English menu (literally one) and made our choices, pointing at them for the very funny waitress who spoke as much English as we all spoke Russian, then we tried to order drinks, we knew the Russian word for beer and held up 6 fingers, well then she proceeded to ask (in Russian ) what sort listing about 8 different sorts, well by this time we are all laughing, trying to get her to repeat herself, which eventually she does and the only one we recognised was Stella so for the first round we took that. We had also decided that we had to do the proper Russian thing and order vodka, to which again our waitress gave us 8 choices in Russian .. This time we had the tour book out and started pointing at the different sorts – which they didn’t have so then we just asked for Stoly which they had 🙂

Dinner was great, the waitress hilarious, the beer was good we managed to get some Russian beer after the Stella and we remembered our metro stop and our way home.

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