Two days in Moscow : the Metro tour, Pushkin museum, two of the seven sisters, the Jewish museum of tolerance, the Upper Saint Peter monastery and the Moscow museum of modern art.
My first trip to Moscow was in the month of May. While the weather forecast predicted very sunny and warm weather in Belgium, the weather for Moscow was cloudy, with rain showers and temperatures between 13 and 17 degrees Celsius. At night the temperatures would drop to a mere 9 degrees. I dug op my light winter coat from my wardrobe, and packed an umbrella. I also decided to take a pair of good walking shoes.
The first hurdle was getting a tourist visa. You better plan ahead because getting a visa takes time and paperwork. Online you can find what’s needed on the site of the Russian Embassy of your country. You need a passport and a recent passport size photograph. You need to have a medical insurance that covers your stay in Russia. As proof you need a form from your insurance company stating that they cover medical expenses in Russia. An invitation or visa support by a Russian tour operator or hotel. This invitation has two parts: one is the Accommodation Voucher (reservation and payment of your accommodation) the other is the a (Tourist) Confirmation. Your visa support documents will need to cover the entire date range of your stay in Russia. They are usually mailed to your, you can print them out. You have to fill out an electronic visa application form online. If you have all the right forms, the consulate provides you with a visa within 5 to 11 days which costs 75 euro.
I did some research and read some travel guides in the months ahead of our trip. Russian websites are not always available in other languages than Russian, so I also used the Tripadvisor forum to find answers. I booked one ticket one week before: the entrance ticket to the Kremlin grounds. I hope this will avoid queuing. I wasn’t sure if we wanted to visit the Armoury. Every guidebook mentions it as a must see, but I eventually decided against it. I guess walking the Kremlin grounds and visiting the different churches on site would be more than enough for one visit. We have seen similar collections in the Louvre, he Vatican and in other museums in Italy and around the world. One can only take in that much and taking some extra time for the icons seemed like a good alternative. Since it was only May I guess tickets for the Pushkin museum would not sell out quickly, so I did not buy them in advance.
The direct flight from Brussels to Moscow takes three hours. There is a one hour difference, it is already one hour later in Moscow.
Through my husbands’ job we booked a taxi to the hotel. During the taxi ride which took more than two hours because of the heavy traffic (we left the airport around 3 PM), we decided to take the metro and Aeroexpress back to the airport for our return flight. And yes it was a lot faster, cheaper and more reliable.
After spending most of our first day in planes and taxis we wanted to get some fresh air. The Komsomolskaya metro station is just 200 m away from the Leningradskaya hotel. At the ticket booth we wanted to buy ten metro rides. The lady behind the counter only speaks Russian but a good soul next to us helps us out and translates into Russian. We buy one Troyka card which can be refilled later. Ten rides costs us 350 rubbles or 35 rubble (60 eurocents) per ride. We take the red line 1 to Okhotny Ryad station to visit the Red Square. The metro takes some getting used to, since all station names are only written in Cyrillic on the platform. We ask some Russians for directions to the Red Square. They check the metro map on their mobile phone for us. Since my IPhone 4 does not get any software updates any more, I cannot download the metro map, which is a real pity. So I use a paper metro map I get from the hotel. Best is to download the bilingual off line metro map in Russian and English at home before coming to Russia. (Yandex metro map)
On the train the stops are indicated in both Cyrillic and Roman alphabet, and the stops are announced in both Russian and English language. So once you figure out on which platform to take the train, it is easy to get off at the right stop. We walk from the Okhotny Ryad metro station to theatre square (Teatralnaya pl.) where Karl Marx has his statue. We walk past the decaying Metropol hotel, cross Pl. Revolyutsii via some stairs into Nikolskaya ul and onto the Red Square. Some huge podium blocks our view of St. Basil’s cathedral, and makes the square small. The Gum department store looks like a fairytale castle. The department store is enormous on the inside, but with very little customers or atmosphere. We buy an ice cream at Bosco café. They have little stalls all over the place so it is very difficult not to eat an ice cream…. They are yummy, and cost 1,5 euro for one scoop (same price as in Belgium)
We walk around in Kitay Gorod, but are not impressed. I have no map with me and do not really know what to look for. We get tired and take the metro back from Teatralnaya station. The beds of the Hilton Leningradskaya hotel are fantastic so I sleep very sound! The hotel is one of the seven sisters. The seven sisters are seven skyscrapers built in Stalinist style. They were built from 1947 to 1953 in an elaborate combination of Russian Baroque and Gothic styles. Because of the grandeur with which it was designed, all rooms are very spacious, and after the renovations by Hilton also very tasteful and equipped with all modern amenities.
Breakfast has everything you could wish for and the service is outstanding. Sometimes even a bit overdone, they take your plate as soon as you finish your last bite. But I have no other reason to complain!
After breakfast I take the metro, and because they predict a lot of rain decide to visit some famous metro stations to take photographs. I start with the Komsomolskaya station of which the line 5 side is the most impressive. The early construction of this station was done with the help of youth workers, which is reflected in its name. I take line 5, the Ring line, and get of at the next station: Prospekt Mira where harmonious scenes of life are depicted in white porcelain. The next stop is Novoslobodskaya station. Here both sides of the isle have huge stained glass panels in art-nouveau style. Then on to Belorusskaya station, with ceiling mosaics depicting Belorussian scenes. Here you change onto the green line 2. The first stop is Mayakovskaya station. The interior was a grand prize winner at the 1938 World Fair in New York. The Art Deco pink hall features steel columns and oval illuminated mosaics on the ceiling. This station lies 33m deep and was an air-raid shelter in WWII. Then you get of at Teatralnaya and walk to Ploschad Revolyutsii station. The isle is on both sides is a gallery of statues representing people during the Revolution and after. Some statues are all shiny from people stroking them for good luck.
Instead of continuing the metro tour on the blue line, I took the red line to Kropotskinskaja. When I wanted to go out, there was a huge downpour, and I waited it out inside the metro building. Here I noticed many Moscow women have a second pair of shoes in their handbag. Weather sometimes changes fast and in Moscow you have to walk quite some distances.
After visiting the Pushkin gallery (which I review in another blogpost), I take the metro to Universitet, to see another one of the seven sisters, the university, which is the biggest and tallest building of the seven sisters. From the metro stop you still have to walk quite a bit. You can only view the University building on outside because you need a badge to enter.
Taking the metro back I get of at Kurskuya station to visit Winzavod art area and the Art and Play area. Winzavod hosts several galleries with modern art and photography which you can visit freely.
I had a great drink and light meal at Khitriye Lyudi, a cosy place to unwind.
I found the Art and Play area an interesting area to observe the young and hip development of businesses, but less interesting for a tourist. There are some really good places for a drink or a meal here.
From here I returned to the hotel to rest my muscles in a warm bath. In the evening I joined a guided evening bus tour of the Red Square.
I will write a separate blog about the Red Square and the Kremlin.
On our second day we wanted to join an English language tour of the Bolshoi theatre. They have an English language tour three times a week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 11:15. The tour lasts one hour, costs 1300 rubbles/person and only 20 persons can join. I asked around on Tripadvisor how early I should get in line for a spot on the tour, and they advised me to get there 45 to 60 minutes in advance. When I arrived at 10:15 AM, for the 11:15 tour, there were already two lines in front of door nr. 12, each counting already more than 20 people. Disappointed we decided it was no use to wait for an hour, and vacated our place in line. People behind us remained hoping for a miracle.
We decided we could fill our time more interestingly, took the metro to Novolsobodskaya station and started walking to the Jewish museum of tolerance on Obraztsova str. nr. 11. We asked for directions in a Novotel hotel on Novoslobodskaya st. From the metro station it is a 25 min. walk to the museum. You walk the Novoblodskaya st. up North, turn right into Palikha st. and then turn the first street left after the intersection with the traffic lights, until you bump onto Obraztsova st. where you turn right. The museum is on your right hand side. The museum is housed in The Garage where the gallery for contemporary art with the same name used to be. It is a great location for the museum. The museum is very interactive with lots of visuals. Not everything is translated into English, but all videos have English subtitles and by watching each video you get the whole story of the Jews in Russia. I really liked the museum, and it has a great café where they also serve meals. The toilet seats of the museum are heated! That was a first!
From the museum we walked to the Hermitage gardens, which were a bit of a disappointment.
We continued to the Upper Saint Peter monastery founded in 1380. It is a quiet rustic place, a nice stop from the big hectic city. On the other side of the same street is the Moscow museum of modern art. The Lonely Planet states it has an impressive 20th century collection including Chagall, Kandinsky and Malevich, which is not correct. They hold temporary exhibitions and have no permanent collection. These artists can be found in the New Tretyakov and in the Pushkin Gallery, not here. We visited the temporary exhibition about Gaudi and looked at the sculpture garden in the courtyard. There is a nice café with seating in- and outside.
We walked down the lively Bolshaya Dimitrovka st. and Petrovka st. back to Theatre square where the statue of Karl Marx stands. We walked through the nostalgically decorated hotel Metropol and decided to take a light dinner at the newly opened Le Pain Quotidien ( a Belgian chain, felt like home…. ) on Nikolskaya st.
From there we returned to the hotel by metro.
On the day of our flight back home we took the metro from Komsomolskaya station to Paveletskaya station on the ring line (5, brown), where we could take the Aeroexpress to DME airport. A one way ticket in second class costs you 500 rubbles. There is a train every 30 minutes (except at 12:30 noon time), and the train takes you in 45 minutes to the airport. Very convenient and cheap.