Moscow (Russia) in 4 days

While often overshadowed by St Petersburg as the cultural capital of Russia, Moscow is nonetheless a colourful and vibrant cosmopolitan city with much to offer. A guide to spending 4 fun-filled days in northernmost megacity on Earth

After almost 50 days on the road, I was finally approaching my last stop, the westernmost (and terminal) stop of the Tran-Siberian Railway, Moscow. On one hand, it seemed like a pretty long way up overland from Singapore, but on the other, it felt like my journey had barely began. Nevertheless, thoroughly enjoyed my short stay in Moscow, exploring the historical attractions, cultural icons, and unique quirks. I also managed to catch up with some friends I met earlier on the trip and made a few more, before it was time to go home.

Day 1: Kitay Gorod and the Moscow Metro

Arrived in Moscow on an overnight train from St Petersburg. I had a good rest. Air conditioning was good and there weren’t many disturbances through the night, despite it being in third class. From out of the station, Moscow gave a different impression from St Petersburg. St Petersburg felt more olden European, while Moscow gave a slightly more modern, cosmopolitan feel.

Took the metro, crossed a couple of roads and bridges, and got to the hostel to drop off my bag. With a much lighter load (practically none without the heavy backpack), I headed to Kitay-Gorod, historic district in central Moscow, for the ‘free’ walking tour.

Moscow Free Walking Tour

Start of the walking tour, at Eastern end of Ulitsa Varvarka. Some interesting and historical sights around the neighborhood, such as 500 year old city walls and wooden churches.

First impressions of the Red Square

After Ulitsa Varvaka, the walking tour proceeded straight towards the Red Square, definitely one of the things I have been looking forward to on this trip. Across the Red Square from the Kremlin, GUM, now a large high-end shopping mall, once the Soviet State department store, and before that the largest shopping center in Europe. Sitting directly across the Red Square from Lenin’s mausoleum, how appropriate.

Nice tour around Kitay-Gorod and the sights around the Red Square and Kremlin. It was about time for lunch then, and I had to try out Teremok, a fast food chain selling Russian crepes, as recommended by an expat living in Moscow I met in Irkutsk, and the tour guide in the morning. It wasn’t mind blowing, but it was interesting.

Other Landmarks around the Red Square

With lunch done, I further explored the vicinity on my own, First to the famous Bolshoi Theatre, but unfortunately not to catch any ballet or opera. Maybe next time. Then back in the direction of the Red Square. One of the more prominent buildings around the Red Square is the State Historical Museum, a beautiful, historic building clad in red.

Security on the Red Square seemed to be stricter on the first day I was in Moscow, possibly due to the book fair that was being held on it, the first ever to be held on the square.

Moscow metro musings

In the afternoon, I met up with a friend I made in Irkutsk with whom I travelled the Trans-Siberian till Yekaterinburg. We did a self guided tour of the metro, with help from his guidebook. The Moscow metro was similarly elaborate as the St Petersburg metro, but had a different feel to it.

Krasnye Vorota Metro Station

Krasnye Vorota Metro Station is one of the first stations of the entire system to begin operations, in 1935. It employed a then untested structural design, but has fortunately withstood the forces of nature till present day.

Komsomolskaya Metro Station

Novoslobodskaya Metro Station / Mayakovskaya Metro Station

Belorusskaya Metro Station

Novokuznetskaya Metro Station

Ploshchad Revolyutsii Metro Station

Ploshchad Revolyutsii Metro Station. Among the most famous of stations, featuring 76 bronze sculptures depicting the people of the Soviet Union.

Arbaskaya Metro Station

Arbaskaya Metro Station. The original station was damaged by German bombing in WWII and this replacement was built parallel to the old one.

Kiyevskaya Metro Station

Kiyevskaya Metro Station (Arbatsko – Pokrovskaya Line). Featuring frescos depicting life in Ukraine.

Park Pobedy Metro Station

Park Pobedy Metro Station, the deepest station in Moscow, at 84m. We resurfaced to check out an interesting park, where a hill overlooking the whole of Moscow once stood. Now an open air museum commemorating the military victories of Russia stands in its place.

Returned to the metro to visit another park a short ride away.

Sunset in Moscow

I arrived at Gorky Park to the slowly setting sun, a nice change from St Petersburg, where the sun never seemed to set. The weather was much better by then. The park was a nice place to take a walk or chill. After having some snacks, I headed along the Moskva river back towards the Red Square.

Along the way, a huge monument almost 100m tall rose from the river, the Peter the Great Monument. Apparently some controversy surrounding this tribute to the man who gave up Moscow as the capital of Russia in favour of St Petersburg in the 16th century. Another unmissable icon along the river, Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, across the Moskva river. First built after Napoleon’s retreat, demolished during Soviet times, and rebuilt after the dissolution of the union.

Red Square at night

After the nice long walk along the river, I found myself back at the Red Square. Looked quite different from it was in the day.

It was a tiring but satisfying day spent walking around the huge capital. I was glad to be back at the hostel after the long day, for a nice shower and good rest.

Day 2: The Red Square, The Kremlin, and Arbat Street

My second day in Moscow was also the 50th since leaving Singapore on a bus. I spent the day exploring the key attractions in the Russian capital, the Red Square, the Kremlin, and Arbat Street. Too many things to see and do at these attractions, so it was a slightly brief one.

The first ever book fair to be held on the Red Square ended the day before, and the square was largely cleared by the time I was back on it.

GUM

I decided to make a stop at the historic departmental store and check out the legendary ice cream. Couldn’t really afford anything there, except for the legendary ice cream, which every tourist went for. Supposedly retains the recipe since Soviet times.

Still wasn’t sure what a Soviet taste was, but it was a nice way to cool off in the rising temperatures.

Kremlin

After a leisurely morning stroll, got inside the Kremlin (₽500 rubles). Very interesting place, exploring the (really) old churches, and some strangely enormous stuff, like this cannon, and this bell. The churches were just as spectacular. No photography allowed inside though, but might be a good thing, as the beauty inside might not be replicable on photographs – come visit it!

After a few hours exploring the churches and cathedrals, exited via the Spasskaya Tower back onto the Red Square. About time for lunch.

It was a decent lunch, but I was still a little hungry. Filled the rest of my stomach with snacks from the supermarket. Got the job done, and went in the direction of Arbat Street.

Arbat Street

Shortly after, arrived at Arbat Street. Arbat Street is one of the oldest streets in Moscow. Now a lovely place for a walk/ people watching, with various artists plying their trade down this pedestrian street.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia building

The ‘Seven Sisters’ refer to a group of distinctive Stalinist style skyscrapers in Moscow. Quite a few of them can be found in the pictures in this post, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building being one. Which others can you identify? There were supposed to have been two more which were never built, one of which was supposed to stand where the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour now stands. It would have been the tallest of them all, if it had been built.

Next, walked to the European Mall not too far away, near Kiyevsky Railway Station, hoping to get some souvenirs.

Spent some time in the European Mall getting some Russian groceries and printing some Instagrams from a vending machine, then got into this time travel tube to get back to the hostel.

Red Square at dusk

It’s nice staying at a hostel not too far from the Red Square. Gives me an excuse to pass it every day/ night. Major sights (such as the Bolshoi Theatre) are nearby too. Between the Bolshoi Theatre and the State Historical Musuem, the Four Seasons Hotel Moscow. Modelled after Hotel Moskva, which previously stood at the same plot (and had an interesting story about its peculiar facade- though probably more myth than fact).

Day 3: VDNKh and Sparrow Hills

Having travelled quite abit, I found that recommendations by people for places to visit, by people who have actually been there, are almost always good. I learnt that first (or first few times) in Pai. For places to visit in Moscow, I received 2 strong recommendations, one to visit the VDNKh, from an expat living in Moscow, whom I met in Irkutsk, and the other, to visit the Sparrow Hills, from a Muscovite living at the same hostel. And those were the top of my agenda for the day.

But back on to the topic of the Seven Sisters (a term not used by locals), there was one not too far from the hostel I had stayed in, the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building,

Cosmonauts Alley

Along Cosmonauts Alley, a park and walkway leading from the metro station to the Museum of Cosmonautitcs.

Statue of Konstantin Tsoilkovsky, probably one of the first (real) rocket scientists in the world. Behind him, the Museum of Cosmonautics, beneath the Monument to the Conquerors of Space.

VDNKh

Beyond the museum, the entrance to the VDNKh (or All Russia Exhibition Center), huge Soviet era amusement and trade park showcasing achievements of the Soviet Union, with a huge entrance gateway to match. Free entry.

Other than spectacular gardens and fountains, there were also pavilions representing the various regions of the Soviet Union.

The Space Pavillion

And one of the highlights (at least for me), the Space Pavilion!

Prototype of the Buran space shuttle. A similar one performed the first ever unmanned space shuttle flight and a landing in full automatic mode.

A replica of the Vostok rocket. Similar rockets fired the first ever artificial satellites into orbit and the first manned spacecraft into space.

It was a great morning spent at the VDNKh, felt like being transported through time. Then again, if it were during the Soviet Union I’d probably not be allowed here. The rain started to lighten up, and I carried on to my next stop, Sparrow Hills.

Vorobyovy Gory (Sparrow Hills) metro station, interesting stop built across the Moskva river, and the only metro station with windows.

Vorobyovy Gory (Sparrow Hills)

Took a walk at Vorobyovy Gory, or Sparrow Hills, as recommended by the Muscovite I met at the hostel I was staying in. A little quiet and a brief respite from the bustling city. There was a mini bird park/ zoo on the hill. Most animals didn’t look too comfortable in their small enclosures.

I got a feeling I might not have been in the side of Vorobyovy Gory that was recommended, but it was decent nonetheless. I spent some time winding my way around the hills and ponds. After making my way out of the park, I found myself at a huge roundabout with a tall monument right in the middle of it. It was the Monument to Yuri Gagarin, first person to ever reach space. It was getting late, and I was getting tired after all that walking, so I headed for the metro and ended the day slightly earlier than normal. Turned out to be a good choice though, as I got to meet some friendly travellers back at the hostel, and we had a good chat.

Day 4: Free and Easy

All great journeys eventually have to end, and going home is ever so bittersweet. Last day of my longest trip yet (excluding the year spent on exchange, I’ve never been on the move for this long before). Spent my last day in Moscow (and of this long, long trip) pretty much chilling and shopping for some souvenirs (vodka mostly) before the mad rush to the airport (almost late as usual) before heading home to a new job, new life, and with a renewed perspective of the world. Didn’t take much shots of the shopping, so here’s some shots on the way home :’)

I was a little late, but the plane was later. It was a bit of a concern though, as my connecting flight was not long after the first leg was due to land. In the end, had to do a mad dash through Ataturk as my connecting flight was on last call by the time I arrived.

It was barely a year after the Malaysian Airlines plane got shot out of the sky over restive east Ukraine so I was a little nervous after seeing the flight path. On a trip of many firsts, this the closest I’ve ever gotten to a conflict zone (Donetsk just around the corner). Fortunately, the flight was uneventful.

Singapore to Moscow in 50 days: An adventure complete, a new one begins?

I was feeling quite sick on the way back, probably something to do with the food in the last few days. Nevertheless, I was glad and at the same time a little sad that the long trip was over. I had planned to extend my trip further into Europe when I just left Singapore, but made the decision to end it at Moscow after receiving a job offer I could not refuse. Times are getting tough, and it was probably my best bet if I would want to be able to continue travelling in future, so I was pretty happy taking up the offer. Now, almost 9 months later, I’m glad I made the choice, and I hope to hit the road again soon!

Moscow Budget (4 days)

Actual travel dates: 28 June 2015 – 1 July 2015
Accommodation: ₽1200 (3 nights)
Food: ₽2375 (snacked too much)
Attractions: ₽600
Transport (within Moscow): ₽330
Moscow expenses: ₽4600 (~S$110/ US$85 at June 2015 rate)

Train to Airport: ₽470 (~S$12/ US$9 at June 2015 rate)

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