Well, I’ve already done one week in Russia, and what a baptism of fire it has been into the world of travel! I can now attempt and sometimes succeed, albeit very slowly, at reading a Russian word out loud (usually street names or metro stations) as a case of having to, so I know I am on the right track, as usually I only knows the names in English from my map.
Day one in Russia – I arrived with a tense, nervous, terrified feeling in the pit of my stomach, and this only intensified as I arrived at my accommodation, which was a half hostel set up, only private rooms but shared kitchen and communal areas. This feeling would not shift! I wondered if it ever would?
Day two – by the second day, the feeling had subsided greatly, which I was thankful for, but not completely. A couple of days in, and then I found my St Petersburg bubble, and got into the swing of things.
The move to Moscow refreshed those feelings, but only on a smaller scale, and this has led me quickly to learn about the travel bubble, as I have named it. This consists of so far, a nervous start, then a little familiarity, then really getting into the swing of it and having a feel for where you are. Then, all of a sudden, that bubble can burst, as quickly as it was formed. This happens at an alarming regularity at the moment.
Anyhow, going back to my arrival in Moscow, after what I must say was an extremely pleasant overnight train ride, I had no idea where I was, only an address of the hostel I needed to go to, along with my map, in English. I went to information and they kindly gave me a metro map, in English, and showed me which metro station I would need to go to. Excellent, I thought. The absolute sheer panic when I arrive in the metro station, something that had been so easy in St Petersburg, had now turned into a logistical nightmare, in that no Russian metro station was actually written in English, so both maps were practically useless as I could not correlate with the Russian in the metro station!
This is where one lucky member of the Russian public gets me coming up to them and saying the name of the station I need (very slowly I might add!) And pointing at the train I think might take me there….yes was her answer (or ‘da’, as she also knew none of my language). She even kindly held up her hand to say 5 stops once we were on the train, and then ‘2’ more stops as she got off. What a kind lady.
I spent my first day in Moscow wandering around haplessly, partly due to my inability to understand any Russian, and partly due to the fact that there seemed to be a major event going on and half, no, most of the subway exits were closed off by guards….and being told ‘No’ in a rather deep, stern voice, by a Russian guard is enough to send me in the other direction, no arguing.
The thing is, all I needed to do was to cross the road. It was a huge one, granted, and could only be done underground. However the closed exits were hindering my progress, as I kept popping up from underground, thinking I had got somewhere (ie. across the road) only to realise I was still on the same side of the road, however a little further down each time. Frustration is not the word! I felt like a poor mouse in a maze, and the cheese was still no nearer!
I remembered there was a tour of the underground stations at 4pm, so thought I’d try to make my way to that, to try and actually accomplish something in this day! The meeting place – blocked off. Alternative meeting place? Well I didn’t actually think I’d need that did I! Anyhow managed to find an open WiFi spot to find the alternative meeting place, I make my way back up the road, through the maze of guards and blockades, only to arrive there a few minutes too late, tour gone 😦 Mission abandoned!
I wandered back down the street and watched some of the event that appeared to have caused this chaos. It was Russian graduation day, there was a brass band and scores of young people clad in beautiful dresses and tailored suits, the Russians it appears, really know how to dress up. A stunning red satin and diamante dress is one that sticks in my mind, worn by an equally stunning young lady.
I headed back to the hostel, this one a little more social than my first, and a Dutch guy named Robert and a Russian called Andrei kindly took me to the supermarket so I could stock up on food and beer 🙂
As I was left feeling clueless and hadn’t really achieved much after Friday’s events I decided that Saturday would not be the same, and decided to go on the free city walking tour in the morning, to familiarise myself with Moscow, and not let it beat me! Arriving at the tour over an hour early, (I had allowed plenty of time for getting lost on more than one occasion!) a guy approached me asking if I was on the tour, his name was Mahmut (not sure on spelling!) and he was from Turkey. Mahmut actually turned out to be my saviour for the day, as I was telling him about the Moscow metro nightmare and how it was very difficult to navigate not being able to correlate any of the Russian metro station names with my English map, and how panic was setting in as I had to collect my train tickets from a location in Moscow and the thought of trying to get there was filling me with dread, so much so that the second I arrived back at my hostel on the Friday I had emailed my train ticket company asking them if they could deliver them to my hostel! I then realised they do not work weekends and would not have got my email until it was too late, as my train was leaving on the Monday! Anyhow, it turns out he had a map in both English and Russian, result! So I wrote down the names of the stations I needed in Russian, but then he said I could have the map as he could use his phone. I was so grateful for this and it made me feel like I could take on the challenge and do it!
We went on and did the walking tour, followed by the tour of the Kremlin with the same guide, along with a few other people I’d met in the morning, Judith from England, Sarah from Australia, and Jamie from Spain.
Here are a few photos from the morning and in and around the Kremlin and the Red Square
St Basil’s Cathedral
Our guide for the day, Irina
My first experience of one of these, albeit quite clean!
Mahmut the saviour of the day, and a lunch stop!
One for Tammy
Now, on getting inside the Kremlin itself, our group approached the entrance only to come across an absolutely colossal queue that would have taken an hour to get through. This is where, the Lady in Yellow came into force. Nobody knew where she came from, or how it worked, but she pointed and said something in Russian, to which none of the English speaking group responded, she promptly followed this with ‘go to me’, an American guy said ‘I got that one’, and we all followed her, up a different set of steps, to the side of the main entrance, and to the guards who were slowly letting the huge queue in, one by one. Some words were exchanged, and boom, there we were, jumping this entire queue of people! Not quite sure what was said or how this was done, but the Lady in Yellow came along with our whole tour, until nearly the end, where she disappeared just as quickly as she had appeared. Never did find out how exactly that worked, but I’m sure a few rubles were exchanged at some point!
The mysterious Lady inYellow
And then she was gone…..
Sarah was also going to a Russian National Dance show produced by the Russian ballet, and I asked if she could possibly ask her guide to arrange a ticket for me also. She managed to do this, so after the Kremlin tour, we did a tour if the underground as many of the stations are like palaces themselves, see the pics below. Although to be honest after this I was all ‘toured out’. Those that know me know my retention of historical information is not great at the best of times, and although thoroughly interesting, and the guide was fantastic, I couldn’t absorb any more information in this small, fried brain of mine! However, that being said, this was the best thing I could have done, because as much as I am loving being in Russia, amongst mainly Russians (obviously! but what I mean by this is even in my accommodations there has not been another English person, we are few and far between in these parts!) it was nice to be able to converse more than a few words with others, and also to be shown around the city makes it feel a lot less alien. I have also made a point of learning some of the Russian alphabet, so I can fathom out what street I am on when looking at a map in English, it’s kind of useful to know! All this put together meant navigating the Russian underground is a little easier, and every time I look at a Russian word and work it out in my head, how it sounds, it feels like I am starting to crack this!
METRO PHOTOS TO FOLLOW
Sarah from Australia
Various parts of these statues are considered to be lucky if you touch them, hence the bronzing rubbing off on the dog’s nose, the cockerel’s head, etc…
The Russian dance show, I have to say, was phenomenal, I mean, absolutely outstanding. The number of stunningly beautiful costumes appeared endless, and the quality of the dancers was superb, this was by the Russian ballet of course! There was one piece that was so beautiful I felt my eyes welling up! I have NEVER felt emotion like this watching a piece of dance before, but this was something else. I am so glad that the day worked out like this and I had the opportunity to go to such an amazing show. Unfortunately no photos were allowed inside the theatre!
Sarah and I outside the theatre where the National Dance Show was shown