My first visit to Moscow was in 1999 and it did not bring me fond memories. I had spent most of my days that trip in a small village outside of Bryansk staying with a family whose daughter came to live with us for one year in the U.S. At the end of the two week visit, we spent a couple of days in Moscow. I confess, my memories of Moscow from that trip are limited to heavy traffic, Red Square and tourist vendors, and food poisoning. I was not super into the idea of going back to Moscow except that some of my friends, whose opinion I highly value, speak very well of Moscow and I thought I needed to give it another chance. In fact, I still need to give it another chance because the day I scheduled for us in Moscow was not enough time to really get to know the city. So what can I tell you based off of my very limited knowledge of the largest city and capital of Russia? The subway system is phenomenal – not only is it extensive, but it is beautiful. If you go in the winter time, you may get to see snow in Red Square, which I am convinced is one of the most beautiful city sites to be seen (albeit very cold). However, if you go in the spring or summer time, I’m sure the city is much more colorful and Izmailovo market is probably much more interesting – when we were there in January, it was like an abandoned circus venue….. but I got my fur hats and Russian scarf at the market there (beware of the market vendors – they are very pushy!)
You cannot compare Saint Petersburg to Moscow – at least I could not. They are completely different types of cities. The thing I thought was most interesting about Moscow was the remnants of Soviet past – it was not uncommon to see an old Soviet-style building next to a brand new facility or classic style architecture. This is not common in SPB. In case you are wondering if Red Square is really that impressive, yes it most definitely is! It is one of the coolest government squares that I have ever been to and it is breathtaking. I’m afraid we did not get to see Lenin – as we were standing in line during the 3 hours you can actually get into the memorial, Sean realized I had left my teddy bear in the hotel room (and we had checked out), so we raced back to the hotel to try and find him. Teddy bear I’ve owned since I was four years old is much more important than Lenin’s body in my book!
Anyhow, I definitely want to pencil in more time in Moscow during my hopeful next visit to Russia because it is definitely a stellar city and I know we did not even touch the perimeters of its offerings. One final story, we boarded the train for Kiev around midnight and landed in Kupe (second class accommodations) with an older couple – probably in their 50’s. The poor couple looked at us like, “oh no, we got stuck with English-speaking foreigners!” So, I tried to speak with them in Russian a little bit and got drilled with question after question about where we were from and what life was like in the U.S. Needless to say, we made two new friends and I didn’t get to sleep until about 2:30 a.m. Note to the anti-social: train travel in Russia is not for you (unless you buy yourself a ticket in first class isolation). Additionally, for those of you who are curious, the train from Moscow to Kiev does not pass through Belarus (no transit visa needed). However, the train from Kiev to Petersburg does, so plan accordingly if you find yourselves traveling these routes!