This is the second of our two part post about our trip to Moscow. If you haven’t read the first part, you can find it here.
Day 2: We woke up to a grey sky and rain which dampened our spirits a little but we didn’t have the option to defer our plans to the next day because we were leaving for Prague. So, we put our wind cheaters on, rolled-up our jeans, got under an umbrella and headed to Kremlin. We took the metro to the station Arbatskaya and walked from there to the Kremlin entrance where we bought our entrance tickets. The Kremlin is a historic fortified complex at the heart of Moscow and overlooks the Moskva river. The complex houses four cathedrals and four palaces. Saint Basil’s Cathedral and Red Square lie to the east of the complex and the Alexander Garden lies to the west. You need to buy separate tickets to see the exhibition at the Armoury, the Kremlin cathedrals and the Ivan The Great Bell Tower. We bought tickets to the Armoury and the Kremlin cathedrals.
The ticket to the Armoury exhibition is expensive (700 Roubles) but totally worth it. The Armoury has two hour sessions at specific times starting at 10:00 a.m. and your ticket is only valid for the session you buy it for. Therefore, if you’re planning to visit the Armoury, do it first – tickets are limited and there is a long queue. Cameras and backpacks are not allowed inside the Armoury so make sure you leave it at the cloak room. You can take them back when going to visit the cathedrals.The entrance to the Armoury is different from the main entrance to the Kremlin and the cloak room is near the Kremlin entrance so leave your bags/cameras before you head to the Armoury. Also, don’t forget to take an audio guide because without it, you can’t appreciate the artifacts you see. The price of the audio guide for the Armoury is included in the ticket but you’ll need to submit an ID when you take it. Keep a photo ID other than your passport handy. The PAN card worked for us.
The Armoury chamber is part of the Grand Kremlin palace and houses artifacts that were part of the Tsar’s treasury and patriarch’s vestry. It has a huge and beautiful collection of gold and silver artifacts like gospel covers, Tsar crowns, cutlery and more. The Armoury houses unique collections of the Russian, Western European and Eastern applied arts from the 5th to the 20th centuries. Some of the highlights of the exhibition are the Imperial Crown of Russia, Monomakh’s Cap (which was used when Ivan The Terrible was crowned Tsar), the ivory throne of Ivan the Terrible, and other royal regalia.
The armoury also has the diamond fund for which you have to buy a separate ticket that costs 500 Roubles. By the time we got done with the Armoury, the Diamond fund had closed for lunch so we didn’t get to see it. The Diamond fund is a unique collection of gems, jewelry and natural nuggets. It was started by Emperor Peter I of Russia in 1719 and is a must see if you have the time and money.
When we stepped out of the Armoury we were relieved to see that it had stopped raining and the sun was trying to make its way out from behind the clouds. It was the perfect weather to go to the Cathedral square. We’d recommend taking an audio guide to see the cathedrals or, you won’t understand anything. You can rent the audio guide at the ticket counter after showing your ticket. The cathedral square gets its name from the cathedrals that face it – Cathedral of the Dormition, Cathedral of the Archangel, and Cathedral of the Annunciation. Apart from these, the Church of the Deposition of the Robe, the Church of the Twelve Apostles and the Palace of Facets are placed there.The Cathedral square was the site of the coronation and funeral processions of all the Russian Tsars, patriarchs, and Grand Dukes of Moscow. Even today, the square is used in the inauguration ceremony of the President of Russia.
If you’re lucky, you can get to see the scene of the daily changing of the Horse Guards in the square. We saw the guards walking back to the palace when we were waiting in line to enter the Armoury and we were not sure whether to be happy that we got a glimpse of them or, feel bad about having missed the exchange of the guards.
A part of the Patriarchal palace is a museum and has precious house wares, jewelry, Tsars’ hunting equipment, ancient furniture and other items of historical importance on display. After our tour of the cathedrals and Patriarchal palace we went to see the Tsar bell which is made of bronze and is the largest bell in the world. The bell was broken during casting and has never been rung. The bell and the broken piece both are on display. On the Cathedral Square, you also have the Ivan the Great Bell Tower which was the tallest building in Russia at one time. If you have the time, you can go see it but you’ll need to buy a separate ticket for that.
One of the buildings inside the Kremlin complex was being renovated but you couldn’t make out because they had covered it with a painting/façade like the original. Unless you went close you couldn’t make out it wasn’t the real thing! Don’t know if it’s the norm in Moscow but we noticed the same thing at a few other places on Red Square.
After seeing the Tsar bell, we were quite exhausted and relaxed for a while on a bench in the Kremlin gardens before heading back to our hostel. On the way to our hostel we stopped for a late lunch at Pizza Hut. One of the perils of being a vegetarian is that more often than not you can’t enjoy the local cuisine because it’s mostly consists of meat and fish.
Russian circuses are famous for their high standard particularly acrobatics. There are two circuses in Moscow and luckily one happened to be very close to our hostel which made it possible for us to squeeze it in our schedule. On our way back from Kremlin, we stopped at the circus to buy tickets for the evening show. The cheapest ticket was 400 Roubles and the most expensive one was 2500 Roubles (guess which one we bought ;). The show was at 7:00 p.m. and we just had enough time to go back to our hostel and drop our bags. The entire show was very enjoyable and the performances by the acrobats were particularly outstanding. After that we headed back to Red Square because we wanted to see the square at night and it was beautiful to see all the buildings lit up particularly GUM. Our plan was to see the square and then take the metro back to our hostel.
We knew that the metro runs till 1:00 a.m. so we strolled along the square and admired the buildings but we were in for a bit of a surprise when we reached the station near Red Square at 10:30 p.m. It was closed. We were debating whether to take a taxi or try our luck by walking to the next metro station. The square was still pretty lively so we crossed our fingers and walked to the next metro station. It was not very far and thankfully it was open. Moral of the story – some stations close before 1:00 a.m. so, if you’re planning to come back late by the metro, find out till what time does your station open.
When you go to St. Basil’s or the Kremlin you’re already expecting grandeur so when you see them you’re awed but not surprised. So, what is it that really surprised us? The grand soviet-era metro stations. Each time we saw one we had the feeling of discovering a treasure buried deep in the earth. If you take a picture without the train in the background, you can pass off some of the as interiors of palaces. The metro was among the biggest achievements of the communist government and these stations were built as a reward for people’s hard work.
Must see stations are Mayakovskaya, Ploshchad Revolyutsii, Kropotkinskaya, Kosmolskaya, Novoslobodskaya, Novokuznetskaya, and Mendeleevskaya (dedicated to Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev, the creator of the periodic table).
The next morning we woke up early as we had an 11:30 flight to Prague. It was raining again which made us feel really good about the clear, sunny skies we got the day we reached Moscow. We contemplated taking a taxi to the metro station but the distance was too less and it was just drizzling so we decided to walk. As for our suitcases, they were well protected under the oversized polythene bags.
Stay tuned for our next stop – Prague!
How to get around in Moscow
Public transport particularly the metro is the best way to get around. The main spots are pretty well connected and we never felt the need to take a taxi. If you’re planning to stay for a few days, it is a good idea to buy a 10 (or more) ride metro pass. You don’t save a lot of money but definitely save a lot of time. Also, you’ll avoid the famous Moscow traffic and get a chance to see some really exquisite metro stations.
We got free wireless internet at the airport and our hostel which helped us get on Skype to make phone calls and do some research. You may find some restaurants like McDonalds where you might get free wireless internet.
We bought Skype credit which helped us call home. If you’re staying long, you can get a mobile phone connection from MTS or Beeline.
Getting vegetarian food is a problem and explaining to people that you want food without meat and fish can be an issue. We were aware of this so we had taken some food from home that was enough for our first two meals in Moscow. After that it was margherita pizza at Pizza Hut J We found a supermarket close to our place which is great to buy snacks, food and drinks and it’s much (much) cheaper than buying it from other shops – like much of the western world.
We took the metro back to our hostel at 10:30 p.m. and didn’t face any problem. The tourist areas like Red Square are livelier than other areas of the city. You need to just take the basic precautions you’d take in any city like avoid deserted, dark streets and avoid flashing valuables. Carry a colored copy of your passport even if you’re carrying your original. Show the copy when someone asks to see it instead of your original. We did not feel any less safe than we did in any other European city.
We’re not into shopping and we only bought fridge magnets. If you’re brand conscious and want to splurge on luxury brands, go to GUM, a shopping mall on Red Square. It is great for window shopping and people watching too.
You want to keep the basic medicines like analgesics and antacids handy. Tap water might not be drinkable everywhere so ask before you drink.
Irrespective of the time or weather men and women in Moscow are immaculately dressed. Women in formal clothes, makeup and six-inch heels and men in jackets, formal trousers and well-polished shoes is the norm. I didn’t see anyone wearing flip flops or track pants except us J A peculiar thing we noticed was that if you don’t want to walk on a moving elevator then stand to the right (strictly) otherwise you’ll end up annoying a few people. If you don’t speak/understand Russian, it can be difficult getting directions or, information on the street as most people don’t speak English. The younger people still speak some English so if you need help approach them. And learn to say ‘Spasiba’ – thank you in Russian J
If you don’t like snow, the summer season (May – September) is the best time to visit. In August, it was pleasant with the temperature staying between 12 – 18 degrees Celsius. It’s advisable to wear layers because you want to wear short sleeves in the sun and full sleeves in the shade J
Visa & Registration
If you’re applying for a transit visa, there is a huge possibility that they’ll ask you to apply in person at the consulate so be prepared and keep enough time. Also, if you’re staying in Russia for more than 24 hours, you are required to register with the authorities. You can do this when you check in to your hotel or hostel. We had a transit visa and were not sure whether we had to register but did it anyway to stay on the right side of the law.
Preparing for the trip
You need a wind cheater and umbrella because it rains often. Carry a sunscreen because when it’s sunny the rays can be strong. Carry a pair of good walking shoes/sandals that you’ve broken into. Don’t carry that pair of shoes you so love and just bought :)
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