Moscow is the city you think of when you imagine ‘Russia’. There is the Kremlin, surrounded by high red walls, St Basil’s Cathedral with its onion domes, and of course, babushka dolls. But what about the other side of the city? The city experienced by everyday locals? Here is my guide of what to see in Moscow. Not to mention people walking around with those giant fluffy hats. Sadly it wasn’t winter so we missed out on the hats….
The Red Square
The Red Square, or Krasnaya Ploschad, is considered the heart of Russian history, politics, and culture. Krasnaya actually means ‘beautiful’ in Russian and it is only in modern times that this translation has shifted to ‘red’. Despite what you may think, it is not called the ‘red’ square due to its links with communism, spilled blood, or the colour of the monuments.
The square was originally an old market place and it was here that the public gathered for Government announcements, religious festivals, and even public executions. In 1941, Russian tanks even rolled through the square to boost morale as they made their way to the front line to meet the German forces.
St Basil’s Cathedral
St Basil’s Cathedral is located in the Red Square and together they are a ‘must see’ for anyone visiting Moscow. The beautiful dome of the cathedral can be seen throughout the city and its image conjures up tales that I heard growing up about Russia.
The cathedral was ordered by Ivan the Terrible in 1552 and took eight years to be completed. Little is known about the designers or the inspiration for their designs with some architectural specialists arguing that the cathedral pays homage to Jerusalem’s churches.
St Basil’s cathedral was almost demolished by Stalin as it hindered his plans for mass parades on the Red Square. Luckily, the architect, Pyotr Baranovsky refused to do comply with this request – he spent five years in prison, however, the cathedral remains standing today.
But to me, the cathedral only served to emphasise my love affair with St Petersburg. St Basil’s was spectacular, but it can’t compare with the Church of the Spilled Blood. This church is the most beautiful religious building I have ever been into, and I am still in awe at the colours and the intricate mosaics that line the walls and ceiling.
The Cathedral is open 11:00 – 17:00 every day except Tuesday when it is closed.
The Kremlin wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I was imagining more garish gold, more grandeur… more…palace-like décor.
As the seat of the Russian government and home to some of the most famous political figures in the world, the Kremlin is an important place in Russian history. It was built in the 1150s with additions made by over time into the 20th century. These modifications were intended to reflect the glory and splendour of Russia… however, a lot of the impressive things must be inside.
The whole complex was a bit bland. There were a few beautiful churches here and there as well as Tsar Cannon and Bell. The bell broke during construction so has never been rung and the cannon has never been fired.
I know I should have been more impressed by the place, and I did find the history interesting, but I don’t think it is as incredible as people say and frankly I wouldn’t bother to visit it again. The grounds, however, are lovely to walk around and you are able to do this for free.
The Kremlin is open 10:00 – 17:00 except for Thursdays when it is closed.
In St Petersburg, we were told by some tourists who had just visited Moscow that we would have to queue for hours to see Vladimir Lenin. But luckily for us, there wasn’t a line at all and we were able to go straight in!
Lenin died in 1924 and he has been on display ever since except for a brief time where he was evacuated to Siberia in 1941 when the city was under threat from German soldiers. At one point Lenin had company in the tomb – Stalin’s embalmed body was placed next to Lenin from 1953 until 1961 when he was removed as part of Khrushchev’s de-Stalinisation program.
It was creepy to see him lying there looking like a wax figure from Madame Tussauds. The mausoleum itself was classic communist architecture and reminded me of Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum in Vietnam.
The mausoleum is open 10:00 – 13:00 except for Mondays and Fridays when it is closed.
Every day life
The unusual sites and day-to-day life were the things I liked most about Moscow. They weren’t enough to make me forget about St Petersburg, but I was impressed. I really enjoyed Russia and would love to visit again to see even more random places – maybe next time I will also learn some Russian!
Despite looking confusing at first, the train system is easy to use and helps you get around the giant city without having to walk everywhere or attempt to use a cab. The taxi system is Russia is strange and inconvenient for a tourist. Unless you want to get the taxi from a hotel, you have to book one online rather than hail one down in the street – so plan ahead!
The train stations are not as beautiful as in St Petersburg (did I mention that I like St Petersburg?) but they are a great way to get around. Pay attention to who is around you in peak hours. I had a man brush up against me who was a bit too excited about his train journey. A disgusting way to start your day! But on the whole, we never had any problems on the trains or in Russia in general.
Flacon is an arty/designer complex opposite a university on the outskirts of town in a former glassworks. It is filled with little boutiques featuring local Russian designers and a lot of the dresses are stunningly beautiful. The sizes run quite small, however, and despite being a size 10 in Australia, I could barely get these dresses over my hips/shoulders – all the beef stroganoff probably didn’t help either.
There are a number of different cafes serving delicious food if you want to take a break from all the shopping. The menus are only in Russian so if your waiter doesn’t speak any English you will have to guess or point to something that someone else is eating that looks good. That system worked well for us!
The street art and murals on the walls are largely pop-art in style and they bring a lot of vibrant colours into the area that makes it feel even trendier.
Flacon is open 11:00 – 20:00 every day.
Address: Bol. Novodmitrovskaya ul. 36
Muzeon Park of Arts
Moscow is known for its parks and you often find couples and families sitting on park benches throughout the city, relaxing and enjoying the sunshine. One park that I particularly enjoyed was Muzeon Park of Arts. This park has scores of statues scattered throughout, as well as one section devoted purely to sculptures. There is even a section devoted entirely to Soviet statues!
We were lucky enough to visit as sunset (largely because we got lost on the way) and this made for great photos!
There are also a number of different cafes, one which sold amazing chicken wings, as well as a few different installation art pieces. We were then in autumn so it wasn’t too crowded, but I can imagine that the park would be filled with locals on summer evenings.
Address: Krimsky Val, вл. 2
There is nothing better than a sporting event to make you feel like you are a local. Ever since I studied in Montreal I have loved ice hockey. So when we arrived in Russia one of the first things I did was to look up the local teams and see if Sue and I could see a game. We were in luck!
The local Moscow team Dynamo was playing a game against Traktor from Chelyabinsk and the crowd was very loud and passionate. Buying the tickets is slightly challenging. If you look online the tickets are expensive but if you go to the game they are about a quarter of the price. The only challenge with buying tickets at the game is that you have to tell the lady which price bracket and seats you would like… in Russian.
While we were trying to guess how to order in Russian two chivalrous men behind us stepped in and ensured we had the best possible tickets for our desired price. Later we were sitting in our seats when a group of guys evicted us because they thought we were actually in their seats. The men who helped us buy our tickets again came to our rescue and helped us reclaim our seats (we were in the right place). The men in Russia are incredibly chivalrous and not at all sleazy. Any time we were lost, or just sitting on public transport, a man always came to our rescue!
Check the schedule to find the game details.
Love locks, Padlock Tree Park
As in a lot of other cities around the world, Moscow has an area devoted to ‘love locks’. In Padlock Tree Park there is a row of about a dozen metal trees that cross Luzhkov Bridge and sprawl down the river bank.
Each tree is covered with hundreds, if not thousands, of locks engraved with the names of loved up couples. When we were there we saw a couple on their wedding day adding their lock onto a tree before tossing the key into the river below.
Address: Luzhkov Bridge
Children are the Victims of Adult Vices
In 2001, local artist Mihail Chemiakin constructed a series of statues depicting what he felt were the evil vices of adulthood that impact the lives of children.
Thirteen statues, each representing a different vice, are closing in on two children who are playing unaware of these dangers. The statues include alcoholism, exploitation of child labour, indifference, drug addiction, prostitution, sadism, ignorance, pseudo-science, war, poverty, theft, capital punishment, and advocating violence.
Address: Bolotnaya pl.