And my legendarily bad sense of direction strikes again! With only one full day in Russia I had to make full use of it – unfortunately fate had other ideas.
The hostel Vodkatrain uses is the Godzillas Hostel in Moscow. Which is actually pretty nice for the price. The showers were hot, plenty of sinks, tolerable beds and free tea, coffee and popcorn on tap. As an added bonus, there was a small supermarket just round the corner for breakfast.
My plan of action was simple. With limited time, I’d head straight into the city centre and get to the meeting point for the free walking tour advertised at the hostel. Two and a half hours going round the city with someone who knew what they were talking about seemed like a good plan. I got my directions, double checked it on a map, and set off.
Still not entirely sure what happened. I do know that I clearly went left instead of right, and unfortunately, both roads had similar enough landmarks that I didn’t notice the mistake. Instead of going South, I ended up going East…eventually curving into South East. It wasn’t until I’d been walking for at least 20 minutes that I realised I’d made a major cock up, but honestly thought I was heading in the right direction (due to a misidentified landmark), so figured if I kept going, I’d eventually end up in the right area.
After an hour, and looking at a lake that was clearly nowhere near where I wanted to be, I conceded defeat and asked for help. Another very kind woman helped me realise the magnitude of my misdirection, and got me back on track. I ended up at Red Square a good hour and a half later than planned, having missed the tour, but at least now in the right part of town.
I cut my losses and head straight for St. Basil’s Cathedral, one of the most – if not THE most iconic building in Russia:
Its where St. Basil the Blessed rests, and there are a multitude of stories as to its creation. Inside its very beautiful – you have hundreds of flowers and spirals decorated on the walls – but the second floor is the only part that took my breath away. Going into the bottom of the towers, you can seen the brick work and the patterns used through red and white brick – it’s spectacular.
Afterwards, I headed back into Red Square and walked past the Kremlin walls, heading out and following directions to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Where to my surprise, I found the free tour group – and tagged along for the last half hour to hear about the Tomb and the Kremlin itself.
I would have loved to do the Kremlin, but by this point it was close to 2pm, and the ticket offices were packed. I watched them for 5 minutes and not one person moved. I also knew that if I got lost again, I’d need at least an hour to get back to my hostel, and we had a meeting with our Honcho at 5. Even assuming the queue took less than half an hour, I might struggle to get through the Kremlin in time -and for 700 rubles, I’d want to take my time. So decide to head on back and just enjoy Moscow background – a nice enough walk considering it was so nice.
On that note – I have to stop and ask ‘what the hell?’ While researching this trip all I saw over and over was ‘prepare for the Arctic’, ‘Expect snow’, ‘pack thermals and layers, and then pack more!’ When I hit Moscow, I’m hit with the warmest November the city had known in 200 years, and the hottest November DAY in 175 years. I feel just a little bit cheated – I was promised beautiful snow and justification for lugging all this winter gear round, and so far all I’ve gotten is Scottish weather. Frankly I could be walking down my home city streets in a dream – all the writing is illegible and it’s all brick.
I make it back to the hostel without hassle (and discover my annoyingly-obvious-in-hindsight mistake), and spend the afternoon at the hostel repacking my bag and preparing my Google Nexus for 5 days without wireless. Over the next hour, everyone else crawls in, and we crowd around the lounge to meet our honcho – Anna.
Anna takes our details, and then to (most) of our surprise, Anna asks what we’d like to do this evening. None of us had thought our Honcho would be taking us out – we hadn’t seen anything like that in our trip guides. As such some of the group already had plans, so only 4 of us only went out. Ended up heading towards Red Square again. This time at night – and its totally worth the trip.
The department store in the area is completely lit up, and the Kremlin is pretty spectacular. We headed even further down towards the river (which I’d missed earlier in the day, but is totally worth it at night). My only complaint was that there was no snow – it would have been stunning with some of the white stuff.
Ended up in a small cafe, where Anna thankfully translated for us (though not without much mirth from the waitresses – getting used to being laughed at in this country) before finally heading back via the subway. Actually found a station that had English machines (woohoo!) and one of the girls with us had navigated underground before, so we made it back in one piece.
Its a pity I didn’t have a better grasp of the underground in Moscow though – the subway’s are works of art in and of themselves. At least I’ll get a chance to see some of them again tomorrow.