I am sitting in the top bunk of room six on wagon 12 in a train hurtling 5,000 miles across Siberia. We left Moscow 26 hours ago, after a brief three night/two day stay. And I do mean brief. It was not nearly enough time to see everything that there is to be seen in Moscow. We tackled the Kremlin and Cathedrals, hit a few of the more beautiful and opulent metro stops, and browsed an open air market. But we barely got to see Bolshoi Theatre, let alone watch a ballet with Russia’s infamous dancers, and though we made it out on a Friday night with a quartet of German boys from our hostel, we didn’t quite find the Russian night life we were looking for.
Here’s how it went down. After arriving by train from St. Petersburg we did the usual- find our hostel and go out to get something to eat and get a lay of the land. The next morning we took a free walking tour with said German boys, and tackled all those touristic spots: the candy cathedrals, Lenin’s Mausoleum, GUM- the state department store. After the tour we had some lunch at another soviet cafeteria style restaurant. I really liked that style because you could see everything, and pick what you want. You can try lots of new things and keep it in whatever budget you want. My favorite dish was recommended to me by Sandra, a fish and beat salad which sounds awful but is actually pretty delicious. After lunch we wandered through a souvenirs and crafts market and I picked up two vintage Russian shawls which I’m pretty happy about. Don’t forget to haggle at these kinds of places! On the way out we passed stalls with fresh honey and sweets and I couldn’t resist getting some rose flavored Turkish Delight. Much cheaper than what I found in Turkey, by the way, and made fresh with honey. I guess in Turkey it’s infamy drives up the price. By the time we were done shopping we were ready for a rest so we headed back to the hostel to nap before gong out that night.
The German guys wanted to go to some bars and check out the Russian social scene since it was their last night in Russia. Sandra and I agreed that we couldn’t go without one vodka filled evening in the city, so we decided to go out with them. The night-life was a bit of a joke though. First we found ourselves in the posh Red October district. Though Porsches, BMW’s, Ferraris, and the like filled the streets; and their designer bedecked owners filled the bars, I just couldn’t take it seriously. I think the fact that the posh overpriced bar we went into had Adventure Time (a silly show for stoners that airs on Cartoon Network) playing silently on the walls while futuristic techno music filled the air, really ruined the illusion for me. This, I explained to the Germans, is a show my friends and I watch in my living room while we drink cheap beer and eat delivery pizza. This is not a show to drink $7 vodka shots to (for perspective- a fifth of decent glass bottle vodka costs about $5 here).
After asking the bartender for directions to a different bar district- Kitai Gorod- we made our way there. Along the way we walked past many of the sights from the morning’s tour: the Kremlin, whose stars now glowed a bright red, and the candy cathedrals. The next bar we went into sounded promising from the street, with music pouring out the front door. But when we got inside I was again only amused. The bar was having a “Rock of Ages” night and the DJ was playing old American rock. Russian kids danced to the YMCA without knowing when to do the cheerleader letters, and shimmied to Green Day’s old school government bashing lyrics without batting an eye.
Well, we’re here now, we said. So we had some beers and had some fun. The next morning we valiantly tried to wash away our hangovers with a heavy breakfast of piroshkis and coffee so that we could fit as much into our last day as we could. We went inside the Kremlin, visited the old Soviet buildings (ironically, the grounds are now an amusement park and flea market), toured some of the grand metro stops, and tagged along on one more tour- this time with a communist era theme.
I’ve mentioned the metro stops twice now, and they really deserve it. Though they were built as a means of showcasing soviet architectural grandeur, I really like the thought of putting that much effort into something that people can use and see every day. Some were just as full of marble, chandeliers, and mosaics as a royal palace. And just like the palaces- photography was strictly forbidden! I managed to snipe one or two photos, but the real grandeur you’ll just have to go see for yourself! I think it is worth adding to my list of 1001 things you really should see.
There are still 55 hours or so of train travel ahead of us before we reach Irkutsk, the Capital of the Siberia. Only time will tell how this adventure will turn out. Will it be a welcome rest in the middle of an intense month long trip, or will Sandra and I go stir crazy after staring at nothing but open taiga, trees and each other for three days straight?
See you on the other side of the world,