We arrived at one of the three international airports in Moscow at 9:30 AM. Ahead of us: 12 hours to use to explore Russia’s infamous Red Square.
Going through customs was a breeze, and before we knew it we were on the fast train towards the city center. Travis and I were both glued to the window, mesmerized by the snow on the ground, ice on the lakes and Eastern Block architecture. How different than where we were earlier today!
35 minutes later we were in the city, making our way to the metro system to head to the Kremlin. We were having loads of fun, and were too excited to be here to mind the struggle we were having with the both the oral and written language.
Out on the street, we poached Wi-Fi at Starbucks to locate ourselves on the map (oh, the luxury!) and headed straight for Red Square. Approaching the Resurrection Gate, and upon first seeing St Basil’s Cathedral, we just couldn’t believe that we were actually there. It felt surreal, and like the coolest thing ever. It was well worth the splurge for a transit visa!
Red Square is truly gigantic; it dwarfs St Basil’s Cathedral. We were lucky though, there were not too many tourists so the place seemed even bigger. The weather was also on our side: we had some sun to warm us up.
Our first sightseeing stop was the Kazan Cathedral. A cute little pink church with domes, it was well worth the stop. Inside was one of the most atmospheric church ever, all warm and golden. Filled with smoke, light coming in from the high windows gave the really cool “fingers of God” effect. Sadly, no pictures were allowed.
Next we stopped at the GUM mall, in search of some food. It was a super fancy mall, with a fountain and fake cherry trees in bloom inside. We found a “straight-from-heaven” grocery store: cured meats, cheeses, vodka, caviar… all way out of our budget. We decided to wait for something more reasonable.
Walking away from the Square, we finally found a cafeteria-style restaurant serving affordable food. They even had the items listed in English! We happily drank our beer and ate our meat, warming up our core and feeling even more like India was a million years ago.
We went back in the cold to check out more of Red Square. By now the weather had turned, and it was cloudy and windy. Brrr!
We headed straight to St Basil’s Cathedral, whose official name is also the “Intercession Cathedral” and the “Cathedral of the Protection of Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat”. It is called St Basil because it was built over St Basil’s tomb – and probably because the name is much easier to say! Before reading up on the Red Square, I had no idea that one could visit the inside of the Cathedral, which is now a lot more of a museum than anything else. I thought that it was pretty cool that you could go in. I managed to sneak a few pictures of the stunning murals inside and some of the religion art. Admission was pretty steep, and paying the cost for pictures would have doubled my cost. What I found most interesting was seeing the classic domes from within.
Travis (who does not speak Russian) being interviewed in Russian outside of St Basil:
After the Cathedral we walked along the walls, looking for the entrance of the Kremlin. By now we had been up for well over 24 hours, and I was getting tired, sore and cold.
By the time we actually reached the Kremlin, I was “done”. That’s my word to say that I can’t go on anymore. I think that it’s sad that I missed going into the Kremlin and seeing more churches and museum, but I would not have enjoyed them. At that point, it would have been a waste of money and I would have just been slowing Travis down. We hatched out a plan: he would go in and sight-see while I would head back to the airport and rest. I did stop by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on my way back, a memorial to the soldiers who died during the ’41-45 Great Patriotic War.
I slept the whole way back on the train to the airport. The warmth made me drowsy, and I just gave in blissfully. The airport was also nice and toasty, and I sat down in a comfy chair at Starbucks to wait for Travis. I was just relishing all of the Western amenities I could get: heat, Wi-Fi, a chain we knew, ridiculously tasty cheesecake.
Still, the store at the airport (like most of what we had experience that day) had zero English – ordering tea was pretty funny. I quite like their chai latte, so I asked for that (knowing that everywhere else I’ve been in the world has had it). The girl at the counter just stared at me, not understanding. I repeated myself, and tried to be more clear: Do you have chai tea? Her answer took me back: what kind of tea? We have green tea. I tried to explain that it was a type of tea called chai, but then realized that in Russian, the word for tea is chai. I had been asking for “tea tea”. No kidding that she was confused! I ended up with a mint tea instead.
Eventually it was time to go past security and await our flight. Biggest shocker ever: the departure lounge is a 100% smoking section. Everyone was smoking everywhere: the whole place was a cloud of smoke. What more, everyone was busy drinking themselves silly. It was a challenge just to find somewhere selling food!
By the time we boarded our flight, we were quite drained from the day and couldn’t wait to be in Kiev, in our bed. Thankfully we only had a short flight ahead!