On our last morning in Yekaterinburg, we made sure to eat the free breakfast right before it ended at 11am. That way, we covered both breakfast and lunch (essentially brunch) and saved money. Bam. Later on the train, we had a temporary daytime roommate and we soon became the party cabin again after he disembarked at Perm. This apparently was a cue for Dean and H to describe the greatest love scene in Top Gun and sing the entire soundtrack. But, the party stopped once a Russian lady barged into the cabin around 10pm, looking very stern and unamused. We ended up with a roommate after all. At least this train had a dining car where we could continue drinking. And, a babushka who roamed the halls selling piroshki (baked/fried buns stuffed with meat and/or veg).
Once we arrived in Moscow, we bumped into yet another Lenin statue at the station. (Take that, Natasha!) We were staying at the Best Western for the next 2 nights which was a cue to get laundry done. So, Nikka drew us a primitive map directing us to a laundromat that she swore she used several times before. 15-20 minutes into the suburbs and no laundromat was to be seen. Only apartment buildings. In a futile attempt to ask passersby for directions, I pulled up a translation of “laundry” onto Google Translate only to have everyone shake their heads no. We already lugged 2 heavy bags of laundry out here so, I was determined to find another laundromat on Google Maps. Apparently, there was one with great ratings another 15 min away. We decided to try it out.
But, then, we ended up walking through some more suburbs, crossing train tracks that weren’t barricaded, and strolling into dodgy territory. I still thought it was safe since I had seen several moms toting their strollers but, they eventually disappeared. Soon, we were walking into a construction zone with nothing but fences and what appeared to be an auto mechanic shop with scary bearded men sitting outside, smoking cigarettes. H wanted to get the hell out of there ASAP. Lucky for us, it was still bright daylight and we managed to walk back to the hotel safely. I have to say, I never saw H get this annoyed and angry before. We did, however, end the day on a good note – with Shake Shack and seeing a girl walking her pet raccoon on a leash like it was completely normal. She laid out a hat with a sign, though. “Donations.”
The next morning, we got to Lenin’s Mausoleum in Red Square (on the right in the above photo) by 9am and ended up standing behind a small group of people. By 10am opening time, the line had grown much, much longer. The whole experience was about 5 minutes, though. You literally just walk in, circle his body and walk right back out. It was definitely eerie seeing how well-preserved he’s been kept. I couldn’t tell the difference between that and a wax figure.
St. Basil’s Cathedral, we finally meet.
A view of Red Square from St. Basil’s.
We then went on a tour of the Kremlin, during which the guide had to specifically point out where it was safe to take photos. The yellow building above housed Putin’s office and Pete got a little too close in an attempt to get a nice zoomed out photo of the cannon and Cathedral Square across the street. He was also wearing a bright red t-shirt with “Canada” emblazoned on the front, making him very obvious (he was from Wales). The security guards yelled at him and for a few minutes, he had no idea that this was even happening. He was a clueless tourist with wandering tendencies and we found it very endearing.
Cathedral Square was a bit manic with throngs of people trying to get in and out of the 3 surrounding cathedrals. It didn’t help that the army choir/band decided to put on a show in the middle of the square. The murals inside the cathedrals were worth pushing through the crowds for, though, so stay strong.
The tour ended with the Armory Museum and Diamond Fund which housed the famous Faberge eggs. A lot of them. Dean and I joked that they looked like bedazzled Kinder Surprises. Since the museum was packed with people, the guide gave us audioguides which we could hear her talk through in real time. There were times when she would stop speaking then start again, only to end up freaking me out because I would hear her voice without being able to see her through the crowd. She fell into a textbook drone 90% of the time and half the group ended up wandering off.
The 3 of us went for dinner at Kamchatka, where a waiter proceeded to take our order and tell us that he’d be back to tell us the total cost. The asshole decided to end his shift around that time and not put in our order. When the food wasn’t coming out, we confronted the waitress who then apologetically told us that our order was never put into the system. After a very hangry display, we ended up with an extra order of garlic sticks, on the house. These were probably the best garlic sticks I’ve ever eaten, and the garlic made sure to linger around for a very long time after consumption.
The next morning, we hit up the Izmailovsky Market for some Soviet memorabilia, the Tretyakov Gallery for some art history, Caffe del Parco for flat whites and a view of Peter the Great (above) and Gorky Park for lounging, all before heading on a quest to have Moscow Mules in…Moscow. According to Wikipedia, Peter the Great is the 8th tallest statue in the world and listed as one of the ugliest statues in the world. Ouch. He did, after all, hate Moscow and move the capital to St. Petersburg. The designer of the statue allegedly made it in the liking of Christopher Columbus but, due to the lack of American buyers, he re-made it for Russia. I find that very ironic.
Gorky Park in its sunny glory. Our already perfect day was made even more perfect when we came upon 8 Oz, a cocktail bar, within the park that served really good food and drinks. And, when we didn’t see Moscow Mules on the menu, the bartender offered to make them especially for us. Hell freakin’ yea!
Before heading back to catch the train to St. Peterburg, we embarked on a really quick tour of Moscow’s Metro system which is an art museum in itself. Above is Mayakovskaya station, which according to Lonely Planet, was a “grand-prize winner at the 1938 World’s Fair in New York” for its art deco halls and ceiling mosaics. “This is also one of the deepest stations (33m), which allowed it to serve as an air-raid shelter during WWII.” Super cool.
One of the ceiling mosaics at the station.
The train from Moscow to St. Petersburg was, although the cleanest and newest in technology, the most disappointing of all the trains we took. It ran way too smoothly, eliminating the clickety clack technology, and almost looked too sterile to have any old-world charm. I mean, part of the experience of doing the Trans-Mongolian/Trans-Siberian is to experience that charm, no?
We did a 3 hr walking tour through the city, stopping at Kazan Cathedral, the Church of the Savior on Blood, the river with a view of the fortress and, finally, Palace Square. The architecture in this city is so beautifully pastel and symmetrically friendly that it’s enjoyable just to walk around town.
Then, we broke off and went straight for St. Isaac’s Cathedral for a panoramic view of…
…the Hermitage Museum and Palace Square on the left and the Church of the Savior on Blood all itty bitty on the right.
At the last minute, we decided to look for ballet tickets at the Mariinsky Theater but went in circles trying to find the box office within the city. The tourist info center led us to one place who then claimed they sell tickets for every other show/theater except ballet at Mariinsky. About an hour wasted for something we just ended up doing online. The main theater was sold out so we went for modern ballet at Mariinsky II.
The Church of the Savior on Blood (also Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood).
Just like St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, this church was beautifully designed to look like an extremely delicious cake, sprinkled with the candy of divinity.
The murals inside were overwhelming to the senses and, I mean that in a good way. If I could’ve, I would’ve laid my back to the ground and stared at the ceiling for a good hour.
Later that night, we happened upon an awesome craft beer place that served amazing sausages and showed the Euros on huge TVs – Poland vs. Portugal. I also ordered a side of pork chops that I may have mumbled “Do you want some” about, only to be met with no response. So, naturally, I ate the entire thing while they were distracted with the game and then passed out on the table. The photo evidence was a nice payback, I suppose. (And then, we had Burger King which I’m appropriately mentioning within parentheses.)
Next day – the Hermitage Museum!
I’m not sure if anyone has ever managed to go through the entire museum within one day. If so, I applaud that person. In fact, I standing ovation that person. With H and Ilona as our guides, Dean and I willingly trusted their planned itinerary and dutifully followed them around the museum without a single snack break. I deem that a successful museum day.
This room was probably my favorite in terms of layout and colors, although Renaissance art is usually not my thang.
For our last night, we watched The Little Humpbacked Horse at the Mariinsky II Theater. Let’s just say that it was very modern. At times, we had no idea what was really going on. Just a bunch of colors, fire, some bathtub and what looked like date rape. No joke. We Wikipedia-ed the story afterwards to find out that Ivan the Fool, with the help of a magical horse, wins the affection of a Tsar Maiden and overthrows the Tsar (by convincing him to jump into a cauldron of boiling water) to become the Tsar himself. I may have missed a few metaphors.
Classy theatergoers. I mean, we did have a glass of Russian brut during intermission. (Photo credit for Mariinsky II: H)
Afterwards, I suggested that we walk to dinner where we were meeting up with the rest of the group. It was a nice day, after all, and the city was looking beautiful in the sunset. The walk was about 30 min, though, and H was not really into it.
H: “So, how much further is it?”
Me: “Ask me in 15 min.”
Our last activity as a group was a midnight cruise to see the drawbridges, well, get drawn. It was clear to us that a lot of tourists bought into this, given the amount of boat traffic on the river and the number of people standing at the sides. If anything, it was nice seeing the city lights?
Before heading to the airport the next day, we spent our morning strolling along the canals towards the Military Historical Museum of Artillery, Engineer, and Signal Corps (the “Artillery Museum”). The very last excursion for the #backseatbandits. I had an earlier flight, though, so I requested an Uber for myself, only to have it cancel on me and happen 2 more times. I was shitting my pants by the time I managed to get a reliable one. Not only did I need to make it to the airport soon, I had to stop by the hotel first to pick up my luggage. But, I managed to get there within an hour or so of my flight and, all it cost was 1,000 rubles (about $15). Halle-freakin-lujah.
[About 7,600km; 6-7 time zones]