Most of our sightseeing in Moscow was done by night. We planned for 2 nights in the city, thinking we’d arrive in the morning and leave at night, which would give us three full days. Things didn’t exactly go to plan…
Long story short, we ended up spending a day and a half making plans, booking trains, realising our plans had a major logistical flaw, cancelling trains, making new plans, and booking new trains. We’d forgotten that the boat we were planning to catch from Russia to Japan only goes once a week, so in order to leave the country before our visas ran out we’d have to catch a boat 6 days earlier than we thought. I had done a fair bit of planning for this trip, but there’s only so much information I can keep in my head, clearly. I guess writing things down might have been an idea.
At least we realised while we still had time to do something about it…
So, we had to abandon our plans to go to Tuva, and to ride the BAM north of lake Baikal. Instead, we decided to stop in Krasnoyarsk for one night, then go to Irkutsk and lake Baikal, before continuing on to Vladivostok.
All of this to-ing ad fro-ing left us with an evening and a morning to see Moscow, so we pretty much just saw Red Square. Some people we met on the train raved about Moscow, so I suppose it would have been good to spend some more time, but to be honest we weren’t that bothered. We’d had enough of cities, and were keen to get on with doing nothing on the train for three days.
I was glad to see Red Square by night though, it made a nice iconic start to our epic train journey.
Walking back from the square to our hostel we crossed the bridge where Boris Nemsov was assassinated. The place was marked by flowers and photographs lining the pavement.
We tried to snap a photo without appearing to, because there were some guys milling about who started staring at us when we stopped to look. They were probably just equally paranoid tourists looking at us because they thought we were looking at them, but it felt pretty sketchy at the time. Generally in Russia Arthur was the one paranoid about taking photos of stuff, and convinced we were going to get arrested all the time, and I thought he was being crazy. We didn’t have any problems in the end, but this was the one time I felt equally uneasy. I imagine seeing the spot just brought into focus a niggling, ‘heck, Russia’s a bit scary actually’ feeling that I have from all the screwed up stuff I’ve read about the political situation in recent years. It’s hard to feel totally safe when you’re subject to the whim of a government who (possibly) murder their political opponents on the streets of the capital.
It’s stuff like this which made even European Russia feel like somewhere completely other, despite all its similarities to Europe.
Also, stuff like visiting the wax coated corpse of a head of state who died 90 years ago.
Lenin is kept in a suit, in a glass box, in a mausoleum in Red Square. His preservation (achieved by regular washes and dunking in wax) was carried out against his wishes, and those of his widow.
It’s a very odd experience filing past the body in the red tinged gloom, under the steely gaze of the guards who stand bolt upright and sombre faced along the route. It’s almost comic, especially as there’s no way of telling if he’s actually a waxwork, but also not very funny at all. Stalin used to be interred with him, until somebody claimed to have had a dream telling them that Lenin didn’t like it, so now he’s got his own room back. There’s still a Stalin statue in the line up of ‘worthies’ outside the mausoleum though. How can people revere somebody responsible for so many deaths?
What’s even stranger is that at various sites there’s respect and seeming adoration piled on both Lenin, and the royal family who the Bolsheviks replaced (and then executed). Make your minds up.
I could only wonder if it comes from a respect for authority that overrides anything else.
And don’t even get me started on the souvenir stalls full of Putin mugs and t-shirts…
So Moscow was a pretty strange few days. I even got unsuccessfully pickpocketed in the crush of people trying to get into Red Square. The two teenage girls who tried it started giggling when I felt my shoulder bag being unzipped and turned round to eyeball them.
All in all we were pretty glad to be out of there, and bound for Siberia.