Visit Russia… Before Russia Visits You

Greetings comrades! We have now completed the random Russian leg of our trip, so time for another blog post. I know Alex has posted a bit about what we have gotten up to so apologies for any cross over.. also do note his was four days in the making so if you are looking for quality over quantity maybe stick with his posts!

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So on our first full day in Moscow we decided to take a free walking tour around Red Square and some of the area surrounding it. I had done something similar in Krakow previously sampling the local cuisine (of which there were highlights and lowlights – remember the herring girls?!) but it is a great way to be introduced to a city you don’t know much about, especially on a budget. Just like last time our tourguide Elena was entertaining and knowledgable, but above all her genuine passion for the city really shone through. While the tours are free they work off of tips, but are careful to not put pressure on you, scary pigeon man take note!

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The moment I realised these guys weren’t just normal bald Russian pigeons

We were shown statues, a church that the KGB worked in, who are apparently much more friendly now they have rebranded and a mansion previously resided in by the Romanov family (watch Anastasia). Then Elena walked us through Red Square, giving us the background of St Basils Cathedral, the Kremlin and Lenin’s mausoleum. There was a break for ice cream before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as she clearly knows her audience, and as miserable the weather was on Monday it was uncomfortably warm on Tuesday, which does beg the question exactly how I think I am going to cope in Asia… the answer is with factor 50 and hiding in the shade.

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Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

I am not a history buff by any stretch of the imagination, as Alex can attest to whenever he tries to drag me into a museum, but even my interest was piqued by Moscow’s convuluted and dramatic past, and the city itself almost tells this story through it’s range of architecture; intricately decorated classical rows of buildings to ornate churches (which look like they taste amazing as a side note, like delicious Soviet ice creams), right through to modern buildings and skyscrapers. Even within our generation the changes to the country have been dramatic in terms of travel and free speech according to Elena, who even dropped a couple of Putin jokes, at which point Alex and I distanced ourselves quite rapidly! Despite the quite severe expression on the local’s faces she assured us they liked tourists and would be happy to help with directions or advice, then used the line I have made our title… little invasion joke for you.

St Basil’s Cathedral – tell me that doesn’t look delicious!

However while the locals might like the tourists, the actual tourists in our hostel are not so keen! Maybe this isn’t a natural backpacker destination but the majority of the people at the Safari Hostel are long stays, who have their own routines and don’t really intermingle, to the point where I embarrassed myself on the second day when someone came in to the common room and said hello, being so excited that someone was actually talking I immediately said hello back, then got a weird look as she went to quietly whisper to her friend in the corner, the person she was actually talking to! Either way, after a brief 25 minute detour (cheers Alex) we were fed and able to hide in our room until the lights were unceremoniously turned off at 11.

On Wednesday we headed back to Red Square to go inside Lenin’s Mausoleum, which he used to share with Stalin until he was evicted during deStalinisation and buried next door (don’t envy whoever’s job that was). Lenin lies in his Sunday best on full show, and there are rumours that the body was replaced with a wax model some time ago. I can totally see why, in the brief glimpse we got of him before we were hastily ushered out he looks immaculate for someone who died a mere 92 years ago, so the jury is out on that one.

Lenin’s Mausoleum

Alex has already had a moan about the massive detour we had to take in order to get our burger lunch, which was in what looked lke Moscow’s answer to Shoreditch on the island on the river. They were incredible however so swings and roundabouts. After trekking it back we then got tickets for the Kremlin tour, which takes you up around the border of Red Square in which there are various museums and churches. I’m willing to admit that perhaps my ability to absorb history was wearing thin at this point, as all I have taken away from this trip is in all classic Russian paintings of Virgins the Virgin looks exactly the same.. just carrying a different child.. which all have the face of a balding 40 year old.

Ahoy Matey!

Much celebrations were had on Wednesday night when my bag was FINALLY returned to me (picture me slow motion running down a central street in Russia, in my flannel shorts and hiking boots, arms open wide to greet the completely disinterested courier who had already dumped my bag on the pavement and was preparing to leave). The more observant of you may have noticed that in pictures prior to this point I am wearing Alex’s clothes, up to and including his emergency PacMan underwear, and while I undoubtedly wear them better that he does, it was a relief to finally be able to have my own clothes back.

The Pacman Pants of Shame

After casually contemplating homicide after our room mate woke us up AGAIN by slamming the door repeatedly on his way to work on Thursday, we headed to the Cosmonaut museum. This is more Alex’s forte so I’ll let him tell you how good it was, as in the majority of cases I had absolutely no idea what I was looking at, and in all honesty had only come for the space food.

The space food vending machine… Gah!

Despite our many failed efforts to go out and have a couple of drinks after dinner (wild people we are not, you may want to skip the Full Moon Party posts if this is anything to go by) we finally muscled up the courage to get a vodka shot in, as evidenced below. While I obviously didn’t take to it particularly I will admit that it was still a much smoother drink than downing a shot of Smirnoff for example, however I think I’ll stick to mixing my spirits with enough fruit juice to make you question the alcohol content.

Our tour guide Elena told us that the Russian’s drink their vodka alongside a slice of pickled cucumber. They sniff the cucumber, take the shot and then eat the cucumber. Unfortunately in this case there were no pickles to hand!

Finally, after a much more successful nights sleep (thank you vodka!) we packed up our bags for the last time on Friday morning and headed to the Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines. I absolutely loved it! If you can get past the fact that the majority of games involved shooting poor unsuspecting Bambis, or Western boats with missiles from your submarine it was so much fun! We took a load of videos of me beating Alex at various things which we are trying to merge into a dramatic montage, so in the unlikely event we work out how to do this we will post it on the media section! Entry was 450 rubles (about £4.50) which included a fair few coins to play on the machines, which seemed to be in varying states of functionality which actually just makes it even more entertaining. For me it was absolutely a highlight of the trip (sorry Lenin) so if you are ever in Moscow definitely check it out!

Alex posing in front of the only game he managed to beat me on!

We may have got a little carried away with our enjoyment here, as we made our plane to Bangkok genuinely by the skin of our teeth, which as punishment I will make sure Alex tells you all about in his next edition of ‘balls-ups to date’. Stay tuned!

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