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Excerpt from the Journal of Olds – Moscow

Moscow was a very different story to St Pete. We arrived just after 5am, and we were picked up at the station by a driver with a surprisingly new and as-yet-undamaged mini-van. Shamefully I didn’t catch his name, but he was very helpful with the bags and got us to our destination in no time.

With the check-in time for the hotel firmly set at 2pm our 6am arrival meant we had no chance. They kindly stored our luggage and then we had 4 hours to kill before our planned walking tour of Moscow. Using the advice of our train companion Alex from the night before we set out to tackle the Metro and quickly made our way into the centre of Moscow.

At 6:20am.

In the cold Moscow air.

With no idea where anything is.

In search of coffee and breakfast.

Fools.

Thankfully before too long we’d spotted the international symbol of salvation – the golden arches of R. McDonald – but that only opened at 7, so we plodded further and found a coffee house [imaginatively titled “Koffee House” I believe] where we acquired the obligatory Americano’s and warmed up a little. Before long the familiar stench of smoke was back in the air as the locals wandered in, as always, seemingly on fire, lips permanently wrapped around the cheapest nicotine sticks in Europe. Cue a return to McDonalds for sustenance and then back on the Metro to the hotel.

There we met Diana, a wonderful lady with a host of knowledge on the city and its history both before and after the fall of the iron curtain, giving us a wealth of information on Moscow and life in Russia. It was a really enjoyable tour despite the bitter cold.

When we returned to our hotel our room still wasn’t available so pizza and beer in the lobby bar was lunch – Siberian Crown; a fruity lager that’s not really my thing.

The room was worth the wait – very modern and very comfortable. Exhausted by the overnight, the early start and the icy walking tour an afternoon nap was the order of the day – well what’s not working if you can’t indulge every once in a while?

Upon stirring and making the Herculean effort to wrench ourselves out of bed and out for food and some more night photography we set off toward a place called “My-My”, or “Mu-Mu” translated, or better still “Moo-Moo”. The place is a popular self-service restaurant / cafe chain serving traditional Russian food alongside euro-dishes. It’s popular with the locals, recommended in the guidebooks, suggested separately by Alex from the train, simple, unfussy and nice enough.

Returning to Red Square we braved freezing air to capture the majesty of GUM, the Russian equivalent of Harvey Nichols, lit up like they were pushing for visibility from space, Lenin’s Mausoleum, and St Basils.

Day 2 Moscow: My 31st Birthday. Back to Red Square for the Kremlin and the Armoury. Armoury tours are limited, scheduled and no photography. Oh, and expensive. Sod it, the Kremlin will do. It was pretty disappointing in reality – more cathedrals in various states of renovation, a Tsar Cannon [reportedly once used to fire the King of Poland back in the direction of his country after Russia liberated the place from him], and a lot of towers and government buildings all in active use and thus off limits. It was also once again bitterly cold which no doubt reduced our enthusiasm.

Lunch was the afore-mentioned failure to bridge the language gap resulting in us leaving one place in favour of somewhere with an English menu, and then the afternoon touring opulent Metro stations on our way back to the hotel.

On our return we found a very nice surprise in the form of a complementary bottle of Russian Champagne as a birthday gift from the hotel – very cool. At least it was very cool after 10 minutes next to an open window. We saw that off and made our way out for a more up-market example of Russian cuisine, courtesy of my Dad [Thanks Dad!].

At least that was the plan – when we reached the address of the place we were looking for we found a similarly high-class eastern restaurant. It worked, and we even got a somewhat surreal belly-dance from an exotic dancer between courses.

After briefly considering braving the Moscow club scene we thought better of it [must work harder on spirit of adventure] and caught a late Metro back to the Hotel bar. A beer and a shot of their best Vodka while treated to a couple of weird exotic dance / striptease shows – can’t imagine Premier Inn will be following this line of inclusive entertainment any time soon.

We simply had breakfast the next day before our transfer to the station for what will no doubt be the longest train journey of our lives. Saturday 13:35 until Wednesday 09:36 via 5 time zones and a few short platform stops en route. Here goes.