At last we arrived in Moscow. The visit to the Russian capital was going to be short but enough to feel the vibes of the metropolis that never sleeps. It was almost a sunny day and the weather was much better than in Saint Petersburg but still -17°C and cold. Our Russian friends welcomed us at the train station and drove us to the hotel. As soon as we stepped outside the busy streets of Moscow, I realised how much intense is the pace of life in the Russian capital. People were rushing to reach their destination. The combination of cold weather, long distances, and the city’s busy life doesn’t allow much time for rambling the streets unless you are tourist. My friends back home usually complain that I have a quick pace when walking. However, compared to my Russian friends I was moving like a turtle! The streets of Moscow during winter are a mess because the melting snow combined with the salt which is used to keep the streets open and safe is turned into a dirty mud and it is not pleasant at all. That’s why you need to wear winter boots!
After checking into the hotel, we were ready to take a bus tour and see the main attractions of the city with comfort and warmth. Our first stop was the imposing Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, then we passed by the Kremlin complex, and we wandered around the main streets of the city centre. After, we reached the Moscow State University to observe the magnificent building and also to enjoy the panoramic view of the city from the hill next to the university. We then returned back to the city center and stopped right outside the Bolshoi theatre. From there we walked to the Red square. The streets were white and beautifully decorated in the Christmas spirit.
After a while we came across the red square and Saint Basil’s Cathedral which I wanted so much to visit. I have to confess that, when I was a kid I had the impression that Saint Basil’s Cathedral was instead the Disneyland! The vivid and beautiful colors along with the unique architecture of the church deluded my young mind.
Next to the red square is ГУМ, the most historic and luxurious shopping mall of Russia! In there you can find all the famous and posh clothing brands of the world. It is an astonishing mall that you should visit in order to fully experience the modern and capitalistic side of Russia. In the case that you cannot afford to renew your wardrobe from ГУМ, you can still enjoy a lunch or coffee at the Stolovaya No 57, a traditional Russian canteen located on the top floor of the mall. The interior and the whole concept of the restaurant give you the sense of the Soviet Union era. The food here is tasty with reasonable prices. It is very famous among locals and tourists too and I would recommend you to visit the place in case you are close to the red square.
The long parties and the little sleep from the previous days in Saint Petersburg, plus the bad ventilation in the platskart, the cold, and the exhaustion from walking all day long in Moscow, made me feel unwell. Throat pain, shiver, and fever kept me at the hotel that night instead of getting out and enjoy the Moscow nightlife.
Next morning, I was feeling slightly better but still tired. After breakfast we hit the city centre and for the first time I entered the Moscow metro. Indeed, each metro station is like an independent Russian history museum. With Marble walls, beautiful ceilings, mosaics, chandeliers, statues and wall paintings on most of the stations, the Moscow metro gives you the pleasure to commute under the capital enjoying at the same time the culture and the history of this nation. Our stop was at the Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy Park where it is located the biggest ice skating rink in Europe. I am not used to this sport and I was so eager to try my skills. Needless to say, I fell couple of times and I only managed to do the basic movements. However, skating under the sounds of traditional Russian Christmas songs and passing through this huge and beautifully decorated rink was just an unbelievable experience. I felt like a kid again. I could say that ice skating at this park was one of the highlights of my Moscow trip.
After this short adventure, we went to the city centre and more specifically to Arbat Street, to explore the area, have lunch, and buy souvenirs. Arbat is a pedestrian street in the historical centre of Moscow with plenty of cafes, restaurants, and souvenir shops. I took advantage of the off season and bargained a stunning traditional wooden nesting doll, known as Snow Maiden, and now is decorating my living room reminding me the trip to Russia.
In the evening our Russian friends took us to Banya, a traditional Russian type of sauna. Russians take Banya very seriously; it is almost like a sacred ritual for them and is one of the oldest traditions that are very popular till today. The building included sauna, jaccuzzi, steam room, a cold swimming pool, and a large dining room on the upper floor. The concept at Banya is to stay as much as you can in the sauna and smack your body with the veniks, which are special bath brooms usually made from oak tree, in order to open up your pores and sweat out the toxins. Then you walk out the sauna and you take a cold shower or you enter in the cold swimming pool, in order to help the pores contract back to their resting size. Some friends were brave enough or drunk enough to get out of the building and jump into the snow. I chose not to follow since I was already feeling a bit sick and I didn’t want to worsen my health condition. Meanwhile, food was served upstairs and we took a break from the Banya in order to enjoy our dinner, listen to traditional Russian music, and drink some vodka!
It was already late and I had to take a flight early in the morning from Sheremetyevo airport back to Cyprus. I had to say goodbye to my friends at the banya and returned back to the hotel, packed my stuff and slept. Couple of hours later, I woke up, picked my luggage up, and took a taxi to the airport. On the way to the airport I had the best opportunity to really practice my Russian language skills, since the taxi driver kept asking me various questions and I had no way to escape, so I relaxed and did my best to reply back. I made many grammar mistakes but what mattered is that we managed to communicate, plus he complimented my good accent!
The plane took off from the frozen Moscow airport and I was feeling tired and sick. I could barely swallow and I was shivering from fever. However, I could say that I survived the heavy Russian winter! Visiting Russian during winter is enchanting and challenging at the same time. I definitely want to go back to Russian during summer and experience the other side of this big country!
– A. Yemenaris
What to see:
Red square and Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Arbat street, ГУМ mall https://gumrussia.com/.
Where to eat:
Stolovaya No 57 at ГУМ mall
What not to miss:
Ice skating at the Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy Park, visit Russian Banya, use the Moscow metro, enjoy the panoramic view of the city from the hill next to the Moscow State University.