Let me start off by saying that you need a visa to visit Russia. Obviously there are some exceptions, I’m sure, but if you’re from the US or Germany you need one. Applying for, and getting, visas can be a bit of a pain in the butt. There are, however, companies that can do all the hard work for you, which makes the process a bit better. The Herrball and I opted for this approach when applying for mine. It was a one and done type of experience. When it came to his and his sister’s visa, however, he decided to do it himself. Awful, awful choice–I’m sorry love, but you agree with me deep down. He had to visit the embassy three or four times because of errors, sometimes tiny inconsequential errors and other times because he forgot something completely. We were almost to the week of the flights before he managed to get the visas, and even then he almost couldn’t get his sisters visa–you’re supposed to be there in person to get your visa. Since they’re twins the guy let it slide and gave her a visa too (I mean twins are like, totally, the same person, right?).
So why were we going to Russia for three days? Why did we go through the visa mayhem just for a three day trip? A broship that borders on romance. Yep. We went to Russia for three days to visit a friend while he was studying abroad. Why not? We were going to be in Germany so it wasn’t a huge distance to travel. I mean, I wanted to travel and here was an opportunity. How could I say no?
I can’t say that the trip was a dream experience. I would gladly do it all again, but it did have it’s bumps and hiccups from the get-go, as most trips do. We flew into Moscow at the unholiest of hours. I will readily admit that flying into a city at night is beautiful, but that beauty quickly fades when you realize that you’re stuck in the airport until morning. The plan was to find a seat and sleep until the trains started running at 6 am. Seemed like a okay idea, right? It did to me, too, until we couldn’t find a seat, and then sleepiness AND sleeplessness wouldn’t let go of me. When we did finally leave the airport we got on the wrong train. Of course we did. We got on the slow as a snail commuter train for the everyday Russian. Not that it was an issue. The issue arose when we got to the metro. If you take a peek at travel guides, website or book form, most will probably mention that the metro gets packed during rush hours, and fighting your way through the throngs of people is damn near impossible. THEY. ARE. NOT. LYING. Trying to squish three people with luggage into a quickly filling metro car was “fun.” I am nowhere near aggressive enough for that type of stuff, as J, Herrball’s sister, pointed out, and she is one hundred percent correct.
Finding our way to the hostel took asking directions from a couple people. It was inside a residential building without a sign so it’s a little understandable that we couldn’t find it. I can’t speak for all of Russia, or even all of Moscow, really, but for the most part everyone we came into contact with during the entire trip was sweet and more than willing to help. Asking directions was a humorous act in itself. The nice people we asked directions from spoke no English. I can manage the basic of basic manners in Russian, and Herrball and J together can managed the alphabet, some numbers, basic manners, and a little bit more. So basically we were left to pantomiming and listening to people speak at us in Russian when we needed directions. When we did end up finding our hostel we got to nap-hallelujah! I wish I could say that the nap made me less like a grumpy wildebeest and more like a person, but it didn’t. I proceeded to grumpily old man shuffle my way towards the Red Square.
The entire weekend was full throttle. We had a mile long list of things to see and do, and only a few days to do them in. If you’re only going to be somewhere for a short period of time you might as well hit up everything you can financially, and mentally, swing. [Note on Russian coins: they’re useless. Seriously, we hardly used coins, and now I’m left with a little dragon hoard of coins]
The, unanimous, surprise win for favorite place in Moscow was Gorky Park. The main reason we even went to the park was because of a song. A song I’d never heard before, but would hear it played over and over again as Herrball was getting more and more excited to leave. If I had to listen to it so should you, although I have a feeling more people will have heard it than I’m expecting. (Herrball will have a field day with that, laugh it up buddy)
The park is HUGE and absolutely gorgeous.
My biggest disappointment fell into the hands of the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum. I was so excited to visit the museum. Art History is my minor, so, suffice to say, I like art. What was it about the museum that disappointed me? The overwhelming number of reproductions. It kind of takes the romance and magic away when you see an obvious reproduction of Michelangelo’s David. He’s supposed to be in Florence. (insert nonsensical grumblings about artwork) While I may not be a huge fan of reproductions, I can appreciate the fact that they allow people that may never see these great works of art to have the chance to experience their beauty. I still enjoyed seeing all the exhibits, including the reproduced ones once my inner bitter old man shut it.
St. Basil’s Cathedral exceeded standards the moment we stepped inside. The Red Square did as well; however, in case you don’t know, the square is not actually red. On the Red Square is the famous GUM, basically it’s a mall. A rather high class mall. (For those of you in Georgia think Lenox) If you ever find yourself hungry while on the Red Square I suggest going to Stolovaya #57. It’s a Soviet style cafeteria. The food is good and the prices are fair. If that isn’t something you want, then check out the little kiosks that dot the city. They have delicious and cheap food, too.
Something that shouldn’t have been as surprising as it was: Everyone seems like they’re in a uniform. Old men sit in front of shops drinking coffee, or vodka, in their old, now ill-fitting, uniforms. Young people move in flocks in their shiny, new uniforms. Are they: Police? Military? Security Guard? A weird mix of all three? The world may never know. (It’s all of the above, not mixed, so the world does actually know.) Regardless of the large number of uniformed people there seemed to be almost no actual guarding at museums. I beeped every time I went through a security sensor, no one cared. People took pictures in places you weren’t supposed to take pictures, right in front of security guards. They all seemed so bored. Half of them were reading while the other half just wandered around. It was weird.
Overall I had a blast. The trip had it’s momentary hangups, but what trip doesn’t? Moscow wasn’t what I expected. It felt weird to me, because it felt both foreign and familiar. There were things I recognized from home and from Germany, and then there were the in your face obviously Russian things. Going into the trip I was a touch apprehensive. I wasn’t sure what to expect–hell, I’m still not–but it was an adventure nonetheless that I would gladly do again. I’m not sure when the next opportunity to travel will come knocking, or where it will take me, but I’m looking forward to it. And I’ll hopefully not act like a grump, but realistically that probably won’t happen. Once a grump, always a grump.
As a little extra “hmm” fact, I saw a man dressed like Stalin hanging out in the Metro.
There shall be more specific Moscow posts in the future, because I couldn’t shrink this one down enough to cover everything we did in one post. So for now, this will have to act as the introduction to “Britt’s Moscow Adventures.”