Russia 2019 day three: Moscow

Today started slowly because it could. Tomorrow I will probably get up early to queue for the Kremlin (when I get back to Moscow in a couple of weeks my hotel literally overlooks the Kremlin & it would be so easy to run downstairs to do it then – but leaving it until the last day of this odyssey seems risky) and I need to be at the station for my train at about 8.30 on Saturday morning.

My first stop was Red Square again because this is Moscow and it’s like a bright light for a moth. This time I went to see Lenin. Long queue but it was in the shade. Most rigorous security so far, in a city where there’s a metal detector and a bag search in every doorway (although the bag search, as with every bag search I’ve ever had, seems to looking for an alarm clock & curly wires sitting right on too).

There’s a line of graves at the bottom of the Kremlin wall, each stone topped with a carving of the head of its occupant. I found Stalin (the one with a small crowd around it) and Yuri Gagarin is in there too somewhere, the only other one I’d heard of. And then into the mausoleum. Silence, no photos, ushered along a walkway in a dark black & red room that wouldn’t be out of place on a Peacekeeper Command Carrier – and there’s Vlad lying on top of the tomb. Not a wax figure or even a bronze carving. That’s Lenin, his actual body, dead 95 years, lying right in front of me, an actual dead embalmed body. He’s in good condition for someone so very dead.

I walked down through the market. The back doors of the huts are padlocked when not in use but I noticed that if you want to break in, you only have to undo four screws to remove the metal loops the padlock goes through. High security there.

At the bottom of Red Square, I got on the hop-on-hop-off bus. Go upstairs, sit down. So I did and once we started moving, the steward came up to sell the tickets. Only she stopped before she got to me. Well, we were at the next stop. She had to deal with new passengers and she’d come back. Only she didn’t. So I got a map, another set of headphones and a free ride round the Heart of Moscow circuit, taking in the Kremlin, Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Bolshoi Theatre, big shopping centre, FSB/KGB headquarters, Kitay Gorod and back to St Basil’s.

Then I came home for a late lunch, an escape from the sun & heat (what happened to Russia being cold?) and a nap.

I went out again at 6. I wanted to go on the cathedral roof but I was too late – that’s going on the list for tomorrow as well – and then out to Kiyevskaya to visit the Hotel Ukraine.

First of all, the entire area around Kiyevskaya station is a building site. But there’s a shiny new shopping centre right opposite and as it happened, I needed food. Best supermarket so far. And the shopping centre itself is shiny inside. I spent a while enjoying the lights and fountains at the lifts and then the fountains outside before going in search of the hotel.

It’s about a 20 minute walk to the hotel and no obvious route except through a housing estate. It reminded me a lot of Pripyat but I think that was down to the number of trees rather than anything else. And at least, I came through a gate in the dark estate onto a huge bright road and the enormous hotel on the other side.

It’s had new owners since I stayed there. There are expensive shops around the bottom, including a Rolls Royce dealer. There’s a doorman in proper fancy uniform and guards on the metal detectors and inside it’s all white marble and high-end boutiques. No wonder it’s a pain to get here from the metro. No one staying here nowadays is arriving by public transport. Actually, there’s very little sign of it being a hotel – no reception desk. You wouldn’t bring a school group here now. I immediately knew this wasn’t a place someone dressed like me should be, especially not clutching a plastic bag of shopping. So I left.

When I got back to Paveletskaya, I realised for the first time that the entrance is green and has gold murals round the ceiling so I paused to take photos, which is when an older lady stopped to ask me where the station is. In Russian. I got the tone of voice and the word вокзал which I knew from my brief Ukrainian lessons to mean station – the real railway, rather than the metro station we were in. Paveletskaya main station is on the other side of the main road so I pointed and said, in English, “over there” and then, just to make sure I’d understood the question, I made a train noise and when she said да, I pointed again. I’d been asked for directions in Russian and been able to understand and respond (not entirely sure “over there” was helpful but the best I can do) and that’s the greatest achievement of my life so far.

Then I came home triumphant and made a cheese sandwich in a hotel I don’t feel too much of an urchin for.

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