Moscow - 4 quick days
Moscow is a city that can't be contained, explained, or enjoyed in just a few days, but that's exactly how we handled Russia's capitol. We came in with a tight timeline, and with two evenings booked with world cup matches, we had even less time to visit then 4 full days would sound like. So what did we do - we missed almost everything that is on everyone's must see list.
Well missing everything isn't entirely true, we saw the outside of a lot of the places one wants to visit, but just like if we're in Chicago and marvel at the lion statues outside of the Art Institute but don't go in we really can't say that we properly did the city.
Here's our quick rundown of most must see lists and how we managed, this city, like Saint Petersburg, has us vowing to return in a not so distant future.
We Managed to see this site, because it's a giant square that you can't miss walking through if you're anywhere near it. It is impressive, and it was crowded with people, a large percentage of which you could tell were there for World Cup, it would be interesting to see what it is like on a standard busy summer holiday weekday, or better yet just off season when it should be fairly empty of crowds.
To head in to the main square you had to pass through metal detectors and have your bags checked, not as bad as the airport of heading into World Cup matches, but similar to heading into a baseball game in the States, just an added level of annoying when you're trying to enjoy yourself.
We managed to see the outside wall and clock tower, but we didn't go inside. In looking at purchasing tickets online it looks like you need to purchase at least 2 weeks ahead of time so that they can verify that you're not a safety concern since this is official home of the president and government. We didn't plan ahead on this, but don't feel that bad on missing this one.
St. Basil's Cathedral
This is a gorgeous site, and a focal point once you enter into Red Square, but the lines to get inside for a view were just slightly too long for us. We tried, we waited about ten minutes at the end of a long line without moving before looking at each other and deciding that we would have to do it another time.
This one we managed to get into, it is small and a lot of the tourists seemed to just walk past it on the way to cross the square and wait in line for St. Basil's. It's pretty impressive inside, and with no waiting we would highly recommend it.
Moscow Subway Stations
I'm thinking everyone's heard how amazing some of the Moscow subway stations are, and they don't disappoint when you see them in real life. This is one of the things on our list that we we're going to miss, and we spent hours just touring the subway lines getting off at a station, taking photos, and then hopping back on to head to the next station. The whole system is incredibly well laid out and easy to understand, buying tickets for the subway is easy and fairly inexpensive - we cheated and used our free passes that came with us going to the World Cup matches - but we would have paid for a simple one station ride and then spend hours touring the stops.
Here I'm going to just put up a lot of photos, not even a dent into all of the photos we took, and you need to understand that none of these can convey how amazing these stations are.
The trains in the subway run often, we never waited more then 5 minutes for a train. If one if full, you wait for the next one - for the World Cup they only let fans use the first few cars on the train so that regular commuters could still get home in relative comfort. Probably close to the most impressive subway system that I've seen, I'm including Japan in that list, Tina say's is close to German precision. Highly recommended.
This one we walked past a few times, it's right in Red Square, but with a FIFA fan center across from it we just totally missed it. We saw it, but didn't even bother to take any photos of the final resting place of the Soviet Union's first ruler.
We had a view of the convent and decided to skip it and instead visit the cemetery beside it (maybe considered part of it). The cemetery is interesting because, at least to us, we aren't used to tombstones having a facial (or whole body) likeness carved into it, and because it is the final resting place of Boris Yeltsin, the first President of the post-Soviet Union Russia. It took a while to find his grave, the biggest and most obvious of the place, because the sign in mislabeled - it's wrong fully in Russian (we thought we were getting better at translating simple things) - and his headstone is a giant flag of Russia which somewhat just looks like a Russian monument inside of the cemetery the first two or three times you walk past it.
This old pharmacy turned restaurant sounded fun, so Tina booked us into the Library room. We looked it up, for reasons neither of us can now recollect, a few hours before our reservation to find that it isn't a cafe and has a strict dress code. All of our dress clothes were packed in a suitcase sitting comfortably in a hotel in St. Petersburg awaiting our return, cue the mad scramble for us to find cheap shoes, shirt and a dress. Stressful but worth it, the food was great, the ambience amazing. Maybe not that inexpensive but we're glad that we didn't skip this.
Any internet search will show you a list of other don't-miss items of things to do in Moscow, Gorky Park, Bolshoi Theatre, the Tretyakov Gallery, those aren't even items that we put onto our short list (I know, we're bad tourists), but the rest of the post is of the two things we did that aren't mentioned that we feel are worth doing...
Tina found and booked a rooftop tour of Moscow, it's worth searching out, we aren't sure how legal is is since your stepping through locked gates at times, but we get into two buildings and had an interesting insight into our guides mindset on the Russia he now lives in. This is the tour where we learnt that Putin doesn't travel by helicopter.
Museum of Soviet Arcade Games
Yes, this is a must see, we stumbled upon this savior of old arcade games and we thoroughly enjoyed it. A lot of submarine and tank games, weird versions of Spy Hunter and Pitfall, but the entry ticket includes tokens to play. You can't lose with this one, unless you they the pinball in the back corner, it's either running the ball straight down the middle or your getting a tilt error...
Overall, Moscow, as the rest of Russia did, made us want to spent more time here. It's amazing hoe intrigued both of us were by the country, the amazing landscape, the great people, and it's history. Moscow probably has the best of this, most of the building have the hammer & sickle symbols of the old communist regime, the subways built in the 50's show it with amazing pride. It seemed us a city not ashamed of it's past, but proud of what it is in spite of the negativity of the communism years, and we only touched on the main core of the city. When we wandered a little out and found a great restaurant only to find out later it had been written up in Lonely Planet as a great unique find, apparently we aren't the only once to realize that the best of Moscow isn't only in its core of tourist attractions and that there is a lot more to be seen outside of the generic package, and a lot more to make you want to return again....