Moscow – First Impressions

In front of St. Basil's Cathedral

I like history. Now, once you’re finished rolling your eyes I’ll tell you that I won’t stay on the topic but just wanted to mention a quick history, in point form, of how Russia came to be.

  • Russians settled Moscow after leaving from Kiev, in the Ukraine.
  • In the 15 hundreds: Ivan the Terrible – killed almost half the population in order to consolidate power under his rule.
  • In the late 16 hundreds: The current Tsar Peter the Great founded St. Petersburg and moved the capital there in From 1713 to 1728 and from 1732 to 1918.
  • Lenin – Leads the labour party in a revolution and wins. Has the royal family executed and establishes communism. He was shot twice during a speech but survived then died in 1924.
  • Stalin – Use to be a priest (oddly) Was born in Georgia and lead the USSR during World War 2 (What Russia called the Great Patriotic War). He also was brutal leader, sending any opponents to labour camps or had them sentenced to death.
  • Communism: “Marge, I agree with you in theory. But in theory, communism works” – Homer Simpson. Communism ruled all of the USSR until December 25th 1991 when the iron curtain fell and many countries broke from the Soviet Union and declared democracy.

Was it really that painful? I know I’m missing a lot but I got all this information from walking tours around Moscow. (FYI- Moscow’s nickname is white stone city, Kremlin means fortress and many Russian cities have a Kremlin) okay, I’ll move on.

So what is Moscow like? It is a very grand city. Big buildings, wide roads, amazing architecture and lots of underground infrastructure (to escape the winter) and like everyone says, their metro is world class. I had to develop a system for reading it. Luckily, a lot is written in English now but not every sign so I stuck to Cyrillic and I always found my way. It is also a very fashionable city. I think it’s part of a bolder statement as under communism there wasn’t much choice in clothing. The Moscow weather was in full cooperation and the days were sunny and the nights warm.

Moscow streets

Russian statue

Also, I’ve had a very hard time adjusting my body to the time here. Probably the hardest jet lag I’ve ever had to shake off. I’m still not all the way there and it’s been a week.

The Moscow Subway/Metro: Deserves some serious recognition. Marble archways and pillars decorate what was meant to inspire the workers of the communist capital. The metro is also very deep underground. So deep in fact that some people sit on the steps of the escalators until the reach their floor. They’re also very deep underground because they were meant to double as fallout shelters in case of nuclear war. Also, it’s very cheap. 30 roubles buys you one trip. That’s a little less than a dollar Canadian. My system involved looking for the first three letters in Cyrillic of my stop. Lines are coloured so you know which one to take but using the three letters trick I never made a mistake on which direction to go.

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Red Square: On TV is looks massive, and it is big, but not massive. I could not get a decent shot since there was a huge military tattoo being conducted in the coming weeks. Most of the Square was setup with bleachers and performance areas. St. Basil’s Cathedral sits on the south side and Lenins tomb sits near the west edge next to the Kremlin wall. You can tell how old it really is by how smooth the brick is under your feet, almost as if it was taken from the sea. The best time to get your selfie in front of St. Basil’s is anywhere from 11pm to 6am. Sound crazy? It is, but there is always someone in red square. So the odds of getting a clean shot is around then. Plus Moscow looks better at night.

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The GUM: A huge expensive shopping mall next to red square. Famous for always being stocked with lots of goods even after world war two so that communist party members and family could  purchase the things they wanted while the worker class had stamps for one potato and maybe an onion. I tried kvass (pronounced vas) while there. It’s fermented from rye bread and raisins then carbonated. I could only stand a few sips before it was just tongue-torture and the look on my face was a mix of revolt and the surprise of a self inflicted wound. Then I felt like repenting all my sins on the spot. Okay I’m exaggerating but not by much.

Walking: Muscovite’s will give any New Yorker a run for their money when it comes to city walking. My legs were constantly throbbing after a couple days of hitting the streets. Maps can be deceiving, a place can look much closer or much further than it really is. So FYI- on Moscow maps, its further. It doesn’t help that I try to walk to most places in a city I can. But really, I just had to take the metro more. Even the excuse of saving a few bucks is bad defence since the metro is so cheap.

Moscow Kremlin

Since I wasn’t able to adjust my sleeping pattern I had a difficult time trying to get to all of the sites in Moscow. However, in my next post I will discuss some of the walking tours I went on. This included a free walking tour, a Kremlin tour, a communist tour and a night tour.

Moscow has a current population of…. ah alight I’ll shutup.

8 Responses to Moscow – First Impressions

  1. Hahaha. It’s good to get an understanding of the history of a place! Good for you! It looks very grand. I’d love to visit sometime.

    Arianwen August 29, 2013 at 7:43 am Reply
    • It is well worth the visit! I like history but I know too many facts can just be annoying. There is really too much there to see and do in a short time.

      Shaun August 29, 2013 at 9:44 am Reply
  2. I can’t wait to see more! Was it hard to get a visa?

    Aryn August 29, 2013 at 11:07 pm Reply
    • Not at all. Just fill out your application and pay the fee. You still need an invitation but even small hostels will help with that.

      Shaun August 30, 2013 at 3:00 am Reply
  3. I have always wanted to visit Russia mostly because of the architecture. Thanks for sharing (and including some of the history – I always like a little background when reading about a place!)

    Brittany @ Paws for Beer September 17, 2013 at 11:17 pm Reply
    • Hahah, I know I like it too! Some like facts some get tired of them but I enjoy learning them.

      Shaun October 1, 2013 at 7:10 am Reply
  4. Shaun,

    It’s always interesting to learn what other people say about your home town. Most of your remarks and observations are accurate enough.
    Since you are so interested in history, maybe the following corrections could be interesting for you:
    Russians did not settle in Moscow after leaving Kiev. It sounds like “Englishmen settled in York after leaving London”. But Kiev dukes did expand to the North and some shifted their seats to other places, including Moscow. Moscow does not mean a white stone city. It’s just one of the poetic names for Moscow. The same as Rome is sometimes called Eternal City but it does not mean that Rome is translated as “eternal city”. But Kremlin indeed means fortress, and yes, some old towns here have their own kremlins.

    Ivan the Terrible was a very cruel monarch, but who was kind at the time? 20 thousand people were executed during his reign, but not “half of the population”. FYI during the reign of Henry the 8th of England 80 thousand people were executed for various crimes.

    Igor December 24, 2013 at 5:22 am Reply
    • It isn’t easy taking notes on an ipod while on a walking tour. But, Thank you for the corrections Igor. I went back to check my notes to see if I had any mixed up. It indeed says “nickname” for Moscow! I do have a note about Ivan enjoying the arts and being popular with the common people at the time. Often the worst people in history have contrasting characteristics. However, I’ll research this again.

      That said, your city is majestic and it was a privilege to visit. I haven’t be so reluctant to leave a city. My grandparents would have never thought it possible to see your country. I sincerely value your input and appreciate you taking the time to comment. Thank you.

      Shaun December 24, 2013 at 9:34 am Reply

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