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Travel Story by Helga McGilp

  Sightseeing in Moscow
Moscow, Russia

My first glimpse of Moscow after taking the overnight train from St Petersburg was a statue of Lenin hailing my arrival at Moscow Leningradski station.

As I walked towards the entrance to Red Square, an imposing figure caught my attention. It was a horse walking boldly. All tourists head to the Kremlin but the Russians outnumbered me when I walked over to the Arsenal, home to the Kremlin guard and 800 Napoleonic cannons. The cannons certainly looked like the logo on Arsenal FC’s strip but the police whistled at me as I unintentionally strayed into areas that were out of bounds. There were no obvious signs indicating forbidden areas. I was whistled at again at Lenin Mausoleum so I constantly watched my back at Red Square in case a soldier blew his whistle. Often I wondered what would happen if I ignored the whistles because I could not hear them.

Inside the mausoleum, Russian soldiers indicated to me to move on as I stared at Lenin's body but there was no queue behind me. I was the only person in the mausoleum. Was there a rule saying that I'm not allowed to pay my respects to Lenin? Perhaps they suspected that I was checking whether the body was real or not. It was preserved in 1924. His brain weighed 1340g, which is far larger than average. He had a cosmetic makeover for three months in 1997 and 2000. The moment I walked out of the mausoleum I looked at the Kremlin Wall where Stalin and Brezhnev statues stand, and again a soldier whistled at me.

The Kremlin was not what I expected, because I originally thought St Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow’s most famous landmark and also known as the “pineapple church”, was the Kremlin. The cathedral was created as a celebration to Ivan the Terrible in 1555/1561.

I noticed that there were plenty of statues of Lenin but only one of Stalin. According to Byrn Thomas, “Until the early 1990s, no Soviet town was without a Lenin statue, and no public office lacked a Lenin portrait”. Plans are being made to move Lenin’s body to St Petersburg. There is still a debate over whether Russia should bury its past with Communists arguing that to move Lenin now would be a denial of the country’s history. Stalin’s lack of presence may indicate that the Russians wanted to forget the tough times between 1924 to 1953, in particular, the Great Terror in the 1930s when millions were sentenced to work camps in Siberia. Interestingly it was under Stalin’s leadership that the former USSR was transformed into an industrial world power. I expected to see some evidence of victories against the Nazis because the former USSR played a huge part in their defeat. But it’s probably oppressed.

Outside the State Duma, the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia (parliament), I noticed a group of women carrying crosses protesting for some cause. According to Bryn Thomas’s book, “It is considered rude to take photographs of strangers without asking permission. This is particularly the case during political demonstrations or rallies”. Books indicated that sensitivity is required when photographing and videotaping people on the street, public events, marketplaces, and even some buildings and statues. I was looked at with great suspicion when I filmed some women crying when a politician appeared. And I was elbowed by a cameraman. Up to this day I still don’t know what the demonstration was about but I could see how important it was to the women carrying crosses. They were probably Russian Orthodox Christians or Roman Catholics.

Unfortunately I stayed at the Rossiya Hotel, one of the biggest hotels in Europe and second biggest in the world with 3,200 rooms. Although it was located just off Red Square and only a short walk to St Basil's Cathedral, my room was in a non-renovated part of the hotel. Travel books warned to be cautious of petty pilfering and I could see why because I had to leave my room key with floor attendant on 10th floor every morning in order to pick up a ticket for breakfast. I asked reception to upgrade me to one of the renovated rooms. Straightaway they said, “No”, and gave no reason for their refusal. Another piece of travel advice recommended that you should not argue with the Russians, which I found difficult because my request was quite straightforward. Reception told me to go to the Intourist desk, as they were my agents and I had exactly the same reaction there. When I asked why they found it offensive.

I wanted to escape my shoddy room at Rossiya Hotel and the first tourist attraction that sprang to mind was the Bolshoi Theatre. One of the agents on the Intourist desk at Rossiya Hotel sold me a ticket costing fifty dollars to watch Don Quixote, a Bolshoi production, as many of the world's greatest dancers were trained there. I suspected that the ticket was a fraud because the agent pointed out exactly where the seat would be. What are the chances of giving me the exact seat location that I wanted with 6000 people in the audience and without a computer? They show alternating programmes of opera and ballet; my ticket was for the latter. The Bolshoi is widely considered as one of the most beautiful theatres in the world and it is definitely worth visiting.

Before heading to the Bolshoi, there was no better place for a couple of pints of Guinness than Rosie O’Grady’s with the exception being Man United who were on TV.

Western chains and brands have moved to the GUM/Alexandrovsky Gardens in Ohkotny Road. The GUM is popular for young Muscovites. Changes that have transformed Moscow over the last decade are still continuing. Only a few Muscovites can afford to buy western clothes.

Time Offline in the basement claimed to the largest Internet café in Eastern Europe with 200 plus terminals for 24 hours. But I opted for Internet Club at Kuznetsky Mostulitsa, which was much quieter. It was an ideal opportunity to recharge the batteries for my video camera before I boarded the Trans Siberian Express later that evening.

Click on photo to enlarge


Date Submitted:
23 Aug 2006

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