Circus, Ballet, Vodka and more
Moscow, Russia (June 23 to 25, 2018)
The next morning we checked out from our hotel and walked to the railway station to board the 7 AM Sapsan bullet train to Moscow. It was a luxurious train with an extremely efficient check-in system and facilities; better than some of the flights. We were served on-board Russian breakfast while we enjoyed the landscape outside, traveling at a speed of 250 km per hour.
We reached Moscow in 4 hours and took an Uber to our hotel named Altay which was a bit far from the city center. Since we had been in Saint Petersburg, the city of Msocow did not look that beautiful; it was hot and humid and far less cleaner. Searching for our hotel was quite troublesome as we kept going around the building in the hot weather to finally find it’s confusing entrance. An extremely unwelcoming staff at the reception and the long walk from the reception building to our room made our experience even worse; to add to it we entered our room through a shabby corridor to find a non-ventilated room with no AC or even a fan. This was probably the worst experience of our trip. However, we managed to change our room to a slightly better one where we spent the next 2 nights.
Ignoring the bad experience, we quickly freshened up; as we had a lot planned for the day ahead. We bought a shawarma roll and a beef puff from a small shop next door and walked to the nearest subway station, Okruzhnaya. We headed out to go to the Great Moscow State Circus. Niladri had never been to a circus before, but I had some memories from watching the famous Russian circus almost every winter when I was a kid, at the fairs in Kolkata.
The Great Moscow State Circus is quite old; it was a concrete building built to look like a huge circus tent. So while it had the nostalgia of a circus, it also had the convenience of modern day. We bought some snacks and took our seats. The stage was all set with vibrant colours. The circus started with a comedy act by a group of artists. It was followed by excellent acts by jugglers, acrobats, dancers, lions, tigers, horses, dogs and many more. Each act was as spectacular as the previous one and there was no act where we could stop applauding. The artists were immensely talented and efficient. I realised that what I had experienced as a child was nothing close to this. After 3 hours of jaw dropping entertainment, we left for the Old Arbat street.
It was a long road decorated with lights and filled with street performers showcasing their talents of juggling, music, painting and more. We took a stroll along the street to enjoy some performances, shopped for some souvenirs and finally ended up in one of the diners on that road. We watched the Germany versus Sweden match at the diner, over a hookah and the famous Beef Stroganoff. We ended the day with a pleasant Uber ride back to the hotel and a good night’s sleep.
We had a lazy morning the next day. We relaxed, enjoying a late breakfast at the hotel. Afterwards, we took the subway train to the Ploschad Revolyutsii station. The Moscow subway has beautiful stations showing their heritage and culture. The stations were so beautiful, that it could very well be a tourist attraction! It was a Sunday noon, and when we reached the Moscow Red Square, it was very crowded as expected. We stood in a long queue for the Lenin’s Mausoleum, but unfortunately the place closed down before we could enter. We later came to know, that on Sundays the Masoleum remains open only till 1 PM for tourists.
With some disappointment, we walked to the Saint Basil’s Cathedral and stood in a queue again — this was the only place for which we had not pre-booked the entry tickets. The red square is a phenomenal place with the huge GUM mall on one side, the Moscow Kremlin on another and the Saint Basil’s cathedral between these huge architectures. While we waited, we noted the historic Kremlin clock on the Spaasskaya Tower and the colourful onion domes of the Saint Basil’s Cathedral on either side of us. After waiting for more than an hour, we finally went inside. We loved the historical architectures. While inside the cathedral, we were taken by surprise, by a band of Russian men singing in a choir — it was such a magnificent and incredible performance that it still rings in our ears!
After a lot of walking, we finally rested our feet and ordered some lunch along with an alcohol ice cream from the neighborhood — it was such a happening place by itself. We then took a short walk around that area to reach the Bolshoi Theatre, which was just across the street, to watch a ballet performance. The performance was scheduled at the new stage so we couldn’t enjoy the grandeur of the iconic main stage of the Bolshoi Theatre, but nonetheless the experience here wasn’t any less enthralling.
The Bolshoi Theatre looked like those we see in the old classic movies — gorgeous interiors, elegantly dressed audience, graceful ballet dancers, powerful orchestra — it had it all! We had booked a balcony seat and watched the show ‘Onegin’ from there. Although we did not know the story, we were amazed by the beauty of the performance. It was our first experience in a live ballet show and it left us mesmerised. We could hardly take our eyes away from the actors through the entire performance. It is definitely one of the most beautiful things we have seen.
We had plans to go to a Russian fine dining restaurant for dinner that night and so we headed straight to the subway station. On the way, we noticed a restaurant named Staraya Bashnya (English name: Old Tower). The menu (posted outside the restaurant) was very attractive, so we dropped our former idea and settled for Old Tower. We ordered the Beef Stroganoff, again. Along with that we also ordered Pelmenis and the Chicken Kiev. Finally we also tasted the famous Russian Vodka shots. The food was way out of the world and we wished we could eat even more. After the long and happening day, we headed back to the hotel to finally call it a day.
The next day, we woke up to a lazy morning. We had to check out from the hotel by noon, so we left our luggage at the hotel reception and went for the Kremlin tour. Kremlin is one of the very few places in Moscow which is open even on Mondays. We took the subway train to Borovitskaya station and walked to the Kremlin towers. It was a clear summer sky and we were happily clicking photos during the walk. The Kremlin is a huge place with beautiful architecture and greenery all around. It is so big that it is not possible to cover it in one day. We collected the tickets which we had already booked online and made our way inside.
With the maps in our hands we walked around to see cathedrals and towers — everything was just amazingly beautiful. We took a small break to sit on the grass and enjoy a cup of coffee. The place looked picturesque form there. With the golden domes of the cathedral peeping out from the greens; underneath the blue and white sky; it looked absolutely fascinating. After that we went to the Armoury Chamber to check out a vast collection from different centuries. Unfortunately we could not make it in time to the Diamond Fund, which we had heard is also very interesting. We bought souvenirs from the Museum shops and walked out of Kremlin.
We ate at KFC that day — deciding to take a break from the Russian cuisine. We enjoyed our late lunch, sitting at the World Clock Fountain, which is right beside the Kremlin walls. With a heavy heart we decided to leave, as we had to board an overnight train. We went to the hotel, collected our luggage and headed to the Leningradsky Railway Station in an Uber. We bought few more souvenirs and dinner for our journey, from the shops at the station. We had some difficulty in locating our trains, but finally managed with the help of the FIFA volunteers inside the station. We boarded the free train to Saint Petersburg. This was a free transportation for all the FIFA fans travelling to cities where the matches were held, against a confirmed match ticket. The train was an air conditioned, double decker, sleeper train with all possible amenities. We had reserved our berths in the top deck. We took our seats and there we made friends with our fellow co-passengers one of whom had travelled from Indonesia and another one from Bangladesh. After a small chat with them about the matches, our journeys and more, we had dinner and went off to sleep.
- Ritu & Niladri