Planning the Trip | Moscow | The Train | Ulaan Baatar | Back on the Train | Beijing
Sunday, October 28th, 2007. We're off to Moscow flying SAS at 10:20am.
Departure and Arrival are relatively on-time. In Moscow Customs lines are short, although not particularly quick. We still have to wait a while before the bags come out. When they finally start coming it doesn't take long, Kim's bag is even the second one to come out! Straight through customs after that.
We knew from internet sites that taxi's would probably cost around 2500 RUB, and that haggling was nearly impossible, so we let a few taxi touts approach us before going with one that spoke pretty good English. He wasn't actually the taxi driver, though but we had no problems with the taxi. The weather was sunny and warm, probably 8 - 10 deg C. We even passed a TGI Fridays on the way through the airport. There was a little traffic & after that cleared up we could hear the taxi driver on his phone trying to figure out how to get to the hotel, but in the end he seemed to find it with out major problems.
At the Holiday Inn Suschevsky, check-in was smooth, and the hotel staff spoke good English. We went to our room, and got setup for a little sight seeing. When we were almost ready to leave i realized that it was later than i thought and we would be late meeting up with Em & M at the library. Luckily we synced up with text messages.
We headed for the metro, and had some trouble conveying to the woman selling tickets that we wanted two 10 trip metro cards, but in the end, Kim managed to convey that we wanted a 10 trip card, so we just repeated the procedure to get the second one. Then we couldn't figure out how to use the cards. We tried every possible slot like thing, but nothing was working. In the end there was an attendant that swirled her hand around in the air and we figured that was what we were supposed to do near the entry gate, and sure enough it worked, we were in!
We managed to meet up about 45 minutes later than planned. We headed for the Arbat district/pedestrian street to get some food. Unfortunately there weren't many restaurants or cafes with English menus. There was, however, no shortage of souvenir shops & stands. I tried to take a couple of pictures, but despite the battery status saying full when we left the hotel, my camera battery was dead, and my spare was back at the hotel, so no pictures for me that evening. We passed on other American style food from S'barro and Uncle Sam's Cafe, but we ended up eating at the Hard Rock Cafe. The staff here spoke good English, but we were soon to find out that it was one of the few places, other than souvenir shops, that did.
After dinner, we wandered over to Red Square. It was spectacular at night, but my camera was just an annoying weight on my shoulder. Near the square we found a spot where a lot of Russians were throwing coins over their shoulders. Some were picking the coins off the ground and throwing them, and some were just picking up the coins of higher value and keeping them. I didn't have a coin, so we made plans that Em would throw her coin, then i would pick it up and throw it afterwards. This plan really upset the people who were picking up the coins, but in the end we just ignored them since they couldn't speak English and we couldn't speak Russian, and they ended up with their precious 2 ruble coin.
Passing a bank, the temperature was 5 deg C. After a brief stop to meet a distant cousin of M, we decided to head to a pub that specialized in German beer, which I found on a Moscow pub guide on the internet. The site warned that the pub would be crowded, but that must only be on weekends or in the summer, because it was almost totally empty.
After a bit of effort including 2 bar staff and a lot of gestures and pointing, we all managed to order our beers; a small Baltika (Russian), a large Baltika, and Erdingerweisse (German), and a dark beer for me -- which me proved to be quite funny.
Me: Do you have any dark beer?
Bar staff: We only have Russian and German beer.
Even funnier was that the dark beer was neither German or Russian, it was a Czech beer, Krusovice Dark.
We headed back to the hotel after our second round. What a day!
Monday, October 29th, 2007.It's going to be a big day. Lot's of sights to see and shopping to do, I am way behind on my list. Then, between 2:00 & 3:00 in the afternoon, we are to meet up with Em & M to see the Kremlin, and in the evening we are to meet up with Dmitry and Alexander (Russian colleagues at SASi) for dinner at Taras Bulba.
The weather is gray, and it the temperature is around 5 deg C. We start off with a tour of some of the metro stations, followed by the Russian White House, the House of Government of the Russian Federation, even though it is closed to visitors.
After that we are near Arbat again, it's close to lunch time, and Kim is begging to go to S'barro (the American pizza chain is all over Moscow) so we find the pedestrian street knowing we can find one there. Once we finally get to S'barro, Kim is not really in the mood for pizza any more, especially since he saw that Uncle Sam's next door had burgers.
Uncle Sam's has an English menu and our waitress speaks passable English if you don't stray from the menu. Service is relative slow but the food is pretty good and it give me time to sync up with Dmitry and EM using text messages, and, since Taras Bulba is actually a chain of restaurants, to find the right one on the map. We found that Em, who uses 3 Sweden could not text Dmitry in Russia, but I could (I use Sonofon DK). "Global roaming" apparently still requires a backup plan.
After lunch, it was time to head to the Kremlin, only we wouldn't be meeting up with EM & M after all, they are lost trying to pick up their train tickets and can't make it. So we did a little souvenir shopping in Arbat before heading to the Kremlin. The weather clears up and the sun is shinning.
The line for tickets at the Kremlin take a while, and then we also had to leave my back pack at the baggage check, so it took close to 45 minutes to get in. Once inside, it seem like every possible photo-op is crowded with tourists (mostly Russian), and photos aren't allowed indoors, so I was a little disappointed, but we still found it interesting. The towers surrounding the Kremlin (which you can see from outside) make nicer photos.
Around 5pm (closing time) we picked up my backpack and headed for Red Square. I took a bunch of photos before we headed into GUM to warm up and explore a little. GUM is so fancy now, it's hard to believe it was once once notorious for empty shelves. At a cafe here I had a hot chocolate that was so rich it seemed like I was drinking melted chocolate. One of the servers at the cafe did speak good English, as well.
The sun set while we were in GUM, so when we left, the Red Square was the amazing photo-op that I missed the night before. We did a little more exploring in the area, after that, before meeting up with Em & M at the Novokuznetskaya Metro station, then heading for dinner at Taras Bulba with Dmitry and Alexander. We had a little trouble finding the restaurant because even though I was beginning to learn some of the Cyrillic characters, I didn't know that the T sometimes looks like a T, and some times like a cursive M character, so we passed right by the first time.
Taras Bulba was fun, if a bit chaotic. The restaurant had a Ukrainian theme, including traditional Ukrainian dress. The hostess spoke good English so were were able to get a table before Dmitry arrived, even though we didn't know if there was a reservation for us made by Dmitry (there was not). They had English, Swedish, and Danish menus, all with funny translations, so Dmitry ended up explaining the menu when needed, and we waited for Alexander to arrive before we ordered our main courses, which resulted in Alexander ordering right away and getting his food before we ordered. I think they though were weren't actually going to order main dishes. This was actually the first place for Kim & I, other than the Metro system, that communication was difficult (not with Dmitry and Alexander, but with the waitress, even with Dmitry and Alexander helping). The food was tasty, although the borscht that Em ordered was a little disappointing, since it wasn't made with red beets. Event the coat check guy was very friendly, despite never saying a word.
After dinner, Dmitry and Alexander gave us a walking tour of the city center, as well as cleared up a bunch of the preconceptions we had about Russia. The fog presented even more photo-ops of the Kremlin and Red Square. We came back to spot where people were tossing coins over their shoulders. It marks the very center of Moscow, and people toss coins over their shoulder so they will return to Moscow, similar to the Trevi Fountain in Rome. The markings are a compass showing north, south, east, and west. There are also pictures showing different symbols of regions in Russia.
Our tour ended shortly thereafter, and Dmitry and Alexander escorted us to the appropriate metro lines. We passed a KFC after getting off the metro, and bought some soda from a small stand that had an outdoor fridge with remote controlled locks on the doors (geeky cool).
Tuesday, October 29th, 2007. Still trying to make up for lost time, we had seen many of our must-sees planned for Sunday and Monday, but still had not seen Lenin's Tomb, the Polytechnic Museum, the Space Museum, and the Armed Forces Museum.
We planned to meet Em & M at Lenin's Tomb at 11:00, but due to problems getting our train tickets, we had to skip Lenin's Tomb, and wait until close to checkout time for our tickets to arrive, as well as follow up with STA about getting the tickets that we now learned needed to be picked up in Mongolia, in order to get to Beijing. Once we thought all that was settled (or would be before we left on the Trans Siberian railway, we were ready to relax and do some sight seeing.
First, we tried to find the Central Museum of Armed Forces, but since the map detail in the Lonely Planet guide wasn't good enough, we wandered around for a while but never found it.
Next we headed for the Space Museum (officially the Museum of Cosmonautics), but this was a bust as well. We had no trouble finding this one, but it was either closed for renovation, or demolition, we weren't really quite sure. We could see that there was something near the space museum that looked pompous enough to be interesting, so we headed over to see what it was.
We found a Monorail, still not sure why it's here, but it looked modern and safe, especially in comparison to the Metro or the cable car right next to it. Then we found the All-Russian Exhibition Center, which, according to my Lonely Planet (LP) guide, was built to show off the superior Soviet economic success. Well, we all know how that turned out. Now you can visit an amusement park, ride on a ferris wheel, have your photo taken with Sponge Bob or Shrek and Fiona, or buy some souvenirs or electronic goods. They were even selling the same digital camera as new that I bought 5 years ago.
After our All-Russia experience we even ate at the McDonald's outside the front gate. By asking if they speak English, I was handed a card with the menu in English complete with pictures. I thought this would ensure that nothing could go wrong, but still somehow, I ended up with only one order of fries when I expected two. Oh well, we didn't really need the second order anyway.
After eating, we headed for the Polytechnic Museum. We easily found the museum after getting off the metro, since the building takes up an entire city block, but we ended up walking the long way around to the entrance, since the LP guide said the entrance was on Novaya Pl, when it was actually on Lubyansky Proezd. If you are a technofile like me, you will love this museum. The only fault (other than the creaky floors) is that not everything has an English translation of the Russian explanation. It's a rather pompous tribute to Russian technical excellence, but that's part of the draw. I could have probably spent the entire day there, but we only had a couple of hours. It was also kind of strange, they closed at 5pm, or at least that was what we thought, but we left at 5:30pm and that wasn't because we were kicked out.
From there we headed back to the hotel to pick up our luggage, and meet up at 7pm with Em & M at the Yaroslavsky train station. Again slightly delayed due to having to deal with STA travel, we knew that the it could be confusing finding the right building. To add to the confusion, the station name was not written anywhere in the LP guide in Cyrillic characters, so I had to use the Cyrillic guide to guess a couple of characters that I didn't know, in order to find the right building. This turned out not to be such a problem, and we met up only 15 minutes late this time (yeah, we are improving!).
We all dragged our baggage to S'barro where we ate yet another non-Russian dinner. Yes, it's true, we hadn't eaten any Russian food up to this point. With still an hour to departure time after dinner was finished Em and I headed for RamStore, a super market across the street from the station, to pick up our last minute food supplies. When we returned, it was time to board. Yahoo! our Trans-Siberian journey was chugging along.
Copyright ©2007 Lisa G. Hansen
Last Modified: Apr. 27, 2008