Finally we have arrived in Moscow.
After travelling for 15 days and over 7,000 kms or the same as Sydney to Perth and return we have arrived. With so many things to have seen and such different cultures across the Chinese, Mongolian, Siberian and Russian location, it seems more like a lifetime. But we are glad to have reached our journey’s end but not our tour. The sights and sounds of Moscow are still before us.
We are impressed again by the railway station here in Moscow. Most of the train stations in Russia are impressive and usually well maintained and preserved. The Russian rail transport system has been in existence since mid 19th century. The Trans Siberian rail line was commenced in 1891 and completed to the eastern port city of Vladivostok before 1900. There was an urgency of completion as Russia had expanded across the Mongolian eastern territories and wanted to stop Japan claiming its eastern shores and resources. The movement of troops and equipment and was vital to maintaining it eastern territories. However the original line was just a one track system and due to difficulties of moving carriages, this is credited with leading to the loss of the Sino- Japan war in 1900’s (but these territories were regained after Japan lost WWII). So the line was quickly amplified with duel track and many sidings for passing trains. The associated stations were completed as buildings that were works of art and have been maintained ever since.
As we pack our bags for the last time onto our Moscow tour bus fond memories of the many towns we had stopped at comes back to us. The weather has been hot across the Siberian countryside and now in Moscow we again experience the heat of the inland continental climate. Starting at 25 degrees when we arrive mid morning it is expected to reach 32 – 35 for the day.
We have crossed a country that is the only one to span 2 continents Asia and Europe. We all recalled the crossing location and standing one foot in Asia and one foot in Europe. But now we are finally in European Russia and at its centre – Moscow.
Our first stop is Red Square so called because red in Russian means beautiful. The most magnificent cathedral of St Basil stands at one end of the square, with its spires and colours it is more impressive when seen for real rather than from pictures. It has many stories of who built it and what happened to them after, but none of that really matters when you look and take a walk around the cathedral.
As we turn around the GUM shopping centre complex takes up the opposite side to the Kremlin wall. This was a market area that has now been turned into an upmarket and designer shopping complex for the centre of Moscow. However it does provide relief from the hot temperatures as they rise at midday.
At the side of the wall is the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. Guards stand silent and still in all weather conditions, heat, rain, and snow in winter. Our guide tells us that the pavers under their boots are heated in winter as they stand there an hour at a time unmoved. You are not welcome to come and take a close up photo with additional guards letting you know that you have come too close. Their tall statue and the large hats they wear are an imposing sight that you do not want to mess with.
While we wait for our 1:00 pm entry time to the inside of the Kremlin we can take in some shade from the surrounding gardens near the entry facilities. With avenues of gardens the area looks very beautiful and we take a walk in the park. As we enter we can see the spires of one of the many cathedrals within the Kremlin walls. These spires rise into the sky with their gold plated domes
glowing the sunlight.
There are strict areas that tourists can walk and those that you cannot. You must stay on the paths and cross at the marked crossings. Any diversion from these allowed walkways and the whistles come out loud and clear until you move or are moved back by guards.
Inside the Kremlin walls are many reminders of a glorious past. Many cannons taken from the Napoleon Wars are displayed. A very large bronze bell that was the largest in the country was cast for one of the buildings, but when fired, it cracked and the piece had dropped. Due to its weight it had not been able to be moved and so has been left as it was for the last 100 odd years.
We see the flags flying over the residence of Vladimir Putin and ask if he is working there today. We are told he has many homes around the countryside that no one knows where he will be from one day to the next. The only way to know where he has been is to read the papers the next day or see the nightly news showing him working or visiting various places and doing all sorts of things for the country. However when he does come to the Kremlin he now flies in by helicopter to avoid the Moscow traffic, we are told. We can see the heliport spot and wonder about this as a comment on Moscow traffic which now moves pretty well with 7 ring roads around the city, or a reflection of how Putin prefers to travel to his many homes and meeting venues.
Having had a nice lunch in a restored air conditioned restaurant behind the GUM building, we are refreshed to continue our Moscow sightseeing. We are now moving to look along the river and notice a massive bronze statue. We are told it was made as a gift to America to commemorate Christopher Columbus finding America. However, it was thought that it would be higher than the Statue of Liberty and so not an acceptable gift. It was retained in Moscow and the face remade to show Peter the Great leading his Navy to battle. Makes for an interesting story anyway.
We walk along the river to a bronze arrangement to reflect a tribute to Hans Christian Anderson and his fairy tales. Russians enjoy their Russian fairytales but are prepared now to also acknowledge other national writers of fairytales. In the past many non Russian writers had their stories taken and re-written as Russian fairytales. As we walk past this group of a mother duck and her ducklings we see that may be like the George Orwell novel “Animal Farm” – that not ducklings are created equal.
This little one seems to be the one giving out the orders for all to follow.
Moving around the city gives us the opportunity to take in the panorama of the changing Moscow city skyline. With Russia, the location for the World Soccer 2018, the focus is on building new and upgrading older stadiums. In other regional cities, the FIFA Board has directed some stadiums need to be rebuilt to take larger crowds. Here, Moscow city is building a new stadium to take 95,000 fans. New technologies will enable people across the city to see the action inside. The top of this roof will be a large screen that makes it the largest TV screen in the world and all over Moscow you will be able to see the action.
Of course no visit to Moscow is complete without a visit and trip on the underground rail system. The underground rail network stretches over 40 kms around Moscow With winter temperatures able to drop to minus 30 degrees with snow piling up, it is essential to be able to carry on moving people around the city for winter months of the year.
After dropping off to our hotel for dinner and a refresh, we take to the city for a night tour. With lights all around Red Square, the city centre comes alive like a fairy land. Crowds are out to take in the sights. The GUM department store looks like a fairyland castle and shoppers are still welcome at night.
The Kremlin clock tower makes the wall look like it comes from many of the Disney tales. This is regarded as the most important of the Kremlin towers, as it holds the clock that counts down the time at midnight every new years eve. We are told it is televised for all Russians to see the countdown for the new year.
With the lights shining onto St Basils Cathedral it looks more impressive at night and the red colour really does make it very beautiful. As the night comes to a close our tour also comes to its final day. Time for bed and getting ready for the homeward journey.
What a trip! It was the trip of a lifetime. So many different lands, futures, and vast spaces. Doing it by train, although a long time in the cabins, is the only way I would recommend seeing this vast country that spans Asia and Europe. It spans a history of conquests from Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the Han Chinese, Polish and Hungarian Empires and finally the Russians and that of the Tzars. It covers a mixture of many religions, races and cultures that are stunning.
Can I recommend you put this trip on your bucket list? – Yes Yes Yes!!!!