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Maid in Moscow

When my friend and I finally arrived at Leningrad Station in Moscow, our smiles were probably visible for miles. It had taken us a while to get here due to a border crossing mishap through Belarus. Our journey had initially started in Warsaw, from where my friend, who is Polish, and I had based our rail trip through eastern Europe.

Six hours into our journey towards the city, we had made it to Belarus where I was to learn, from other passengers and my friend’s attempt at speaking to border guards in a form of Polish-Russian she had invented, that I didn’t have the necessary documents to pass the border.

Belarus Border Guard

I had a Russian visa, but even though we wouldn’t be staying in Belarus, the country required a transit visa to pass her borders. I was quickly told to get my luggage, get off the train, and we were transferred to another train bound in the opposite direction towards our start point. From there, I would have to obtain the needed document from the Belarus embassy. 

Luckily, my friend’s sister lived in Warsaw so she picked us up from the station and we were able to stay at her place for the night until the embassy opened the next day. All went smoothly there though, and with the new visa in hand, my friend and I took another shot at making it to Moscow.

I was glad we did because, though the past hours had been taxing, the visa experience quickly faded into memory as our train pulled into Moscow’s station. The trip had been 36 hours but a wave of excitement instantly energized us and we quickly hopped off the train to explore the city.

By now, we only had two days in Moscow so wanted to get our bearings and hit the big sites first. Coming out of the train station we found ourselves already in the heart of the things and in the midst of the 70,000 square meter Red Square in Krasnaya Ploschad. The Kremlin, the oldest architectural feature in the city, stands above the Moskva River, and it’s towers cause the neck to crane back in an effort to get a complete picture of this former fortress that houses 20 towers and gates.

Ivan the Great’s Annunciation Cathedral

Unfortunately, we couldn’t enter the gates sans a tour group for security reasons. A few weeks before, Chechnya separatists had bombed an open air rock concert taking place in the city, so the area was pretty much locked down as a result. Due to the same incident, we could only take our photos of the enchanting St. Basils cathedral ,built by Ivan the Terrible in the mid 1500’s, from the outside, as the inside of this building was off limits as well. Around many of the bigger sights, armed guards were present for security as well. Regardless of the current situation, the streets were packed with people carrying on with their lives, and we never experience a sense of danger.   After taking in the immediate sights of the square, we headed towards the metro to drop off our bags at our hotel and plan how to efficiently use the time we had left in the city.

Once inside the metro, I felt that we had been transported to an underground palace of the city. Inside were intricate works of art such as huge stained glass sculptures, museum quality statues, and enormous detailed mosaics depicting heroes of the revolution: Lenin was a favourite. It proved to be a bit of a challenge to initially find our way around as all station names were written in the Cryllic alphabet. Luckily my friend was familiar with these letters so she served as navigator so that we wouldn’t become infinitely lost along the 264 miles of track and 163 stations the metro serves. 

1479 Assumption Cathedral

As to the trains themselves, they are quick and very efficient ( running every 90 seconds during peak hours) and more than 10 million people use them as their primary mode of transportation through the city. The escalators leading in and out of the stations were also interesting to note in that they were sometimes so long that people were actually reading magazines to bide their time until they reached the top or bottom.

Once at the hotel, a second edition printing of Masha Nordbye’s Moscow, St. Petersburg, and the Golden Ring proved to be a very invaluable resource and guidebook for us as we plotted our course for the coming days.

Keeping our passports with us at all times, we tore through the city with the time we had left. We took in the Russian art masterpieces shown at the State Tretyakov Gallery, walked through the Old Arbat, getting a feel for this popular shopping district filled with vendors and music, and  made our way to the All Russian Exhibition Center, where sights such as a 315 foot statue of Sputnik Rocket, which commemorates the victories of the country’s space exploration program,  awaited and a setting sun provided a nice backdrop from which to take pictures from. 

We roamed with a tour group through the numerous icon filled churches of the Kremlin’s grounds, around 10 churches and palaces were inside the walls, taking in sites such as the Assumption Cathedral, which had formerly been the coronation church of czars and the nine domed Annunciation Cathedral built by Ivan the Great.

We ventured into the neighborhood that housed the Patriarchs Pond, the setting of Mikhail Bulgakov’s  masterpiece The Master and Margarita, the infamous novel that took readers along for a journey with the devil and his henchmen while also providing a satire of Soviet life during the period of Stalin’s reign. 

Walking to the Kremlin

Throughout the many hours I spent wandering the streets, I was overwhelmed with the amount of history present in each area. With each step, I seemed to be passing through old haunting grounds of  citizens as varied as Ivan the Great, to the royalty of the Romanov dynasty, to members of the former KGB.  

As a consequence of the city, I can safely say I have now turned into somewhat of a Russian history buff, constantly reading and learning all I can about the country. 

In short, the time passed too quickly and just when we were beginning to memorize the lines of metro, it seemed it was time to board the overnight train we had booked to St. Petersburg. The Belarus  mishap ended up taking two days of the time we had planned in Moscow but actually my traveling companion and I didn’t mind that much. Instead, we decided this just gave us a perfect excuse to come back and visit this memorable destination again as soon as we could.

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