Moscow is one of those fascinating destinations that is interestingly complicated, but which is not very likely to get booked for a city trip for various reasons.
It has the image of an unfriendly city, supposedly it’s not easy to travel around due to Cyrillic alphabet, there are some political tensions with Russia, plus you need a visa. Yet when I heard I had to go there for work I got excited. And rightly so.
I will be the first one to say that things perhaps are bit easier when traveling somewhere for work, as I had the benefit of access to local knowledge from my Russian counterpart. However, during these trips, there is always an element of being on your own and getting a bit of free time to explore without someone holding my hand.
After arriving at the airport (and queuing at immigration for a bit; they are not in any hurry), I bought a ticket for the Aeroexpress, the fast train from Sheremetyevo Airport to Bellorusky train station. Traffic in Moscow can be really bad, so this is the fastest way to get to the center, plus it is a comfortable, modern train (with WiFi).
From Bellorusky station, my hotel was only 20 minute taxi ride away.
I stayed at the Kempinski Baltschug hotel, a 5 star hotel on the river, overlooking the Kremlin and the colorful Saint Basil Cathedral. The iconic hotel building dates back to the 19th century, and it is considered one of the best hotels in the city.
It’s conveniently located at just a ten minute walk to the Red Square to see Moscow as we know it from pictures.
As Moscow is a flat city, everything is quite easy to do by foot if you are not shy of walking. I appreciate that this is weather permitting, and only a few months per year allow for this; we were extremely lucky with some very nice Indian Summer days.
If you are going here during the colder season, the efficient Metro system will easily move you around town; it’s cheap and it’s quick. Over 9 million people use the underground system every day and for your reference, that is more that the underground users in London en New York combined. Just count your stations or practice your Cyrillic letters beforehand, as there is no translation in the stations.
If you can’t be bothered with this either, Uber has found its way to Moscow too.
After visiting the Red Square, I took the exit at the Marshal Georgy Zhukov Monument and entered the park where you will find the grave of the unknown soldier, where soldiers were marching up and down along the Kremlin wall.
The red and yellow wall is extremely pretty with the late afternoon sunshine on it.
On this side of town, 5 minutes away from the grave and directly across the street from the Bolshoi Theatre, you will also find Moscow’s last remaining monument to Karl Marx on Teatralnaya Square. The inscription reads ‘Proletarians of all countries, unite!’
After my first explorations in this area, I went back to the hotel for the evening.
My colleague would give me a tour ‘off the beaten track’ later in the week which turned out to be an equally sunny day. We walked to the lesser known areas where locals like to go; the hotel is also close to the ‘gold coast’ where many of the affluent Muscovites live, near the Bolotnaya embankment.
with the ‘trees of love’.
It is a short walk to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior from here, one of the more than 300 churches (mostly Christian denominated) in Moscow.
You wouldn’t say it, but this church is only 20 years old. The original church was destroyed by Stalin, and the rebuild was done between 1995-2000; it’s a near perfect replica, and the inside looks impeccable too.
On the other side of the cathedral, you can cross the street and turn onto Gogolevski Boulevard, named after writer Nikolai Gogol. This is a wide, lush boulevard with a no car zone in the middle and pretty houses on both sides. It is not very touristy here, yet there are some street artists, patiently painting or drawing the gorgeous city.
Needless to say, the image Moscow has as an unfriendly city, does not align at all with what I have seen. As in every other big city, you have to be mindful of where you are going at night on your own, and you need to look after you belongings, but that is no different in Paris, Amsterdam or New York.
Despite the controversy and complexity of Russia as a country, and judging it only by its cover, Moscow has struck a chord with me; it is a gem and I would love to go back (if only to see the ballet) so I am hoping I will get the opportunity to do so, either for personal travel or for a business trip.