The final leg of our trip was a visit to Moscow. Living in Hong Kong, we had always felt a desire to visit the Russian city for several reasons, primarily because of how much closer we are to it than if we were back in Australia. Ticking it off the bucket list and capitalizing on our proximity to the frosty land was high on the agenda.
It was before we had even boarded the plane and during the organisation and months leading up to our trip, that Moscow started to develop a bitter taste in my mouth. The bureaucratic nightmare required to enter the country was beginning to frustrate me and the cost involved in obtaining a tourist visa (HKD$900 each) was the icing on the cake. It became pretty clear, pretty quickly that Russia wasn’t geared towards tourism quite yet and the discussions that I had encountered with past travelers about were rarely positive.
Moscow and I were not off to a good start.
I’d like to preface this entry with the fact that this was the last part of our journey, we were tired and had picked up a nasty flu along the way, it was cold and we were looking down the barrel of heading back to work…not the best conditions to give a fair and unbiased view, but it was ‘our’ experience nonetheless.
My first observation upon boarding the plane in Venice was; “Russia…home to the world’s worst haircuts”. Aeroflot cattle class was full of them; huge men with dreadful under cuts and rats tails, mullets and dunny-brush style pruning’s. It was astounding. I almost felt like I had been transported back in time, circa 1989 to a Vanilla Ice video clip and I was left waiting for each row to stand up and start rapping; “All right stop!… Collaborate and listen…”
The women were even more intriguing. There was every Anastassia, Katja and Olga you could imagine, wandering the aisles in their second-skin acid wash denim jeans and jacket combo, resembling an era where is was cool to let your child go berserk with the bedazzler.
It was a party of backcombed blonde tresses with enough hairspray to double the size of the hole in the ozone layer. Electric blue eye shadow and hot pinks lips, heels and handbags that had also had the pleasure of meeting the bedazzler. It was all happening on flight SU2423 and when we landed, not much changed.
We jumped on the Aeroexpress from Sheremetyevo International Airport to Belorussky train station, taking us a total of 35 minutes. Throwing ourselves into the unexpected ring of fire that was the taxi ‘rank’, we were peppered with large Russian mafia looking men in strange hats and heavy overcoats trying to bargain our fare. In Moscow, it is rare for a taxi to use a meter, instead they will ask you where you want to go, offer you a fare at which you then counter offer until you are both happy. Problem is, when you don’t know how far your hotel is from the destination…HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT IS FAIR? It was an intense 2 minutes, ill give you that. Once the fare was agreed we jumped in the little wagon and proceeded to have our driver try to conduct a full blown conversation with us in Russian; “Sorry, English?”
5 more minutes of Russian ramblings.
Another 5 minutes of Russian ramblings.
At this point we were so tired, that we nodded our heads in agreement with whatever the hell he was saying. He appreciated that, him and his giant nose mole that was having an entirely different conversation with his upper lip. *shiver
Checking into the Golden Apple Boutique Hotel was heaven. After our late night, overnight flight and subsequent early morning, we were poopy-la-pooped. The hotel was nice, different and a little strange, but nice. Very modern and clean, with all the trimmings. Stripping off our layers (and let me tell you, there were many) we showered and slid into bed for a few hours waiting for the rest of the city to wake up.
Unfortunately, the food in Russia, wasn’t really our thing. Because they have such cold and long winters, their diets consist of mainly carbs and fat rather than fruit, veges and protein. From what we saw, they like to mix whatever ‘goodies’ they can rustle up and serve them all at once in a big gooey heap; eggs, bread, butter, beef and potatoes. Deciding that we weren’t missing out on much in a culinary sense, we went on a Hamburger hunt instead.
During our stay in the land of the nasty haircut we strolled around the gray and barren streets, people watching and riding the Metro, that transports an average of 6.55million people every day.
If someone asked me to describe Moscow in one word it would probably be ‘grey’. I don’t recall seeing much ‘colour’ at all actually – not in the fashion, not the architecture, the cars, the sky was dreary, the trees were bare and most people wore sullen expressions to match.
We made our way across to Red Square, the Kremlin (the safest place in the world apparently) and St. Basils Cathedral (which was my favourite). There was a bloke that had obviously been told so many times that he looked just like Putin, so he decided to make a buck off it. He had a very regal looking chair and was dressed in full military costume waiting to take photos (for a fee) with anyone that wanted one. There were several other look-a-like figures wandering around the small space before entering the square, shedding a little bit of light and humour in an otherwise pretty grim place.
St Basils was pretty spectacular and I would describe it as looking like a palace out of a Disney movie. Another stark contrast to the rest of Moscow, the cathedral sticks out like a turd in a punch bowl and looks as strange as that birthday cake that Gran made for your 4th birthday party.
Overall Moscow was a very interesting place where the English language was hard to come by and ‘globalisation’ is still a relatively new concept. Tourists are treated with curiosity, caution and care and charged a fortune for the most insignificant items.
My tip for Moscow would be to bring MONEY and lots of it; after all we spent more than $200USD on visas…before we had even ENTERED the country. It ain’t cheap and with 79 billionaires – the greatest number in the world – you can understand why. Taxis are expensive, food, accommodation…it all adds up. Oh and you better look both ways when crossing the road, it won’t be a bus that hits you…it will be a Bentley.