We had something of a slow start due the previous night’s antics but we didn’t have much planned bar collecting the train tickets from the Real Russia offices. We took the opportunity to tour the Moscow Metro, in particular some of the recommended stations due to their design – and what design! The Revolution Square station had 78 bronze statues of typical workers (Student, Farmer, Frontier Guard, Industrial Worker, etc.) all over the station platforms with marble vaulted ceilings
While stepping out of the train at Komsomolskaya felt like stepping into a ballroom with rococo details and chandeliers – certain makes Tube stations in London look a bit grotty.
The Soviets built the stations as ‘Palaces for the people’ and is one of the few examples where rhetoric met reality.
A few stations under our belt we headed to collect the tickets and headed down to the Kremlin for our 2pm tour.
Irina our tour guide dutifully brought us around and explained the various buildings. Seemingly part of the deal for tours was a dour Kremlin tour minder who we nicknamed Dragonia. She justified her reputation when we were engulfed several times by boisterous Chinese tour groups who were constantly being whistled at by Kremlin guards until she breathed some of her fire to keep them in order!
The Kremlin tour was uneventful inasmuch as we were simply getting history on various buildings in turn and went inside one Cathedral where coronations were performed during the Tsarist times.
Once finished we decided to unwind and head to the Sanduny Baths for a proper Russian Banya experience. We opted for the first class service which involved opulent changing rooms all in dark gothic wooden surroundings. We purchases robin-hood felt hats which seemed to be universally applied to protect hair from burning and headed into the bath areas.
Various oak and birch tied bundles were available for whacking which when applied increased the temperature greatly both for the whacked and also generally around. One of the services on offer involved lying naked on a flat pine table in the steam room while two men whacked big birch bundled in unison all over meanwhile a third man flung copious amounts of water onto the steam oven making the whole setup even hotter. Needless to say we passed on that. The place had the feel of typically Russian (albeit moneyed) experience betrayed by the shiny Mercedes and Range Rovers in the car park.
After 2 hours of sweating and rehydrating with beer and some pancakes with salmon and caviar we felt suitably fresh to head to dinner in Café Pushkin where we had been for coffee the day before.
It was a very lavishly decorated dining room in the Tsarist style although it was only recently restored to look this way. I decided on the Russian degustation menu which gave a selection of Russian favourites: borsch, stroganoff, dumplings, etc. which was excellent while Tim went all out with Beluga caviar and sturgeon for main with the caviar alone costing £100! By all accounts the caviar was nice but a bit overrated given the cost. Retiring to the bar we had a nightcap and headed home to turn in for the night.
In all Moscow was a real surprise and exceeded expectations by a wide margin – stories from uncle Ed from 1993 seemed a world away. Moscow was extremely clean and lots to do and see with some great food options which we didn’t have to work hard to find at all.