Ever since May, when I spontaneously bought my plane ticket for Russia (750$ round trip was too good to pass up) I had been debating whether or not it was the right time to go. Russia has been in the news a lot more than usual lately, and I could not help but wonder if I should go to the source of so much controversy.
Thankfully I quieted my apprehensions; because Russia is nothing less than phenomenal.
I witnessed two sunrises and a sunset before arriving in Moscow in the early afternoon. It was 1°F, much colder than weather.com said it would be. As I came to find out, Russia and weather.com are incommunicado. The predicted weather was off daily by 20°.
When I arrived at the Sheremetyevo International Airport and looked up and saw this ceiling, I became even more excited about my trip.
It was simple to find ticket booths for the aeroexpress, the train that runs twice an hour to and from the airport.
Before I knew it I was at the Belorusskiy train station following people who looked like they had purpose, arriving at the nearby Belorusskaya metro. I had read that the metro stations are very elaborate, and before even entering my first metro station I was not disappointed.
It was directly after walking through these doors that I became intimidated; there was a line to buy metro cards, and at the front of each line faced employees who did not speak English. I researched the cards but forgot to write down words that would help me with the transaction. What to do, what to do.
Staring at the information surrounding the Kaccas (the ticket booth, not prouncounced like caca but like casa, even though I personally enjoyed calling them cacas) I thought I could find something to point to. No. Or maybe yes, it is in Russian so who really knows?
I guess I looked just worried enough because a nice Siberian man named Denis (in Moscow for a yoga retreat) approached me and in very broken English asked me what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, used his metro card to pay my way, and took me with him on the metro, showing me where he would get off and what I would do next. He also gave me his email, explaining that his girlfriend spoke English very well and if I needed anything translated I could write.
He looked a concerned when I said I was there alone, and needless to say without Russian language skills. I quickly learned why he was worried, pretty much no one speaks English, a huge difference from anywhere else I have been in Europe.
Metro stations are a rightful tourist attraction. Not only are they beautiful but one of the most efficient metro networks in the world. I have to say the most efficient that I have ever experienced. Trains come every 1-2 minutes, which makes it nice when traveling because you can take your time determining direction (which platform to wait by) knowing there will be another within moments.
The metro carries 8-9 million passengers daily, more than London and New York combined. The system was constructed in the 1930's, during Stalin's reign. Some of the Soviet Union's finest artists were hired to decorate the metro, focusing on themes such as national defense, the Revolution, and the Soviet way of life. There are chandeliers, mosaics, statues, and marble pillars.
It is exquisite to say the least.
It took me a little while to find my hotel because at that time I did not understand what a subway was. I quickly learned that a subway is an underground walkway, connected to the metros; it is a way to avoid entire blocks of vehicles and traffic lights and the cold. The problem with them is they are very disorienting and the exits (выход, blixoa as I pronounced it but formally known as vykhod) are all written in Russian which you know is a crazy language since it has an Eiffel tower symbol in the word exit, not to mention numbers like 3 and 6, and backwards Rs, and upside down 'h's, and letters that look like 'p's but sound like 'r's. It is like they don't want it to make sense.
Anyway, after I found my hotel I used this little church as reference.
The church wasn't on the map, and this informational placard was not very informational.
I slept for a few hours, forcing myself out of my warm bed to explore Moscow since I am in Russia and I cannot believe it.
I left with the goal of becoming oriented, so I could efficiently use my map.
The building in the background is the Palace of the Romanov Boyers (noblemen), built in the 16th century.
The building in the foreground from the above picture had this tea set outside in the window for reasons unknown.
I could not believe it when I realized that I wandered right into the most famous church in Russia, and one of the most famous in the entire world, St Basil's Cathedral. But I could not believe I was in Russia period, so I guess this is not surprising.
St Basil's Cathedral was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible in 1552, completed in 1561, to commemorate the capture of the Mongol town Kazan. It is said that upon its completion Ivan the Terrible was so impressed that he had the architect blinded so that he would never design anything as beautiful as long as he lived.
The cathedral was originally called the Cathedral of the Intercession but Basil the Blessed's remains remain inside, and so the name remains.
After exploring the interior, filled with art, wonderful chandeliers, floral tiles, and
more scrupulous detail I walked to Red Square, and enjoyed the Christmas decorations and festivities.
I soaked in every last detail, helplessly repeating, "I can't believe I am in Russia".