Saturday, June 30, 2018

Three+ Days in Moscow.

Photo by Valerii Tkachenko.  Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The last time I was in Moscow, it was 1996 and I was there on a work assignment. We did have the weekends to explore the city and as long ago as that was, I still remember quite a bit about my time there.  So, planning for our time there on this trip has been relatively easy.  This time around, I will include those sights that I missed visiting in 1996.

Standing in Red Square in front of St. Basil's Cathedral in 1996.

I am certain that in many respects, Moscow in 1996 is vastly different than it is in 2018 so it will very interesting to see it now.  I remember a crumbling city where many of the buildings, including the famed Bolshoi Theatre, were standing in various degrees of disrepair.  Roads and sidewalk suffered from the same fate.  I have a feeling that has all improved.  Last time around, I never entered St. Basil's Cathedral, saw Lenin's Mausoleum and missed visiting several of the sights inside the Kremlin as I was crumpled over in my hotel bed trying to recover from a stomach virus.  I hope to make up for all that this time around as well.  I do remember doing fun things like shopping at the flea market at Ismailovsy, buying souvenir art at Gorky Park and attending a service at a Russian orthodox church though I don't remember which church.  I remember getting mobbed by a group of young gypsy girls who were attempting to mug me.  I expect to see gypsies but I hope none of them will attempt to mug me.

I am excited to return to Moscow and as the obsessive compulsive travel planner that I am, I have put together an itinerary for the short time that we will be there so we make the most of our opportunity.  Who knows if or when either one of us will be back.  We will only be in Moscow on Saturday afternoon, Monday and Tuesday so not a whole lot of time but if we plan our time carefully, we can cover the main tourist sites.

Old Arbat Street
Photo by Leonid Dzhepko. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

We will arrive into the city on a Saturday afternoon and I have booked us into an Airbnb apartment in the Old Arbat (Stary Arbat) neighborhood.  The apartment is just about a block off of the old Arbat Street, an elegant historic street right in the city center that is one of Moscow’s most touristy spots.  If I remember correctly, the street is pedestrian only.  I put us here because there are plenty of shops, cafés and restaurants and it's a lively area.  It's the kind of neighborhood I like to end a full day of sightseeing in.  Just come here, grab a meal, do a bit of people watching and then head back to the apartment.  After we have lunch and get settled into our apartment and before we head out for a bit of sightseeing, we can stroll the Arbat.  Then, head to a cathedral or a museum as both places are close to Arbat.

Saturday Itinerary

Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
Photo by Sergey Ashmarin.  Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
Located a short distance from Arbat is one of Russia’s most visited cathedrals, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is a truly remarkable site. The grandiose cathedral was built in the 1990s where a 19th-century church of the same name once stood, prior to being demolished in 1931 by the Soviet authorities. For 50 years the place had been home to the world’s largest outdoor swimming pool, until the country’s new government decided to rebuild the sacred place. Designed to look like its predecessor, the modern building also contains the icon Christ Not Painted by Hand by Sorokin, which miraculously survived the demolition of the original cathedral.

Hours:  10:00 - 17:00, Mon 13:00 - 17:00.
Admission: Free

Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts
Photo by Ghirlandajo.  Licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0 via from Wikimedia Commons
Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts is the largest foreign art museum in Moscow.  It comprises three branches housing a collection of incredible works by masters of ancient civilisations, the Italian Renaissance and the Dutch Golden Age. The main building contains masterpieces by Botticelli, Tiepolo, Veronese and Rembrandt, some of which have never been displayed before. The Gallery of European & American Art, located next door, stores an incredible collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings.

Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday: 11am to 8pm
Ticket office: 11am to 7 pm (last tickets sold at 7 pm)
Closed Monday
Admission: 400 rubles for adults

Sunday Itinerary
Our first full day is a Sunday and my plan is for us to focus our time in and around Red Square and the Kremlin.

Red Square with St. Basil's Cathedral on the left the Saviour Tower on the right.
Photo by Alvesgaspar.  Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via from Wikimedia Commons

Red Square  is basically the heart of Moscow and is arguably Moscow’s most visited attraction. The cobblestone square is surrounded by beautiful architecture, and is the place where most of the city’s (and country’s) history unfolded. What was once a market square where traders would sell their goods is now a key location in the city, surrounded by unforgettable sites such as the Kremlin, St.Basil’s Cathedral, Lenin’s Mausoleum and other celebrated attractions.   Today, we can enter St. Basil's Cathedral but we'll need to come back tomorrow because the English guided tour is not available on Sundays.  As far as Lenin's Mausoleum goes, I wasn't keen on seeing a pickled, Lenin lying in repose, in 1996 so I passed up on standing in line entering the building.  Feeling hasn't changed so unless I am overcome by FOMO because Chantale wants to enter, I will pass up on this.  The museum is closed on Sundays and Mondays so we'll have to come back on Tuesday if there is time and interest.

GUM Department Store
Photo A.Savin.  Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

GUM is Russia’s main department store.  It's world renown for it stunning interior which houses a variety of high-end boutiques. Built between 1890 and 1893 and known as the Upper Trading Rows until the 1920s, the legendary store is now home to over 200 boutiques selling a variety of brands: from luxurious Dior to the more affordable Zara.  We definitely to walk through the building just to admire the architecture.

Taynitskaya tower, also called the Water Tower, is one of the Moscow Kremlin towers.  In the background are domes of the Kremlin cathedrals.  The tower was built in 1485 by Antonio Gilardi.
Photo by Ed Yourdon.  Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Moscow Kremlin  The word "kremlin" means fortress and the famed one in Moscow is the biggest active fortress in Europe.  Behind the 2,235 meter-ong kremlin walls, there are five squares to wander around, various buildings to explore, 20 towers to learn the names of, and the world’s largest bell and cannon to see.  We can easily spend most of our Sunday afternoon here visiting what is officially referred to as the Moscow Kremlin Museums.

1 October - 14 May.  10am to 5 pm.
Ticket office: 9:30am to 4:30pm
Closed Thursday
Admission:  Varies depending on site.  You can tickets in advance from  NOTE:  You can only purchase some tickets 17 days in advance.

If we still have time and energy to spare after visiting the Kremlin, we can tackle this museum, which

State Historical Museum
Photo by Markus Bernet.  Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via from Wikimedia Commons
State Historical Museum
An attraction in its own right, the State Historical Museum, sheltered in a neo-Russian style building, was founded in 1872 by Ivan Zabelin and Aleksey Uvarov. What once was the Principal Medicine Store now houses an impressive collection, which includes relics of prehistoric tribes that once inhabited the territory of present-day Russia, the country’s largest coin collection, as well as 6th-century manuscripts and artworks collected by the Romanov dynasty among other treasures.  I didn't realize it until now that I walked by several times on my visit in 1996. I was staying at the Metropole Hotel and the museum is located on the path going to/from Red Square.  Neither Chantale nor I are die hard museum people so more than likely, we'll end up skipping this place, preferring instead to just find a nice place to sit, perhaps have a drink or a bite, and just people watch.

1 September – 31 May 10:00am - 6:00pm
Closed Tuesday 1 June – 31 August:10 AM - 9 PM
Except 5 July and 7 August
Admission 150 - 400 rubles

Inside Eliseevsky.
Photo by Adam Baker.  Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
We'll end our sightseeing day at a supermarket but not just any supermarket.  Eliseevsky is a Moscow institution that has been in operation since 1890 and I would describe it more as a gourmet food store along the lines of the food hall in Harrods in London.

Eliseevsky is housed in a building with an interior that is so opulently decorated, it will make your jaw drop.  Long before the store was built here, the building served as a house for Ekaterina Kozitskaya, the wife of Grigoriy Kozitskiy who was the State Secretary of Ekaterina II aka Catherine the Great at the end of the 19th century.

In 1898 the building was bought by tradesman Grigoriy Eliseev from Saint Petersburg who fully renovated it.  Eliseevsky store was opened in 1901 and named after its owner. By that time Eliseev had already owned the biggest store in Russia on Nevskiy avenue in Saint Petersburg.  I will be adding a visit to the St. Petersburg store to our itinerary as well.

I was thinking that we would have dinner somewhere nearby Red Square but you never know.  Perhaps, if the weather is nice, we might pick up some food items here and head back to Red Square for a picnic dinner.  I did want to go back to Red Square during the golden hour and stay until dark to see all the buildings around Red Square, as well as the Bolshoi Theatre, all lit up.  That would make for some awesome photo ops and a great way to end our day!

Monday Itinerary
We need to start off our day bright and early by going to the ticket counters at the Bolshoi Theatre and St. Basil's Cathedral and getting our tour tickets.

Bolshoi Theatre at night.
Photo by DmitriyGuryanov.  Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Bolshoi Theatre
Opened in 1856, the legendary Bolshoi Theatre  is a historic theatre in Moscow, Russia, originally designed by architect Joseph Bové, which holds ballet and opera performances.

The Bolshoi Ballet and Bolshoi Opera are amongst the oldest and most renowned ballet and opera companies in the world. It is by far the world's biggest ballet company, with more than 200 dancers.

The building houses two stages, hosting both ballet and opera performances.  I checked out some ballet performances and pretty much had sticker shock over the cost of seeing a performance here.  The cheapest seats were at least $250 USD.  Ignoring cost and just looking at the seating map and picking a seat, I realized that I would have to pay over $1,000 to sit where I thought I would want to be!  So....unless we can find a cheap ballet performance to attend, our only option to get inside the Bolshoi is to go on a guided tour.

Guided tours in English are conducted on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and start at 11:15
Tour tickets cost 1500 rubles and can be purchased on the day of the tour at the ticket office located in the Historic building of the Theatre (door #12).   NOTE:  Tour groups are limited to a maximum of 20 people SO we need to come here first thing in the morning and get our tickets!


After the tour of the Bolshoi, we'll head for lunch and then continue with a tour of St. Basil's Cathedral.

Interior of St. Basil's Cathedral.
By Jorge Láscar.  Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

St. Basil's Cathedral  The Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed, commonly known as Saint Basil's Cathedral, is a church in Red Square in Moscow, Russia. The building, now a museum, is officially known as the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat. It was built from 1555–61 on orders from Ivan the Terrible and commemorates the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan.  It is one of the iconic landmarks of Moscow and I could not imagine coming back to this city for a second time and not entering in.   I've only seen a few photos of the interior but I already know my jaw will drop at the sight of everything inside.  I am already contemplating getting a new camera lens just to be able to take photos....I hope photography is permitted.

Guided tour in English daily except Sundays.  The tour starts at 2 p.m.
Tour  ticket:  700 rubles (1 September – 14 May)
You can buy tickets in the museum’s ticket office before guided tour or you can buy online from

Arbatskaya Metro Station
Photo by Tim Adams.  Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Metro Tour  It might sound crazy to go on tour of a city's subway system but the one in Moscow is world renown.  In addition to being one of the most efficient and cheapest underground transit systems in the world, the Moscow Metro is also undoubtedly one of the most beautiful. The brainchild of the tsars but finally put into action by Stalin, whose idea to make the city’s metro stations “palaces for the people” has translated into some truly spectacular, subterranean architectural gems.

Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and sadly we don't have enough time to see what some have listed at the 10 most beautiful metro stations in Moscow.  You can pay to go on a guided tour but I think we can do this on our own.  We'll aim for the five listed on this Regent Holidays webpage and we'll put together our own route map, using information available in the websites linked below.  I think I will ask Chantale to do this task :-)

Official website of the Moscow Metro 
Official Moscow Metro map (English PDF).  We'll have to pick up a copy when we arrive at Arbatskaya Metro which is one of the stations that often appears on the top 10 list.  We'll have to take a few minutes to admire it before heading up to street level.

Tuesday Itinerary
Today, we'll visit two sites that are located outside the city center - a palace and a convent.  We'll get to both places using the metro which we should be pros at doing given that we would have done our own tour of several of them on Monday.

Tsaritsyno Museum-Reserve
Photo by Marina Lystseva.  Licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Tsaritsyno Museum-Reserve  is the former summer residence of Empress Catherine the Great.  The palace complex was commissioned in 1775, and succumbed to deterioration during the Soviet era.  With its opulently decorated buildings, gardens, meadows and forests, Tsaritsyno Park is the perfect place to escape the city for a bit.

Hours:  Park is open from 6:00 am to 12:00 am.
– Tue through Fri 11:00 am – 06:00 pm,
– Sat 11:00 am – 08:00 pm,
– Sun and holidays 11:00 am – 07:00 pm.
Closed Monday
Admission100-300 rubles depending on museum
Metro:  The park is located in a 10 minute walk from either Tsaritsyno or Orekhovo metro station.

From Tsaritsyno Museum-Reserve, we'll hop back on the metro and make our way to our next destination.

Novodevichy Convent
Photo by Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Novodevichy Convent was built in the 16th and 17th centuries as part of a chain of monastic ensembles that were integrated into the defense system of the city. The convent was directly associated with the political, cultural and religious history of Russia, and closely linked to the Moscow Kremlin.

Behind the walls that once served as a fortress, there are four cathedrals with a fascinating icon collection and a venerable cemetery. Back in the day it was common for women from noble families to retire in monasteries and Novodevichy Convent had some particularly famous residents such as Princess Sophia and Eudoxia Lopukhina, both related to Peter the Great (and imprisoned by him). The former was his half-sister who claimed the throne; latter was his first wife, who stood in the way of his marriage to Catherine I.

The convent provides an example of the highest accomplishments of Russian architecture with rich interiors and an important collection of paintings and artifacts.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

- Museum 09:00 - 17:00
- Monastery 07:40 - 19:30, Sun 06:20 - 19:30​
Admission: 100 - 300 rubles
Metro: Sportivnaya

After Novodevichy Convent, we'll head back to Red Square for one last look and if we really want to, we can stand in line to enter Lenin's Mausoleum.  Still not that keen to do it but you never know.

Lenin's Mausoleum
Moscow’s ultimate love-it-or-hate-it landmark, Lenin’s Mausoleum houses a glass sarcophagus with the embalmed body of the legendary Russian revolutionary, Vladimir Lenin. First opened to the public in August 1924, the Mausoleum attracts around 2.5 million visitors every year, who don’t mind standing in line and going through a thorough body search to get into the illustrious building.  Personally, I wasn't keen on seeing a pickled, Lenin lying in repose, in 1996.  Feeling hasn't changed so unless I am overcome by FOMO because Chantale wants to enter, I will pass up on this.  The museum is closed on Sundays and Mondays so we'll have to come back on Tuesday if there is time and interest.

Open every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, from 10:00 to 13:00 hours.
Admission fee:  Free.

Upon Return From the Golden Ring
After 3 and a half days in Moscow, we pick up our rental car and do a road trip around the famed Golden Ring.  On Sunday, we return back to Moscow.  After checking in at the airport hotel and dropping off our luggage, we'll drive back to the airport to return the car.  We'll then catch the Aeroexpress train back into town and head to the city's largest flea market to do our souvenir shopping.  We'll have our dinner here and then make our way back to the airport and our hotel.  The next morning, we both fly out.

Izmailovsky Market  One of our Russian office colleagues brought us here and I think we spent several hours shopping for stuff.  I still have those souvenirs including one of my favorite possessions- a very large painted wooden egg which has unfortunately suffered some damage from being dropped.  I also bought several matryoshka (nested) dolls, a small etching of St. Basil's cathedral, a painting done on birch bark and what would not be considered to be something very politically incorrect to have - a mink hat. 

Let's see what I can pick up in Izmailovsky to remember this visit by.  Afterall, you never know when my next trip to Moscow and Russia will be.  I would hope I don't have to wait another 22 years - maybe I can convince Bro to come to Russia!

The market is open daily but the best days to be here are Saturday and Sunday.

Hours:  Open daily 9:00am to 6:00pm
Admission:  Free but we need to bring cash to make purchases and we need to BARGAIN!!
Metro:  Partizanskaya.  Exit the metro and cross the street.  Walk under a big arch labeled “Вернисаж,” and then continued straight on the pedestrian street past a group of hotels.  You can't miss the place or so I've read :-)

I've packed our Moscow itinerary.  Let's see if we manage to fit it all in or not!