We got on the train at Irkutsk and being Trans-Siberian veterans at this point we knew what to expect this time around. Kairsten put in a request for me to put my positive thinking towards more single, attractive men and when we took our seats, it was looking like I'd done it again! We had a young guy come in, put his bags down and say hi except his stay was exceptionally brief. He came back at one point for his bags and then we never saw him again after that. We think he was in the wrong carriage... or at least we hope that's why he left!
I think because the first train trip was so much fun, this time around it was bound to be a little disappointing by comparison - particularly after the young guy walked out! The people we were sharing with this time weren't very chatty and so we made friends with a French couple down the corridor who also weren't having much luck with the Russians in their own compartment. They were really nice and we had a good time sharing a mixture of vodka, peanuts and chocolate.
Again, it was disgusting not having a shower for three days but we coped... because there was no other option! Ice cream was our coping mechanism. Every 4 hours or so we'd stop at a station for roughly half an hour and every stop, without fail, we went to buy ice cream. At the last stop, we got two just for good measure. The Russians have good ice cream.
This time around, we did a lot of resting and reading (thanks for the kindle Ma - perfect for passing the hours on the train!)
We arrived in Moscow in the evening and were picked up by a guy who dropped us off at our hotel. Having spent the last week and a half in Siberia, the contrast is pretty significant! We're in a big city now! The next morning we were picked up by a new guide, an older lady named Luga, and with a driver (because we're super special..) she took us to Red Square, St Basil's Cathedral, the Metro and the Tretyakov museum. Before going into Red Square we watched the changing of the guard outside the Kremlin wall. They did the goose stepping and everything, which I thought was pretty great!
Inside Red Square was, as you can imagine, enormous. In 1990, both Red Square and the Kremlin were among the very first sites in the USSR added to UNESCO's World Heritage List. It's pretty crazy going to see these places that I've read about and seen so many pictures of! There were heaps of police around as well and both Kairsten and myself were poised for more police evasion, however the situation never really arose. Disappointing, I know.
St Basil's Cathedral is definitely one of those iconic images of Moscow and it didn't disappoint. It was constructed under the reign of Ivan the Terrible and legend has it that when he asked the architects if they would be able to create a masterpiece like it again, they answered 'yes' and he had them blinded. Unfortunate.
Luga then took us for a ride on the metro, which doesn't sound all that exciting but this particular metro is much more than just public transport! Its construction began during Stalin's time, who wanted it built not only to streamline transportation in the city but to celebrate and show off the accomplishments of the Soviet system. It served as a reminder to those who used it that Stalin and his party had rewarded the people for their sacrifices. Extra lines were added at the beginning of the Cold War, intended to be used as nuclear shetlers should nuclear war break out. Each station that we visited had a different, for want of a better word, 'theme' and was decorated accordingly. They had high ceilings, some with huge statues, chandeliers, enormous murals and mosaics... seriously impressive stuff, I'll have to put up some photos for you to really get an idea.
We took the metro to the Tretyakov gallery which houses around 130,000 exhibits. Thankfully, Luga just took us to the ones with good stories because my feet were so sore! It started to rain when we were leaving and we were pretty pleased to head back to the hotel and rest.
For those not in the know, the Moscow Kremlin is the historic fortified complex from which the city originated and as of 1991 is the official residence of the President. We were able to go inside the Kremlin walls to walk around the grounds, see the museum as well as the 3 cathedrals they have on site. Again, we were seriously lucky to have a personal guide to make sure we see all the important and interesting pieces (my feet still hadn't recovered properly from the day before) and she also helped us skip lines :) We decided against going back to see Lenin's mausoleum which is quite close because that was a line she couldn't help us skip and it was freaking enormous!
Inside the Armoury Chamber is a collection based on the precious items based on the precious items that had been preserved for centuries in the tsars' treasury. It preserves ancient state regalia, ceremonial tsar's vestments and coronation dress, vestments of the Russian Orthodox Churches hierarchs, the largest collection of gold and silverware by Russian craftsmen, Faberge eggs, ceremonial weapons, carriages and I'm sure there was much, much more! (I loved the carriages, so Cinderella).
My feet were aching and so I was quite looking forward to another train trip. This time it was an express train to St Petersburg so no beds but very comfortable seats and with the assistance of my kindle and ipod (I had the music from Anastasia playing in anticipation of arriving in St Petersburg) the 4 hours were over before I knew it!
So here we are, in St Petersburg! I hope I haven't bored you with too much detail about museums and galleries - the next update will include what we've been up to in St Petersburg this week and (as I hope you all know that it's my birthday on Friday) details of celebrating the day (and night) Russki style! (I've already threatened Kairsten with 22 shots for turning 22. We'll see...)
Lots of love xoxoxo
P.s. I wasn't able to upload photos here for whatever reason, so they're on facebook if you're interested.
P.p.s. Sorry - no Alexander news!