From now on if I’m asked whether I’ve been on the Trans-Siberian railroad, I can say ‘yes’. It’s true that most of the Russians have never made it. Moreover, they are more likely to visit some Asian country rather than go to Baikal or Russia’s Far East. It’s cheaper and easier in terms of logistics and tourist infrastructure… I’m glad I did the opposite and reached the other, easternmost, ‘end’ of my country (I’ve already been to Kaliningrad, Russia’s westernmost point) before travelling anywhere else in that direction. We travelled together with my dear friend from Italy. And although we didn’t make it together to Vladivostok, and not on train as I flew there from Ulan-Ude on my own, we made a long enough Trans-Siberian Trip to remember.
[Krutitsy Metochion in Moscow, one of those quiet corners of the megapolis]
We made thousands of kilometers on 8 trains to get from St Petersburg to Ulan-Ude and we made oh so many kilometers on foot too. We walked every day and almost every day there was another train to catch, another time zone to cross and another region to explore! And we got used to it so fast that once we stopped in Ulan-Ude, where our paths with my friend separated, it came almost as a shock to my ‘body and soul’. Now that I look back on our trip, I think I really enjoyed the rhythm.
[Novospassky Monastery in Moscow, proto-futuristic windows 🙂 ]
I’m sure that our experiences differ greatly. I was after all travelling in my own country, noticing things which were rather different than new to me (or those old things still lingering out there and nonexistent where I live). While my friend should have probably noticed larger-scale things, I suppose. When I looked at the photos she took during the trip and I realized that she noticed some details which I did not as they appeared to me as ‘normal’. What an avalanche of information and impressions she must have received!
[Worker and Kolkhoz Woman sculpture by Vera Mukhina, 1937]
Our first stop after almost a week of exploring St Petersburg (and re-exploring for me – expect more posts on that!) was Moscow.
729 km on a fast train called Sapsan that takes you directly from St Petersburg to the capital in 4 hours
no time zone change
… and that was just the beginning. When in Moscow, the recently re-polished VDNKh is the place to be.
[Uzbekistan pavilion at the VDNKh in Moscow]
The former Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy aka VDNKh is undergoing some obvious revitalization. For example they’ve ‘discovered’ several beautiful facades underneath the later (1960s) added walls. You can now enjoy the grandeur of the Stalin’s idea to showcase the Soviet republics’ achievements and treasures in separate pavilions (which were transformed into ‘modern’ pavilions representing separate industries during Khrushchev and Brezhnev time) on a huge territory in the north-east of Moscow the capital.
[The letters stand for ‘art’ – iskusstvo]
I visited VDNKh several years ago when it was still immersed in its lethargic decadence, with the pavilions occupied by what-not shops, fairs and entertainment. You can still spot those remnants of the 1990s here and there: there are still at least two pavilions focusing on selling seeds. Yep, you’ve heard it 🙂
[Belarus’ pavilion showcases the abundance]
We were lucky to have our tireless guides who were eager to show us both the other – older and quieter – side of Moscow as well as its musts. We also had some time on our own during the weekdays, so that we had an opportunity to experience the city’s busy lifestyle too.
[One of the Stalin’s skyscrapers on the Moscow river – also under renovation]
Moscow is a real mix of old and new. I’ve already written about it, that you can find an ancient monastery hidden in between the skyscrapers (which can also be as old as 1950s and as new as of today). And it’s true!
[Gates to the Kolomenskoye estate in Moscow]
And another obvious thing about Moscow is its dimensions, its scale. If there’s a park in Moscow, it’s huge. If there’s an avenue, it’s wide as a river. If there’s an old lane with 16th century houses, its tiny and winding. One of such huge estates inside Moscow is this ex-royal Kolomenskoye estate which used to be quite far from Moscow. But Moscow is devouring its neighbors and sprawling in circles. Loved this tiny fortochka (fanlight window) inside this 17th century Lady of Kazan Church:
Ascension Church (1532) of the Kolomenskoye estate in Moscow, built by an Italian and looking like a bride in her white dress with pearls:
Peter the Great spent some of his childhood years here but then the capital and the tsar’s interests moved further north… to St Petersburg 🙂 Gosh, it was so hot the day we went to Kolomenskoye! But there was this 56th floor of the Empire Tower, one of the Moscow City skyscrapers, that we climbed up to see the city from above. I must say I was so very ‘cooked’ by that moment that I was not impressed even in the least.
No, we did not climb it in this fashion. There’s a super speedy elevator in there. It’s hard to tell what is old and what is new in Moscow, it’s such a dynamic and yet such an old-school city in a way. But these cold glass surfaces definitely belong to the new Moscow. It rises above the rest of the city, as if its parts are competing who’s the tallest. The sunset we met on the Vorobyevy Gory (Sparrow Mountains or rather Hills), seemingly with at least half of Moscow citizens 🙂 A view over the Moscow City:
Once our indefatigable guides went off to work, we ventured out on our own. Thus, we finally got to the Kremlin, GUM, Arbat and Gorky Park (plus I went to Simply Red concert which was just so great!). But we also dedicated half of a day to the metro. Moscow metro is older than that of St Petersburg and it has a bigger number of grand stations (the older ones, from the Stalinist era) that you just have to visit as a lazy tourist, without being in a hurry.
Here is probably the most amazing station, Mayakovskaya (above, 1938, there’s a mosaic in each circle in the ceiling) and here’s the Belarusskaya (1938) one:
and this is a later Komsomolskaya (1952), built to serve a busy crossroads of three Moscow railway stations, namely Leningrad, Yaroslavl and Kazan, which we headed to later that day to set off on the trip:
… And the next stop is: Samara.