FolkestoneJack's Tracks

A final visit to the All-Russia Exhibition Centre – and then home!

Posted in Moscow, Russia by folkestonejack on January 21, 2007

I originally planned to see some of the Seven Sisters or possibly the Ostankino TV Tower this morning which looked quite feasible when I woke up, but by the time I’d packed up my stuff and was ready to go out for the morning the mist had really rolled in and you could only see the very base of the TV Tower from my window. I thought it would be unlikely that I would get to see very much of either option in such conditions, settling instead for a final walk around the VVTs in the snow as yet more fell. It was particularly atmospheric and beautiful in such conditions.

After a walk lasting an hour I walked back via the memorial to the Cosmonauts, looking at the gallery of statues to engineers and cosmonauts – including Korolev and Gagarin – in the avenue that leads up to the construction site that surrounds the monument.

I made my way by metro to Paveletsky railway station and bought a ticket for the airport express, headed out onto the icy platform and onto the waiting train. The journey back through the snowy landscape was most enjoyable, pressenting a fascinating variety of different locomotives and sets of railway carriages as we headed towards the airport (a set for the Volgograd express featuring an image of Mother Russia on the side caught my eye in particular). I reached the airport just twenty minutes before the start of check-in so I didn’t have long to wait to lighten my load. Time passed quickly and before I knew it I was airside and eager to get home.

My flight departed a little early from the gate, pushing back to a spot on the apron where the vehicles operating the robot arms with searchlights/spray arms could de-ice the wings etc. This all took about 15 minutes with the air conditioning switched off to stop the de-icing fluid from getting in to the ventilation system. The sun set as we sat on the tarmac which looked quite beautiful against this backdrop – a wonderful array of Russian planes resting against an icy white backdrop with fresh snow falling. Eventually we made our way to the end of the runway and took off. Moscow disappeared from sight almost immediately in these conditions.

The flight back was pleasant enough with a hot meal, plenty of drinks and an in-flight film (on monitors scattered around the cabin ceiling) to help while away the four hours back. Unlike the outward flight we were fighting against quite a strong wind, resulting in a longer flying time. In the circumstances it was all the more remarkable that we arrived at Heathrow on time but then had to circle for a while before finally landing about twenty minutes late.

Reflections on Moscow

I enjoyed my trip to Moscow massively, whilst being struck by just how different it felt to St Petersburg (which I visited in 2006).

The metro was a particular highlight with each station holding its own unexpected delights, though the terrorist threat announced during my trip meant no-one was keen to linger too long! The metro almost became a different place overnight – children were forbidden from using the system and large numbers of soldiers, riot police and regular militia were visible wherever I went.

I would like to go back some day and see some of the other sights that I didn’t get around to, but for now it’s just good to have realised a dream that I have held ever since I was a ten year old boy doing my primary school project on Russia.

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Victory Park

Posted in Moscow, Russia by folkestonejack on January 20, 2007

As the sun rose on Saturday I realised that a very light dusting of snow had fallen overnight, although calling it snow would perhaps be too strong a word… it really was the slightest of dustings imaginable. Nevertheless, I decided to wander over to the All Russia Exhibition Centre to take a couple of pictures before starting my day.

My initial plan was to head to Izmaylovski Park, take a look at the bazaar and walk from there to Stalin’s Bunker. However, the increasingly heavy snowfall and a map quite at odds with reality persuaded me that my efforts were futile! Accepting defeat, I trudged back through the snow and headed down to the metro. Instead, I re-visited Red Square and the Kremlin to get some shots in the snow.

In the afternoon I headed out to the last stop on the blue line at Park Pobedy (Victory Park) for a collection of sights celebrating Russian sacrifice and victory across the centuries. The place impressed with its scale from the start – with the escalator taking two minutes to transport me out of one of the deepest stations on the system. It was also one of the easier experiences, as a subway links the station to the victory arch and provides easy access to both the Borodino Panorama and to Victory Park.

St. George's Church in the snow

St. George’s Church in the snow

I stopped halfway along the subway to take a peak at the Victory Arch and was surprised by how strongly the snow was coming down… I retreated back into the subway and carried on for the short distance to the far exit and began trudging through the snow along the column lined walkway towards the memorial obelisk – although to be fair there were two sweepers out on the pavements and around the obelisk doing a marvellous job of clearing the snow away as fast as it fell.

As I reached the obelisk a wedding party arrived at the foot of the obelisk and had their photograph taken, as is apparently traditional. It seemed a strange sight – the bride in her white gown standing in front of this stark memorial against a landscape of snow with more falling all the time – not to forget how cold it must have been! Later as I walked through the park I came across a whole convoy of wedding parties lining up in their limousines ready to undergo the same ritual.

The Museum of the Great Patriotic War (1941-45) surrounds the obelisk with a semi-circular sweep. After paying the foreigner’s entrance fee I made my way down into the basement which contains a number of three-dimensional dioramas of significant military campaigns such as the Kursk and the Siege of Leningrad. They all looked rather stunning.

Diorama of the siege of Leningrad

Diorama of the siege of Leningrad

After making my way through all of these I headed up into the main building and looked around the stunning Hall of Glory, a circular chamber with a heroic statue at its centre and a dome topped by the emblem of the red star. All around the hall the names of the heroes of the Soviet Union are inscribed on panels that cover the walls.

The Hall of Glory

The Hall of Glory

The rest of my time in the museum was spent wandering around a gallery of art based depicting Moscow in the war (including a very famous portrait of Stalin in his white uniform) and the central display about the war, which provided a chronological series of exhibits with explanations in Russian and English for each exhibit (quite unusual in my experience of Moscow). Some of the stories were quite fascinating, taking me beyond my very anglo-centric understanding of the war. The stories of individual heroism recorded amongst the exhibits were quite moving.

The conning tower of Russian submarine L-3 in Victory Park

The conning tower of Russian submarine L-3 in Victory Park

After completing my tour of the museum I headed out into the park behind the museum to see some of the other sights. These include a monument to the victims of war, various statues, a line of tanks, a mosque, a church and a synagogue. I carried on my walk and found a number of exhibits that remember the naval contribution in the war – including the conning towers of two submarines and whole ships. Further on into the park there is apparently a display of artillery, planes and dugouts but time was running out so I made my way out – heading back in the direction of the Victory Arch.

Section of the Borodino Panorama

Section of the Borodino Panorama

In keeping with the military theme to the day, my last stop was the Borodino Panorama and the monument to Kutuzov surrounded by soldiers and peasants which stands outside. I paid an incredibly small amount (I think it was something like R60) to enter the museum and view the panorama. The panorama was an impressive sight even without an english language commentary to put the scenes into perspective.

After a long day out I headed homeward from Park Pobedy – ending the day with a good meal at My-My, a spell at the internet cafe and a quick look at a snowy All-Russia Exhibition Centre by night before I finally gave in to exhaustion!

Kolomenskoe, Red Square and a dip into Muscovite night life

Posted in Moscow, Russia by folkestonejack on January 19, 2007

This morning I headed out by metro from the city centre to check out the former royal estate at Kolomenskoe. The outlook was far from promising – grey, wet and miserable – but I was determined to make the best of my time to explore the various preserved buildings located around the grounds.

As I arrived I was rather curious to see the sight of a wooden stage in the grounds of the Church of Our Lady of Kazan, with a cross in the centre and six barrel like tanks at various points along the structure. People were queuing up and getting containers filled (dispensed by staff from the stage). At first I assumed I had stumbled on some kind of soup run but then realised that they were actually getting barrels filled with water. Only later did the news on Russia Today explain that this was a common feature of epiphany, with the faithful coming to church to receive blessed water that they could drink or bathe in.

Church of Our Lady of Kazan

Admission to the museum grounds is free but you have to pay to access whichever buildings are open at the time of your visit. This turned out to be something of a complicated exercise – working out which buildings were open and then going to the ticket booths located throughout the park to ask for (and pay for) the tickets. As the ticket booths were not located at the buildings themselves it proved a little tricky to explain what you wanted to see. It was also surprisingly expensive (I worked out that buying tickets for everything would come to about £20).

In the end I opted to buy a ticket to see the main museum in the gate house and I think this was probably the best option and the most interesting, as this displayed the treasures of Kolomenskoe, explained the history of the Royal Estate (with a marvellous model showing the ‘eighth wonder’ of the Tsar’s wooden palace) and displayed some of the recovered finds from the palace (with illustrations which showed where the remnants came from). I spent longer than I expected in the museum, taking my time to look at everything.

I carried on looking around the other buildings afterwards, as well as the foundations for various buildings in the palace complex. The only other building that might have been interesting to see, the Church of the Ascension, was closed for restoration and was surrounded by scaffolding at the time of my visit.

After leaving Kolomenskoe I headed to Universitet to get a close up look of the Moscow State University. The original plan had been to walk up to the Sparrow Hills to get a better view over the city but the rain was fairly relentless and with everything swamped by seas of mud I thought better of this, settling for just a quick look.

Red Square and the State Historical Museum

As I now had some spare time I went back to Red Square and the State Historical Museum. A chorus of contributors to online forums had initially dissuaded me from visiting this museum, with the suggestion that the museum was fairly dull. However, I actually loved all the quirky and wonderful designs in the place from the ceremonial entrance hall with its pictorial depiction of the family tree of Russian monarchs to the ground floor rooms – each featuring a design to match a particular period in history and featuring some amazing artefacts (and reconstructions). The second floor was much plainer but the run through of Russian history was no less fascinating, particularly as it touched on the 1812 campaign and the Crimean war amongst others. I eagerly absorbed all the artefacts (captioned only in Russian) and took my time to wander around. All in all, a most enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.

The sightseeing day came to an end with a session in the internet café and a meal at My-My (at Alekseezskaya) before I returned to the hotel to shower, change and head out again. I had decided to try and find a bar that been recommended to me. This proved to be less straightforward than I expected…

I had the address but when I walked along Tverskaya it didn’t seem to make any sense, as there was nothing like a bar around this number. I walked to and fro a few times to make sure I hadn’t missed anything obvious and then took a walk around the block. It was only then that I began to appreciate that an address on Tverskaya needn’t refer only to the buildings lining the street, but to the buildings behind, and that part of the number indicated which building behind! In this manner, you could be looking for a bar amongst a number of shop/bar fronts on the 8th building behind 35 Tverskaya for example. I eventually guessed that the bar I was looking for would be at the immediate rear of the shop units on Tverskaya. However, none of the doorways were marked with anything – no names, signs or even numbers! I found a heavy metal door beneath a blank lit sign-display, which a few people were going down into (having buzzed for entry). I walked down the steps and yes, it was the right bar! I handed in my jacket, headed to the bar and got myself a pint of Baltika – feeling that I deserved it after so much head scratching…

Rise and fall

Posted in Moscow, Russia by folkestonejack on January 18, 2007

A rather busy breakfast today with the hotel restaurant astonishingly packed out at 7am with what seemed to be some sort of army gathering given the number of high ranking officials sitting down to breakfast in full military uniform! It’s not every day that you have to dodge away around generals to get to the buffet… nevertheless, I managed to get a tasty breakfast and a refreshing cup of green tea with lemon.

Sign at Moscow Sculpture Park

I started my day of sightseeing with a ride on the metro to Park Kultury then walked over the Krymskiy Most (bridge) to reach the New Tretyakov Gallery and Sculpture Park. At the same time I got a good view out across Gorky Park, with the Buryan (the Russian Space Shuttle) visible by the riverside. It was a fairly cold, grey day so I didn’t walk into the park but settled for a walk around the fairly small and to be honest, far from impressive, sculpture park with it’s handful of statues of Brezhnev, Lenin and Stalin. Quite disappointing really, having heard much about how it was better than similar parks in Budapest and the Baltic states.

Statue outside Moscow Sculpture Park

Once I’d walked back around to the Tretyakov, my next mistake (it was turning out to be a good morning) was to choose the wrong entrance. I paid to enter the exhibition galleries and found myself utterly baffled by what appeared to be galleries of modern artworks for sale. I wandered around for a bit, ate a slice of cake with coffee and then walked back around the building and discovered the right entrance! I felt like a muppet but hey…

My bad luck was not over yet, as I discovered that galleries 19-34 of the New Tretyakov were closed for re-hanging so I couldn’t actually see any of the social realist artworks that I had come to see (much as I had failed to see the social realist art on my trips to Łódź and Warsaw!). Nevertheless, I paid up to enter and had a look at the Ivanov exhibition and some of the other works from the 20th century (including the cubist and futurist works on display). I was particularly taken with a series of panel paintings by Grisha Bruskin which are a continuation of/variation on the painting Leben über Alles (Life over All) produced in 1998 for the German Parliament. Even without the social realist art there were still many iconic paintings in the collection that I got to see, such as the striking painting Bathing of the Red Horse by Kuzma Sergeevich Petrov-Vodkin (1912) which is pretty hard to ignore, whether you like it or not!

Statue of Lenin at Oktyabrskaya Ploshchad

On leaving the New Tretyakov I walked to Oktyabrskaya Metro station so that I could get a good look at the statue of Lenin in the square before carrying on with my day. Keeping up with the theme I then went to Pavletsky station to see if I could find the pavilion with Lenin’s funerary train, which was supposed to be in the park alongside the station. Unfortunately the park was locked up with guard dogs to discourage entry, so that was one sight to cross off the list!

I had quite a bit of time spare so I took the metro out of town to Tsaritsyno (the Tsarina’s village) to see the palace that Catherine the Great had constructed to rival the imperial palaces at St Petersburg. The palace was never completed and fell into ruins until the present day, with huge plns to restore the buildings and re-open them.

At the time of my visit there was a lot of construction work taking place on the Great Palace which you could survey from the muddy grounds. Quite a few people had come to see and to visit the exhibition in the newly restored Bread House (re-opened in 2006) which sets out the history of the palace and shows some of the archaeological finds from the history of the place. Quite fascinating.

Tsaritsyno

As the light faded I headed back to the metro station (a fairly short distance from the park, via a fairly murky road under a railway bridge) and sat back for the longish metro back to VDNKh (the stops on this part of the line are much further apart – the metro map can sometimes be quite deceptive!). I returned to the hotel to change out of my exceptionally muddy clothes and then headed out to Alekzeevskaya to go to the supermarket (picking up chocolates and other treats for family/work) and to My-My for my evening meal.

By train to Sergiev Posad

Posted in Moscow, Russia, Sergiev Posad by folkestonejack on January 17, 2007

I took my usual early breakfast at 7am and then braved the metro in rush hour, reaching Yaroslavsky station in time for the 9.10 train to Sergiev Posad. I bought my ticket (R88 one way) in the main building without any great difficulty and then walked outside to a separate long building with entrance gates to the platforms. The suburban railway tickets are issued as fairly flimsy, small printed receipts with a barcode which has to be inserted into a reader in the gates in order to gain access. I found the train to Sergiev Posad on platform 6. Unlike the trains I had been on in St Petersburg this was a fairly modern grey liveried unit with comfortable seats and good heating, making it for a comfortable and relaxing journey for the 75km north. The train ran fast to Sergiev Posad and took almost exactly one hour.

I was struck by the snowy landscapes the further north we travelled, having seen no sight of snow settled on the ground in Moscow itself. Sergiev Posad itself had plenty of ice and snow, although the roads themselves were fairly clear suggesting that the snow had been there a while. I walked across the railway lines at one end of the station and then out onto a road that I thought would take me to the monastery. It turned out to the wrong road so I turned back and found a road that would take me in the right direction, with a distant view of the domes to guide me!

Reaching the monastery you couldn’t help but be impressed by the thick fortress walls and it felt amazing to walk through the gatehouse into the complex. I stopped at a small booth to purchase a photo permit for the grounds, at a cost of R100, but was told that the buildings were all closed. The woman behind the counter said I could pay for one of their guides, who would be able to take me into the buildings, at a price in excess of R1500. I said I would just look around the grounds instead!

As it turned out, I think this was something of a sales-pitch as the cathedrals were open and I was able to go inside both the Trinity Cathedral and the Cathedral of the Assumption. I was respectful of the fact these were working churches and didn’t just wander around inside freely. I thought the interior of the Cathedral of the Assumption was simply stunning and spent quite some time admiring the five-tiered iconostasis. The interior of the Trinity Cathedral was impressive too, with another exquisite iconostasis and there was a queue of pilgrims filing past the silver shrine holding the remains of St Sergius.

I wandered around the grounds looking at the other buildings in the complex and taking photographs, as well as stopping to look at the tomb of Tsar Boris Godunov. The bell tower and monk’s refectory were indeed closed to visitors and other parts of the complex in the direction of the Carpenters’ Tower looked they as though were undergoing serious restoration work.

After completing my visit I decided to walk around the outside wall of the monastery, taking the treacherously icy path around the duck tower and down towards a viewpoint by the river. The fortress-monastery certainly looks impressive from such a distance.

Unfortunately, on the walk back to the station (stopping off to look at the war memorial) I got lost and walked way too far down Krasnoi Armii whilst looking for the station turning. I don’t suppose it helped that I was taking a different route back (this was the way I had intended to walk in the first place). I groaned when I backtracked – realising that I had been metres away from the station at one point and had actually turned away from it!

Anyway, it was good to reach the station in the end and bought a ticket back to Moscow (R74 one way). This time the train was one of the standard green units that I was familiar with from St Petersburg, furnished with wooden benches rather than the padded seats of the train in the morning. Unfortunately this train also stopped along the way, taking about an hour and a half to reach Moscow – roughly around 3pm.

I took the opportunity to return to VDNKh and have a second look at the All Russia Exhibition Centre as I knew I had missed some of the pavilions previously and wanted to wander round to complete the list, which turned out to a nice way to end the day – I found some of the beautiful pavilions that were hidden off back streets and around the back of the larger buildings. Finally, the sun set (4.29pm) and I took a last few photos before heading to My-My at Alekseevskaya for my evening meal.

Monumental monuments

Posted in Moscow, Russia by folkestonejack on January 16, 2007

After leaving Lenin behind I headed to the Schusev Museum of Architecture for a fascinating exhibition about the competition to create a design fit for the Palace of the Soviets – specifically the entry submitted by Armando Brasini.

It was a remarkable competition with no limits to the creativity possible, as can be seen by many of the designs entered. It attracted architects of great reknown including Le Corbusier, Gropius and Brasini. Boris Iofan’s winning design would have seen an extravagant tower constructed with a giant statue of Lenin at its pinacle but the war intervened and construction was abandoned. The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour had already been demolished to make way for the palace – but would be rebuilt at the end of the twentieth century.

The exhibition I saw was about Brasini’s proposed design, Italian Palace Of Soviets, which was incredible in its own right. You can see a couple of image of the proposed building in an Italian architectural blog post on the Italian Palace of the Soviets which includes an external view and a picture of the vast interior.

The next stop on my itinerary took me a relatively short distance by metro to the Museum of the Contemporary History of Russia – an intriguing museum which was frustrating, with fascinating exhibits on display but captions only in Russian. English language summaries highlighted key items on display for each room so I was able to understand and follow the displays up to a point (items of interest included the phone of General Paulus from the bunker at Stalingrad, banners captured and laid down in the victory celebrations in Red Square, gifts given to Stalin on his birthday and various items relating to the revolution).

Later, in the afternoon, I went to find the Gagarin monument – an amazing metal column soaring into the sky with a figure of super hero proportions atop and a metal Vostok at its base. It’s a little out of the way (Metro: Leninsky Prospekt) but it really was one monument I felt that I couldn’t miss. Finally, towards the day’s end I re-visited the cemetery at Novodevichiy to complete the visit that I had to abandon yesterday.

A visit to Lenin

Posted in Moscow, Russia by folkestonejack on January 16, 2007

I returned to the Kremlin this morning just before ten o’clock, with a short lived flurry of snow falling as the changing of the guards took place at the tomb of the unknown warrior. I am sure it was a very touristy thing to watch but I enjoyed it nevertheless.

Tomb of the unknown soldier

A queue had already started to form up in one of the side roads into red square, which is closed while the mausoleum is open. Visitors are not allowed to take anything into the mausoleum so I stored my camera and rucksack in the nearby left luggage facility and headed back to join the queue to see Lenin.

As it was a cold January day the queue had entirely dissipated by the time I returned. I waited and after a few nervous moments was allowed to pass, head up the road, walk through a scanner and enter an empty red square.

Red Square and Lenin's Mausoleum

I walked along to the mausoleum and made my way through the front entrance (beneath the inscription ‘Lenin’). Ahead of me an old man was paying his respects but otherwise the place was deserted.

Lenin's Mausoleum

It’s a strange experience – once you get inside guards point the way at every turn as you descend. Then, when you reach the chamber itself you climb steps to walk up and around Lenin. I was struck by the intense red glow of the light under which Lenin basked. Lenin looked very serene I have to say – quite a surreal sight.

Once you get back outside outside the walk out takes you back behind the mausoleum looking where I could see the graves of Gagarin and Stalin amongst others. It was all over surprisingly quickly. I collected my rucksack and carried on with the day’s schedule…

The Kremlin and Novodevichiy Convent

Posted in Moscow, Russia by folkestonejack on January 15, 2007

After a good night’s sleep I headed to the heart of Moscow and marvelled at the immense stretch of space that is Red Square – bordered by the Kremlin, St Basils, GUM, Lenin’s Mausoleum and the State Historical Museum. It felt amazing to be standing at the centre of all this with such incredible buildings all around. I was brought back to earth by an elderly Russian couple who wanted to have their photograph taken in front of Lenin’s mausoleum and I was quite happy to oblige.

The majority of my day was taken up with a visit to the Kremlin – soaking up the cathedrals that were open, the Patriarch’s Palace and the Armoury. The collection of thrones, crowns and royal carriages in the armoury certainly had the wow factor, though it was two paintings of the Kremlin during wartime that really caught my eye. As I made my way out I watched as an official zill flanked by police cars made its way into the Kremlin with every guard saluting. It’s easy to see all the historical sights inside the Kremlin and forget that this is a functioning seat of government (it is home to the President and his administration).

As I still had some daylight left to use, I headed on to Novodevichiy Convent and the neighbouring cemetery. The Smolensk Cathedral was shut for restoration until May 2007 but I was able to enjoy a fascinating exhibition about the military history of the convent (including the famous picture of the rebel streltsy guards hung outside the convent).

The cemetery at Novodevichiy is a remarkable place with many of the graves featuring statues, images of the deceased or representations of their life’s work (including a missile battery at the grave of a missile designer). It’s probably the most incredible place I’ve visited and one that I will have to come back to as I never expected to spend so long wandering around. Sunset arrived far too quickly!

Gallery

Gallery: All-Russian Exhibition Centre

Posted in Moscow, Russia by folkestonejack on January 14, 2007

I took far too many photographs of the All-Russian Exhibition Centre on my visit, but hopefully these give some idea of why the place is still quite amazing even in a state of decay. You can explore a virtual map of the pavilions at http://www.vvcentre.ru/eng/.

The history of some of the buildings illustrated in the gallery can be discovered on the official website through the following links: 1 – Central Pavilion, 32 – Space, 58 – Ukraine, 59 – Grain, 60 – Consumer Cooperation, 61, 64 – Optics, 68 – Armenia, 71 – Nuclear Power and the Stone Flower.

Postscript: Since writing this blog entry I have sadly learnt that some of the buildings that I saw have been dismantled and one other burnt down. I only took a pocket camera and my pictures are far from great. There are many other websites I have seen since which made a much better job of photographing the remaining pavilions, including Photo Moscow which is well worth checking out.

Fading glory: The All-Russian Exhibition Centre

Posted in Moscow, Russia by folkestonejack on January 14, 2007

After making my way to the VNKh metro station I headed for the All-Russian Exhibition Centre, passing underneath the monorail and the impressive gateway (topped by the statue of a tractor driver and woman holding a sheaf of wheat aloft) to make my way into the park.

The distinctive entrance to the All-Russian Exhibition Centre

The All-Russian Exhibition Centre was constructed in the 1930s and evolved into an exhibition to highlight the achievements of the national economy. The pavilions exhibited displays about the Soviet republics or the pinnacle of Soviet technology from space to electronics and in its heyday it must have been quite something. Today, the place is a somewhat rundown retail/entertainment complex and whilst the buildings retain their glamour they are ‘all fur coat and no knickers’ by which I mean that the interiors disappoint terribly with their shop units and commercial enterprises. So long as you avoid the temptation to look inside, the place is incredible!

Lenin stands in front of the central pavilion

The splendour of the pavillions (even in a decaying state) was hard to hide. I felt like a big kid, running wide-eyed from building to building, enjoying the designs and the architecture. Apart from the stunning national pavillions I particularly liked the display of two Aeroflot jets and the space rocket suspended from a gantry in front of the old space pavillion (sadly nothing still hangs in there now). It was a shame that the giant statue of ‘Worker and Kolkhoz Woman’ holding a hammer and sickle was not on display, having been taken down for repair, but I could understand the reasoning all too well as much of the park seemed to be in a poor state of repair.

The combination of architecture and technology at the All-Russian Exhibition Centre

The usual site of the museum of cosmonautics was boarded up and undergoing heavy restoration so a hall in the complex was functioning as a temporary exhibition space in the meantime. I paid up and had a good look around, though sadly there were no english labels. The day was all but done, so I headed back to the hotel – satisfied with a very enjoyable (and tiring) first day.

The All-Russian Exhibition centre at night

Museum at the Rizhskiy Railway Station

Posted in Moscow, Russia by folkestonejack on January 14, 2007

I didn’t rest up for too long as it seemed a waste to let an entire day pass, even if I was feeling pretty wrecked from the flight! I decided to head out to Rizhskiy Railway Station to try and hunt down a railway museum that I had heard about.

I had stumbled across various glancing references to the museum on the internet (mostly in Russian) but with no official website or conclusive directions. I wasn’t entirely hopeful. Much to my surprise, it didn’t prove to be difficult at all – the compound was directly behind the station building and pretty obvious from the lines of locomotives on display.

I went up to the cash desk and puzzled at the list of prices on display before selecting the highest (it is usually the foreigners price) and got two tickets accompanied by a verbal explanation (in Russian) which I didn’t understand until later, when I noticed a poster (in Russian) advertising an excursion taking place at 1.25pm. In the meantime I wandered around the many fascinating locomotives wishing I had been around to see some of these leviathans in steam.

In late morning a steam locomotive (Er-797-41) and two carriages approached Rizhskiy station and it became clear that I had indeed inadvertently bought a ticket on an excursion! A couple of old women delivered a few small buckets of coal, which suggested it wasn’t going to be a long trip. A little after 1pm, following the departure of the Moscow-Riga express, the steam locomotive shunted back into the station platform and those of us with tickets clambered on board for a short trip by steam (about 15 minutes) to Krasny Baltiyets station.

At Krasny Baltiyets we disembarked and walked across a long footbridge to the locomotive depot, where various historic features pointed out along the way (inevitably this was all in Russian, so I didn’t understand a word!) until we reached the roundhouse and turntable. We stood here for a short while until the steam locomotive arrived to be turned. Afterwards we followed the loco to the yard where it took water, which I assumed would be for a return journey – but no, when we returned to the railway station everyone got on board a local commuter train! I followed suit. After a short two stop trip we jumped off and then dived into the metro – a slightly strange end but nevertheless a very enjoyable and surprising excursion.

Arrival in Moscow

Posted in Moscow, Russia by folkestonejack on January 14, 2007

Although I arrived at 4.15am I spent quite a while going through the inevitable formalities, handing over my passport and completed migration cards before collecting my baggage. For once I was not in any hurry – I had far too much time to kill until the first airport shuttle train to Moscow Pavletsky station. I spent the next three hours exploring the airport until the delicious moment that I could settle back into my seat on the largely deserted train. The challenge for the next forty-five minutes was simply to stay awake in my incredibly carriage.

On arrival at Pavletsky I took the metro to VNDKh and headed to the Hotel Cosmos, my home for the next week. I had planned to deposit my suitcases in their luggage room until the check in time arrived but instead the reception staff kindly agreed to check me in straight away – an offer I gladly took up! By 9.30am I was in my room on the 21st floor admiring the stunnng view out over the All-Russia Exhibition Centre even on a day as wet and murky as this.

Hotel Cosmos

Hotel Cosmos had not been my first choice, but I was rather pleased to have ended up here with the the All-Russia Exhibition Centre on the doorstep and easy access to the metro. The hotel was originally constructed for the Moscow Olympics in 1980 and is quite simply vast with somewhere approaching 1800 rooms. It was fine today with no-one much around but I dread to think what it is like on a busy day!

The madness of the mid-night flight

Posted in Moscow, Russia by folkestonejack on January 13, 2007

In the madness of my planning I decided that it would be a good idea to catch an overnight British Airways flight from London Heathrow to Moscow Domodedovo, which was scheduled to depart at 9.35pm and land at 4:25am, coincidentally taking me into the Old New Year. As I sat around in the empty terminal at Heathrow I wondered quite what had led me to think this was so smart. Mind you, I could have earned a fortune from the number of times I have pondered the wisdom of some ill judged decision made in my travel planning…

Our A320 took off 40 minutes late, at 10.15pm, and for once I thought this was great news – it would be less time that I would need to kill at the airport at the other end waiting for the trains to start running. Unfortunately strong tailwinds of 75 to 100 miles per hour meant that we made up all this time and actually arrived 10 minutes early!

The pilot came on the PA system shortly after landing to tell us that it was a fully automatic category 3 landing, with visibility down to 400m. Although I know that this is not that unusual, I am still glad that I didn’t know that as we made our descent…