We left our hostel in St. Petersburg with what we thought was plenty of time to spare. Upon arriving at the main train station (the very same train station we had bought our tickets to Moscow from) we discovered that we could not see our train on the departures board. Dumping our stuff, I left Lucie to look after it, and went up to some police officers to ask.

“Niet,” came the reply when I asked what platform our train went from. The man looked at his watch. “Niet,” he said again.

“Not this station?”

“Niet.”

Starting to panic, “What station? How can we get there?

“Metro, taxi.” The man looked down at his watch again, “Niet.”

Seeing the look on my face, another officer said “How many are you? One?”

“Two.”

“Follow me.”

In turned out this very kind (or maybe just very bored) policeman was about to give us a police escort to the correct station. During the journey I tried to talk to him, but after intially telling us how much he enjoyed British snooker, and that he had the autograph of Hendry, he looked at his watch, stopped talking and sped up. We arrived with at least 5 minutes to spare, thanked him profusely and ran to our train, where we encountered a very bitter, sour-faced old woman.

We staggered into Moscow at the unholy hour of 6am. It was still dark. After a long search for the equivalent of a workers’ cafe, we fell into a ridiculously upmarket “Italian” coffee shop. That was a bizarre experience, as was watching a homeless man attempt to sleep on the widow ledge outside. A make-shift security man turned up, put on some plastic gloves, walked outside, lifted the man on the window sill and unceremoniously dumped him on the floor! Having been woken, the man proceeded to make his way into the lobby, only to be removed once more.

The day only got more bizarre from here. We planned on meeting a friend of a friend, who is a teacher. She brought her 14 year old student along to translate and learn English with us. We met under the multicoloured splendour of St. Basil’s Cathedral (of which later we were given souvenir spoons by Katya) and proceeded from there to Lenin’s tomb. Lenin didn’t look too happy. Whether it was Lenin at all seemed questionable, but we were reassured later that after his death some university students learnt how the ancient Egyptians preserved their dead and applied it to Lenin. We were filed past his tomb, not being allowed to stop, only to ”pay our respects” quickly and leave. We then had to walk past all the graves of all the other “Communist” leaders. Lenin is probably not all that happy that Stalin is hanging out right next to him. But then, Lenin is probably not too happy that he has been turned into a tourist attraction either. While he was apparently always more arrogant than Trotsky, he did not consider himself something to be idolised or immortalised.

The Red Square itself was closed as there was a German delegation hanging out in the city: obviously you have to close these things when you’re Russia…

The rain was coming down quite hard by this point (what else would you expect in Moscow), so after a quick visit to an Orthodox Church to stare at all of the hundreds of icons, we were ushered underground for a commercial lunch. When Katya (our guide) found that it was still raining she suggested an alternative plan: visiting the incredible underground stations in Moscow. Many of these stations look like palaces – these were Stalin’s gifts to the people – although some are designed to look like streets complete with lamp posts which come on at night. We saw statues of young people holding books and hammers and drills (the future of communism), murals of Lenin and gold ceilings. Somewhat more interesting than the London tube.

From here, Katya invited us to her school as our young translator needed to be back in lessons. We found ourselves buffetted from lesson to lesson, introduced to group after group of students. A very surreal experience, caught between the massive generosity of these people (we were bustled out of one class room and into the cafeteria where we were presented with sweet tea and tasty biscuits) and being brought in as examples of Real Life English people.

After a walk in a beautiful park from which you could see the whole of Moscow, we made our way to the train station. Having learnt from the day before to get there early and check we were in the right place, we discovered that, once again, we weren’t. Luckily the train station we wanted was only two minutes walk from the one we were at. Once sat under the right departures board, we suddenly enveloped by a German tour group who kept throwing us confused looks during their opening rally as we bopped away to Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip. This next phase of our adventure was just beginning.

Advertisements