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To Moscow!

26th March 2010

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So my time in St Petersburg was over and a new adventure was just a 10-hour train journey away to Moscow.

Before entering the train we had to show our tickets and passports to an unsmiling face and were left to find our 'rooms' for the night which could be likened to a communal coffin. The conditions in the train bedrooms (or couchettes) were cramped with a small path in the middle of them and bunk beds on both sides. My experience in these cramped conditions will never be forgotten due my frustration and claustrophobia. I shared my couchette with two Australian girls that were more like two squawking hens than people.

I was chatting to a friend before they entered the room. As soon as they entered my friend left after feeling her presence was not wanted by them. I would call it a lucky escape rather than being kicked out! When housed in communal living spaces people must tolerate those around them. Now I'm not the type of guy that looks for or promotes conflict but they were annoying to the extreme so much so that I left the room and headed towards the train's cafe.

I woke at 9am and checked the programme which said that the train would arrive in Moscow by 9:52am. Breakfast came in the form of crackers and jam and a bottle of water.

We finally made it to Moscow! Of course programme had changed from what was stated originally. My Kremlin was brought forward a day because the Russian authorities decided to close it a day earlier. So as soon as we got off the train we were told that the coach was going to take us to the Kremlin.

As we walked to the coach (a mere five minute journey) a short man bumped into me trying to pick pocket my possessions that luckily for me were all in my bag so nothing was taken. However when we got on the coach there was some delay and so I asked what was going on. The message came through that a French girl (called V) had her camera stolen by a homeless person on the way to the coach. Another member of the tour chased after the homeless person, which got the attention of the Russian police who caught the homeless person and was talking to one of the guides.

Welcome to Moscow!

After the incident and the capture of the homeless suspect the guide and two members of the tour were taken to the police station for questioning. They were there for twelve hours being interviewed, then re-interviewed and it was only when they called the French embassy that the issue was sorted. By the time the French consul was on the way to the station the police handed over the camera and allowed the three members of the tour to leave. The whole story was full of frustration at the bureaucracy of the Russian police and their ineptitude in performing what would be in other countries a simple task.

So whilst those three were enduring this, the rest of us went on a tour of the Kremlin which was way different from what I envisioned. Our guide showed us around and told us about the history of the fortress. We saw the presidential offices, the Tsar canon that was never fired in battle, the Tsar bell which had never been rung and the numerous cathedrals. The guide joked that the canon and the bell were named after the Tsars because they never worked well either.

After the tour we later all met in the Red Square which is surrounded by Lenin's Mausoleum, the Rym (Moscow's equivalent of Harrods) and St Basil's Cathedral.

The hotel in Moscow was beyond belief and not in a good way! The place made it feel like we were in the 1970s and there were paintings of Christian symbols everywhere. To make it worse we were told that it would be three to a room and that there would only be one key to share. The receptionist wanted to do one room at a time but the list of names who we shared the room with was lost. Another logistical nightmare due to the large number of people on the trip!

By this time my money supply was running low. I had about 310 roubles left (about £6). I didn't want to use my card without calling my bank because they would freeze it for security reasons. After realising that I didn't bring all the information I required in order to make the necessary changes with my bank I did what any independent 20 year old does in a time when he has no means to get money I called my parents. My dad found a UK phone number that had a human being on the other side (rather than ONE OF THOSE STUPID MACHINES) and I was saved.

The Moscow Metro system worked a little differently from its St. Petersburg counterpart. For one thing the fairground coins had disappeared and instead used a card with a magnetic strip. The price however remained the same so out of my remaining 310 roubles I spent 200 on a card that gave me access to the metro ten times. Seven stops on the red line later we were in the centre of Moscow.

For breakfast we needed to get a small white piece of paper from reception and then give it to one of the women who were working in the cafe. This piece of paper entitled us to a bowl of porridge and some sort of egg dish. It was hard not to compare this to the wide choice we had in St. Petersburg, a fact that depressed us even more.

I really wanted to go into Lenin's Mausoleum and see the body of a figure that I studiedduring my A levels. I always took an interest in reading about the Bolshevik Revolution so this was the top of the to-do list. So we rode the Metro and found our way to the Red Square. The main chamber where Lenin's body lays is a square room of marble. Looking at him through the glass as I walked around the room was a surreal experience. He was white as a ghost and looked as if he was sleeping. After a few moments in the square chamber it was time to leave with a memory I will not forget. After I left the Mausoleum there were the graves of the other leaders of the Soviet Union including Stalin.

During our time in Moscow we were supposed to talk to the political opposition Liberal Party but unfortunately for us there were elections for the Moscow City Council the week before and this led to a political row. Both the Communists and the Liberals accused the governing United Russia Party of electoral fraud. Under this cloud it was clear that the Liberal Party was too busy complaining about the results of this election to talk to us so they cancelled two days before we were supposed to talk to them. I was disappointed about this because I am interested in politics and would have liked to hear what they had to say about the political dynamics of Russia.

So after another change of plan we went to Arbot instead. Arbot is a street where artists show their paintings and put them up for sale. On the route to Arbot was the Russian Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Trade housed in a huge Soviet-styled building. The magnitude of this building was breathtaking and the symbol of the Soviet age remained in concrete on the large building.

As soon as we reached Arbot the group dispersed to look at the artists' works that mostly consisted of paintings. I had a close look at a few of the paintings and even had a short discussion with one of the painters who wanted to practice his English. As soon as I was done looking around I realised everyone else had already left. Rather than catching up with them I decided to hunt for souvenirs and gifts and then meet up with them later.

On our last day I took a few photos on the way and took my last few glimpses of Moscow whilst on the coach to the airport. When we reached the airport security we had to enter this huge x-ray machine which I hope to god hasn't given us cancer! On the flight back I reflected on the experience we had during the last two weeks and it was definitely a trip worth writing about.

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