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Shopping, Sight-Seeing, More Shopping

Will and I had 17 hours in Moscow, and we arrived at about 9:00 am. It was fairly warm; only just below freezing. We took a dilapidated old Lada taxi from the station to the hotel. It had trouble starting and the driver drove like a maniac, but it appeared to be normal by local standards. We checked into the Hotel Zarya, our 3-star hotel, and met our pre-arranged guide in the lobby. Lena was her name and she was very efficient. We had booked her for 4 hours but we arranged extra time so that we could go shopping as well as see the main sites.


We went everywhere that day by foot or Metro (subway). First stop was at an outdoor market where winter gear and miscellaneous goods were purchased. The winter boots were great local-looking ones with black leather outers and real fur inners. The mittens were also leather and fur. Both proved to be very warm indeed. There are no qualms in all of Russia about wearing fur. Almost every lady was wearing a fur coat. They are warm and they all look great.

Once we dropped off our goods and changed into our boots, we boarded the Metro to get downtown. The escalators were very long and moved very fast. The steps were made out of wood. The underground passages and train platforms were not sparkling clean or modern, but they had loads of character because of the fancy chandeliers suspended from the ceilings. The walls were also beautifully painted and sculpted. The trains were fairly old. There were crowds, but they moved quickly.


The first tourist stop was the Kremlin. We walked around the grounds where we were lucky we had Lena to tell where we could and could not go. There are soldiers patrolling everywhere who will yell at you to keep in the designated areas. These areas are not marked off at all and they look no different than any other areas. It's like being told you can only be in the south half of a public park. Quite the mystery. Many of the palaces were closed to the public, but we went into the Patriarch's Palace and the Assumption Cathedral. We saw the Tsar Bell and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier where a changing-of-the-guard took place. The highlight, however, was the Armoury, which is really a museum. It has a great collection of luxurious old horse-drawn royal carriages, diamond-studded thrones and outfits. It also has a huge collection of gold tableware and ornaments as well as the largest collection of English silver in the world (including England).

Right next to the Kremlin is the Red Square, so named because Red is the translation of the old Russian word that meant beautiful. By the time we arrived there it was dark, so we had a magnificent view across the square to St. Basil's Cathedral, which was all lit up. The GUM State Department Store lines the entire east side of the square. The department store is designed remarkably similar to Toronto's Eaton Centre.

More Shopping

After the sight-seeing, we did some more shopping: odd items we forgot to bring with us, long underwear, and train supplies. Will took me up on a dare and entered a Chinese restaurant to get some free chopsticks for the train (for the instant noodles). Not only did he get two sets, but he also got a photograph of the event.

Lena took us to an amazing specialty grocery store to get our train supplies. This used to be a palace and was still decorated as such. There was a huge selection of vodka, the first item on our shopping list - as much vodka as a western liquor store's entire stock. The variety was amazing. Lena told us, "In Russia, there is good vodka and very good vodka." It turned out that she was absolutely right. (Another translated Russian saying is, "Western women don't wear fur.") We also bought French sticks of bread, cured meat, cheese, and potato chips.

I was absolutely dead on my feet by this time, so we headed back to the hotel following Lena's directions and Will's excellent sense of direction. We arrived at about 7:00 pm and we didn't have to leave until about 10:30 to catch our train. We decided to crack open some of the vodka bottles and begin our education. Will also insisted on trying out the Vodkinator (see the Blog), but it was no use - the Russian vodka was just too good right out of the bottle, especially the Pertsovka with its hint of pepper flavour.

We had arranged a driver through Lena. He picked us up, took us to a different train station, and helped Will with his vodka-laden bag right to the train carriage.

Eric - from London