My “free” day in Moscow was jam-packed trying to fit in as much as possible. In the morning, quite a few of us did the Urban Adventures “Behind the Icons” walking tour of Moscow. We started at one of the many statues of Pushkin. We walked past the first McDonalds to open in Russia in 1990, where queues went right down the street and round the square. Went in almost next door to a Soviet style café where we tried a traditional snack. Went in and ogled at an amazing supermarket, and walked around a lot of streets just off the main thoroughfare looking at architecture. Saw one building, not a monastery but where monks could stay, which was moved backwards off the main street as an entire building without interrupting services to the building. Finally made it to Red Square, which is so much bigger than I had imagined. While it was busy, it was not as crowded with tourists as I had expected and compared to some other cities in the world. Walked through the amazing GUM department store (which was evacuated later in the day due to a terrorism threat) and ate one of their famous ice creams. Saw St Basil’s Cathedral, but will come back later for a better look as scaffolding was still set up in front of it following national celebrations a week ago
After a quick lunch, five of us started the Urban Adventures “Underground” tour, which was a tour of the Metro and it stations, some of which are fabulously decorated. The stations are designed as propaganda to promote the glory of Russia, and to let the general populace know how lucky they are to live there. We saw stations designed in different eras and with different themes eg. Ukraine, Belarus etc. All metro stations can still be turned in to air raid shelters – once the air raid siren goes off you have 15 minutes to get to the nearest station before the doors close. The Moscow Metro seems amazingly efficient (and clean in comparison to the London Underground). It only cost 55 roubles ($1) to enter and you can travel anywhere on the metro regardless of distance. Trains come every 90 seconds and travel at an average of 48km/hr (which is actually pretty fast)
Walked back to the hotel and went out for dinner with the new people joing our tour for the leg from Moscow to St Petersburg.
Moscow has been a big surprise. It is a beautiful, vibrant city – not the grey, grim, Soviet concrete city I was expecting