Saturday 29th: Beth and Bob, our group leaders from Travel Masters, had arranged for a professor whom they knew from one of the universities to give a lecture about Russia today. Ludmilla spoke about the first half of her life under Soviet rule and the second half since 1991 under the Russian Federation. She spoke with great feeling and gave us great insights into the everyday Russia that you don’t often get as a tourist.
Then a few of us set out for Red Square just around the corner. It was still not quite light and the illuminations were spectacular. We all expected the celebrations in Moscow to be beautiful but we are all blown away with the way the whole city is decorated and how artistic and tasteful it all is. The Christmas markets in Europe are quaint and lovely but Russia takes their New Year to another level again.
The day was totally clear with blue skies so we were able to get prefect views of it all. Most of Red Square was filled with stalls and carousels and all sorts of things for kids and adults. Eventually, there was only Beverley, Judy and ourselves as the others had gone to the circus and we made our way to the bottom of the square and were able to see St Basil’s Cathedral with its onion domes shining in all its glory. We wandered some of the back streets, all of which were magical, past St Barbara’s Cathedral and eventually into the famous GUM department store. After drooling over everything in the food hall and then the liquor hall, we found a nice cafe for some warming borsch and coffee. Lyn, Barry, Bronwyn and John were also having lunch there. The department store used to be run by the state and was very spartan but now it caters for fairly wealthy Muscovites and parts would rival Harrods of London.
By about 3.30pm it was starting to cool and darken and it was agreed that we would go back to the hotel for a break and go out again at 5ish to see the lights. This we did joined by Barbara and Irene and masses of people with children. Shortly, we found The Good Wine Bar and left the cold and crowds for a pre-dinner drink. Then it was back to the hotel to spruce up for the Golden Eagle Welcome dinner. Here we joined with other groups making a total of ninety on the train. We enjoyed a rather lavish dinner and were introduced to the staff of the train and briefed on the next day. Another quite late night and we had to have cases out by 7am and be ready for another full day tomorrow.