Yesterday we had some spare time so we headed off to the city centre to see the famous Red Square (Krásnaya Plóshchaď). The square separates the Kremlin from (the official residence of Putin – he doesn’t actually spend a lot of time there) from the merchant quarter known as the Kitai gorod. All of Russia’s major streets which connect to the major highways originate from this square.
It really is everything the pictures show you – and more. The immensity of it leaves you reeling. These buildings were constructed over many years – some as early as the 16th century. Many people think the name “red” is because of the pigment of the bricks. It’s not. “Red” in Russian (krasnee) also means “beautiful”.
Here’s a picture of St. Basil’s Cathedral. It was constructed back in 1560. It really is something. Do you see those dark clouds coming? That’s sleet and snow heading our way. That’s right – we were standing on the street looking at this building, and Sergei our guide was giving us a run down on its history. His English is moderate, so it’s a bit long-winded. Anyway, it started raining, and then it started hailing – and he just keep going. Then it started snowing. I felt absolutely terrible. I wasn’t listening to a word he said. Sergei suddenly stopped and said, “Are you cold?” I replied in a very flat tone, “Sergei – Mne ochin xcholodna” (I am very cold). “OK,” he said, “Then let’s go inside.” I was so happy I could have hugged him.
He took us into the GYM, another famous building constructed in the 19th century. Back in Soviet days, when there were restrictions on goods, people would come from miles around to buy things like shoes and clothes because it was the only place they could get them. They would cue for hours in the street just for a pair of shoes. Today it’s just a ritzy store for elite brands and very wealthy shoppers. Still it was interesting to walk through. The interior is amazing. We found a place to have a coffee. I tell you, I felt that coffee go all the way down my throat and into my insides. We also shouted Sergei one, for saving us from freezing to death.
Last stop was the Arabat; a very famous street in Moscow. It’s over 500 years old. At the fall of communism they closed it to traffic. Now its for pedestrians only. We picked up one or two souvenirs (they were very expensive). ALL the shopkeepers knew how to speak some English here! A pity the weather was so miserable; it would have been an awesome walk on a nice day.
By this time it was around 6pm – rush hour for Muscovites, as this is when most offices and businesses close. Time to take the Metro back to our hotel. Now THAT was an experience in itself. Unbelievable. As we approached the station Sergei turned and said, “Stay close to me” (very sternly). A fast-moving crowd entering converged at a bottle neck. I swear I could have lifted my feet off the ground and I still would have made it in!
We finished the night off with some good Russian food (Ryskaya Kuchna) at a moderately-priced restaurant. I had a chicken-like fillet, some home-made style potato fries with mushrooms (katoshka s-greebami), a salad and a bun with some delicious filling.
I was glad we were close to the hotel. I needed a bed.