Our first stop on Wednesday was the biggest shopping mall for children in Russia, including a giant Hamleys toy store. Outside this was a great hall with a life-size toy train track, a giant clock and decorations like a fairy-tale castle!
We wandered through Hamleys and saw lots of beautiful Lego models.
Next we visited the GUM shopping mall and had ice-cream. GUM is a beautiful glass-ceilinged building with walkways and flyovers on 4 levels, and fashion shops on all floors. Beautiful architecture, but expensive shops!
And then, finally, we got into Red Square! Of course the highlight is the beautiful St Basil’s Cathedral at the end. Lenin’s mausoleum and the Necropolis were covered by the scaffolding remaining from the previous day’s events but the other three sides of the square had clear views of the beautiful architecture Moscow is famous for.
We took a stroll through Alexander Gardens, the promenade outside the Kremlin walls, which features monuments to the Romanov Tsars, the Unknown Soldier, and the eternal flame which is permanently guarded by two guardsmen. There is also a famous fountain containing a statue of four horses. And lots and lots of tulips.
As it was cold, and I still had no scarf (left behind in Volgograd) we decided rather than exploring Moscow on foot we would take one of the bus tours. The one we chose had a luxurious bus, but no English-language tour, I didn’t mind as I thought Janna could translate any relevant information. However the tour guide talked fast and clearly told many stories, I only got the odd snippet of information! But most importantly, the bus was warm!
We passed the Bolshoi theatre, the riverbank, Pushkin’s house, and then stopped at the Novodevichy Convent (one of several fortified monasteries erected around the city to help protect it). The tour guide was talking about Napoleon and the time his army reached Moscow, and the terrible fire that followed (possibly started by Russians to deny the French the spoils of the city). I didn’t understand any of this but looked it up on Wikipedia later.
A man came on the bus and tried to sell us matrioshki (the wooden dolls-inside-dolls) and bells – obviously pre-arranged with the tour company. The tour then continued up to Sparrow Hills, where we had been last night, and the Moscow University building – the tallest university building in the world (and probably the most beautiful). We got out to look at the view across Moscow, while the tour guide was talking Russian I went and got some more photographs. We had to run back to the bus because the stop was not as long as we had expected!
The bus then went through some more exclusive parts of the city – passing the dacha used by government leaders, and locations for famous Russian films. We stopped at a place with a bronze statue of one Russian comedy actor, the tradition was to rub his nose! (I chose to stay on the bus). And then the bus carried on down the new Arbat street, past the House of Books (Dom Knigi) and back to Red Square.
We returned to look for the old Arbat – a traditional, pedestrianised shopping zone supposedly full of street performers and craftspeople. It was disappointing. Apart from the rain, it was not very crowded, many shops were closed down and the ones that remained were not all that interesting. We did stop in a souvenir shop to buy a cheap scarf (Russian national football team – oddly they did not have a Newcastle United scarf despite boasting they had all the great football clubs in Europe!).
Halfway down the Arbat there is a beautiful building decorated to look like a medieval cottage, containing a restaurant. Opposite this there is an Indian restaurant called Taj Mahal. Wary following my experience the previous day, we went in and checked the menu, it was a good sign that they had Indian bread and some dishes whose names I recognised. While not very traditional, I ordered a chicken tikka masala and it did taste authentically Indian and authentically delicious!