So, there we were six of us in the very civilised Sky Team Lounge at Terminal 4 – travelling in mid-Winter to Moscow – for a quick taste of what the city has to offer in 24hrs! Four of them were travelling onward to the Maldives (so definitely a slight packing dilemma!).
Aeroflot departed on the dot, a lovely brand-new aircraft, very attentive crew (easy on the eye, which is always pleasant … sorry not pc at all!); a movie, a tasty hot meal (with detailed information of how many calories and fat you were consuming!) and the 3hr50min passed in no time.
Because of the time difference, arrival into the very efficient Sheremetyevo Airport at Moscow is quite late (17:35).
But the traffic into the city was bearable so we arrived at our posh hotel – the St Regis, Nikolskaya – with enough time to freshen up and meet for a glass of champagne and dinner with the charming General Manager. After dinner, suitably attired (with warm boots, hats, gloves and big coats), we walked down the beautifully lit-up Nikolskaya Avenue to Red Square. The whole area is pedestrianised, so with the silence, still air and lightly falling snow, the city looked quite magical!
There weren’t many people walking about late on a Sunday evening, but at no time did we feel unsafe. In fact, this was my 12th trip to Moscow, and I have never felt uncomfortable or remotely unsafe.
After our stroll, it was close on mid-night so after a little warming nightcap on the rooftop bar at the Ritz Carlton (with glorious views over the Kremlin), everybody retired to their respective suites where we were able to enjoy our wonderful welcome gifts (which included champagne, fruit, chocolates, and in my case, a book on the Bolshoi Theatre with a bottle of South African wine. How very thoughtful…
After a sumptuous breakfast (including caviar, blini and sour cream!), we joined our Russian guide, Olga (who spoke fluent English) for a walking tour of the Kremlin. Kremlin = a Fortress. Many towns and villages have a ‘Kremlin’ but Moscow’s is obviously the most impressive. This is generally the site of government and where the tsars or people of importance used to hang out. Putin doesn’t actually live there, but he uses it for meetings of importance.
We spent the morning learning about the treasures in the Armoury, visiting FOUR of the cathedrals inside the Kremlin: The 15th century Assumption Cathedral (the burial site of the patriarchs), Ivan the Great Bell Tower, the Archangel Cathedral (where 3 centuries of Tsars and Tsarinas are laid to rest), and the Annunciation Cathedral. We didn’t join the queue to see Lenin’s Mausoleum on Red Square. Although one wonders how long they can keep chemically treating the body – he died on the 22nd Jan 1924! However, we did get tickets to enter St Basil’s Cathedral, on Red Square – probably the most photographed cathedral in Russia. The interior is made up of lots of mini chapels (rather than one large space). Depending on the timing (and we were lucky!), one can enjoy the magnificent voices of the resident unaccompanied male choir singing in one of the chambers. Click for more info on what’s on when
It was now time for lunch! So, we walked along the length of Red Square, crossed the road, walking past the grandiose Bolshoi Theatre, then along the very swish Koznetsky Most (pedestrian road) to Café Vogue for a light ‘business lunch*’. This is where many of the beautiful Muscovites parade themselves. Definitely the place to go to ‘people watch’.
*a business lunch is available in most establishments and is like a ‘daily special’. Not always obviously visible and you may need to ask. Obviously, much cheaper than ordering a la carte but generally a very good choice.
We then went on a 2-hr Metro tour, travelling with the millions of locals going about their business and not taking the least bit of interest in the breathtakingly beautiful underground stations! We switched trains about 4 times and managed to see about 5 of the most spectacular ones.
Then a quick freshen up at the Hotel before setting off (by foot … one does a lot of walking in Moscow because it’s all so easy!) to the trendy
Dr Zhivago Restaurant.
After downing a shot of vodka, we enjoyed a quick 3-course Russian meal comprising of an assortment of typical Russian starters, followed by beef stroganoff and a dessert. And then four of the group were whisked off to the airport for their onward flight to the Maldives.
The Moscovites sure know how to light up their city! The entire Nikolskaya Street is lit up in January, and around Teatralnaya (Theatre Square), splendid displays are dotted around. The picture of the mask is on the square in front of the Bolshoi Theatre.
Two of us stayed behind for another day and night. We visited Bunker 42. It was constructed 65m under-ground to withstand a nuclear attack (a very real threat in the 1960’s at the time of the Cuban crisis) and is very centrally situated. It has been ‘touristy-fied’ to educate everybody (especially school children) about the horrors of nuclear war. The tour lasts just over an hour. Fascinating!
Click here for more info on Bunker 42
We then went to my favourite eating place ‘LavkaLavka’ which is a farm-to-table, delightful restaurant hidden in a little alleyway off Petrovka Street. Each dish’s ingredients are attributed to the farm from which it was sourced – actually naming the farmers! And it didn’t disappoint!
We then did a couple of shttp://restoran.lavkalavka.com/en/ite inspections on our way back to the St Regis, of the Hyatt Ararat and the iconic Metropol Hotel.
In the evening, the hotel’s GM joined us for a superb meal at the most famous restaurant in Moscow, Pushkin which certainly lived up to its reputation. Thereafter we went across the river to ‘go local’ on Piatnitskaya where we enjoyed an evening of Jazz at Esse Club.
What a fabulous city! Even when it’s freezing cold … even the dogs wear boots because the pavements are so icy.
Another rather late night, and early start to fly back to London.
Why stop-over in Moscow?
- Excellent connections on Aeroflot to south-east Asia (eg. Thailand, Vietnam, Maldives etc) and Australia
- Aeroflot boasts brand-new aircraft on their premier routes / in-flight service is superior to its competitors
- Both Airports that serve London (Sheremetyevo and Domodedovo) have non-stop train services into the centre of Moscow (thus avoiding traffic)
- The city has a vibrant energy – cutting edge modernity mixed with fascinating history and culture
- It’s super clean, safe, easy to navigate (all signage in English alphabet as well – although it might take a little while to decipher)
- Fabulous culture / art / museums / opera and ballet
- Superb choice of hotels (many within walking distance of Red Square, the Bolshoi Theatre, Tretyakov Gallery, Pushkin Museum etc)