It was only a week we were in Russia but there were quite some thoughts in head about the trip. Those three nights in Murmansk and other three in Moscow didn’t just turned out to be a fantastic getaway but also I got to learn something inside my head.
There wasn’t much time of a proper photo session in Moscow, unfortunately. The only one was in Moscow Metro circle line–Koltsevaya line.
It took about 90 minutes to hop on and off the train on each of the twelve stations. I wish I had more time but had to regroup with others to see a circus. Otherwise, it could have been a real joy to explore details on the unique decors of each station. More than that, juxtapositions of contemporary local commuters and Soviet Union architectures built during the cold war were truly fascinating.
While taking the Metro, I just couldn’t help thinking of London Underground I experienced the year before. Even though the navigation for passengers couldn’t top London, it was still easy to get around and very efficient, especially, for a megacity like this. And to have permanent public arts (even they were propagandas, then and now) in public transports set Moscow Metro apart from any other cities in the world.
Our main plan for first full day in Moscow was the Kremlin Museums. The excursion turned out to be full of walking, walking, and walking in the shivery spring breeze. Apart from that, it was an exploration beyond expectation.
Usually, tourist sites weren’t really my things to explore but that’d be hard to dismay the itinerary when you were travelling in a group of friends. So, I needed to find something else occupy myself along the way.
Then, I started to decipher Cyrillic script from a Metro sign. From that, I got into it, using a Wikipedia page to work on signs throughout day. Photography was dropped from my own agenda on the day.
It was a very chilling and windy day. With that weather and without a clue, we were queuing up a long line to get to Lenin Mausoleum, thinking it was the entrance to a ticket office. That wait took us the whole morning away. After that, we had a lunch break and steered back to the plan to the Museums.
Unfortunately, we realised that signs and directions in the complex weren’t clear. It took us a while until we finally got to the ticket office. There were about five different tickets but we didn’t know what tickets to get. There were English descriptions but they weren’t comprehensive. I’d say communication designs failed.
Eventually, we purchased two tickets each for adults: one for the architecture complex and another on for the Armory Chamber. I got it later that the first one was to get in the complex with entrances to the cathedrals inside plus exhibition. Armory Chamber ticket were sold separately. The cheaper tickets must be to get in the complex but not the cathedrals.
It was about three hours of walking in the complex and the Amory Chamber. That was when I found my enjoyment, working on deciphering Cyrillic script on museum labels. It was so much fun. By the time we were done in the complex, our legs were tiring us.
Anyhow, the weather got better a bit when got out. So, we had some more walk around Red Square.
Next mission was dinner. The goal was at White Rabbit restaurant. We had been in one of their branches in Murmansk. And it had been really good. However, after a train ride and a lost on the street, we got to the place to find out that we needed a reservation. We ended up in a pan-Asian restaurant in the same mall called Zodiac.
An Asian restaurant in Moscow? I was skeptical. But it would be interesting to try Thai food there. I had fish with green curry flavor and a lemon tree. That would be the closest to Thai in the menu. The rest got other Asian dish. With a surprise, the dining experience blew us away. The presentation was intricate. Moreover, the flavour was on point. We were really impressed. On top of that, when the chef came to meet us, we would not ever expect a young Russian bloke, showing up. That was even more surprising. Apparently, we got the craft from his Chinese master. Good on him!
After the long cold walk, the self-study on Cyrillic, and the dinner, my mental state was overloaded and I needed some drinks. As the girls went straight back to the hotel, the boys made a stop at an Irish-theme pub. And I finished it off with some Ukrainian craft beer and three shots of vodka to end up the long day.
Before we left for Moscow, there was less than half a day for Angelika—our guide—to take us for a city tour. Even though the tour was short, it was the last chance I could really see the city. And I got to know more about the city.
We were picked up from Aurora Village back to Murmansk city. The ride was the half way from Teriberka. But the weather was much better than the way to see the Artic. So, the landscape was less exciting, I found. Plus I had a little sleep from the faint aurora sighting the night before.
Angelika joined us in the city. The itinerary was tight. She took us to Church of Saviour on Waters, Alyosha Monument, Waiting Woman Monument, then a quick late lunch break at Murmansk Mall, and finally, an exclusive tour at Lenin nuclear icebreaker.
The one nature of a package tour is quantity over quality, I found. However, when I asked about the port, I got to learn more from Angelika about the ties between its people and Norway, which was closer than Moscow. I’d say my curiosity went beyond usual tourist stuff. But what I couldn’t take my eyes off was the Khrushchyovka as when I first arrived the city. I really wished I’d had more time with it.
After the city tour, they dropped us off to the apartment we took through booking.com. There were some issues with the place. One was the communication with the owner. He didn’t speak much of English. Luckily, Angelika came up with us to the apartment and translated for us.
And there was something dodgy about it. The place looked great. It was a spacey one-bedroom apartment and a living room with a sofa bed. I didn’t mind sleeping on it but didn’t realised my friend actually booked for two apartments for the price she booked. The problem was that the other apartment was a bit of a walk away. At that moment, we were tired and I just wanted to stay put and rest. The catch was the owner would offer a discount if we would stay in that one place and my friend would cancel the booking on the website. With some internal discussion, we decided to take only one. Of course, the boys would take the sofa bed. It was just for one night anyway.
The discount he gave us was about one-third of the original reservation. Since we pay cash on the spot and the booking had been cancelled online, he received more money than the apartment was listed while the other one was now available. It felt like a rip-off but we had to let it go. However, it was gold for me that Angelika rolled her eyes about him while interpreting for us. It was somehow a reassurance about being human.
Interestingly, I met more Thai people in Murmansk than in DC, from the night at Aurora Village, a tour at Lenin icebreaker, and at the aurora hunt on the final night. It was noticed by a Russian woman from another group tour I had conversation over the vodka that more Thais had come to the city in the recent years. Obviously the tour operator, targeted Thai tourists.
It was my third and last full day in Murmansk Oblast. And it was the first time in years that I was with a tour guide. Fortunately, it was toward the end of touring aurora season in mid April. So, it wasn’t too busy and five of us were pretty much exclusive almost the whole trip they took us. And we had to thank Angelika, whom took care of us along the trip from the day trip to Teriberka, the two nights of aurora hunts, the city tour. Certainly, it was quite an adventure and really memorable.