• Sat
  • Sep 20, 2014
  • Updated: 2:45pm

Moscow

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 February, 2006, 12:00am

1 Trans Mongolian Express


From Hong Kong, the most adventurous way of travelling to Moscow is by train. Join Mongolian traders, Russian soldiers and Chinese families all weighed down with too much luggage at Beijing railway station. It's seven time zones, 150 hours and almost 8,000km to the Russian capital. Although not luxurious, the trains are comfortable and the food passable, particularly in the Chinese restaurant cars. As the train approaches Moscow, brick apartment blocks replace wooden country cottages, and wide streets built for military parades replace muddy Siberian tracks. Sturdy Stalinist architecture makes way for shimmering skyscrapers, office blocks and hotels in a frenzy of urban regeneration. For Trans Mongolian Express tour packages, prices and photos, go to www.monkeyshrine.com.


2 Red Square


Moscow's main streets radiate from Krasnaya Ploshchad, or Red Square. It was here during the cold war that the Red Army paraded its military hardware to impress Soviet leaders and intimidate the west. Centuries earlier, the cobbled square served as an open-air market, a gathering point for festivals, religious processions and the occasional execution. Construction of the ornate GUM department store along the eastern flank in 1894 signalled the end for the merchant stalls and ad hoc traders. The square is floodlit at night and takes on a fairytale quality, especially when the cobblestones are dusted with snow. Rated the finest hotel in the city, the Baltschug Kempinski is within easy walking distance. For rates and availability go to www.kempinski-moscow.com.


3 The Kremlin


Synonymous with cold war mystery and intrigue, the Kremlin is an ancient fortress containing palaces, cathedrals, museums and, since 1991, the presidential residence. Home to both tsars and communists, the self-contained city has been the nerve centre of Russian power for more than 500 years. There's a lot to see, so consider joining a tour or hire one of the freelance guides. First stop is the Byzantine Assumption Cathedral, where tsars were crowned and heads of the Russian Orthodox Church are buried. Wander past government buildings to the Patriarch's Palace, which contains a museum of 17th-century Russian life. And don't miss the giant Tsar Cannon near the Ivan the Great Bell Tower. Despite being the biggest in the world it was never fired. Admission to the Kremlin is 300 roubles ($81). Go to www.kremlin.museum.ru/en/main/info for more information.


4 Lenin's Mausoleum


For more than 80 years, devoted followers and curious sightseers have lined up along the southwest wall of the Kremlin, eagerly anticipating an audience of a few seconds with the father of the Russian Revolution. After his death in 1924, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was embalmed and housed in a marble mausoleum on Red Square. It became a place of pilgrimage for Communist Party loyalists and tourists alike, although the queues have tailed off in recent years as political winds have changed. In the 1990s Boris Yeltsin attempted, without success, to grant Lenin's request to be buried next to his mother in St Petersburg. Entry is free. No photography is permitted.


5 Bolshoi Theatre


Meaning 'big' in Russian, the Bolshoi is Moscow's oldest theatre and has been staging ballet and opera performances since it was built in 1824. It was rebuilt in a neoclassical style after a fire in 1853, and the gold and crimson interior is punctuated by five tiers of gilded boxes with velvet seats. Concerts are booked well in advance, although agencies and hotels offer last-minute tickets, usually at a premium. Many visitors prefer a cloak-and-dagger approach and deal directly with the touts outside.


6 Moscow Metro


It's rare for an underground railway to be a tourist attraction, but few are adorned with marble statues, stained glass and tinkling chandeliers. Construction of the Moscow Metro began in the 30s as part of Stalin's initial five-year plan. The red line was the first to be completed. More than 10 million Muscovites use the museum-like network every day, which is more than the London and New York systems combined. To appreciate the socialist-style art deco and giant mosaics depicting joyous workers, keep to stations within the circle line. Getting around is user-friendly, fast and cheap. Trains run every one or two minutes from 5.30am until 1.30am.


7 Izmailovsky Market


Allow at least a morning to explore Izmailovsky Market. Join the crowds that swarm around stalls selling handicrafts, antiques and Soviet-era memorabilia. Although few traders speak anything but Russian, hand gestures and a calculator make haggling a breeze. Buskers and street performers entertain as bargain-hunters search for fur hats, Stalin bottle openers or that elusive hammer and sickle chess set. Many sellers prefer hard currency so US dollars are accepted as readily as roubles. Grab a kebab and a glass of vodka to fortify yourself at one of the cafes and kiosks. The market is open at weekends from 9am to 6pm, although some stallholders close earlier. Nearest metro stop is Izmailovsky Park station.


8 St Basil's Cathedral


The onion domes and eye-catching brickwork of St Basil's Cathedral seem so familiar that many tourists confuse it with the Kremlin and hang around hoping to glimpse Vladimir Putin. Ivan the Terrible commissioned the cathedral in 1555 to celebrate a victory over the Tartars. On completion, he supposedly had the architects blinded so they could never again create such a masterpiece. The cathedral consists of nine dimly lit chapels humbly decorated, in contrast to the garish exterior. Attempts to destroy, dismantle or melt down St Basil's have been foiled or rejected through the centuries. Even Stalin turned down a suggestion to raze it to provide more space for parades on Red Square. Entry is 100 roubles.


9 Gorky Park


Named after the Soviet writer Maxim Gorky and popularised by the cold war novel of the same name, Gorky Park sprawls for 3km beside the banks of the Moskva River. It's a good place to observe Muscovites at play. Summer visitors head for the giant Ferris wheel and other rides in the amusement park; old-timers stroll through ornamental gardens and children investigate the spacecraft on display. In winter, paths and boating lakes freeze over to form a huge outdoor skating rink.


10 Sandunovskiye Banya


Frequented by celebrities, politicians and businessmen, Sandunovskiye Banya, or Sanduny, is Moscow's oldest and most famous bath-house. Peer through the steam and you'll find that the 19th-century venue is part sauna, part social club. There are steam rooms, massage tables and card games played over a few beers. You get what you pay for at Sanduny. Dish out enough roubles and luxuriate among gothic pillars and arches, rococo fixtures and enormous bathing pools. The sexes are segregated and, in the intriguingly named 'higher woman class', manicurists and hairdressers pamper clients. The website www.sanduny.ru is informative, although the translation is stilted. The bath-house is open daily from 8am to10pm. Entry is from 500 roubles.


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