TRAVEL: An eye-opening trip to Moscow

St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow'All pictures by Lee Atherton
St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow'All pictures by Lee Atherton

A recent holiday to Moscow was an eye-opener, writes Lee Atherton.

Access to the former Soviet Republic has become much easier and cheaper thanks to easyJet. I was able to purchase a return ticket for as little as £100 though you do need a Visa which I was able to purchase for £115 with Travel Direct (UK) Ltd. This was actually a bargain so shop around as prices do vary.

Inside Mayakovskaya metro station in Moscow'All pictures by Lee Atherton

Inside Mayakovskaya metro station in Moscow'All pictures by Lee Atherton

I flew out of Gatwick early to land at the largest airport, Domodedovo, around 1.30pm Moscow time. Note this airport is notorious for congestion so it may take some time to reach Moscow by road though the train is a more expensive option.

Hotels are generally expensive though if you shop around and book early there are always bargains. Tripadvisor is very handy. I stayed at the Tverskaya Loft Hotel which is centrally located and best described as a ‘boutique’ hotel. It is essentially a large converted upstairs flat that has elements of hostel accommodation. There is a nice kitchen and large rooms, some with communal toilets and bathing facilities. It had a charming though slightly run down feel to it and it was difficult to find.

Tverskaya Loft cost me 11,400 Roubles (approx. £220) for six nights which was excellent value

Over the holiday I visited many places. The Kremlin was well worth a visit though beware large baggage must be checked into a storage facility beforehand. The Armoury houses some of the finest treasures in the world including the Orloff Diamond and one of the largest collections of Faberge Eggs. Outside are a group of beautiful churches and Cathedrals. A particular feature is the Ivan The Great Bell Tower, next to which lie the Tsar Bell and the Tsar Canon, both the largest in the world.

The Kremlin'All pictures by Lee Atherton

The Kremlin'All pictures by Lee Atherton

The iconic Red Square is home to two of Moscow’s most famous sights. St Basil’s Cathedral was built during the reign of Ivan the Terrible and is unique in Russian architecture. This was visited quite cheaply and proved extremely rewarding. The Lenin Mausoleum is very popular to tourists and is an opportunity to see the embalmed remains of Lenin. Regardless of the bloody history surrounding the man the visit was fascinating. I had to queue early and observe that baggage was not allowed. Once inside it was pitch black and my reactolite spectacles made it much worse so tread carefully. As you exit the building you are faced with tombs buried in the wall of the Kremlin including Stalin and Yuri Gagarin.

The Moscow metro system is worth a day’s visit in itself. Stalin wanted each station to be a palace to the people and the most stunning examples contain beautiful architecture with chandeliers, mosaics, stained glass panels and striking sculptures. There are a lot of reminders of Soviet Russia which I found fascinating with images remaining of Stalin and Lenin in particular. It is very cheap to travel on the metro and just one ticket is all you need to spend the day there.

Favourite moments included Sparrow Hill, where Muscovites go to propose while watching a beautiful sunset over the city. Moscow by night is simply stunning, in particular the Kremlin and surrounding areas. I particularly enjoyed an opera at the Bolshoi which reopened recently following extensive renovation.

Moscow is actually considered to be in Europe and as such is the largest city. It is very cosmopolitan and in many ways reminded me of both London and Paris with stunning architecture and beautiful wide boulevards stretching into the distance. Stalin’s Seven Sisters make a curious sight. They are a group of stunning skyscrapers designed and built from 1947 to 1953 with the technology used in America. Indeed it is like a slice of America which is ironic but it seems Stalin wanted Moscow to rival the biggest capitalist cities of the world.

Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour'All pictures by Lee Atherton

Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour'All pictures by Lee Atherton

Smoking is a major feature of the city so if that particularly bothers you then this is not the place to visit. It is extremely cheap to smoke with a packet of 20 Marlboro costing around £1.50. However a ban will come into force by June next year.

Curiously Russian restaurants are not popular because Muscovites don’t want to dine out on their own food. Nevertheless there are a wide variety of other restaurants which tend to be expensive. Indeed I usually enjoy coffee but the average cup will set you back £6! There are several familiar chains of shops, cafes and restaurants you will recognise from the UK. McDonalds is tourist friendly, providing a menu of pictures for you to point out what you want.

I would recommend this vacation to anyone. However it is not for the feint-hearted and I would always caution to plan well ahead in great detail. In particular carry a Russian language map because there are almost no English translations throughout the city. Remember to keep your passport with you at all times.

This is still a somewhat paranoid country and not fully accustomed to tourists. I think my total spend was around £750, including visa, flight, hotel and spending money.