Long weekend in... Moscow
Heather Fitsell visited Moscow with Cox & Kings and tells us why Moscow is the ideal destination for a long weekend getaway.
A sprinkling of snow greeted our arrival in Moscow on a mild Russian winter's evening in February. As Saturday was a public holiday in Russia ‘Man’s Day’ (the equivalent of Father’s Day), red, white and blue lights representing the colours of Russia’s flag had been strung up along the city’s bridges adding to its visual charm. Tradition dictates that on this day the women give a small gift to the men, this tradition is of course returned later in the year with ‘Women’s Day’.
We arrived at our hotel the Marriott Courtyard Hotel, which is situated on a quiet street, just a short walk from Red Square, the Kremlin and Saint Basil’s Cathedral, and has a lovely large and light atrium lobby.
After a fine meal in the hotel’s Flat Iron Bar and Roadhouse restaurant, we took a walk to Red Square to see the famous sights by night, and how beautiful they were. Impressive buildings surround the whole square, but the highlight for me was undoubtedly Saint Basil’s Cathedral. It looked like the grand participant amongst a carnival parade of buildings, showing off its full glory.
Arising from a good night's sleep, we embarked upon our city tour with our fantastic guide Eduard, whose dry sense of humour had us all laughing - “Make sure you are back at the coach in seven and a half minutes!”
Our tour took in the Izmailovo flea market, which sprawls over a large area and is full of individual stalls selling souvenirs and everyday goods. The perfect place to buy your matryoshka (Russian nesting dolls) or some Soviet-era paraphernalia; you will also see an array of fur hats and animal skins ranging from bear to fox, which are used to make the hats and coats in Russia. Bartering is allowed, but do not expect too much leeway, it is easy to spot a tourist. Make sure you look up at the tops of the market stalls and buildings, which are in their own right quite pretty.
Passing the Space Obelisk, we headed back towards the centre of Moscow for our Metro tour.
The Moscow Metro is the number one way for Russians to get around the city, so sightseeing its many spectacular stations is best avoided in rush hour, as 9 million people head to or from work. A tour is nonetheless highly recommended, particularly for those who have ever experienced the London Underground.
Moscow’s Metro has to be seen to be believed. We visited three stations; Kievskaya with its superbly shiny interior and mosaics depicting Ukrainian history and Prospekt Mira which has white porcelain bas reliefs showing images of smiling farmers and families. Our final stop was Ploschad Revolyutsii station, which has lifesize bronze statues of some of the admired professions of Russians during communist times, such as miners and soldiers. Make sure you rub the shiny nose of the soldier’s dog to bring you good fortune.
Following a brief rest at our hotel, we headed to the Baltschug Kempinski Hotel situated on the banks of the Moskva River for a tour of the property followed by dinner. The Kempinski was the first five-star hotel to be built in Moscow following the collapse of Communism and the building (which dates back to 1898) has its own colourful history. Its membership of ‘The Leading Hotels of the World’ is justly deserved with large, fresh, modern rooms equipped with all the amenities one would expect, including a large plasma screen television.
Our meal was served in the hotel’s library with what is possibly the most stunning view of St Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin in the whole of Moscow. We were served a delightful four-course meal, which included a little caviar, truffle soup, lamb that simply melted in our mouths and a selection of cold chocolate mousse desserts. The service was impeccable with an air of military precision, like nothing I have experienced before. This was undoubtedly the highlight for everyone on the trip and a night we will certainly not forget.
The Kempinski had set our expectations high and I was not sure if it would be possible to exceed our wonderful evening, but it was certainly equalled by our tour of the Armoury at the Kremlin on Sunday. As we waited outside in line to go through the security check at the Kremlin our feet started to numb, but as the soft flakes of snow fell around us on our last day in Moscow, no one really cared. Our taster of the Armoury and the Kremlin’s churches and cathedrals was more than enough to make me want to return to Moscow. The Armoury is filled with the beautiful outfits and dresses of the Tsars and their wives, (including Nicholas II and Alexandra), bejewelled thrones and the most stunning horse carriages imagineable. I only wish we had been allowed to take photo of these amazing wares. This was a truly memorable end to a marvellous weekend.
View Cox & Kings short breaks to Russia.