19.08.2016 - 20.08.2016
It has been a very long and tiring two days!
Yesterday I got up around 07:00 to pack, have breakfast and shower before heading off to the airport. The line to check in was ridiculous: they had only two people helping the economy-class passengers, but one of them was devoted only to people traveling with young children. THREE other people were handling the VIP-class passengers, and when they didn't have people to check in (which was most of the time), they walked away! It took me over an hour to get through the line and there were only four people ahead of me. For reasons unknown to me, each one of these people took ages getting checked in and none of them were particularly large groups or had a lot of baggage; yet each one took 30 min or so to get checked in. Thankfully I was done in under five minutes and then I went through security and off to wait for boarding time.
I stopped in the Duty Free store to get a new backpack, this one with wheels. While I was waiting in line to check out, there was a couple next to me with five hand baskets overflowing with goods they were buying! My first thought was on how much money they were spending, but then I wondered where on earth they would be able to store all of that crap on the plane. I stopped and grabbed a coffee from Starbucks and sat down to wait (I'd arrived early since I wasn't sure how bad the Buenos Aires traffic would be during rush hour).
Boarding went smoothly; I had booked a window seat and to my delight there was no one sitting directly next to me (there was someone in the aisle seat though). The first flight was direct to London and lasted around 13.5 hours. I'd expected and hoped to get some sleep and I dozed for about an hour total throughout the flight. The movie select was quite poor, which surprised me on a British Airways flights as I've always had great experiences with them.
One thing that I've not mentioned before in my blog posts, primarily because it's dull and not really pertaining to the trip, is that I've been working remotely while I'm traveling. I've been making use of my flight times, layovers, airport waiting times, etc to get work done. Since I was (sadly) wide awake for this long flight, I got out my laptop and started working away - a good and productive use of the time just sitting in my seat!
London was a quick 3hr layover and then it was another 4hr flight to Moscow. During this entire time I just had the short rest on the long flight and I've no idea how I was still awake. The Russian passport control was very quick and smooth; I was expecting far worse given how exhaustive their visa applications are! I'd arranged for a driver to meet me at the airport; after exchanging some text messages he found me and we set off for the city.
The drive was about an hour long and we didn't really encounter much traffic. On the way the driver, Maxim, and I chatted quite a bit about Russia, the US election, my travels, etc. He was very friendly and pointed out several things that I should go and see while I'm in Moscow. When we arrived to my hotel (rather, the street near the hotel - the hotel is on a pedestrian-only road), we noticed the police about to tow away a vehicle that was parked illegally. As I watched, they wrapped the car up so the doors and trunk couldn't be opened; then they lowered a crane over the car and picked it up, easily carrying it over to the bed of the tow truck. It was crazy!
I checked into my hotel, which is very nice! I'm quite happy with this hotel!
It was only 17:00 and I decided to head out to see Red Square. My first stop was the Bolshoi Theater, which is just around the corner from my hotel. It is an incredibly massive building and I was in awe of it.
I then headed down towards the Kremlin and Red Square. The entry gate was swarming with tourists and once I got inside I saw that they were erecting some bleachers and platforms for an upcoming celebration for the founding of Moscow (Maxim had mentioned this to me). It was VERY exciting for me to finally be setting foot in Red Square - I'd dreamed of visiting Russia since I was a kid and now here I was standing in the heart of Mother Russia!!
The red brick walls of the Kremlin lined one entire side of the Square, with various towers at periodic intervals. Each tower was different and unique; only a few had the Soviet red start still on display. More prominently displayed around the Square was the imperial eagle from the Tsarist era. I liked the mixture of the symbols, embracing both periods of Russia's past.
I made my way down to St Basil's Cathedral, which was even better than I had imagined. All of the onion-shaped domes were different and unique, in both color and texture: some were smooth, some pointed. The line to get into the Cathedral was rather long and I'd already planned to visit on another day, so I continued my walk around the Square.
To my dismay I discovered that I could not reach Lenin's Mausoleum or the other graves along the Kremlin wall due to the construction of the bleachers! The area was fenced off with security around it. Granted, by this point the opening hours for the mausoleum were over and my plans were to visit on Tuesday morning when it opens up again; perhaps they'll open for visitors then - I'm going to at least try!
I decided to take a walk around the entirety of the Kremlin wall (the exterior - I go inside the Kremlin to tour tomorrow). They were working on repaving much of the sidewalk along one side of the Kremlin (along the river), but I was still able to get some fantastic views of the Kremlin itself. The red brick walls were so imposing, I could feel the power emanating from them. Peaking up from behind the walls were the various palaces that make up the Kremlin compound. There were two bridges over the river that I walked out to that afforded some truly amazing pictures.
After circling the Kremlin I came to the front side where there are numerous memorials and monuments, most notably to the war of 1812 when the Russians 'defeated' the French, as well as the "Great Patriotic War" (World War Two).
The tomb of the unknown soldier was rather impressive with a large eternal flame in the middle. By luck I arrived just minutes before they did the changing of the guard. The guards kick their legs up incredibly high when they march!
I finally returned to Red Square and strolled around the GUM shopping mall. The mall is three floors and is just massive! I didn't explore all of the mall; I was hunting for a food court, but all I could find was a plethora of ice cream shops and drink stands. One drink stand used watermelons and was sitting right next to a large indoor fountain; the pool of the fountain was filled with their watermelons!
By this time it was nearly 20:00 and I decided to head back to the hotel to do some laundry and get some sleep.