After our first night train we rocked up into Moscow, and a little perplexed. Little did we know that Russia and Belarus (where the train from Poland travelled through) share a common border. This meant we had a migration card upon crawling into the Belarusian border station, our transit visas were stamped and then a few hours later we were out of Belarus and in Russia. Only we had no stamp on our Russian visa nor anything official to say we had entered the country. We arrived into the final station in Moscow and just wandered straight out onto the streets of Moscow; no stamp, no customs, nothing. Odd indeed, but apparently no problem and a normal set of affairs when travelling from Poland…
So that aside we attempted to find our way to the hostel (after spending about 30 minutes trying to locate a cash machine) and unfortunately we both lack the skill of reading or speaking Russian, damn. Signs and information on the metro are only written in the alphabet we know and love once you are on board the train, where you then have to quickly try to find out of you’ve hopped on the right one or if you need to make a wild dash out the train to the opposite side of the platform to the train heading in the other direction, all in the matter of seconds before the doors of doom close you inside. We found the best way to work it without looking like a crazed fool is to look at the Russian sign outside and count the number of stops to ensure you’re heading in the right direction (hard luck if where you want is smack bang in the middle of the line). Sigh.
Alas, we found our hostel (no thanks to a friendly Irish fellow named Hugh) and received what can only be described as a bloody awful welcome. (As you can see we really got off to a great start in Moscow…!) The staff seemed to lack the ability to communicate with us (bar one) in much more than a Neanderthal grunt, let alone any English. Whilst it should not be a given that everyone speaks english, perhaps in the capital city of Russia (who are hosting the Winter Olympics…) it would be useful to at least understand ‘visa registration’ (more headache from the Russian’s right there) – a hassle, and an expensive one, in the first instance, it continued to be a hassle throughout the duration of our Russian stay. There is varying information about what you’re supposed to so when in Russia, but everywhere says you must register at least once so, naturally, being the frugal travellers we are we chose a hostel in Moscow that could do this for us for free. When we enquired about this we were met with blank stares and not much else. After a bit of animated talking on our part the receptionist finally got it, but informed us they might not be able to, they don’t know, because the bloke who does it is ill… £30 and a grumble later we did it ourselves.
Okay so it’s not all doom and gloom, though actually Moscow was exceptionally gloomy, dull and grey which I found rather fitting for the unfriendly and unwelcoming city. We checked out Red Square and St. Basil’s Cathedral was a delight for the eyes. We went to the state museum, which although had no more than an a4 sheet of information in English per hall it was an okay way to pass an hour or so and we managed to get in as students so it was super cheap.
We didn’t do a great deal else in Russia, eating was not easy (vegetarianism doesn’t appear to be a common concept) and it poured down with rain for the most part. We stocked up on plenty of supplies for the 4 night journey to Irkutsk and drank lots of tea.
Though we are glad we spent a few days in Moscow, nothing about the place draws me in and nothing about the place is calling me back. Still, Moscow out the way can only mean one thing… The start of the TRAINS! Something we had been looking forward to for months now filled me with a only bit of apprehension and even dread… 4 nights on a train with complete strangers?!? Still, no backing out! The adventure had begun!
Check out all about the journey next!