(For links to other parts of our Russia Trip Report, see the bottom of this post!)
On our last full day in Moscow, Ken and I arranged for a private driving tour of sites that are more on the “outskirts” of Moscow and more easily accessible by driving. Outskirts might not be the right word. It was still definitely Moscow, but it was not near the city center or Red Square areas. We didn’t realize that the tour included a guide and a separate driver, which was really fantastic. The driver would drop us off at a site, the guide would walk us around, and then we would pick up the driver later on.
Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
Our first stop on the driving tour was the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. This church is famous in Moscow, but it more recently claimed notoriety as the location where the band Pussy Riot was arrested after an impromptu performance inside the church.
Cameras were not permitted inside the church, so our guide held them while we went inside. Not that we would have tried it, but the guide implored us not to “sneak” any photos with our phones or anything. He explained that the guards are very, ahem, “on edge” and may assume anything, such as a sneaky photograph, is a protest in support of Pussy Riot.
The inside was very ornate and there were a few different levels to tour. It is a functioning church, so there were people inside actively praying, lighting candles, etc.
After Ken and I toured the inside, we met back up with our guide. He walked us behind the church to give more history, and also pointed out other Moscow sites.
(Side Story: So, Ken had been really warm in the car, so he had taken off his jacket. Seriously, Russians keep their indoor spaces, including vehicles, WAY too warm, even considering the cold winter air outside! When we got out of the car, we thought we were just going straight from the car to the inside of the church, and then meeting with the car afterwards, so Ken left his coat in the car. The guide had absolutely panicked as he noticed Ken was not wearing a coat, saying we were going to do a little bit of outdoor walking after the church. But, the driver had already pulled away. So here’s Ken with no jacket at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. In Russia. In February.)
We walked to the back of the church, which afforded some different views of the Cathedral.
Then, our guide had us walk across a small pedestrian bridge behind the church. There’s Ken again with no coat. Locals were looking at him like he was certifiable.
Views from the bridge were lovely!
The guide pointed out this statue of St. Peter. He noted that Moscow locals HATE this statue. They think it is ugly and gaudy. Plus, he pointed out that Muscovites don’t really like St. Peter, since he diverted so many resources from Moscow to St. Petersburg.
The bridge was filled with these “love locks.” I had heard of the tradition before, where two people in love will come to the bridge and put a lock on the bridge, and then throw the key into the river below.
We met up with our driver again and went on our way to the next stop.
New Maiden’s Convent
Our second stop was the New Maiden’s Convent.
The New Maiden’s convent was a convent in the 16th century and has a very storied history. In 1812, Napoleon tried to blow up the convent. In the late 1800s, the monastery became a home for orphaned girls. According to our guide, the girls were commonly raped while here.
The monastery was also used to imprison Sophia Alexeyevna, the sister of Peter the Great, who feared she would try to wrest power from him. At the base of the tower were she was imprisoned, people still leave her notes and messages.
Our guide pointed out that the New Maiden’s Convent is a UNESCO heritage site, but it appears to be falling into disrepair, perhaps illustrating that UNESCO funds are not being spent appropriately. He mentioned that UNESCO may threaten to end their funding if repairs are not made.
Behind the convent was another small pedestrian bridge, which was also covered with love locks!
Our driver then took us to our next stop, which was an area called Sparrow Hills. It provides a high overlook for the entire city of Moscow. The stadium in the center of the photograph was the 1980 Olympic stadium.
Huge smokestacks are seen all throughout Moscow, and provide heat to all the buildings in the city. Our guide explained that it is practically impossible to control the heat in your own home or building in Russia, that it is all controlled from these plants. We noticed that EVERYWHERE we went, including places like our hotels, the buildings were exceptionally warm. Our guide said that if you want to make it cooler, you have to open a window
A closeup of the 1980 Olympic stadium. If you look in the center of the photograph, you should see a fake orange and yellow “flame” signifying where the Olympic Flame once burned
The Sparrow Hills area is home to the Moscow State University. These styles of buildings are called “Stalin’s skyscrapers” as he apparently loved building taller structures throughout Moscow
In the center of this photograph taken from Sparrow Hills, you can see the gold “onion domes” of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, where we had just visited two stops prior!
After Sparrow Hills, we drove to Victory Park, a huge World War II memorial in Moscow.
The main attraction at Victory Park is this obelisk statue of Nike, the goddess of victory. The obelisk is 1418 meters high, which is 10cm for every day of the war.
At the base of the obelisk is a statue of St. George slaying a dragon
In the summer, these slabs are fountains. The fountains actually run red water, signifying the blood of soldiers who died in the war.
We walked further down the park, past the fountains.
Just to the side of Victory Park is St. George’s church. The church purports to have a bone from St. George’s body.
Apologies for the terrible picture, but it’s more here for the story. After we left Victory Park, our driver got pulled over by the police! We were a little nervous sitting in the back of the car, but I managed to snap this picture. She was let off with a warning for making a right turn on red. Our guide explained that corruption used to be more common among Russian police officers, but that dashboard cameras are actually preventing a lot of corruption these days, because officers don’t want to get caught trying to take a bribe!
After Victory Park (and our driver getting pulled over!) we arrived at our last stop, Arbat Street.
Arbat Street was a trendy area, popular with local artists. Arbat Street was also home to Pushkin, who is described as “Russia’s Shakespeare”
I really couldn’t help but chuckle at all the American restaurants on Arbat Street, complete with a Johnny Rockets that had a Statue of Liberty in front!
There was even a Shake Shack, Cinnabon, and Auntie Anne’s. Crazy.
A famous Russian musician named Viktor Tsoi used to perform along Arbat Street. He was killed in an accident in 1992, but this wall along Arbat Street remains a tribute to him. People commonly leave lit cigarettes as a tribute.
And with that, our driving tour of Moscow was done! Our driver and guide dropped us back off at our hotel.
A fun points and miles story ended our day. On the recommendation on the guide, we went out later that evening for dinner at a place called Moo Moo. The guide recommended it because it was good, inexpensive Russian food, served cafeteria style, which meant we could just point to what we wanted instead of worrying about deciphering menus!
We walked to Moo Moo from our hotel later that evening. Like the guide mentioned, it was tasty and inexpensive. Ken had gotten up from the table to get a second serving. A woman and her husband were about to sit at a table right next to us, and she started saying something to me in Russian (because everybody seemed to think we were Russian!) and then started to take Ken’s chair. In English, obviously, I started stammering, thinking she wouldn’t understand me, saying like, “Oh. wait! That’s my husband’s chair.”
Then, in perfect English, she was like, “Ohh! I’m so sorry! Then continued a quick chat, like “Where are you from, what brings you to Russia, etc.” We told her we had seen some Olympic events in Sochi and were visiting Moscow and St. Petersburg too and chatted for a bit about the Olympics.
Then she said, “Where are you staying while in Moscow?” And I said, the Park Hyatt.
She paused, and then said in a very surprised voice, “And you eat HERE at Moo Moo?!?!” I guess she assumed we were very wealthy considering that a “cheap” night at the Park Hyatt can be in the $600 range, and couldn’t figure out why we were eating dinner at a budget cafeteria-style Russian food place.
I didn’t want to go into the long explanation of the fact that the hotel was free thanks to points!
Anyway, it’s always nice to encounter such friendly people when traveling!
Russia Trip Report Links:
Part 1: Introduction
Part 7: Luge
Part 8: Olympic Park (covering two days)
Part 9: Speed Skating and Ski Jumping
Part 10: Sochi – The Ugly
Part 12: Moscow by Night: Our first evening
Part 13: Moscow Part 3 (More sites near Red Square)