They don’t tell you about the color in Moscow. Or the music. Or how easy it is to wander around, safely.
They don’t tell you that Red Square is clean. That it was designed by an Italian. That it might be cleaner than Tokyo, than Dubai, than Disneyland.
I wasn’t surprised when, fourteen years ago, my mom expressed interest in meeting me in Japan. That made sense to me. After all, she’s Japanese-American. My Spidey-sense did tingle when, nine years ago, she wanted to see Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. But still, she’s “wanderlustful,” and so I chalked it up to the allure of the Great Pyramid. However, when she told me she wanted to travel to Russia, I must admit: I was surprised. There’s been a lot of anti-Russian news on television, and typically that might compromise a person’s desire to leave the safety of southern California. But she knew specifically why she wanted to travel to Russia. She wanted to see St. Basil’s Cathedral.
So we went. And while I had planned to visit Russia someday, I am so happy I did it now, with my mom. It was eye-opening. Perspective-shifting.
We didn’t take a cruise. We didn’t visit Russia with a tour group. We simply booked our flights and booked our hotel.
Our Moscow adventure began when we exited the St. Regis hotel and strolled onto Nikolskaya Street.
Nikolskaya street is rife with shopping opportunities that crescendo when you reach the GUM shopping center: 146 stores that include Cartier, DeBeers, Hermès, Tiffany, and Audemars Piguet. If you’d like to buy a $500,000 Swiss-made timepiece, GUM is the place for you. And it is prime real estate. They pepper the front with fresh flowers.
And the rows of flowers are angled, as if they are pointing at Red Square, which is adjacent to the GUM shopping center.
The size of Red Square is challenging to capture in photographs, and I’m not convinced that my words can provide enough scale. When you include the Kremlin, it’s roughly the size of Disney’s California Adventure. That is to say, it is approximately 70 acres.
As dusk approaches, the buildings start to glow.
And the singing begins. No microphone. Just music. And his voice.
The next day it was time for our massage. We’d booked the St. Regis Nikolskaya via FHR (the American Express travel site that offers heaps of benefits—I’ve written about it here). So, of course, our two 50-minute massages were included with our room reservation.
After our massages, we enjoyed some borscht.
And a beer!
And then it was time to walk around Red Square again. It feels like you’re walking in a fairy-tale. Architecturally, it’s like Caesar’s Palace meets Excalibur. It’s wild.
Later, it was time for a day-tour we’d booked via Get Your Guide. It was a private walking tour that was customized to meet our needs. On our walk, we saw the Monument to Prince Vladimir.
We saw the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. (Do not wear shorts if you want to go inside.)
One of the highlights of our walking tour was seeing a graffiti wall that, according to our guide, began on the day after Christmas, 1991, marking the fall of the Soviet Union. (However, it’s possible that I may have misunderstood our guide, for this wall was located on the famed Arbat Street, and it is quite possibly the Viktor Tsoi graffiti wall, dedicated to remembering a Soviet Rock icon who seemed to represent rebellion. From what I understand, it is a living wall whose colors and messages change weekly.)
We also had an opportunity to enjoy the architecture underground, in the metro.
Should you find yourself in Moscow, take a tour of the metro stations. They apparently doubled as bomb shelters, but they seemed much more like museums doubling as metro stations.
Of course, since seeing St. Basil’s Cathedral was the reason for our trip, we visited it . . . several times each day.
In Mark Twain’s A Tramp Abroad, he writes: “A great and priceless thing is a new interest! How it takes possession of a man! How it clings to him! How it rides him!” Before my mom mentioned St. Basil’s Cathedral, it wasn’t really on my radar. After all, I’m the guy who said “meh” after seeing the Gaudí buildings in Barcelona. But St. Basil’s Cathedral affected me like the Great Wall of China. The shapes, the colors, and the smile on my mom’s face. I was drawn to it all.
So I suppose that’s what they don’t tell you when you plan a trip to Russia. It’s open. It’s free. It’s magnificent. And if you’re like us, you’ll get one final surprise when you take Uber from your hotel to the airport, and you hear: “Hello, is it me you’re looking for?” You’re listening to Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello” on Russian radio.
If you were on the fence about going to Russia, just go. And if you go to Russia for the 2018 World Cup, I’ll probably see you there.
Walking Tour: We booked the “Moscow: Private 4-hour Walking Tour” via Get Your Guide.
Swiss Air A320-100 DME-ZRH (Moscow to Zurich) Business Class*
Swiss Air A330-300 ZRH-YUL (Zurich to Montreal) Business Class*
Air Canada A319 YUL-LAX (Montreal to Los Angeles) Business Class*
*To get from Moscow to Los Angeles, we redeemed 57,500 points apiece, and we paid $50.24 apiece.
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me.