Day 6. Our final day in Moscow

We woke to more heavy overnight snow, creating a winter wonderland panorama from our 23rd floor bedroom window.  As it was our final day, we over-indulged with a large breakfast and then bid our farewells to the lovely restaurant staff who had looked after us all week.

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Entrance to Sokolniki Park, Moscow

After packing our belongings together we set off for a stroll through the local Sokolniki Park as we had only previously viewed it at night.  The ice rink was already crowded at 11.00 a.m. but as it was a Saturday, Muscovites were starting their weekend with some exercise and a spot of festive fun.

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Morning stroll in Sokolniki Park

It was lovely walking through the fresh snow and enjoying the festive music from the park’s loudspeakers.  We wandered over to the fairground which was located at one side of the park and appeared to be quite old but still in working order.

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Ice skating in Sokolniki Park, Moscow
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Illuminated walkway in Sokolniki Park

The wood burning braziers were already lit so we warmed our hands on one of them for a final time before setting off back to the hotel, pausing to admire the Church of the Resurrection just outside the park gates, it’s onion shamed domes looking even more beautiful in the snow.

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Brazier in Sokolniki Park

Back at the hotel, we made ourselves cups of tea before checking out of our room.  The Holiday Inn Sokolniki had exceeded expectations and being conveniently located opposite a metro station meant that we could move around the city with ease.

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Church of the Resurrection, Sokolniki

Returning to the airport was quite easy and inexpensive.  We took the metro to Okhotny Ryad (near Red Square) and connected on foot via an underpass to its adjoining station Teatralnaya to take another train to its terminus at Domodedovskaya.  From there we heaved our suitcases up flights of steps in search of the airport bus.  As we had arrived by this route earlier in the week, we assumed that the bus would depart from the same stop where we had alighted.  We waited in the freezing cold for several minutes at the bus stop which had a large 308 and aircraft logo on its sign.  When the bus finally arrived and we tried to board, the driver waved his arms, closed the doors and drove off!  Thankfully, we had allowed plenty of time and eventually found the bus stop across the road opposite McDonalds.  I still don’t know why the original bus stop was numbered as there didn’t seem to be anything referring to ‘alighting only’.  Please remember that if you are planning on returning to Domodedovo airport by metro and bus that this service is not covered by the travel pass and you will need to pay 120 Roubles in cash.  As with the outbound journey, there was insufficient space for luggage and we had to leave our cases blocking the aisle at the rear of the bus.  The journey terminates at the airport, taking approximately 35 minutes along motorway type roads and makes speedy progress.

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Domodedovo Airport, Moscow

On entering the departure hall there was no queue at the British Airways desk but the conveyor belt had stopped working. Due to this following check-in, we had to take our luggage to another desk for them to be able to start their journey to the aircraft.  It was very quiet on a mid-December Saturday afternoon, with security deserted and hardly anyone waiting at immigration.  This gave us more time to relax before boarding our BA 787-900 Dreamliner which had more legroom and better amenities than the A321 we arrived on.

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Waiting at the gate for our flight to London Heathrow

A drinks trolley came round shortly after take off and I enjoyed a refreshing gin and tonic.  The snack served a little later was identical to the outbound flight, comprising a houmous and falafel wrap and a small bar of Toblerone with tea or coffee.  We them had a second alcoholic drink a little later during the four hour flight.  Catching up on more films, I watched Churchill which was very enjoyable and then started watching Hampstead but as I was quite sleepy, I didn’t actually see much of it.

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Snack meal on board the flight to London Heathrow

London didn’t feel much warmer than Moscow as we made our way to our airport hotel.  Waking up the next morning, it was actually snowing and the English countryside resembled a winter wonderland as our train headed north – I think we must have brought the snowy conditions back with us from Russia!  We returned home safe and sound after an absolutely lovely 6 days in Moscow.

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Modernist Christmas Tree in King’s Cross Station, London

I would definitely recommend a visit to the Russian capital, especially in December when the Christmas market is in full swing and the city is blanketed in snow.  We were able to gain entry to both the Kremlin and Lenin’s Mausoleum without queuing and apart from using the metro, it was never busy.

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St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow

In the first post of this series, I moaned about the exorbitant cost of Russian visas but the trip turned out to be well worth the cost and effort of obtaining one. We actually spent far less than expected, a week’s travel card costing £10, and entrance to the Kremlin £6.30.  Dining was also reasonable, even in the GUM department store and who could resist delicious sausages and mulled wine in Red Square at only £4 for both – we certainly couldn’t!  Let’s hope it’s not too long before we are able to make a return visit.

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Festive Decorations in Red Square
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Day 5. Exploring more of Moscow

After breakfast, we took the metro to the new central business district, known as Moscow City. Located at the Delovoy Tsentr metro stop, the station has a modern ‘high-tech’ feel to blend in with the skyscraper landscape above ground.

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Moscow City

Moscow City consists of several towers built in futuristic styles, each tower having its own distinctive design.  The tallest tower is the Federation Tower which is located in the centre of the district.

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The AFI Mall, Moscow City

Walking around, it’s rather like Canary Wharf in London but much quieter.  There’s a huge indoor shopping centre called the AFI Mall with 400 stores, restaurants, cafes and a cinema.  It was interesting window shopping but the majority of the stores were global household names that we could find at home, so there was little point in making purchases.

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Christ the Saviour Cathedral, Moscow

Moving on, our next stop was to the Christ the Saviour Cathedral.  This was a little awkward to get to, as from Moscow City we needed to travel one stop on the metro changing four times.  It was worth the effort though, as this Russian Orthodox Church is a beautiful sight.

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View of the Kremlin from the footbridge

The cathedral was originally consecrated in 1883 but was singled out by the Soviet government for demolition in 1931.  The cathedral was re-built in 2000 loosely based on its original designs using modern building materials.  The interior has bronze walls and an exquisite central dome and is free to enter but photography is not permitted.

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Attractive lampposts along the footbridge

A footbridge across the river was constructed in 2004 offering some excellent views of the Kremlin and the cathedral.

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Ready to welcome the new year outside the metro station

it was then back on the metro one stop to the Bibliotek station so that we could visit the Russian State Library.  This modern Soviet style building was completed in 1958 and is the National Library of Russia.  It is the largest library in the country and the fourth largest in the world for its collection of books.

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The Russian State Library

Non members need to call into the information office just inside the main entrance to collect a visitor’s badge to look around.  Coats and large bags must be left in the cloakroom where the friendly attendants seemed very organised also taking care of scarves, hats and gloves.  There is no charge for the cloakroom and visitors are issued with a ticket to reclaim their belongings.

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The central concourse, Russian State Library

I’m a lover of libraries so it was a treat to be able to look around.  After climbing the wide, marble pillared staircase, we wandered along corridors passing from one room to another. Along the way we admired oak, glass fronted bookcases and shelves housing some of its 17.5 million books.

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Reading room, Russian State Library

There are 36 reading rooms catering for over 2,000 people, these are equipped with traditional dark green reading lamps and surrounded by old volumes of Lenin, Marx and Tolstoy.

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Shelves of books in the Russian State Library

From the upper floor windows we enjoyed good views across the city.  Here we found some leather sofas to sit and take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city centre for a few minutes and enjoy the peace and quiet of the library.

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Alexander Park, Moscow

After collecting our coats we jumped back on the metro for a late lunch near Red Square then strolled through the Alexander Gardens to view the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  Two soldiers wearing grey fur hats to keep out the cold stand to attention beside the walls of the Kremlin, guarding the tomb and its eternal flame.

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The tomb of the unknown soldier, Moscow

The tomb holds the remains of one soldier who died in December 1941 bearing an inscription that translates as ‘Your name is unknown, your deeds immortal’.  Every hour, on the hour the guards perform a ceremony to change duty and as luck would have it, we were able to see this happen.

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Guard on duty at the tomb of the unknown soldier

We continued through the gardens and then walked along the Moskvoretskaya embankment to the new Zaryadye Park which has only been open for three months.  This 35 acre park is built on the site of the former Rossiya Hotel which was demolished in 2006.  I was eager to visit this park, as on my previous visit to the city shortly after leaving school, I stayed in what was then the world’s largest hotel.

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Zaryade Park, Moscow

Known for their work on the New York City High Line, the New York based architects introduced the concept of ‘wild urbanism’ harmonising urban life and nature.  The park features four traditional landscape zones – tundra, steppe, forest and wetland and uses the latest technology to create micro climates within the park.

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The floating bridge in Zaryade Park, Moscow

It was falling dark as we strolled along the smart, wooden walkways through the trees and followed the one-way path onto the floating bridge over the Moskva River.  Here we viewed the city’s iconic buildings and the slow moving traffic down below on the embankment.  The park includes an amphitheatre, five pavilions and a Philharmonic concert hall.

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View from Zaryade Park, Moscow

Having enjoyed our visit to the park, we returned to our hotel in Sokolniki for a short rest and spent a few minutes checking in for our return flight to London the following evening.  It was 8.00 p.m. and snowing heavily when we went back out and Red Square looked beautiful in the thick snow.

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Entrance to the Red Square Christmas Market

Eating in GUM, we started our meal with bowls of Borscht which is a Russian / Ukrainian sour beetroot soup with meat and sautéed vegetables and just perfect for a cold winter’s night.

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Folk dancing in the Red Square Christmas Market

After a final wander around the elaborate GUM store we strolled through the Christmas market outside its doors.  A folk group were performing on the stage and it was fun watching people dancing in the snow to their melodies.

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The Christmas Market in front of the GUM Department Store

Although we had just eaten dinner we couldn’t resist the temptation of a sausage from the grill which was served with warm bread and pickles.  It was a magical experience enjoying the festivities as the snow was falling and we felt a little sad that we had to leave the next day.

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The countdown clock for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Red Square, Moscow

Before returning to the hotel for the night, we took the metro one stop to Lubyanka to view this district after dusk.  Outside the metro station stands the huge Central Children’s Store, a vast emporium dedicated to childhood.

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The Central Children’s Store, Lubyanka

The main hall is 7 floors high and features a huge clock mechanism on one wall. The hall is decorated with stained glass pictures and an interactive Alice in Wonderland colouring book.

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Inside the Central Children’s Store, Lubyanka

It was almost 10.30 p.m. when we stepped inside thinking that it would be closing soon, but no fear, it’s actually open until 3.00 a.m. each day, so we had plenty of time to explore.  Although it’s called a store it’s really a huge shopping centre dedicated to children with a branch of Hamley’s, a Lego store and much more.  I’m so pleased we found time to visit as it’s an enchanting place, bringing out the child in all of us.

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Lubyanka looking beautiful in the snow

We rounded off the evening strolling under the twinkling festive lights of Lubyanka’s designer avenue, returning to our hotel at midnight after yet another splendid day exploring Moscow.

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The festive lights of Lubyanka

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Day 4. More sightseeing in Moscow

There had been more snow overnight but it was a reasonably bright morning.  Our first stop after breakfast was Lubyanka, which is the next station on Line 1 from Red Square.

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The former KGB Building, Lubyanka Moscow

Climbing the steps from the metro station we could see the former headquarters of the KGB across the square.  Lubyanka was once a name associated with violence and torture but times have changed and it is now an affluent district filled with luxury shops.  Just off Lubyanka Square we strolled through a stone archway onto Tretyakovsky Passage, the only street in Moscow to be built from private funds.  Since 2000 it has been one of the most expensive shopping streets in the world with Bentley and Ferrari showrooms alongside Prada, Armani, Gucci and numerous other designer stores.

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Tretyakovsky Passage Lubyanka Moscow

Our morning stroll continued through this affluent area towards Red Square passing the Bolshoi theatre, a statue of Karl Marx and the beautiful Government of Moscow building, home of the Moscow mayor.

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The Bolshoi Theatre Moscow
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Government House, Moscow

A little further along Tverskaya Street we popped into the elaborate Eliseevsky grocers.  Entering the shop is like walking into a museum with its awe inspiring neo-classical architecture and sumptuous decorations.

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Elseevssky Grocers, Moscow


Cakes, pastries, hand made chocolates, caviar and many other Russian delicacies are on offer and surprisingly its prices are only slightly higher than regular supermarkets.

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Inside Elseevsky Grocers, Moscow

On reaching Pushkinskaya Square we paused to admire the huge statue of the celebrated poet Alexander Pushkin before taking the metro to Smolenskaya station so that we could explore Arbat Street.  This cobbled, pedestrianised street retains buildings reminiscent of its elegant past.  The 1 km street has existed since the 15th century, making it one of the oldest surviving streets in Moscow.

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Arbat Street, Moscow

Originally the street formed part of a trade route and was home to a large number of craftsmen.  Nowadays it’s mostly a collection of restaurants and gift shops aimed at tourists but still a very pleasant place for a stroll and to stop for morning coffee.

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Arbatskaya Metro Station, Moscow

The pedestrianised street opens up into Arbat Square where we found the Ministry of Defence and the chapel of St. Boris and St. Gleb.  This church was built in 1997 to replace a similar church which was destroyed 70 years earlier.

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Elegant metro station platforms

We caught the metro from the Arbatskaya station featuring a high vaulted ceiling which is elaborately decorated with ornamental brackets, floral mosaics and chandeliers.  Our next stop was at Partizanskaya station in the north east of the city to visit the Izmailovsky district.  Partizanskaya is yet another beautiful station with its platform walls and pillars faced with white marble.

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Partizanskaya Metro Station, Moscow

The Izmailovsky cultural centre and market are a ten minute walk from the metro station.  It was a little confusing to locate.  To get there we needed to cross the road outside the station, walk under an archway and continue past a large hotel on our left before seeing the complex in the distance.

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Ismailovsky Cultural Centre, Moscow

Modelled on traditional Russian architecture these buildings were only completed in 2007.  The complex houses several small niche museums focusing on such things as vodka and bread.  Popular with tourists is the vast Izmailovsky open-air market selling souvenirs and traditional handicrafts.

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Ismailovsky Cultural Centre, Moscow

Only a few stalls were open during our December visit as not many people were around but I can imagine it to be crowded during the summer months.  We found decorative eggs, lacquered boxes, wooden nesting dolls and fur hats amongst other trinkets and souvenirs to take home as souvenirs of a visit to Russia.

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Ismailovsky Cultural Centre, Moscow

We then returned to our hotel to warm up with a relaxing sauna and to take a rest before setting off out once again in the sub zero temperatures for our evening meal.  Instead of returning to the city centre we opted instead to spend the evening near our hotel in Sokolniki.  Our evening stroll took us to Sokolniki Park, a ten minute walk from the hotel.

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Illuminated gateway to Sokolniki Park, Moscow

Brightly illuminated entrance gates welcomed us into the park where we found some little wooden huts selling snacks and hot drinks.  We continued to Festival Square which, during the winter months, is home to a 5,600 m2 ice rink.  There were people of all ages enjoying the ice, circling the rink to the sounds of festive music such as ‘Frosty the Snowman’ and ‘Santa Claus is coming to town’.

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Sokolniki Park, Moscow

Overlooking the ice rink we spotted an Italian trattoria which looked inviting with its traditional red and white checked tablecloths exuding a cosy atmosphere.  We wandered in and managed to get one of the remaining tables.  Our two course meal was delicious and it was lovely to be able to watch the skating from its large windows.

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Sokolniki Ice Rink, Moscow

All the other diners appeared to be local, enjoying an evening out.  Children coming in with their skates shared pizzas with their families, and a boy at the next table was finishing his homework whilst tucking into a slice of tiramisu.  It was lovely to observe local life and to find this cosy restaurant for dinner despite not sampling Russian delicacies.

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Italian restaurant overlooking Sokolniki ice rink, Moscow

Leaving the restaurant, the ice rink was empty as it was being prepared for the final session of the evening.  It was bitterly cold walking back towards the hotel so we gathered around one of the park’s steel braziers warming our hands on the burning logs for a few minutes.

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Keeping warm in Sokolniki Park Moscow

Back in the hotel we caught up on the news, made a cup of tea and were soon off to sleep after another fun filled day in snowy Moscow.

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Sokolniki Park, Moscow

Day 3. Exploring Moscow

We opened the curtains to find that there had been heavy snow overnight, covering all the surrounding roof tops with a fluffy white blanket.  After a leisurely breakfast we took the metro to Komsomolskaya station which was absolutely beautiful with its painted yellow ceilings and its platforms lit by chandeliers.

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Komsomolskaya Metro Station

The station was designed in Imperial style featuring baroque motifs to create a grand impression for visitors arriving by train. The concourse is located under a large transport hub serving three railway terminals and as well as being elegant is also one of the busiest stations on the network.

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Prospekt Mira Metro Station

From there, we moved on to the Prospekt Mira station which opened in 1952 and is located close to the Botanical Gardens of Moscow State University.  The station’s floral theme of white marble pillars contrasts with its dark red marble walls.  The chequered patterned floor made of grey and black granite adds to its charm.  Although the stations are busy with commuters, we found that crowds dispersed quickly giving us approximately 20 seconds to take photos before the next train arrived.

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Prospekt Mira Metro Station

Our journey on the metro took us to the VDNKH station to the north of Moscow as we wished to visit VDNKH which is also referred to as the Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy.  This vast park, which is even larger than the entire principality of Monaco features more than 250 Soviet era pavilions, fountains, a Vostok rocket and a Soviet aircraft.  The park is set out in a series of grand avenues, squares and gardens and covers 20,000 square metres.

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VDNKH Metro Station

The fountains had been turned off for the winter but surrounding them was the biggest ice rink I had ever seen.  This skating rink circles around the main avenues and can cater for a staggering 4,500 people at any one time, and is thought to be the largest in Europe.

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Entrance Archway to the VDNKH Park

Even though it was only about 11.00 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, there were numerous people out enjoying the ice and we had some excellent skating views from the top of a bridge crossing the park.

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One of the park pavilions

Unfortunately, many of the pavilions and grand archways were covered in scaffolding whilst renovations were taking place ahead of the FIFA 2018 World Cup tournament to be held in the city.

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Ice skating through the park

After a lengthy stroll through the grounds we popped into a cafe for some hot drinks and a snack before returning to the metro station by monorail.  The monorail comprises 6 stations and is the only monorail operating in Russia. It is officially known as Metro Line 13 being a ticketed part of the metro but is generally referred to as the monorail.

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An old Soviet airliner on display in the park

The separate carriages seat 8 passengers with a large standing area between the seats.  It was very quiet when we travelled on the system, so different from the usual hustle and bustle of life on the Moscow metro.

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Travelling on the Moscow Monorail

Despite our journey being short, we enjoyed some good aerial views of the park and of the statue outside the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics.  We got off at Timiryazevskaya which is located 50 metres from the metro station on Line 9, the point at which we had started our tour of the park earlier in the day.

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The Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics

Continuing, we took the Red Line to Sportivnaya as we wished to visit the Novodevichy Convent located 500m from the metro.  This convent is a UNESCO World Heritage site and contains many churches and other buildings enclosed within its walls.  Sadly at the time of our visit the entire complex resembled a construction site. Most buildings were under polythene wraps and covered in scaffolding, presumably in preparation for World Cup visitors next summer, but not at all photogenic for us.

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Novodevichy Convent

Because of this, we decided to postpone our tour of the convent until a future visit to Moscow and instead walked through the thick snow to the convent’s southern wall to access the Novodevichy Cemetery.  This cemetery was inaugurated in 1898 and the remains of many famous Russians are buried there.  It holds the tombs of Russian authors, poets, musicians, political leaders and scientists.

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Novodevichy Cemetery

At the entrance, we rubbed snow off the cemetery plan using our gloves.  This listed famous people and their plot numbers and on looking through the list, we decided to search for the tombs of Chekhov, Yeltsin, Kruschev and Raisa Gorbachev.  Having made a note of their numbers we set off to try and find some or all of these graves but as the plot numbers were blanketed in thick snow our task proved impossible.  Instead, we just wandered around, admiring the headstones, the cemetery feeling very atmospheric in the blizzard conditions.  Apart from one Chinese tour group, there were few people around as it wasn’t really the weather for a tour around a graveyard.

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Main entrance gate to Gorky Park

Leaving the cemetery we decided to lift our spirits with a visit to the nearby Gorky Park which was just two stops away at Park Kultury station on Line 1.  This well known park was named after the author Maxim Gorky and to reach its entrance from the metro we crossed the road bridge over the wide Moskva river.  Here, we were welcomed into the park by its beautifully illuminated, imposing Soviet entrance gate whose towering columns bear hammers and sickles.

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Walking through Gorky Park

The park was founded in 1928 and houses a huge skating rink with separate zones for figure skating, dancing, children, ice hockey and general skating.  The paths through the park looked gorgeous with their simple yet stylish lighting effects.  In 2011 Gorky Park underwent a major re-construction programme with monuments being renovated and old fairground rides demolished making it a more attractive green space within the city.  The park stretches along the banks of the Moskva river and on reaching its southern end we crossed the river by the Andreyevsky pedestrian bridge.  From this glass covered bridge we had some good views of the river and the illuminated buildings surrounding it.

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Statues outside the Ministry of Defence Headquarters in Moscow

We walked back to Port Kultury metro station passing the huge headquarters of the Ministry of Defence on our way.  Snow had continued to fall all day and roads were constantly being cleared by convoys of snow ploughs whilst large numbers of street cleaners with shovels tried their best to keep footpaths clear.

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Heritage livery on the Moscow Metro

Back on the metro, it was interesting observing other passengers who appear to act the same the world over.  One lady was trying to solve a Sudoku puzzle, another was reading from a Kindle whilst most were glancing at their phones.

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St Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square

We returned to the hotel for a rest and a relaxing visit to the sauna before heading back to Red Square to eat dinner once again in the GUM department store and then enjoy some of the festivities in the Christmas market.

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Festive decorations inside the GUM Department Store

Day 2. Visiting the Kremlin

Another surprise awaited us when we went downstairs for breakfast, as on giving our room number we were diverted to the Executive Lounge which was a raised area along one side of the restaurant.  Here we found lots to tempt us, setting us up for the day ahead.  Using the coffee machine initially appeared problematic as all the options were in Russian but a helpful waitress came to help me find the cappuccino button.

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Resurrection Gate, Red Square

Also on offer in the Executive Lounge were vodka and sparkling wine.  I spotted several business men mixing vodka with tomato juice which didn’t appear to be the best start to a working day.  I, on the other hand, was more than happy with freshly squeezed grapefruit juice which was delicious!

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Kazan Cathedral, Red Square

At around 9.30 a.m. we wrapped up warm and wandered across the road to the Sokolniki metro station from where we took the train to Red Square’s Oxhotny Ryad station.  It was so much easier using the metro without our heavy luggage and as we left the station it was snowing lightly.  Red Square was looking festive with its ice rink, huge Christmas tree and Christmas market in front of the GUM department store.

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Walking alongside the Kremlin walls

We decided to start the day with a visit to Lenin’s Mausoleum which we accessed from the far end of the square.  The Mausoleum opens at 10.00 a.m. and although we’d read about lengthy queues, there was no wait at all to go inside.  After passing through a security check we were directed along a pathway beside the Kremlin wall where we paused to view several war memorials and a statue of Stalin.

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GUM Department Store and Christmas Market, Red Square

On entering the Mausoleum, men must remove hats and all visitors remain silent and respectful in the dimly lit hall where photography is forbidden.  As long as the queue is not overly long, I would suggest adding a visit to the Mausoleum which is free to visit.

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Lenin’s Mausoleum

Moving on, we admired the beautiful St. Basil’s Cathedral with its magnificent onion shaped domes.  The Cathedral was completed in 1560 and is now a museum with only one church service taking place in October each year.

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St. Basil’s Cathedral

Leaving there, we walked around the perimeter of the Kremlin along the banks of the Moskva river returning to its entrance in Alexander Park.  On one of the snowy paths I lost my footing and fell backwards, landing in thick snow.  I was perfectly all right but needed dusting down as I resembled a snowman with large flakes of snow stuck to my dark grey coat.  After my minor incident we continued to the Kremlin ticket office where we bought two tickets for the Cathedral tour which also included all the external sites.  This option cost 500 Roubles (£6.30) each.  I suggest checking out the Kremlin website before visiting as there are so many different ticket options available that it can be quite confusing deciding which to choose.  Again, there were no queues at all and after another security check, we were soon crossing the bridge to enter the Kremlin through the Troitskaya Tower.

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Entering the Kremlin

As might be expected, the Kremlin covers a large area overlooking the Moskva river.  We started our self guided tour viewing the Tsar Bell which was cast in 1735.  In May of that year a huge fire broke out and spread to the Kremlin buildings, cold water fell on the bell which was still in its cast.  This sudden change of temperature caused it to crack resulting in a huge piece weighing 11.5 ton breaking off.  The Tsar Bell is considered to be the biggest bell in the world weighing approximately 202 ton with a height of 6.14 metres.

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Tsar Bell, Kremlin

Standing near the bell is the Tsar Cannon which is a unique item of the Kremlin’s artillery collection which was created in 1586. It has never been shot or used in war and is adorned with decorative cast figured friezes.

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Tsar Cannon, Kremlin

Our walk then took us alongside the Grand Kremlin Palace which was originally the Tsar’s Moscow residence and is currently the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation.  We then viewed the Kremlin Cathedrals including the Cathedral of the Assumption which is the oldest and most important church in the Kremlin.  The interior was magnificent with much intricate detail.  Photography is not permitted inside any of the Kremlin cathedrals.

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Cathedrals of the Kremlin

Leaving the Kremlin we caught the metro from the nearby Aleksandrovsky-Sad station to the Universtet station in the south west of the city as we wished to visit Moscow State University. This iconic building was designed by Lev Rudnev and is the tallest educational building in the world.  Its central tower is 240 m tall and has 36 floors.  It is flanked by four huge wings of student and faculty accommodation and is the tallest of seven Stalinist skyscrapers in Moscow.

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Moscow State University

From the university, we walked through the adjacent park to Sparrow Hills which is one of the highest points in the city.  On a clear day it offers panoramic views but having arrived in a snow storm our views were somewhat obscured.  Fortunately, we were able to make out an outline of skyscrapers in the Central Business District.  We also viewed Luzhniki Stadium from the metro station platform, where the final of the 2018 World Cup football tournament will take place.

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Luzhniki Stadium, Word Cup 2018 Final Venue
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Sparrow Hills Park, Moscow

From the viewpoint we made our way down the steep and slippery path through the Sparrow Hills nature reserve to the Vorobyovy Gory metro station to return to our hotel for a short rest and a relaxing sauna.

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GUM Department Store, Red Square

Feeling refreshed, we caught the metro back to Red Square and wandered around its Christmas Market which was an enchanting experience with its extravagant festive decorations looking even more beautiful in the snow.

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Inside the GUM Department Store

Dominating the eastern side of the square stands the GUM department store, its facade looking stylish and sophisticated with its gold coloured lights stretching along its vast 242m exterior.  Stepping inside, it’s now an opulent palace of capitalism with  many designer stores, restaurants and cafes.  Featuring a glass roof, the building is divided into galleried sections and no expense has been spared in decorating it for Christmas with its trees and decorative hot air balloons.  It’s not to be missed and even if you don’t intend buying anything, I believe a visit to Moscow should always include a visit as it’s an absolute delight to wander round.

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Ice Skating in Red Square, Moscow

Up on the top floor there are a collection of moderately priced restaurants and cafes.  We dined in Stolovaya 57 which was tucked away in one corner and our two course meal was good but served lukewarm which was a little disappointing as we like our food piping hot.

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Arbatskaya Metro Station

Leaving GUM we hopped back on the metro to take a look at some of its grand stations.  Whilst navigating the Moscow Metro it’s easy to determine the direction of travel as trains heading towards the city centre have male announcements whilst those heading away from the centre feature female announcements.  On the Circle line, clockwise announcements are male and anti-clockwise female.  The system was initially intended to assist the visually impaired but is helpful to all commuters.

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Kievskaya Metro Station, Moscow

I would recommend picking up a metro map which displays both the English and Cyrillic station names as the majority of stations have signs only in Cyrillic and most of these bear little or no resemblance to the English translation.

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Kievskaya Metro Station, Moscow

Visiting some of the metro stations is a definite must see on any visit to the Russian capital.  The incredible, luxury underground made of marble and granite is a special place filled with impressive artworks and chandeliers dating back to the era of socialist realism.  We toured Kievskaya station, here we found exquisite mosaics embedded in frames with motifs of Ukrainian ornaments, telling the story of the mutual relationship between the Ukraine and Russia.

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Ploshchad Revolyutsii Metro Station, Moscow

Before returning to our hotel for the night we took a look at one final station, Ploshchad Revolyutsii (Revolution Square) which features 76 bronze life size statues.  All the stations we passed through were immaculately clean with no litter or graffiti and we felt completely safe and at ease both on and off the trains.  It was then time to return to the hotel for the night after a splendid day exploring the Russian capital.

Day 1.  The start of our Moscow adventure

The thought of standing in a snow carpeted Red Square on a cold winter’s day seemed appealing, so we booked a few days in Moscow.  It’s necessary to obtain a visa before arriving in Russia and this can dissuade potential visitors from travelling.  To help demystify the process I’ll explain how we went about it.

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Festive cheer at the Ibis Heathrow Central

After booking our flights, we then looked for suitable hotels.  A hotel voucher / confirmation is required as part of the visa application with some hotels charging around £15 per person for this document but we found that the Holiday Inn offered this service free of charge.  On completing our hotel reservation we emailed the hotel who sent us the confirmation by return.  The next step was to complete the online visa application form which can be submitted up to six months before departure, details can be found here.

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Check-in zone, Terminal 5, Heathrow Airport

The form is quite lengthy with many questions and does turn into something of a memory test though, asking you to list countries visited in the last ten years.  Once this form has been completed and printed off, a recent passport sized photo needs to be attached and then these documents must be taken along with a passport to one of the VFS offices within the next 30 days (London, Manchester or Edinburgh in the U.K.).  As they are only open week days it’s inconvenient but fortunately we happened to be in London mid week during August so were able to submit our applications there.

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Waiting at the gate for our flight

The London office is located a few minutes walk from the Barbican underground station and we arrived at 8.45 a.m. shortly after it opened hoping that it wouldn’t be too busy then.  It took around 20 minutes before a clerk checked our paperwork, took our fingerprints and requested an extortionate £118.20 each made up of £70 for a single entry visa, £38.40 service charge and £9.80 for returning the passport one week later.  I assume a similar procedure is necessary to obtain Russian visas from other countries and hope this information may be useful.

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On board the British Airways A321 airliner

As our flight to Moscow was a 10.15 a.m. departure from London Heathrow we travelled down the previous afternoon, spending the night at the Ibis Heathrow Central.  Passengers can travel free on buses in the Heathrow travel zone which serves several hotels saving the standard £1.50 fare.  This includes a stop just around the corner from the Ibis on the north eastern boundary.

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Snack meal served on board the flight

Our room was very comfortable and we enjoyed a good night’s sleep before heading off to the airport.  We were again able to enjoy free travel to Heathrow’s bus station, and from there caught the Heathrow Express over to Terminal 5 which is free to use between terminals.  Checking in for our British Airways flight to Moscow was quick and after passing through security we were soon enjoying an airside breakfast in the Giraffe cafe on the upper floor of the terminal building.

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Sokolniki Station sign in Cyrillic
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Travelling on the Moscow Metro

Our flight, on board an A321 airliner boarded promptly but we were then held on the stand whilst waiting for the wings to be de-iced.  Following this procedure, we were soon underway just 20 minutes behind schedule.  The aircraft had numerous empty seats and we were fortunate to have one next to us, enabling us to spread out a little.  In our World Traveller cabin, seats were equipped with blankets, cushions and headphones and there was a reasonable selection of films to watch.

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Holiday Inn Sokolniki, Moscow

Although complimentary refreshments are no longer served on BA short haul flights, they are provided on flights to and from Moscow.  A drinks trolley came round thirty minutes after take off and I settled down with a gin and tonic whilst watching the film Dunkirk.  A little later, a snack box comprising a tasty falafel and houmous wrap plus a Toblerone chocolate bar was served with a choice of hot and cold drinks.  After viewing Dunkirk, I felt a little sleepy so listened to some festive music before touching down in Moscow’s Domodedovo airport at 5.30 p.m.  The flight time was four hours plus a three hour time adjustment.

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Reception desk at Holiday Inn Sokolniki, Moscow

Landing cards are not required as passengers should have valid visas for entering Russia and although we had printed out a copy of our hotel confirmation this was not needed to be shown at Border Control which we passed through without delay.

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Festive decorations hung on our door

After leaving the Baggage Reclaim Hall, our first task was to obtain some Roubles from an ATM which did not charge for withdrawals.  Being in possession of some cash we left the terminal building in search of the bus station from where we caught the shuttle bus (No.308) to the nearest metro station at Domodedovskaya.  This bus runs every few minutes and costs 120 Roubles (£1.50).  The service is excluded from the Moscow Metro travel pass and must be paid in cash.  The bus was smaller than expected with little room for bulky luggage so the driver piled suitcases around his seat for the 35 minute journey.

Our room at the Holiday Inn Sokolniki

It was below freezing and snowing heavily as we pulled our suitcases along to the Domodedovskaya metro station entrance.  The majority of Moscow’s metro stations do not have lifts with many only having step access, so be prepared to heave luggage up and down flights of steps whilst in transit to and from the airport.  We bought 7 day travel passes which cost 800 Roubles (£10) each providing excellent value for travel by metro, trolley-bus, bus, train and monorail.  The ticket office staff did not speak English but by pointing to the required ticket and using hand gestures to explain the number needed, we had no problems and were able to pay by credit card.  Station names are written in Cyrillic so its a good idea to have a metro map showing both the English and Cyrillic station names to help navigate the system.  A copy of the metro map can be found here.

Christmas tree in the hotel’s atrium

The Moscow metro is extremely efficient with trains running at up to 90 second intervals.  Although busy, we managed to get seats on the train and there was just enough room to stand our luggage in front of us for the journey to Teatralnaya.  From there, we transferred via an underground walkway to the neighbouring Oxhotny Ryad station for the journey to Sokolniki where our hotel was located.  The Moscow metro fare system is single zone with a flat rate fare payable for either short or longer journeys.  For that reason passengers only need to tap in to stations, the travel card / ticket not being needed to exit stations.  It was pleasing to immediately see our hotel, the Holiday Inn Sokolniki across the road so we were soon indoors where it was warm and cosy.

A snowy Sokolniki outside our hotel

There were no other guests waiting to check in and we were pleasantly surprised to be informed that we had been complimentarily upgraded to an executive room on the uppermost (23rd) floor for our five night stay.  Festive decorations were hanging from our door and there was a Christmas tree at the end of the corridor.  Our room was spacious with a large balcony but at sub-zero temperatures it was unlikely that we would find it very useful.  As it was quite late we decided to stay local and explore the surrounding area and find somewhere for dinner, leaving exploring central Moscow until the next day.

As this will be my final blog post before Christmas, I would like to wish everyone a very Happy Christmas.