If I had to describe Moscow in one word it would be imposing. Everything there is big in the grand Soviet style, with everyday buildings having 14 foot or more ceilings and many buildings that are mega blocks themselves. Combine that with a population 2-3 times New York and a Metro with majestic stations that lie deep under the city (seriously, it can take several minutes on the escalator to get down to the platform in many stations) but relatively far apart and you have a city that feels larger than life.
And yet it is beautiful. My first night there I walked into Red Square and the views were breathtaking. The Kremlin on one side, with Lenin’s tomb right there. Saint Basil’s cathedral at one end (you know it, it’s the one with all the pretty colors) and buildings lit up on the other sides. (I later found out that this one is an upscale shopping center, but it was still really pretty). You can’t help but be impressed with it.
Although the city design is a little confusing at first when walking due to its ring Iike design, it was relatively straightforward to get anywhere you needed to go on the Metro. And the people were friendly and willing to help in any way possible, even when the only language we had in common was hand gestures.
The hostel I stayed at also brought a few nice people into my life, and meant the first home cooked meals I’d had in a while (one of the guys is a chef!) I even traveled onward with one of them, Grant (an Aussie), to Saint Petersburg.
But Saint Petersburg is a tale for another time.
A border crossing is often a stressful situation. Much more so when you don’t speak the language, can’t even read the characters and are being glared at by an older woman who is clearly unhappy that she has to deal with you. Oh, and did I mention that it is 2am?
Every evening there is a direct train from Budapest, Hungary that runs on through to Moscow, Russia, stopping in both L’viv and Kiev along the way, as well as a number of local routes. But taking this train across the Hungary/Ukraine border is expensive for some reason – the ticket from Budapest to L’viv was over 75 Euros. ;
A little research later and I found that there is a cheaper way. Taking the same train to the last stop in Hungary, Záhony, you can get off and switch to a border crossing train to Chop, Ukraine and then get back on the same train as before once you get there for the rest of the ride. ;
The downside of course is getting on and off the trains, going through customs & passport control in the station rather then on the train and waiting outside at 2 am until they lower the train back down after switching the wheels so you can board. More on the whole wheel switching thing later – it’s all about track gauges in different countries and other train nerd things. ;
Cost wise though it is less than half the price, and as a budget traveler I welcomed the extra money in my pocket. I recommend it, but know that there are going to be some difficulties along the way if you don’t speak Hungarian or Ukrainian. ;
And if you have to pick a seat on the sleeper train, pick an odd numbered one. The odds were the bottom bunks on the train I had, and definitely the better pick. If you can get one not on the aisle too that’s even better!
Now that all the hard stuff is done I finally have some time to sit down and write. Well no more work at least. Still lots to do before I go, from packing to visas to the last goodbyes. And 100 other little things in between.
Whether I’m ready or not though, I leave in 12 days. So I better get started…
What last minute things did you need to get done before you traveled? What things did you forget about until after you left?