Coke Smith Photography & Travelogue

Hangin' in Moscow Russia

  Moscow's National Museum located in Red Square.


Moscow Russia!  Where does one begin with a travelogue on a place like this?  In really never thought I would make it to Moscow.  In fact, I never really thought I wanted to make it to Moscow.  During our first five minutes after landing in Sheremetyevo International Airport, I was sure I wanted to get the hell OUT of Moscow!

I had never seen a more chaotic scene in any passport queue in my life.  There were several thousand people jammed in to about 5 kiosks with no lines or order whatsoever.  We were immediately swept in to a frenzy of bodies moving to one side of the entry room.  There were so many bodies that we could not control how we were moving!  Cokie was getting crushed!  This was an incredibly dangerous situation and my son’s safety was at risk.  I did not know what to do, so I screamed at the top of my lungs, “my child is being killed!  Stop! Stop! Stop!”  I screamed many times and looked directly at the armed border guard and started yelling directly at him! (I thought this might be the end of my trip to Russia at this moment.)  At that time, something magical happened.  The wave of human bodies lightened up and the sea parted just like in the Ten Commandments.  All People magically made way for my family (well, at least Cokie and Som).  Cokie and Som were allowed to jump to the front of the line and clear immigration.  As soon as I started to follow, I was clothes-lined in the throat by a large immigrant man (I don’t think he was Russian) and prevented from progressing.  The woman and child were ok; the man had to fight the line just like everyone else.

I eventually made it through the line about 30 minutes later after some pretty sneaky moves myself.  I basically jumped in front of another guy - as he was placing his passport on the counter, I slipped mine in first and slid right underneath him in to the line.  I smiled at him and knew that he could do nothing right in front of the immigration officer.  I was just hoping that I would not meet him again outside as he was pissed!

After paying about $60 for a porter to carry our bags about 10 meters (our first of many Moscow rip-offs…), we were on our way with our driver to our hotel.

Moscow is by far the most expensive city on earth.  Hotels generally go for about $400 to $700 per night for 2 star standards.  We lucked out and got a nice 2-3 star hotel for about $200 per night.  Our travel agent in Moscow who we were using for the rest of our Russia expedition could not believe we got a hotel near Red Square so cheap!

Moscow is one of those cities that you can both love and hate at the same time. By the end of our week in Moscow, both Som and I hated it more than loved it.  When we finally boarded the Transsiberian Express train, we felt an immediate sense of relief that we were finally out of Moscow.  Even while we were still on the tracks at the Moscow Train Station, we felt that Moscow was finally over.  But at the same time, we loved Moscow.  The history and spectacular buildings and structures and experiences we had there will be fond memories for life. 

I will never forget the first time we strolled Red Square after midnight and several shots of quality Russian vodka.  I will never forget exploring Saint Basil’s Basilica (or as Cokie calls it, “the Candy Castle”) and the convents and cathedrals throughout the city.  It was like a trip back through my history books, and I am really glad we spent a full week exploring the bowels of this phenomenal ….and hate-able…city.


Be sure to visit our Russia Galleries!


Take a look at some of our images of Moscow!



Our first night strolling Red Square!  To me this was nearly momentous, having grown up during the peak of the Cold War.  Strolling (and even watching Cokie goose step!) through the old evil empire's front yard was great.  We hung out in the square doing vodka shots (after all, it was cheaper than water...) until well in to the early morning hours...



The "Candy Castle!"  Cokie loved this amazing basilica.  I was very impressed with the beauty and design of Saint Basil's Basilica.  I was stunned when I learned that Stalin wanted to bring it down simply because his troops had to turn to avoid hitting it while marching through Red Square.  What an idiot.




All lit up at night, Cokie said it reminded him of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.



We started and ended most of our days in Moscow by strolling Red Square as our hotel was about a km off the main drag.



We spent most of our time trekking the streets of Moscow.  We also took a Moscow River cruise.  All in all, once we got used to the gruff and rude nature of the Moscovites, we learned to relax and enjoy the city more.



Comrad Cokie!  We spent one morning walking the massive Izmailovsky Park on the outskirts of Moscow's main section.  We really started to get the hang of the Moscow Metro.



We visited the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.  I was unaware at the time that this was a rebuilt version as Stalin had it torn down.  This man was a complete moron.



Crossing the Moskva River! 




We spent the better part of a year planning our multi-month expedition to Russia.  Throughout the entire process, we used a local travel agency in Moscow to handle a lot of our domestic travel arrangements.  I had been emailing Elena (seen here) for nearly a year and we finally met her for a brief time when she was delivering our Transsiberian Train tickets and a few domestic flight vouchers.  We gave her some jewelry that Som had hand made.  Elena was so touched that we heard about Som's gift to her from many of her contacts throughout the trip!



We spent an entire afternoon exploring the amazing art deco Ryabushinsky (Gorky) Mansion.  This spectacular home reminded me of a Frank Lloyd Wright home but only much more interesting.  For some reason, I could not convince the resident Stalinesque Broomhilda that I had paid the entry fee.  She kept following us around asking me demanding questions in Russian.  I couldn't quite understand what she was saying to me, but I finally figured out that she was calling me a liar and that I had not paid!  Finally I found the lady I had actually handed the money to and she vouched for me.  But even after that, she glared at me as if I was some sort of thief.



We spent another afternoon strolling the Old Arbat section of Moscow.  To most tourists this was just a funky and artsy-fartsy part of the town, but to me it was a trip back in time to the Cold War.  I remembered news reports back in the 80's of the Russian school children who made these tiles to plead with Ronald Reagan to stop US agression.  Interesting as this was about the same time that Russia was invading Afghanistan. 


 On our final day in Moscow, we finally made it to Gorky Park.  There is really nothing special in this overblown and horrendously overpriced dump of a park.  The vendors there were very rude to us and on two occasions refused to take money from us.  I had no idea why they were so rude - perhaps we simply had a simple misunderstanding.  But two food stalls refused to sell us any food at all, yet helped some local folks who were immediately after us.  So when Cokie rented this little buggy for a couple laps around the park and started to plough through the gardens of the park, I was not all that sympathetic and even laughed in satisfaction.  Som knew exactly what I meant.  The man who rented us the toy was terrified.  Som and I thought it was charmic.




Som enjoying a $12 latte on Red Square!  Moscow was the most overpriced city I had ever been to.  Service pretty much sucked everywhere too.



A famous fountain in the Old Arbat, a favorite meeting spot for Moscovites.



Tolstoy's actual apartment! 



We visited the Novidevichy Convent and cemetery one afternoon.  The grounds were absolutely spectacular and there was even some good birding in the pond next door.  The cemetery was filled with heroes from the Soviet era and we enjoyed our walk through history.



Kolomenskoye Park's ancient oaks gave a glimpse of what the forests around ancient Moscow must have looked like.  This area was a favorite haunt for Peter the Great.



Dating back to 1532, the Church of the Ascension in Kolomenskoye Park on the outskirts of Moscow was a beautiful way to spend the afternoon.



Peter the Great's cabin in Kolomenskoye Park. 




This giant canon in the heart of the Kremlin is supposed to be one of the largest canons anywhere.  Note the size of the balls behind Cokie.



One afternoon is not enough time to tour the Kremlin properly, but we gave it a good try.  This is an image of the Ivan the Great Belltower.



Yum!  This $20 water bottle was worth every penny!  Actually I found out the hard way that it was NOT the complimentary water provided by the hotel...



Our room was more than adequate. Even though it was more than I had ever paid for a hotel room in my entire life, it was considered to be cheap by Moscow standards, especially considering how close it was to all the action.  Here is Cokie wearing one of mommy's dresses enjoying the room.  (I am wondering about that kid...)



Moscow's Metro stations are superb examples of art deco design.  Each one is unique and spectacular.



On our first day in Russia, before we even explored Moscow at all, we traveled several hours south of Moscow to Serpukhov near Prioksko-Terrasny Nature Reserve.  This beautiful old Russian hamlet was an example of what Russia used to be like.  Here we are at Visochky Cathedral which is very rarely visited by tourists at all.


There was no way I could spend one week in an area without doing some sort of nature activity!  On our first day in Moscow, we arranged a driver to take us several hours south in to the Siberian wilderness of Prioksko-Terrasny Reserve to see the last herds of European Bison in this part of Europe. The differences between these forest dwelling bovids and their praire-dwelling cousins in North America were obvious. 

To see our complete Russian Species List, click here!


Be sure to visit our Russia Galleries!