This small museum houses a massively worthwhile exhibition. Though it's virtually all in Russian, I would also encourage non Russian-speakers to visit. If you know something about GULAG already, you'll find the artefacts and artworks fascinating. If you are visiting Moscow and don't know anything about GULAG; you need to learn. I was made to feel very welcome and given a personal guided tour.
16, Petrovka St.
Me and my girlfriend (we are a lesbian couple) traveled from Moscow to Ekaterinburg, and on to Volgograd. The trip was amazing. We were a bit worried about traveling without male company, but I must say Russia is one of the friendliest and untouristy places I've ever been.
It is a big advantage to know some Russian. Outside of Moscow we met nobody who spoke English. I found Moscow very stressful and expensive. It was the least pleasant city we visited. Our next stop was Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan. I highly recommend Kazan. It's an old, beautiful and exotic city with a mix of Tatars and Russes living there. The atmosphere was far more relaxed than in Moscow.
Kazan offers great mosques, and is the Muslim centre of Russia. It's a great place to relax and stroll about. This city has some stunning sights, including the UNESCO listed Kreml.
Our next stop was Ekaterinburg. We were told that it was situated in the Ural mountains, but we never saw a glimpse of them. Nevertheless; Ekaterinburg is a very pleasant and chilled city. It has a very western feeling to it. It's easy to find western food, as there's plenty of Irish pubs there. I recommend going to the Altay building. There you can take a lift and see the city from the rooftop. It's quite stunning. There's plenty of theatres all around the city, and even though you don't understand Russian, don't miss the opportunity to catch local theatre-troops.
A great place (although hard to find) to stay is the guesthouse called Academy of Geology. It's peaceful and has beautiful rooms.
From Ekaterinburg we went south to Ufa. Ufa is the capital of the Republic of Bashkortostan. Ufa was quite hard to get around, but it is still worth a visit. You can visit one of Lenin's homes and spot some unique architecture. The atmosphere in Ufa is, like in Kazan, very different from the Russian cities. I highly recommend the Azimut hotel (Bus stop Gore Moskva). It's a business hotel with great standards and a friendly staff.
On to Volgograd. Volgograd is probably one of the most beautiful cities I've been to. Situated on the banks of the Volga river with an almost tropical climate, it almost feels like you're in Greece. This is a city of history. The name Stalingrad might ring a bell. The most stunning thing to see in Volgograd is the huge Mother Russia statue. It's the highest statue in the world (72 m). It's an unbelievable sight when you compare it to a church that stands beside it. It looks more like a doll's church.
I also recommend the Stalingrad Battle museum, and the Volga river cruises. There are plenty of offers. Volgograd was really easy to get around in. The city centre is quite small, and it's easy to navigate because of the river. The Volgograd Hotel is cheap and amazing.
We had a wonderful time in Russia. My girlfriend knows some Russian and that came in extremely handy. We got quite used to people looking at us, but we never felt threatened or harassed. The most common comment we got from other women was that we were brave to travel by ourselves.
One thing that is difficult however, is buying train tickets. You will need to write down the information for the train you are going on, how many tickets you need, and what kind of cupee you want. And prepare for long lines. It might take hours to get your tickets. We always went in a 4-people compartment. It was a great way to travel. We shared compartments with so many different people, and it was a great way to get to know Russians. It's important to bring some food or beverage to share.
Girls; go to Russia. It is a fascinating place....
This modern sculpture to the ship-loving Tsar provokes astonishment and horror in equal measure from locals and visitors alike. It’s huge and is situated on the tip of an island in the Moskva River, near the Sculptures Park. It’s best viewed from the southern embankment though you can go onto the island if you so wish.
It depicts Peter steering a sailing vessel and has all manner of strange adornments right down to its considerable base. It’s worth seeing just for its hugeness and at the very least for having your photo taken in front of. Possibly the largest piece of kitsch in the world.
Bolotnaya Nab; nearest Metro: Polyanka
Most people are familiar with the beautiful multi-coloured domes of St Basil’s in Red Square whether they’ve been to Moscow or not. Fewer people seem to venture inside for a completely different experience of this iconic cathedral. It’s like wandering into something from Lord of the Rings.
Unlike most cathedrals there’s no grand space for worshipping – it’s best described as a series of small chapels connected by dark tunnels, it almost out-goths gothic. It seems appropriate that it was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible somehow, full of dark secrets as it is.
Yet it was named after the Russian saint, Basil the Fool, whose grave lies under one of the chapels. Like the building, a paradox indeed.
Red Square; nearest metro: Okhotny Ryad
Worth pausing for a moment if you’re passing. You may remember the TV news images of this government building being bombarded during an attempted coup. In front of the building, Boris Yeltsin climbed atop a tank and pleaded with the army to side with the government.
Krasnopresnenskaya naberezhnaya 2; nearest metro: Krasnopresnenskaya
This is the "open grave" of the great Vladimir Ulyanov himself and it lies on the magnificent Red Square where all the greats of communism have been honoured. Lenin was the original revolutionary and gigantic statues of him abound everywhere, such is his iconic, saviour-like status.
The tomb itself is protects by the old red guard: a number of sullen-looking kite-hatted soldiers who order you to stop talking and remove hands from pockets.
Vladimir was looking very poorly when I saw him, his yellowing skin glistening under the halo of a single spotlight. He wears a permanent grimace of dark intensity and his double-breasted jacket is carefully kept in place by waxy, folded hands.
I took all this in as we all filed past, non-stop, hastened in our progress by the surly, threatening troops. We were clearly not considered true devotees and Lenin wasn't just a museum piece to be gazed at by a bunch of shallow, cashed-up unbelievers.
Of course you must go and see, just for a unique taste of modern Russia's recent, imposing past.
It's on Red Square, up from St Basil's, in front of the impressive Kremlin walls. You'll have to queue, though, but it's worth it
Tolstoy spent his winters here in the later part of his life, and the feel of the house is less like a museum, more like you're having a look round while the family have popped out.
It's quite a large wooden house in the suburbs and there's plenty to see if you're an admirer of Russia's most famous novelist. My favourite is his bicycle, which he only learned to ride in his 80s, and there's also a photo of him riding it down the street outside. A must visit for me.
Ulitsa Lva Tolstovo; nearest metro: Park Kultury
This small town is home to one of the most important religious sites of the Orthodox church, the Monastery of the Holy Trinity. It lies about 70 kilometres north of Moscow and can be visited by joining one of the expeditions organized by local tour companies. The monastery is quite large and impressive from the outside, but its main interest for the tourist are some beautiful and atmospheric interiors. The town is also the birthplace of the Matryoshka doll, which you’ll find being sold in large quantities on stalls outside the monastery, and is also home to a toy museum.
45 miles (70 kilometres) north of Moscow on the Yaroslavl road.
Built in the 16th century as a fortified monastery, this is one of the most beautiful sights in Moscow. The buildings are set in tranquil gardens and next to a small lake which affords some of the best views from its far bank. It's rumoured that the nuns prevented Napoleon from blowing the convent up by extinguishing the fuses with their bare hands. Adjacent is the cemetery which boasts the tombs of Kruschev, Chekhov and Gogol among other famous names.
Novodevichiy Prospekt, nearest Metro Sportivnaya.
Travel around town on the underground. It's cheap, the stations are dotted all over the place and, most importantly, many of the stations are spectacular monuments to the slave labour that built them. Marvel at the chandeliers, the enormous statues, the weird Stalinist architecture and the murals of happy workers.
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