I was in Moscow on the 9th of May. I didn’t know this before, but this is Victory Day, the celebration of the end of the Great Patriotic War (WWII). This is, according to both my tour guide and my hostel owner, the biggest celebration in Russia, bigger than Christmas or Easter. Being here on this weekend has its ups and downs. On the downside lots of things are closed, including the Lenin mausoleum, so after skipping Ho Chi Minh and Mao I’ve missed my last chance to see an embalmed communist. Mind you, I’d quite like to come back to Moscow, and as my tour guide said, he’ll still be dead.
On the upside, massive military parade!
These two photos are from the rehearsal two days before, as ordinary peasants aren’t allowed in to see the real parade, but you can stand on the streets around the Kremlin to see all the armoured vehicles pouring in and out.
Look how happy they are! Who said soviets don’t smile? Just give them a tank.
Also note the difference in weather there – it hasn’t rained in Moscow on Victory Day in decades, and that isn’t an accident. Just to make sure they have clear skies for the parade the government spend thousands in the lead up on cloud seeding – which means releasing chemicals into the clouds to force them to rain on command, thereby clearing the sky for the next few days. It totally works, I was on a walking tour on the 7th and they made it snow on us, then that afternoon and the next two days were absolutely gorgeous.
After the parade I went to Ismailovo Kremlin on a souvenir shipping mission and stumbled across another celebration, which was mainly based around kids singing and dancing in adorable outfits. (The Ismailovo Kremlin by the way, as well as having a bunch of tiny museums – which were shut, has cheaper souvenirs than Arbat street, though sadly not cheap enough for my budget, so the boyfriend will have to go without his fur hat)
After my tour, (which was good despite the snow and half the things we were trying to see being closed!), our guide Elena advised me to go to the Kremlin (the proper one) that afternoon as it would be closed for the rest of the time I was in Moscow. I have to say I knew almost nothing about the Kremlin – I had the impression it was a fortress for some reason and was expecting something stark and forbidding inside.
Instead, there’s a beautiful square with SEVEN different cathedrals round it. (Mind you, if Mr. The Terrible is anything to go by, Russian rulers had a lot of confessing to do)
If you want military strength, there’s also a comedy giant cannon inside the grounds, which is too big to ever work.
Obligatory photo of St Basil’s. Also closed. Pah. But the outside’s more interesting than the inside right? I’m going to assume so.
One of the things I told myself I absolutely had to do in Moscow was see either the ballet or the circus (guess which I ended up doing?). Elena had said it was sometimes possible to get last minute tickets to the ballet for as little as 500 rubles, which is about £9. Sadly when I went to check the only tickets available were 9000 rubles, so I quickly made the decision to go to the circus instead! And I’m so glad I did!
It’s a shame the only photos I could get were of the animals posing in the lobby, as the big cat act was the only disappointing part of the circus. It got the least applause from the mostly Russian audience so maybe it’s not just wannabe politically correct Brits feeling awkward about potential animal cruelty. Let’s be honest, even if they’re the happiest tigers and leopards in the world, they’re still cats and cats are inherently lazy, so they don’t really do the most interesting tricks. On the other hand, the other 90% of the circus is filled with incredible bendy, bouncy magic people juggling rings and twiddling on trapezes and… um… changing their clothes. Very quickly. I remember going to a traveling Moscow circus when I was quite young and being astounded by that act. I still love it.
It makes me wonder what all the furore about gays is about. Russians are famous for circuses, ballets and gold medal gymnastics, how can they still be anti gay when a good proportion of their population is bendy and sparkly and downright fabulous?
With all this stunning weather I had to spend some time outside, and luckily Moscow has great parks and my hostel (Houseton, available on Hostel Bookers) was in a fantastic location less then 5 minutes away from 2 of them.
The Art Muzeon Sculpture Park started of with a few abandoned sculptures of communist leaders, then gradually filled up with more and more weirdness, including a wall of faces, several individual giant ears, and a ferryman with bunny ears transporting rabbits pretending to be in Titanic. After you’re done with the statues, this is right next to the New Tretyakov, a really good contemporary art museum. While I was there they happened to have a temporary exhibition on Bolshoi theatre design, which would have made me almost wish I had seen the ballet or the opera, if the circus hadn’t been good enough to make up for it.
On the other side of the Tretyakov is Gorky park, an enormous park which makes up for what it lacks in statues with activities instead. All around the park people are skating or biking or riding strange pedalo carts, all of which are available to hire. Alternatively, if you’ve been on your feet too long, you can choose:
A sea of hammocks!
I honestly thought that was it for that day. I came back to the hostel, showered, made some dinner, ambled around Facebook and was sat in the kitchen when the owner Kiri, who I hadn’t even met yet, came in and said ‘do you like to skate?’. This was around 10.30. I haven’t been on rollerblades since I was 8. All my sensible boring voices were saying ‘laugh and say no thanks!’ For once, I didn’t listen to those voices, which was how I ended up sort of waddling, clutching on to Kiri’s shoulder and occasionally gliding off in the wrong direction straight into a wall on the way back to the park. Thankfully getting to the park was the hardest bit and once I got there I had sort of got into my stride again, though the downhill parts still made me nearly pee myself with terror. We skated until well past midnight, when I eventually had to give up because my left ankle had gone beyond blister to no skin left , but I can honestly say that I had a lot of fun!
(Edited to add wobbly proof of me on skates!)
And in all that time I only fell on my arse four times!
Shut up, I’d like to see you do better after 20 years.