I WAS frolicking in snow flurries, for the first time in my life, in St. Petersburg. I’ve never been anywhere near snow, until a little while ago. It lasted, however, for a short time as we had to leave.
While on board the Aeroflot, I imagined heavy snow in Moscow….
As we descended into Sheremetyevo International Airport, the snowless ground dampened my spirits and, to my absolute surprise, the severely cold weather stung. Hence, the growing concern over the language barrier no longer gave me and Pinky extra “shivers.”
On the contrary, the vibe, drama and splendor of the city streets in December brought feel-good memories to mind. Embracing the cold, we set off discovering downtown Moscow on our own terms. Walking around was our best option.
It’s no secret
The glamour of Moscow has won the hearts of many. Widely regarded as the megacity in the European continent, it is world-famous not just for the hype over sovereignty, but also for its centuries-old history, astounding architecture and fascinating arts and culture. Historic sites like the State Historical Museum, Kremlin, Lenin’s Mausoleum and St. Basil’s Cathedral reign supreme in charming Red Square.
The all-important State Historical Museum in the north holds diverse exhibits of Russian culture and heritage. Not only does it overshadow the city’s Kilometer Zero, its entrance opens up to a whole new view to the vibrant cobblestone plaza, which was turned into an open-air Christmas market, riddled with play rides for children, an ice rink, shops and cafés.
Piqued by curiosity, a number of tourists sought to unravel the mystique of the renowned Kremlin on the west. The red-brick fortress, surrounding 27 hectares, protects the former residence of princes and tsars, the government seat of the Soviet Union and, now, the official office of Vladimir Putin, the incumbent President of the Russian Federation. Situated right by the eastern wall is the monumental mausoleum of the communist leader, Vladimir Lenin. Open to public at no cost, his corpse, embalmed and preserved for almost a century, evokes stories of victory and legends of yesteryears.
Across the square is a grand building called Gum (pronounced goom). The classical design of this three-story department store is imperial, it’s often mistaken for a palace. Its façade is reminiscent of The Hôtel de Ville in Paris (The City Hall). Glass-roofed, it looks like the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan (shopping mall and five-star hotel). While also resembling a European train station, this high-end mall provides a scenic contrast to the colorful vicinity.
Best of all is the most photographed St. Basil’s Cathedral, built in 16th century, on the south. Housing 10 small churches of years past, this iconic museum will have you marveling at its magnificent nine onion-shaped domes, which offer an enchanting blend against the dreamy cityscape.
The Kremlin and Red Square are Unesco World Heritage Sites, listed in 1990. Delighting travelers from all over the world, its enthralling landscape has inspired film settings and novel stories in various languages. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of being surrounded by the grandeur of stunning structures.
In case you were curious about the Bolshoi, look no further than the bustling central square. Home to some of the world’s finest ballet dancers and opera directors, the theater stands in front of Revolution Square, close to the Kilometer Zero landmark. For a taste of entertainment, ballet and opera aficionados should book advance tickets to any extraordinary theatrical production people say “will just blow your mind.”
Not far from the Kremlin is an awe-inspiring Cathedral of Christ the Savior, dominating 338 feet on the bank of Moskva River. Many people find some respite in the peaceful interiors of the world’s tallest Orthodox Christian Church.
Being on our feet all day was pretty exhausting, yet we stumbled into popular attractions, hip bars and places to shop, eat and relax. To get further afield, the low-cost metro takes you farther within the city and beyond!
Rain or snow?
The next day, the weather was just right for another picturesque walk, with no agenda, along New Arbat Avenue. Carried away by the impulse of a wintry stroll, we came upon the Temple of Great Ascension set in the quiet neighborhood of consulates and embassies. Interestingly, this church had been burnt, closed, demolished and restored. Alexander Pushkin, the illustrious poet of the 18th century and the founder of modern Russian literature, married Natalia Goncharova here.
Not to miss in the urban sprawl is Kudrinskaya Square Building, one of Moscow’s seven distinctive skyscrapers in Stalinist architecture. Occupied by opulent tenants, this stately residential property stands proud in the precincts of the elite and wealthy Muscovites.
Through the deciduous trees on Nikitsky Boulevard to the relaxed, social atmosphere of Arbat Ulitsa, we glided along the sensational scenes strewn with a heady mix of dining options, souvenir shops, theaters, monuments, murals and music. Hunting for exquisite souvenirs, retail therapy was an antidote to stress.
With little tingles in our toes, we decided to have dinner in the warm interiors of a restaurant. While the sky was overcast, I couldn’t ignore wishing for snow.
It drizzled. Then it rained - dousing my hopes of seeing snowfall in the city.