i had a day in Moscow (which i’m glad i didn’t miss) so i combined two one-day itineraries (Frommer’s Moscow In One Day and Lonely Planet’s A Perfect Day in Moscow — which had lots of overlap, a good sign i suppose) to make sure i saw the biggies. i started out pretty early, way before the sun rose (sunrise today was nearly 9 AM — and it seemed like the city really doesn’t wake up until then), and finished by late evening (including shopping time at the end).
sidebar: getting around i used a combination of walking and subway. while Moscow does indeed have an extensive subway system, there were times when it was easier to just walk for 20 minutes. the Moscow subway is very similar to the St. Petersburg one (and, i’d assume by extension, most Russian/Soviet systems) in that transfer stations may have completely different names, and names in general are very hard to see from inside the train. if you can, use Google Maps’ transit function to tell you which lines to take, which direction to take them in, and how many stops until you need to get out. it’s especially handy since signs in the stations are all in Cyrillic.
in terms of buying tickets, there are two different types of machines that are hard to tell apart at a quick glance — ones that sell multiple ride tickets (1, 2, 5, and more) and ones that sell only one- or two-ride tickets or allow you to top up a prepaid card. of course, you can always see a human; just pick the one with the shortest line that meets your needs. the machines have a button to switch to English. buying 5 or more rides gives you a discount. tap the card you get on the turnstile to go through.
while it’s more of a rectangle and it looked bigger on TV (though yes, it’s large! — maybe it just looked small because there was a skating rink in the middle of it), there’s no denying what an important place this is, especially if you seem to only recall it as being the backdrop to oh-so-many news broadcasts in the ’80s.
a bonus panorama. you can see the ice skating rink complex on the right (it’s all that stuff that doesn’t look like it belongs) and one wall of the Kremlin in the middle. note that the big GUM (ГУМ) department store (=mall) on one side is worth going into, if only for the bathrooms. most of the stores are very high-end, but there’s a Megafon (МегаФон) store in there if you want to pick up a SIM card. (i got one with 3 GB of data for about $11).
also, Lenin’s mausoleum is worth a view, especially if there isn’t a long line (there was no line today). it’s free but you have to drop off bags (and anything electronic that can take a picture, including ipads) at a paid cloakroom before you enter. it’s a bit creepy, but you shouldn’t miss it (i’m convinced of that after being convinced by a twitter friend). note that the guards are quite intimidating, but i suppose they just want you to be respectful. NO HATS (to the man in front of me), NO HANDS IN POCKETS (to me). also, it has very short hours (10 – 1, closed Mondays and Fridays) so time your visit appropriately.
growing up, i had no idea what The Kremlin was, even though news seemed to come from it every day. i always assumed it was a palace. but nope, it’s a fort that houses the presidential offices (STAY ON PATH INSIDE or a guard will bark at you) as well as a handful of cathedrals (now used primarily as museums), and an armory. the latter are available to visit. buy your ticket in the glass building in the gardens in front — one that includes the armory or one without that allows you to go into the cathedrals only. the ticket office opens at 9:30, the Kremlin itself at 10 AM; closed on Thursdays. enter through the glass buildings at the base of the ramp, the one with all the metal detectors and x-ray machines.
TIP: inside each of the cathedrals is a stand holding little posters that explain the interior and exterior features. free and quite informative!
made famous (at least for me) by “Wind of Change” by the Scorpions, it used to be more of a carnival/funland but now is a free green space in the heart of the city.
just passing through
eh, not much here unless you need to eat (there’s even a Wendy’s, several Dunkins, and a Shake Shack — yes, a Shake Shack), want to buy used books or souvenirs or get a tattoo, but it’s a busy pedestrian street — watch your pockets — that even locals hang out in. in case you’re wondering like i was, that ginormous building on the left at the end of the street is the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, or МИД РФ for short — it’s one of the “Seven Sisters” of similarly-styled Stalinist buildings.
what a long day! better head to bed soon because tomorrow i probably won’t sleep much at all. it’s gonna be an all-nighter in Sochi!