TWENTY YEARS AGO on this date, I arrived in Moscow and got my first taste of former Soviet “hospitality” which was basically “nyet”!
Thankfully there were ample impressive architectural sights and stunning sceneries to make up for the lack of smiles and friendliness in the country that just two years earlier opened its doors to the outside world after the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991. So I had rather fond memories of my first trip there over six days. 🙂
Day 1, Sunday 18th July 1993: (We left KL on the evening of 17th July 1993; after 6 ½ hours flight, made a one-hour stopover at Dubai International Airport. The fare for the trip from KL – Moscow – London – Moscow – KL was RM7,836 which was a lot of money 20 years ago!!!)
We arrived at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo 2 Airport at 4am (total travel time from KL – Moscow was approximately 18 hours); checked into Hotel Salyut, the 26-storey hotel built for the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. On day one, our first stop was the Red Square and its surrounding attractions including the State Historical Museum, Lenin Mausoleum and the State Department Store GUM . In the evening, we paid a courtesy visit to the Malaysian Embassy in the Russian Federation, and one of the officers graciously hosted dinner.
Day 2, Monday 19th July 1993: We visited Lenin Hills (now Sparrow Hills) which is one of the highest points in Moscow, and Kremlin which is also the official residence of the Russian president. Described as Moscow’s central and oldest part that has the world’s most beautiful architectural ensembles, the Kremlin walls form an irregular triangle. Located within the walls are the Tsar Bell and Tsar Cannon, a few cathedrals and museums opened to the public. We lunched at Hotel Moskva near Red Square, which I understood was demolished in 2004; rebuilt and completed in 2009. Another nearby Hotel Rossiya which was built in the 1960s, closed down in January 2006 and was eventually demolished to make way for other projects on the priced prime land.
Later, we took a tour of Moscow’s famed underground metro and experienced a ride on it. To Muscovites, the metro is simply a means of daily transportation; millions pack into the stations daily and probably don’t bother taking a second look at the beauty of its ornate designs. To an outsider like me, the underground world created by Soviet engineers came across like an art gallery. Each station was a work of art in itself, having unique designs and using various materials including marble, mosaics and stained glass.
In the evening, we watched a circus performance, and went on to catch a train to St. Petersburg the same night.
Day 3, Tuesday 20th July 1993: After an 8-hour train journey, we arrived in St. Petersburg and checked into Hotel Pulkovskaya. Went on a city tour to Neva Embankment, around St. Isaac Square and the Church of Christ’s Resurrection aka the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, built between 1883-1907 in memory of Tsar Alexander II who was assassinated on that site.
Later, we went to Peter & Paul Fortress and saw its cathedral, museum and prison located within. That evening we checked out Victory Square near the hotel.
Day 4, Wednesday 21st July 1993: A must-visit to Peterhof, the former summer residence of the Russian emperors which boosts of a sprawling compound comprising palaces-turned-museums and gardens filled with fountains. The majestic cascades of fountains were under renovation at the time of our visit. That didn’t stop me from writing a glowing article on Peterhof (link) upon my return later.
In the afternoon, we went to Palace Square where the Alexander Column and Hermitage are located. Alexander Column, listed as one of world’s biggest granite monolith, was erected between 1830-1834 to commemorate Soviet’s victory over France in the 1812 war. The Hermitage, formerly the Winter Palace for the emperors, is now a museum that holds millions of exhibits. It is often said that if one were to take just one minute to look at each item, it would still take him years to see them all!
Our visit to St. Petersburg ended at the theatre watching a performance of Russian military songs and folk dances.
Day 5, Thursday 22nd July 1993: Took the train back to Moscow, had a meeting with some Russian journalists.
Day 6, Friday 23rd July 1993: до свидания Moskva! (pronounced dasvidanya meaning “goodbye”; our next destination was London!
Looking back 20 years ago, I recalled picking up two Russian words – “nyet” (no) and “spasiba” (thank you) even though there weren’t much to be thankful for!
Twelve years on when Moscow became home in 2005, I picked up a lot more Russian.
Здравствуйте (pronounced zdrastvuyte) means “hello” in Russian. The less formal form of greeting is Привет (pronounced privyet). Spending almost three years in the Russian capital, I learnt to appreciate my adopted home, its people (including Sasha, Nikolai, Tanya, both Irinas, Olga) and definitely had good use for “spasiba bolshoi” as I had a lot more to be thankful for 🙂