(This post follows ‘Russian highlights’ posted on 10 Apr 2017)
Our family friends Maged and Berta arrived and we were super-excited to explore Moscow! Our tour guide – Katya, a young Russian girl, arrived on time to ‘pick’ us up. In Moscow, ‘pick up’ means the guide will come to the hotel and escort us to the tour sites on public transport for which we are supposed to pay. ‘Pick up in car’ means the guide will take us around in a private car, the cost of which would be included in the tour price. Weird way of expression! Why is it called a pick up when it’s not one?!
Anyway, we walked to the Polyanka metro station to take a train to the Izmailovo Palace. On the way, Katya told us about the Russian history and culture. She also shared information about the employment situation and the welfare system.
We started with exploring the Izmailovo market. It was full of traditional Russian souvenirs and keepsakes. There were the Matryoshka dolls of course, Russian hats, war memorabilia and many things that are uniquely Russian. The Matryoshka dolls were in many designs; from Obama to Disney characters!
The market leads to the palace. Actually, after reaching there we discovered that the Izmailovo Palace is not really a palace. It is just a complex of rebuilt traditional structures which houses shops, restaurants, museums etc. A part of the complex looks like the Durbar Square in Kathmandu.
Snapshots from the Izmailovo Palace…
In the complex is the vodka museum. Tickets to that museum were not included in the tour price. Hence, Katya did not accompany us. The museum attempted to document the history of vodka. However, very little material was in English. Therefore, we bought a ticket for Katya so she could explain the history to us.
There were several types of vodka in eye-catching bottles. There were a few creepy varieties too; with a snake or a frog in the vodka! We bought a small glass souvenir at the museum. Then, we stopped at a local cafe; we had coffee and assorted traditional sweets.
Snapshots from the vodka museum…
Our friends wanted to try Russian cuisine. So, we headed to the My My (pronounced Moo Moo) restaurant near our hotel. My My is a chain of restaurants which serves traditional Russian delicacies (mostly non-vegetarian). It can be identified by a life-size replica of a cow at its entrance. My My offers buffet menu at bargain rates and one pays for what he puts in his plate. It’s popular amongst the locals.
The only problem was that the menu was printed in Russian. It was difficult to make out which dish would be vegetarian. It’s hardly any use talking to the staff. They do not understand English. As usual, Vinod tasted the dishes and told me which ones to go for. We tried brown rice and a variety of other new dishes and a refreshing berry drink. The food wasn’t very tasty but it was worth a try.
After a short break, we resumed our touring. We had booked a cruise on the Moscow river. The boat was to leave from one of the piers in the Gorky Park. Katya had told us that it is at a walking distance from our hotel. It was a pleasant day. So, we were encouraged to walk.
We started walking. We crossed the massive Monument of Peter the Great. We kept walking. We covered more than half of the Gorky Park. I think we walked for almost an hour. Yet, we could see no sign of the pier! It started raining. We had not carried our new umbrella which we had purchased the day before. It was cold and windy too. Our friends had worn thick jackets; so they were kind of safe. Vinod had worn a thick cap. I held a paper map to cover my head which did not survive more than a few rain drops!
Amidst all the walking and silly efforts to protect ourselves from the rain and cold, we finally reached the pier. Our cruise was already anchored. We boarded it and set sailing. We settled in the covered area and after a lot of speaking and miming, we could order tea and coffee. We sipped the hot beverages and rested our tired feet while looking at the landmarks of Moscow along the river.
Unfortunately, there was no commentary explaining the landmarks and their importance; there was some loud party music though. By the time the cruise had ended, our feet were well-relaxed although Maged was still feeling tired. He had forgotten his trainers and the long walk in formal shoes had almost killed his legs. So, we decided to take a taxi.
We showed the taxi driver the visiting card of our hotel; it had the address in Russian. Our hotel must have been about 3 kilometres and yet it seemed as if we were in the taxi for a long time and it might not have been just because of the traffic.
When we reached our hotel, the taxi driver demanded 3300 roubles; the same what we paid for from the airport! There is no way a non-Russian speaking tourist can bargain with a taxi driver in Russia. We had to cough up the sum! We were disappointed at how the taxi drivers rip despite ‘operating by the meter’.
It was dinner time; we were hungry. We started exploring the area around the My My restaurant. Polyanka is full of nice restaurants and cafes. One restaurant, in particular, invited us with its menu and prices. It was Tutta La Vita, an Italian restaurant. When we stepped in, we discovered that it had invited many other diners most of whom seemed to be repeat guests.
We had an assortment of dishes and finished with some local alcohol. The food was delectable and the service was great. It was the only place in Moscow (other than our hotel) where people could speak English. The ambience was lively. Although we were tired, we didn’t feel like retiring. Reluctantly, we made our way back.