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Saturday 21st December 2002

We didn't wake up until 9:30am. We weren't in any particular rush today but we should have been! We needed to check out by 12pm, and we were being picked up for the airport at 2pm, so time wasn't on our side.

We went straight down to breakfast. I looked as if I had just fallen out of bed as I used the mirror in the elevator to spit down a huge tuft of hair. I looked awful with bulging bags below my eyes! Breakfast was good and we were treated to a wonderful view as we sat near a window and watched the snow falling quiet heavily over the Kremlin. Julie's anxiety about today's flight was obvious as she expressed her concerns about how the snow would affect the aeroplanes and the runways. I tried not to smile, but failed.

Over breakfast we discussed what to do this morning. I wanted to visit the Kremlin but Julie wasn't at all keen. The whole 'intimidated by the police' thing had quite upset her and she didn't feel at all comfortable with going anywhere near the security cloaked Kremlin. She suggested that I should go on my own but then last minute, as we were packing she changed her mind, and she decided to come with me. Conquering her fears once again, she thought that it would be a crime to come all this way to Moscow, and not visit the Kremlin, especially as she has no intention of ever returning!

She then had another inspirational thought and arranged a late check-out for 2pm which gave us an extra hour or two. It was fast approaching 11am so off we marched, stomping large footprints in the deep virgin snow. I was child-like once more; what is it about snow?

For a brief moment I thought of having a snowball fight but I returned to being a mature sensible adult before any damage was done! Curiously it was a lot milder today at only -6C, but felt colder as the dampness of the melting snow on our faces gave us a chill.

From the ticket office we bought the full ticket which granted us access to all the churches and the State Armoury, and of course there was the obligatory extra charge to take photographs.

The total cost came to 1400 roubles which was quite expensive.

We entered through an airport-style security check, watched by stony faced soldiers brandishing Kalashnikovs, and then walked up the bridge towards the Trinity Tower entrance.

There was a steady incline upwards, and the cobbled stone surface was incredibly slippery. We managed to make it to the door without making complete fools of ourselves, although that may be open to debate as we must have been a sorry sight, tentatively shuffling up the ramp, holding on to each other as we slipped.

Once inside we were able to get off the cobblestones and onto the pavement which was a better surface.

The main attraction within the Kremlin was the collection of churches but there was also an Armoury and a Palace to visit. The remaining buildings were mostly official government buildings, such as the senate, to which we obviously had no access.

First port of call however was to stand next to the enormous Tsar's Bell for a photo opportunity. It was built to be the largest bell in the world but it never rang because it cooled down too rapidly and cracked!

Behind it stood the Bell Tower of Ivan the Great.

I stepped back into the middle of the road to try and get the Tsar's Bell and the tower into my frame for a perfect photo. This was when an irate soldier blew his whistle and waved a fluorescent lit baton at me.

Needless to say, I immediately followed his orders to move back to where I came from!

I had obviously strayed into a non-designated area. I didn't want to here the words "We have a little problem" again, especially here inside the Kremlin!

We had paid for unrestricted access to climb to the top of Ivan the Great Bell Tower, but we decided not to tire ourselves. I'm sure the view from there would have been fantastic because the whole square below looked stunning in the snow.

Instead we chose to use our precious time exploring the several churches around the square. 

We started with the best one, the Cathedral of the Assumption.

The entire interior was covered in iconic frescoes. The ceilings, the walls, even the large columns. There were also several classic paintings of Jesus which were beautiful.






We visited three other churches, all of which were similar but none that could better the Cathedral.

From the square we followed some people towards the entrance to the Faceted Palace and as they went in, a short comical soldier with a very large peaked hat came towards us.

He gestured with abrupt arm waving, and looked very cross, as if we were playing charades and miming "No Entry" but nobody was guessing his clue!

We gestured back to him that we got the message, "we weren't welcome"!

At 12:15pm we made our way down to the State Armoury. Our tickets had allocated times to visit, and were valid between 12pm and 1:30pm.

We left our coats at the cloakroom and followed the floor plan from our guide book.

The first floor (or ground floor) was fascinating. It contained robes and dresses, thrones, crowns, carriages and allsorts of other Royal paraphernalia.

One carriage in particular was very interesting as it was without wheels, instead it was a sledge. It looked quite odd!

The next floor was less interesting and housed a collection of items more suited to an Armoury, such as rifles, duelling pistols, suits of armour and swords.


It did also have some very ornate Faberge eggs, although I couldn't find the most exquisite example as shown in the guide book.

There was one part of this museum to which we hadn't paid to get in, and that was the State Diamond Vaults. The security surrounding the entrance was very high, so we gave it a miss. It was now getting late and time to leave the Kremlin.

We got back to the hotel by 1:20pm and frantically packed our suitcases.


We both showered to freshen up before our long journey home. We made it downstairs to check out right on 2pm. Our bill didn't come to much either, just under £100, but I suppose we ate out more than we did in the hotel.

Waiting for us at reception was a young woman from ASLA ready to transfer us to the airport. She was very pleasant and quite informative on the various districts as we travelled through them. She showed us where Dinamo Moscow play their football. We also passed an ice hockey stadium. She mentioned that all the best hockey players leave to play in Canada. She talked at some length about housing and how communal flats used to be the norm, and then came the idea of self-contained apartments, but now with the market economy in full swing it is possible to purchase your own apartment or house.

There were billboards everywhere, but apparently they are a recent phenomenon. A while ago a wealthy businessman paid to place a picture of his wife on a billboard with the words "I Love You". How nauseously sweet!

She also pointed out a building that was one of Catherine the Great's Palaces. Apparently she had built a chain of palaces from St. Petersburg to Moscow about a days travel by horse and carriage between them. The idea being that when she wished to travel from one place to another she could stay every night in her own private sumptuous palace. Apparently after the revolution this palace became an Airforce Academy, from which Yuri Gagarin later graduated. Now with lack of funding the building has been taken over by the Moscow government who are going to invest in converting it into a hotel.

The traffic was getting quite heavy, and she explained that it was due to IKEA! True enough as we reached the junction to turn off for IKEA we could see people queuing all the way to the furniture store. It's the first real queue we've seen in Russia! Once we were past the blockage we sped off towards the airport.

When we reached the outskirts of the city, near a river, we saw three large pieces of anti-tank barriers that were symbolically left in position to commemorate the Second World War, and show how close the Nazis came to conquering Moscow. The incredible irony of a massive Mercedes Benz factory just over the river was quite amusing.

As we approached the airport she explained that it was named after a love story between a wealthy businessman called Sheremetyevo and his serf, or servant. They left St. Petersburg to escape the scandal, but tragically she died in childbirth.

Anyway, shortly after 3pm. we arrived at Sheremetyevo airport. Compared to Heathrow it was a very small. Our guide however found which check-in desk we were required to use. I thanked her for her time, and handed over however many roubles I had left in my pocket. She must have felt slightly embarrassed as she shook my hand and then blushed.

We went though the first desk where I handed in my customs declaration form and all the official and non-official money exchange receipts. They weren't checked thoroughly however, and he confused me by keeping the declaration form but handing back the receipts. We moved on to the baggage check where I had to empty my bag to be searched. They were looking for something that could have shown on the x-ray as a telescopic rifle, but it turned out to be my telescopic umbrella! Finally we queued for a while to go through passport control where Julie and I had a game where we tried to make the member of staff smile. We both failed miserably!

By now it was 4pm and we were getting hungry. We wandered aimlessly around the small duty free shops before realising that the restaurants or cafés were upstairs. All that we could find opened was a corner café called the Taj Mahal. We sat down to read the menu fully expecting a tasty Indian meal but all we found was a terrible choice of frozen pre-packed meals. We ordered our food and I was served an over-cooked Vegetable Lasagne, and Julie got given a drastically under-cooked chicken. I didn't bother complaining about my nuked lasagne, but we had to mention Julie's luke warm pink chicken! It was a serious health hazard! They took it behind this curtain, blasted it with some more micro waves, waited for the ping, and then brought it back to our table. We smiled, she didn't. Julie checked the chicken, and ate most of it. I was still chewing on my tough sheets of soldered pasta!

All the prices were quoted in American Dollars, but of course required cash payments to be made in roubles. As I had no roubles on me I decided to pay by visa, which went through fine, but she came after me all a dither, explaining that she had miscalculated the exchange rate and that I still owed a further $4. She tried to swipe the card again, but this time there was a problem with the machine connecting to the service. I had US dollars in my pocket so I suggested that I should pay the $4 in dollars. She had no option but to accept, and took a $10 bill from me, and went into a cashbox under the counter to find the $6 change. I think she almost smiled when she handed the cash over, but she could have had wind !

After eating we only had a short while to wait in the departure lounge before boarding our plane at gate 2. Julie took her diazepam and although very anxious was in control of her fear. This plane was larger than the outward flight with a 2-4-2 seating plan. We sat down, picked up a newspaper to discover a bumper crossword puzzle in it. We spent the entire four hour flight trying to complete it! (But we failed)

We hadn't specifically requested vegetarian food for this flight so when the trolleys came I had to apologise. The staff were excellent though and managed to find one spare meal for us to share. Julie wasn't hungry. She was suffering a lot more with this flight for some reason. The diazepam was not strong enough. She apologised to the flight attendant for being extremely nervous but who reassured Julie that she was not the worse passenger he had seen as she wasn't running up and down the aisle screaming hysterically! That was to come we warned him!

We returned to the crossword puzzle in between bouts of mild panic and before too long we were hovering around Heathrow waiting for a slot to land. It wasn't the smoothest of descents, with at one point, the plane accelerating and climbing rapidly as if it had to abort its approach and try again. Julie had her tape player earphones firmly pushed into her ears with both extended index fingers, superstitiously listening to the same song that she had listened during the last successful landing!

What ever, it worked as we landed without any problems. Baggage claim and customs were no bother and we were out in no time. Buoyed by relief, Julie bought two bottles of Lanson champagne at the duty free shop before exiting into the arrivals lounge. A celebration was in order!

We suffered a small inconvenience as we had to catch a metro shuttle train from Terminal 4 (where we had landed) to Terminal 1 as the hotel hopper bus only picks up from that terminal. It was still quite a distance to walk, but we were just glad to be home.

Whilst standing in line for the bus I phoned home where my mother complained about the cold weather in the UK, and I told her that I was sweating because it felt so warm. I joked that we thought we had stepped off the wrong plane as it felt like the Caribbean!

We collected our car from the hotel car park and drove all night until we felt too tired to continue. We phoned ahead and booked a Travelodge near Stoke for the evening. We arrived after midnight, and were very glad of a bed. Our bodies felt like it was 3am as it was in Moscow.

We both crashed out and enjoyed a good night's sleep with bizarre dreams of having been to Russia?

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