|Inside the grounds of the Kremlin, Tuesday 7 October 2014.|
|Going underground – underneath the city on the Moscow Metro system|
|Touching the statue is supposed to bring good luck!|
That said, I've been rather impressed by the food in my hotel, the Arbat House, a well-positioned establishment down a quiet street, but very pleasant in so many respects, especially the room. I don't know if you believe in the concept of feng shei (is that how it's spelt?) but it seems to work in my case. Let me explain what I mean: normally when I stay in a hotel I dread the moment when I have to switch off the lights and get some kip. This is because I'm in an unfamiliar place and, therefore, prior to bedding down for the night, I mess around. I might have the curtains pulled back a little bit to let in some light, I might leave a light on in the bathroom for the same reason, but invariably there's a noisy fan that automatically goes on every time I switch on the light, so this is often a problem and I end up relying solely upon the curtain being pulled apart an inch or two. I can't stand a room plunged into total darkness. Call me a baby, I don't care, but when I open my eyes I want to be able to see stuff, not just blackness.
And when I'm lying there – normally testing things out, by having the TV on and then switching it off to check the light levels when the room is finally in sleep mode – I feel strange knowing that, for instance, there's a lot of room between where I'm sleeping and the front door. I sometimes feel uncomfortable if there's too much space that I can't see (I hate sleeping in overly large spaces). Small spaces are best as there's less to be in command of, which I prefer. And that's what was great about my room at the Arbat House. The feng shei was right. It wasn't a huge room and my bed (a double, but not a huge double) faced the window, which was about six or seven feet from the foot of the bed. Behind the bed, separated by a wall, was the bathroom. I slept with a small gap in the curtains and, surprise, surprise, there was no fan in the bathroom so I could leave the light on and then virtually shut the bathroom door, allowing just a tiny sliver of light to filter through without a noisy fan disturbing the peace.
|On Red Square...|
In fact, where the room was concerned I only had two complaints. The main one was the lighting. Apart from the light in the ceiling, there wasn't any. No bedside lamp. Very annoying if you fancy reading after dark as the overhead light was gloomy and it made me feel the same way. It was certainly impossible to read so that meant I had to go downstairs to the bar/restaurant, which in turn meant that I had to buy something to warrant sitting there. Last night, for example, I was dog tired. So tired that I came back to the room around 4pm, switched on Radio Four and fell asleep listening to PM online. When I awoke around 8.30pm I found myself wondering what to do. I wanted to read, but the light was so gloomy there was only one option: head downstairs for what turned into a late dinner – no complaints whatsoever about the hotel restaurant except, perhaps, that it's not part of the hotel, but under separate ownership. Unaware of this, when I wanted to charge my meal to the room I couldn't! So I had to remember to take my credit card with me, but this was a minor inconvenience when you consider the excellent food, the efficient service and the fantastic ambience – and what's more, the BBCafé was open until midnight so that awful problem surrounding the retort, "I'm sorry, sir, the restaurant is closed," never raised its ugly head.
|Where great Russian leaders have waved...on Red Square|
My final, albeit minor, complaint was the fact that the key to the room was small (and so was the lock) and the hotel corridors were very dark. Every time I left or tried to re-enter the room it took an age to get the key in the lock. Oddly, one of those modern key card entry systems would have been preferable, but then they have their problems too.
But enough of the hotel other than to say I'd definitely return and I've loved every minute of my stay.
Moving on to the Kremlin, which just so happened to be no more than 10 minutes' walk from the hotel. On my day off yesterday I went there with a colleague who lives in Moscow and, well, what can I say? What a fantastic place! We paid a visit to the Annunciation Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin and the Archangel Cathedral. The Annunciation Cathedral has nine small domes and is described as the home church of Old Russia's great princes and tsars. Weddings and baptisms took place here and way back in the 14th Century a small one-domed Annunciation Church stood on the same spot.
|I've seen it all before at Covent Garden in London...|
|A Yamaha with a V-twin – very impressive!|
|Boris Yeltsin bikes – but instructions only in Russian|
|Bike Share Moscow – too cold and too dangerous in my opinion...|
Going underground in Moscow...
When people talk about 'feats of engineering' they tend to cite famous bridges, but the Moscow Metro system has to be seen to be believed. Not only is it cut very deep into the ground underneath the city, the stations are the most wonderfully ornate places I've ever seen – millions and millions of times better than what you will find on the London Underground and offering passengers not only much more fresh air than London – the ventilation system is brilliant – but bigger and roomier trains. It's hard to comprehend the scale of the job facing those who built the Moscow Metro back in the late 1930s, but wow, did they do a great job. It is literally a work of art. Anybody charged with the task of building a new Metro system should fly to Moscow first to see how it's done.
|Rush hour begins in Moscow...|
In fact, you'll be pleased to know that my last meal at the Arbat House Hotel was absolutely amazing, even if they didn't have everything I wanted: no vegetable soup, no tuna steak, the refusals kept on coming until I settled on the mushroom soup followed by the chicken curry and rounded off with an apple strudel (I'd skipped lunch today so I deserved to have a pig-out).
I had my book, I'd ordered a beer and I was feeling relaxed. What else could one ask for?
Now I'm back in my room with little to do other than go to bed, which I plan to do just as soon as I finish this post. At least I don't have to get up at the crack of dawn like this morning.
Moscow's bike share scheme...
Perhaps a brief word about Moscow's bike share scheme, which I toyed with describing as 'Boris Yeltin Bikes' – geddit? Boris Johnson/Boris Yeltsin? You can't get wittier than that, can you? Anyway, while I state above that it was too cold and too dangerous to ride a bike around Moscow, that was a little misleading. Yes, it was fast and busy and yes, it was cold, but the main reason behind not using the bikes was the Russian language. I did not understand a word of it and there was no English language availability on the machines that ultimately 'dispensed' the bikes.
Looking at a map of Moscow, the scheme was certainly well-established with bike stations dotted liberally around the city.
I awoke later than usual, it was nearly 9am. I rushed downstairs for breakfast (fried egg on toast plus cereal and tea and orange juice) and then I noticed something that I hadn't noticed over the last three breakfasts I'd enjoyed here: there was a small bird in a cage plonked right in the middle of the breakfast food display in amongst the bread rolls and the hot food. I felt sorry for the bird as he had to spend his time looking at an array of breads, none of which he could gain access to (thank the Lord). It was odd noticing it for the first time as, I thought the quiet tweeting I could hear occasionally was somebody's message alert on their mobile phone. Still, there you have it, a bird, in a cage, in amongst the breakfast offerings – I wonder what Health & Safety would have to say about that?
A brief word about the Russians. Excellent people and don't let anybody (or any government) tell you otherwise. I found every Russian I met to be very friendly. Even those in cars were courteous to pedestrians. Great country, great people.
|Room 504, Arbat House Hotel, Moscow|