Moscow from a Teen’s Perspective
Today, everywhere we look, be it when surfing the internet, flicking through TV channels or watching a movie, we’re bound to come across that common image of the ‘average teen’. You know the one: The constantly annoyed expression, an oblivious nature to everything but the iPod, and earbuds, the passive aggressive arguments with the parents, all ending with that quintessential, perfect eye roll? It wasn’t until recently when watching some family comedies on a movie marathon night with my own family that I came to this realisation. A common theme in most movies (literally so many) share the same portrayal of a teen, the scoffing, ‘Smart Alec’ personality, combined with the internet obsession. I must admit, it did disturb me because, for me, nothing could be further from the truth. I am a teen. So is my twin brother. While traveling has seen us make countless friends outside of our age group, the majority of them share the same status as a teenager. And while all of us would probably agree on the fact that fast wifi is something to smile about, we surprisingly don’t worship the internet modem as our God. In reality, you’ll find that us teens embody an inquisitive spirit that can’t be found anywhere else, certainly not in the neon recesses of the blaring lights of our tech gadgets.
We all have our own hobbies and passions, and none of them have us sitting inside on a sunny day, engrossed with the unnatural light of our electronics. We would much rather be: dancing, swimming, singing, painting, reading, writing, talking (and not via texting but true face to face) horse-riding, playing sports, riding a dirt bike, hiking and traveling. We love to explore, adventure, question, investigate, research, scrutinise, debate and all-around, fuel our deep curiosity for the world around us. With much gratitude, I can say that being able to travel the globe has given me an amazing outlet for all of these desires, and I don’t take any of it for granted.
Right now, I am taking that same enthusiastic curiosity and avid excitement to the largest country in the world. Russia! Or to be more precise, to its capital – Moscow.
Due to the somewhat extreme winter weather and sometimes a drawn-out process of getting a visa, it takes a determined tourist to make the journey to this gem of Russia. However, not many people realise exactly what they are missing out on. For it was here, somewhere amidst the angelic white snow and the most delicious dumplings I have ever eaten, that we joined those who have made the marvellous discovery of this frozen jewel. It is without a doubt: Moscow is an incredible city brimming with vibrant culture and unique beauty, a treasure chest of hidden stories, riveting history, thrilling entertainment, awe-inspiring architecture and amazing food! (I never would have seen that last one coming!) Most importantly, it is a fantastic travel destination not just for adults, but for teens too. The city provided enough attractions to not only keep us hooked as a family but also enough for my brother and I to declare Moscow a winner from the perspective of our young eyes. After much thought, I realised the best way to describe Moscow was like a splash of rainbow against a grey winter’s day. (Do excuse the cheesiness)
I decided to share my favourite things about Moscow in the effort that you too would one day make the journey to the capital and experience them for yourselves.
Don’t forget that you do require a visa to visit Russia and this may include a drawn out process that at times might have you sullenly asking yourself the question: “Is it really worth all this hassle?”
Please do not be deterred. Russia is a beautiful country and could very well be the destination for your next vacation. Not entirely convinced? Just read on.
1. The Moscow Metro Stations
Moscow is famous for some of the most beautifully decorated Metro Stations in the world. While the actual Metro is not something to really gush about, the stations in all their splendour make up for it. From exquisite stain glass windows to mosaic tiled paintings you could spend an entire day zipping up and down, all over Moscow. I would, however, recommend spreading it across a few days (if you have the time), so you don’t encounter Metro Overdose. The top 3 stations I would insist you visit would be:
(Get ready for some tongue twisters:)
(i). Novoslobodskaya Station.
Located on the circular Brown Line (5). An exquisite ensemble of colourful stain glass paintings, 32 in all, that will leave you snapping pictures long after your metro has gone.
(ii). Aviamotornaya Station.
Located on the Yellow Line (8). I fell in love with this station’s magnificent golden pyramids roof, arched elegantly across the platform as well as its glittering angel tribute. The warm lighting sets off the entire station in a glamorous sheen of gold that is only amplified by the cold granite walls.
(iii). Komsomolskaya Station.
Located on the circular Brown Line (5). The first thing you notice as you step out of the sliding doors is the grandiose Baroque-style ceiling, coupled beautifully with pale yellow walls and medieval-style black iron chandeliers. The station holds a theme of Russia’s fight for independence and historical struggles against invaders, displayed here on encrusted gold plates surrounding the ceiling. At the end of the station is a bust of Lenin.
2. The Petrovsky Palace
Nowadays, a luxury 4-star hotel, in the past, this grand, imperial palace used to be one of Catherine The Great’s Moscow residences. Catherine The Great, (originally called Sophie) has been, for a long time, one of my favourite royals. Her captivating story of trials and tribulations hooked me onto the super fan wagon from the start. Those who know me personally know that my intense love of history will draw me to extreme heights. So yes, I made my family walk the 7 minutes from Dynamo Metro Station in -6ºC through snowy slush and frozen ice, just so we could see the palace with our own eyes. Was it worth it? For me, absolutely yes! For my family?… I’ll have to get back to you on that one.
3. Potato and Mushroom Varenyky and The Best Hot Chocolate Ever
Varenyky is the traditional Russian interpretation of a dumpling. It was on a cobblestone side street, about a hundred meters from the red Kremlin walls, that we happened to find the restaurant that makes the best ones! Varenichnaya hosts a mouthwatering variety of Varenyky, from simple potato to sweet and sour cherry! Located on 11-13 Nikoloskaya Street, the restaurant is decorated in a very retro Communist-esque era from records and songs playing on the sound system and the TV, playing classic Soviet films that will have you slipping through time in a heartbeat. Just like Irina said (our tour guide from our Free Tour of Moscow): A visit to Moscow, (to all of Russia, in fact) is incomplete without trying Varenyky, and I’m so glad we took her advice. Now, the memory of sitting in the velvety brown booths, the candles flickering and warming our fingers while devouring an entire plate of Potato and Mushroom Varenyky is one of our best memories of Moscow.
Also, just across the road from Varenichnaya is the GUM Shopping Mall, holding its own piece of prized treasure: the creamiest, sweetest, thickest Hot Chocolate you could ever imagine is available in real life. I’m not exaggerating. We were at an interval on our Free Tour of Moscow, all a collective shade of chattering blue when we happened upon the cart, located in the very centre of Level 1 in the mall, decorated in vibrant shades of Christmas colours. Before you could say Rasputin, we were slurping the sugary goodness, oblivious to the fact that we had now all acquired chocolate moustaches.
4. The Bolshoi Theatre
Rising above the city, The Bolshoi Theatre has been a cultural standpoint of Moscow since 1825. Majestic by day and sparkling at night, whether you are there to see a show, or simply snap a picture, the theatre will undoubtedly leave its spellbinding mark upon you. You don’t need to splurge on an expensive ticket to the ballet to have a good time (though I’m sure that is an incredible experience as well). In our case, by the time we had decided we were traveling to Moscow, all tickets for the ballet on the days we were in the city, were sold out. So we settled for an equally prestigious viewing of the famous Wind Quintet that was to be held in the alluring Beethoven Hall. From the moment, the crystal lights dimmed and the music began, we were held in a rapture. The passionate intensity of the flautist, the rich melody of the oboe, the tantalising harmony of the clarinet, the fervid beat of the bassoon and the balanced blend of the French horn captivated us for the entire 2-hour show. At one point I even found myself swaying unconsciously to the music! There is a short 15-minute interval between the show that you can use to compose yourself and marvel in the ornately decorated halls. (No pun intended)
5. The Leo Tolstoy Museum
Undoubtedly one of the most celebrated authors in the world, Leo Tolstoy has written some of the most praised books known to man. Being an aspiring author myself, a visit to the home of Leo Tolstoy and his family was one of the highlights of our trip to Moscow. Besides one tiny incident when Mum accidentally hung her bag onto one of Leo Tolstoy’s ancient coat hooks located in the lobby and the receptionist lost it… we had a wonderful time! To walk through the same halls as he and his family would have was an experience to remember and to actually see the desk where he wrote War and Peace and Anna Karenina (which I am reading right now!) was mind boggling!
From the plaques provided on the walls, The Tolstoy Family seemed to have had a very tight-knit and loving connection, and you could almost even feel the warm, familiar energy ebbing from the walls, despite the cold day. Another discovery Lalika and I made: the Tolstoy children were homeschooled like us!
Surprisingly, there were only four other people touring at the same time as us. I was somehow expecting more people to be visiting this monument. Perhaps it was the -6C degree weather that drove them away for the day.
To get to The Leo Tolstoy House Museum using public transport, take the brown circular line to Park Kultury Station and then walk three blocks down before turning right and walking straight for another 300 metres until you see the entrance on the left-hand side of the street.
6. The Weather
Ok, this one is sort of a half-half. Over the course of our three days in Moscow, it was freezing! And I mean, -5ºC, can’t-feel-if-my-toes-are-still-there freezing. There were many times I wanted to wish myself away to some sunny beach somewhere and blissfully thaw out… but then, it would begin to snow, and the flakes would swirl around us and cloak us in a magical outfit of ice, and my eyes would glaze over. I was perfectly content once again, the snow crunching under our boots as we walked, sorry- hobbled on.