Day 1. Moscow – the ultimate winter break

The previous evening I had taken the train to London to meet up with my son in Hammersmith.  We’d chosen Hammersmith as it was on the Piccadilly Line and meant we hadn’t far to trundle our large suitcases.  After a tasty meal of fish and chips we returned to the nearby underground station for a service out to Heathrow.  We weren’t actually spending the night there but from there we could make use of a free bus service to near the IBIS London Heathrow Hotel where we had booked a room for the night.  This hotel is on the boundary of the Heathrow free travel zone so it’s worth considering as bus fares can soon add up.

The open plan lobby lounge at the IBIS Heathrow
The open plan lobby lounge at the IBIS Heathrow

We had stayed at this modern hotel previously and it fitted the bill perfectly for our short stay as we needed to be up at the unearthly hour of 4.00 a.m. enabling us to gain a few hours sleep.  After dragging ourselves out of bed, we caught one of the buses to Terminal 5 which all seemed to be crowded with airport workers starting their shifts as the airport was springing into life for the day.

Champagne n the BA Galleries South Lounge, Heathrow Airport
Starting our journey in style with glasses of champagne

We were able to take advantage of fast track check-in at the BA desk which was very welcome and then also through security although the latter didn’t seem any quicker than for standard passengers.  As we had purposefully arrived at the airport early we were then able to enjoy a complimentary leisurely breakfast in the B.A. Galleries South Lounge. Although we were travelling economy we had access to the lounge through the B.A. Executive Club scheme.

Tempting breakfast treats in the BA Galleries South Lounge
Tempting breakfast treats in the BA Galleries South Lounge

We started our holiday in style with glasses of champagne and tucked into a tempting array of breakfast options including bacon rolls and chocolate croissants.  The lounge is attractively furnished and spacious with a wide selection of seating and reasonably quiet as few passengers were making use of it so early in the morning.

Wine in the BA Galleries South Lounge
Lots of wines to help yourself to

Time passed quickly and soon it was time to board our 8.40 a.m. BA flight over to Moscow taking four hours.  Our A321 airliner was only two thirds occupied resulting in us having an empty seat next to us. Our seat back screens didn’t work very well, but as we were both tired it didn’t bother us too much.

Gate for Moscow flight at Heathrow Airport
We needed to take a bus out to our aircraft at Heathrow’s Terminal 5

An hour into the flight a trolley service commenced and we were each served a small cardboard box containing a cheese and tomato roll and a cereal bar, together with a choice of hot drinks. Our snacks were small and uninspiring but as we’d eaten well in the B.A. Lounge prior to boarding. we weren’t particularly hungry.

Snack served on BA flight between London and Moscow
The small snack provided on our four hour flight

We both managed a couple of hours sleep and then I read a couple of chapters of my new Sophie Kinsella novel ‘Christmas Shopaholic’ before coming into land at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport at 3.40 p.m. local time.  Unlike Heathrow, there was a lengthy queue at immigration and even though we were in possession of valid visas, it still took nearly an hour to be attended to.  Finally through, our luggage was waiting for us on the baggage carousel so we retrieved it and then obtained a few Roubles from an ATM in the Arrivals Hall (no charge for withdrawing cash).

Travelling on the Moscow Metro
Travelling on the Moscow metro

We were then ready to find the shuttle bus that would transport us to Domodedovskaya Metro Station.  Buses depart on a regular basis with the fare for the 35 minute journey costing RUB 150 (£1.82) which is a fraction of the express train and not much slower.  The buses are little bigger than mini-bus size so the driver leaves luggage at the bus stop until he has a full load.  Before departing, the driver then collects fares from each seat which seems time consuming rather than when passengers are boarding.  We paid in cash but noticed a card reader in use which is useful to remember when using the service. Before departing he then piles luggage on board down the aisle between the seats and blocking the rear door.  The system seems to work well but is very strange.

Sokolniki Station sign, Moscow Metro
Station signs on the walls of metro stations are only in Cyrillic. This is the Sokolniki station.

On arrival at the metro station we needed to heave our luggage down a flight of stone steps as step-free access is unavailable at most stations.  From a ticket machine we bought two single tickets to Sokolniki where we were staying.  As it was late on a Saturday afternoon the trains were busy but we managed without problem and transferred to the Red Line 1 at Okhotny Ryad (Red Square).  Since my previous visit to Moscow, announcements and signs are now in both Russian and English making navigation of the system much easier.  It’s good to remember that announcements with a male voice indicate travel towards the city centre with female voices used for out of town journeys.  Likewise on the circle lines you will hear male announcements in a clockwise direction and female anti-clockwise.  This system was originally established to aid the blind and partially sighted but is actually very helpful for all users of the system.

Holiday Inn Sokolniki Moscow
Approaching the Holiday Inn Sokolniki

After mounting several flights of steps at Sokolniki station with our heavy bags, it was a relief to see our hotel just across the road. We had arranged to stay at the Holiday Inn Sokolniki and on checking in, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that we had been upgraded to a newly refurbished executive room on the 22nd floor.

The reception desk at the Holiday Inn, Sokolniki, Moscow
The reception desk at the Holiday Inn, Sokolniki

A powerful lift whizzed us up to the top of the building in seconds but on touching our room cards on the door reader, we found they didn’t work!  I stayed outside the room with all our luggage whilst my son popped back down to reception to politely resolve the problem.  Apparently, the receptionist had inadvertently written down 2223 on our key wallet instead of 2222 and apologised for the error.

Executive room at the Holiday Inn, Sokolniki, Moscow
Our recently renovated executive room at the Holiday Inn, Sokolniki

Our room had a fresh, new appearance in light colours with a charming picture of the illuminated arch in Sokolniki Park above the bed.  After unpacking and enjoying a cup of tea with our complimentary KitKat chunky, we set off for a stroll through the neighbourhood and along to the vast Sokolniki Park which was buzzing with activity late on a Saturday evening.  We spent some time watching Muscovites enjoying themselves on the ice rink – they make it look so easy, but it’s never like that when I set foot on the ice!

Entrance to Sokolniki Park, Moscow
Entrance to Sokolniki Park, Moscow
Chinese dragon, Sokolniki Park, Moscow
Decorations in Sokolniki Park

From one of the small wooden huts we were tempted into buying a warm corn on the cob each RUB 150 (£1.82) for two.  On returning to our room we discovered an ice bucket had been placed on our coffee table containing a bottle of sparkling wine and a plate of eight handmade chocolates.  A small card indicated that this was an apology for getting our room card wrong.  A very welcome and generous gesture from the hotel as we hadn’t complained but just enquired why the key cards wouldn’t work.

Room service, Holiday Inn Sokolniki, Moscow
The surprise we found in our room when we returned

We then spent the remainder of the evening sipping our complimentary wine and devouring our delicious chocolates whilst putting final touches to our plans for the next day.

Sokolniki Park archway, Moscow
The illuminated archway in Sokolniki Park as featured behind our bed

If you have enjoyed reading this post you might also be interested in the following which explains the necessary steps to obtaining a Russian visa.

Applying for a Russian Visa

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Red Square and the Kremlin, Moscow

80 thoughts on “Day 1. Moscow – the ultimate winter break

  1. Pingback: Day 3. Moscow University and its metro stations – Love Travelling Blog

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  7. jasonlikestotravel

    A fascinating read. It’s interesting how odd the system on the shuttle is but how useful the metro is. I wonder if the recent world cup saw the introduction of more English opposed to just Russian.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is so exciting to me! Russia is so high on my bucket list! What I am dying to know is if you had major culture shock from being there? I thought for sure I would when I did a solo trip to Greece and I didn’t. I think I will end up doing a solo trip there soon and would love your feedback. I am excited to read the rest of your adventures!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi, Sorry I have only just caught up with your travels..Always busy with ‘words’…
    Moscow looks amazing – thanks for the photos, as always. Like the US, the Russians seem bent on out-doing everyone regarding the SIZE of everything…But the architecture is fascinating. We are now armchair travellers but have some great travel memories. Enjoy! Hugs x.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Cyrillic script is quite easy to decipher. It’s immensely advantageous if you want to travel throughout Russia, including in Metro cities like Moscow or St. Petersburg.
    Brilliant article once again.. Reminded me of my trip to Russia during the Insanely Beautiful and Icy Winters.. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hello Marion.

    Thank you for this post. Very nice photos. We have visited to Moscow mane years ago and then it was summer.

    I had huge difficulties to leave answer to this post. I got the message that I am not logged in: I tried and tried. Finally, I had to close my computer and restart all programs!

    Have a good day!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Hello Marion.

    Thank you for this post. Very nice photos. We have visited to Moscow mane years ago and then it was summer.

    I had huge difficulties to leave answer to this post. I got the message that I am not logged in: I tried and tried. Finally, I had to close my computer and restart all programs! 😦

    Have a good day!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Fascinating post and so useful to read all about the journey and the hotel experience. Always fancied visiting Moscow and will be interested to read all of your subsequent posts about the visit. Great start.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jonno for your continued interest in my blog. Moscow is a fascinating city to,visit and prices are reasonable. The only drawback is having to attend in person to submit a costly visa application at either London, Manchester or Edinburgh but it’s definitely worth the hassle.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I don’t understand it either Matti as I always recognise you as Sartenada. Let’s hope the issue is now resolved and it doesn’t happen again but if you ever have any WordPress problems don’t hesitate to email me and I’ll try and help you sort them out. Marion

          Liked by 1 person

  14. Anonymous

    I enjoyed your post. It sounds like a few things have changed since we were last in Russia. Knowing the announcements vary from male to female voice depending on your direction is a great tip.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Hettie, Thanks for taking an interest in my Moscow travels. I visited around the same time of year in 2017 and blogged about that trip too. If you are interested to read these posts you can either follow the link at the bottom of this one about applying for a Russian visa, which is actually the first of the previous series. Alternatively you can use the menu system, Northern Europe, Russia and you will find it there. Happy Travels, Marion

      Like

      1. Hettie D.

        You should probably add the sections Central and Eastern Europe, for Czechia and Russia respectively. Russia is hardly on the North, except of… well, very northern parts 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  15. My friend and I made plans to travel to Moscow and St Petersburg from Beijing during our last trip to China but visas were so difficult to get (we had to book (and pay for) the Trans Siberian train first and hotels also) this caused us concern as we didn’t know if the visas would come through…anyway we didn’t progress as it became just too hard…so a very long way of saying Marion that I am loving the fact you have gone there and am loving this post and can’t wait for others on Moscow.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Sue for your interest in this series of posts on Moscow. Obtaining our visas from the U.K. was quite straightforward but pricey. We’d arranged our trip independently and booked our hotel but only paid for it on check-out . We had to go in person to the Visa office with a document from the hotel, having filled in a lengthy form and then leave our passports with them. I had to plan this carefully as I’m away so much as I knew I wouldn’t need it for 28 days (it felt like my wings had been clipped). Still, all the effort was worthwhile and we had a brilliant time.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Quite a difference between the Moscow of the 1940’s and 50’s and today’s glamour and glitz. Bit of a turn off having to lug your luggage up and down flights of stairs but I’m sure they’ll get that sorted out in the near future. As usual the photos are superb 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I understand that the metro network is old but it must be really difficult for passengers with pushchairs and wheelchairs. I’ve only spent a few hours in St. Petersburg a few years ago on an overnight ferry trip from Helsinki but I’d love to return for a proper look.

        Like

  17. This series is going to be interesting. I’ll enjoy having a close up look at the contrast to my experience. I had my 23rd birthday in Moscow. It was 1978 and still part of the CCCP (USSR). All accommodation was under the control of Intourist. You either stayed in the government run (and run down) hotel, or campsite. My group was the latter. Getting in to the USSR for our first stop, Novgorod by memory, took an entire day coming across from Finland. Our coach was taken away and stripped for contraband. Even the wheels were taken off. Your posts may inspire me to dig out my old diary.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, maybe. I had started last year with reminiscences of my time working at Michaels Nook Country House Hotel in Grasmere. That was a bit of fun and had several former employees coming on board with comments.
        Blogging has been taking a back seat to the full length book manuscript I’ve been working on. I just completed another draft this week and am checking it now.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. It’s called Louisa’s Legacy and is based on my great-grandmother who was born in Bradford in 1854. When I wrote my first book, I discovered she was the last legitimate birth on my maternal line. When Louisa ran away to Australia, she could never have envisaged what she would start! It is a kind of prequel to my memoir I Belong to No One, which by the way is available on Amazon UK at the moment for 2.99 in Kindle, or 6.99 in paperback 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Marcus, it’s my second visit to Moscow as we’d enjoyed it so much a couple of years back. No snow this time but still a fun trip. Hope you are enjoying your weekend too, reading this whilst stopping off for tea and scones on a Sunday afternoon shopping trip!

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Moscow seems like a treat to visit today. Is Moscow becoming a winter destination, a thing? Or were you going just because you had enjoyed a previous stay. Can I share some nostalgia?

    My parents were travelers and and they once spent a week or two in Russia before the Wall fell. Although Mom had originally wanted to ride part of the Trans Siberian Railway, they settled for Moscow and a coach tour of some countryside west of the Urals. Conditions were poor as they were for all of people living outside of Moscow proper. Lacking any bathroom on the bus, the woman tour guide would have the coach pull over to the side of the road for bathroom breaks. She would then direct the men to walk in one direction on the road and for the women to walk in the opposite direction.

    The parents brought me back a beautifully done book on the geography of Russian and a stamp album which I still treasure. Even under Soviet control, the Russians produced wonderful art when they weren’t forced to promote Soviet works and deeds My Dad told me he was relieved by their trip. “They’re so disorganized, they’ll never go to war with us.” My Mom, though, was not happy. Dad says that when they got back to Sacramento, California (SMF), Mom got off the old style boarding ramp, fell to the her knees, and then kissed the ground, she was so happy to be back on American soil.

    I once wanted to visit the Kamchatka Peninsula to see if I could hook up with a guide to go look for tigers. I learned some of the language from a a very pretty Russian woman traveling the States a few years ago but apparently services and support through the Peninsula are now less than when the Soviets were in charge. One group backpacks for a week or two through part of the area searching for mineral specimens and that seems interesting, although I would have to get back into backpacking shape. It is an entirely self-sustaining trip on foot.

    Thanks again for the wonderful post and pictures!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your much appreciated thoughts and for your story of your parents visit to Russia. As our previous visit was around Christmas and we’d enjoyed it, we thought we’d do the same again, Perhaps we will opt for summer next time around!

      Like

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