We enjoyed another leisurely breakfast in the hotel’s executive lounge, which was lovely and quiet compared to the main restaurant across the corridor. I started the day with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice from a hand press which had a sign in front of it suggesting that it was good morning exercise. After some smoked salmon, salad and cheese I requested two fried eggs served sunny side up from the egg station but there must have been a lack of understanding as I was sadly presented with eggs cooked on both sides, hard and extremely unappetising.
It was another cold, dull morning when we set off for the Sokolniki metro station conveniently located just across the road from our hotel. Our first stop of the day was to Universitet Station so that we could explore the campus of Moscow State University (MSU) which was the first Russian university, founded in 1755.
The main building is 240m (790ft tall) and was completed in 1953 in Stalinist architectural style. It is the highest of the so called ‘seven sisters’ Moscow skyscrapers built between 1947-1953 and is actually the tallest educational building in the world having 36 floors. On its roof stands a 57m five pointed star which weighs in at a colossal 12 tons.
Although we would have welcomed the opportunity of viewing its interior, the university is closed to the general public. Visitors not connected with MSU need to be pre-approved by their host academic institution and present their passport to gain entry.
Sparrow Hills is located on the right bank of the Moskva River and is one of the highest points in Moscow boasting an observation platform 85m above the Moskva River. Information boards indicated to us that on a clear day it’s possible to take in views spanning almost the entirety of central Moscow. December rarely offers the visibility of a summer’s day and our views weren’t quite as far reaching but we were able to make out the Luzhniki stadium which was used for both the 1980 Olympic Games and more recently the 2018 FIFA World Cup final. It had been our intention to walk down a steep path to the lower level Votobyovy Gory station but we found the footpath to be closed due to construction work.
Instead, we thought of taking the short cable car ride which runs from near the observation deck. This plan didn’t work either as it doesn’t start operating on Mondays until 4.00 p.m. which seemed quite strange as it would be almost dark by then. Fortunately there was a bus stop nearby with several people waiting in its shelter which seemed promising that a bus might be on its way. Within a few minutes we were on board and heading towards Kiyevskaya Station, not somewhere we had planned to visit but being flexible, decided to take an opportunity to explore.
This white marble station features elaborate artwork frescoes and mosaics depicting life in the Ukraine and of soldiers during the October Revolution and Civil War. It was built as a monument to Ukraine’s contribution to the creation of Soviet Russia.
Outside the station we found a large, modern shopping mall called Europeisky which is one of the largest and most modern in Moscow with around 400 shops including a branch of our Finnish favourite department store Stockmann. There are five atriums named after the European capitals of Paris, Rome, Berlin, London and last but not least Moscow featuring illuminated indoor waterfalls and fountains.
After looking around Stockmann we called in Uniqlo as I’d tried to purchase a coat from their Manchester branch a few days earlier but it was out of stock. It was actually available in Moscow but at a higher price than home so I decided to wait and buy it when I got back.
Our impromptu shopping trip over, we returned to the metro to visit the Slavyansky Bulvar station on Blue Line 3. This modern station only opened in 2008 and features walls of green Cuban marble adorned with floral sculptures and granite floors. It had a light and airy feel and I particularly liked its wooden benches with their flower inspired trellises between the seats,
Continuing our tour of some of the most beautiful stations on the Moscow metro, we made our next stop at Park Pobedy. This station is the deepest on the Moscow metro and the 4th deepest in the world. The escalator seemed to continue for ages as the station contains the longest set in Europe, with each one being 126 metres (413 ft). It was just as well the escalators weren’t out of order as the ride to the surface takes three minutes and the adjoining staircases contain 740 steps! The platforms at Park Pobedy are faced with red and grey marble with distinctive large mosaics at the ends of the platforms. Although trains run at 90 second intervals and the network is always busy, crowds soon disperse leaving around 20 seconds to be able to quickly take photographs.
Another stunning station was nearby so we took the opportunity to visit Arbatskaya Station which has been open since 1953. This beautiful station is faced in red marble and decorated with ornamental floral reliefs and chandeliers.
We exited the station here so that we could visit the Moscow State Library (National Library of Moscow) which is the fifth largest in the world. The library is open from 10.00 a.m. until 8.00 p.m. and we were surprised to find it to be closing as we tried to enter the building at 3.30 p.m. We had unfortunately timed our visit shortly after a fire alarm had gone off and the library was being evacuated. Enquiring how long it would be before it was likely to re-open, staff seemed to imply it would be quite some time so we decided to postpone our visit for another day.
We changed our plans deciding to walk through the Kremlin Park to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The light rain that had persisted since lunchtime suddenly became heavier so we hurried along to the cathedral pausing briefly to admire the huge statue of Prince Vladimir the Great just outside the Kremlin gates, which stands 17 metres (56ft) tall.
After crossing the extremely busy junction by this monument it was then just a short distance along the riverbank to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Essential maintenance was taking place around the exterior of the church but thankfully the interior was unaffected. The church is free to visit and is absolutely stunning with its gold frescoes and paintings but sadly photography is not permitted.
It was falling dark as we returned outdoors so we wandered onto the footbridge next to the cathedral to take some photos of the Kremlin which had taken on an enchanting appearance with its twinkling lights. By this time we were getting a little tired so it was helpful to discover that the Kropotkinskaya metro station was on the doorstep and a bonus to find that it was even on the Red Line just eight stations from our hotel at Sokolniki.
It was then time to relax and what better way than with glasses of wine in the hotel’s lobby bar. Later in the evening we strolled along to Sokolniki Park and dined in the Mercato Italian Trattoria overlooking the ice rink. This small restaurant is cosily furnished and has large windows perfectly positioned for watching skaters glide along the ice. We both settled on pizzas and glasses of beer and later discovered that as it was a Monday, pizzas were two for one so, as well as being delicious, it was also a bargain!
On leaving the restaurant, we strolled back through the park admiring its festive decorations before taking the metro to Lubyanka station so that we could visit the Central Children’s Store, a landmark building in Lubyanskaya Square adjacent to the metro station.
Commissioned in 1957, it is the largest children’s department store in the Soviet Union and I consider it to be a ‘must see’ whatever age you might be. The store re-opened after a major refit in 2015 and features a huge pendulum clock on one wall of the main atrium weighing 4.5 tons and containing 5,000 pieces.
The clock was manufactured in Raketa, the oldest watch making factory in Russia and is the only working model in the world with gears of such a significant size. It’s central position automatically attracts visitors attention when entering the building.
The store is dedicated to childhood with around 100 stores on 7 floors offering toys, games, baby equipment, clothes, entertainment and dining options. There are a staggering 24 escalators and 22 lifts so getting around should be quick and easy, although some of the lifts seemed to be temporarily out of order during our visit. As the store remains open until 10.00 p.m. we had plenty of time to explore the shops on each floor and were enthralled pressing buttons to activate model railways, admiring huge Lego displays of Red Square and so much more.
On the hour from 7.00 p.m. until the store’s closure, the store lights dim and a child centred film is projected onto the clock face wall creating a magical experience for visitors. To find out what was happening we leaned over the balcony on one of the upper floors to watch the event and noticed that nearly everyone else was captivated like us and doing the same. Approaching closing time we returned to the hotel by metro after spending another magical day in the Russian capital.
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