A Pre-World Cup Russian Adventure
When I got the email to explore Russia with Google, I wasn’t particularly excited because Russia wasn’t on my bucket list. Just because I love to travel, I decided to Google ‘fun things to do in Moscow,’ ‘what to wear in Moscow in May,’ ‘where to shop in Moscow,’ and so many other things a genuinely uninterested fellow searches. Absolutely nothing prepared me for the warmth, scenery and love I would bask in for two and half days!
17 hours after leaving Lagos, my tired self and camera dragged into Vnukovo International Airport. Inside Moscow was warm and I quickly got rid of my sweater and socks.
At Hotel Baltschug Kempinski where I stayed, my windows overlooked the lovely river of Moscow and Russia’s Central Bank. They were so large, I couldn’t help imagining an assassin ziplining into my room surreptitiously in the middle of the night. Somehow, I thought she’d be female like the daring Jennifer Lawrence in the movie Red Sparrow. Yet, I wasn’t afraid because I wanted my Russian adventure.
From the beautiful GUM department store where you find over 100 popular brands including luxury brands like Burberry, Channel, Moschino, Hermes, Calvin Klein—and where I had a taste of the heavenly Russian ice cream—to the historical breath-taking space called Red Square, Moscow is teeming with history. It’s not just the National History Museum. It’s the Kremlin itself, St Basil’s Cathedral, Lenin’s Mausoleum and the Kremlin graveyard, where the graves of almost all past Soviet Union leaders (including Stalin) are.
I’m told hundreds of tourists from all over the world are constantly at the square, learning and documenting. Each group wears transmitters and earphones, as tour guides regale guests with Russian history in Spanish, English and even Mandarin.
It was the first time I saw a large group of people who didn’t care about the English Language. They were content just being Russians and mighty proud of it. Language can be a big barrier to exploring this city as all street signs are in Russian. You will need Google Maps to point you in the way and a Google Translator app to read the signs and menu at the restaurants. Even McDonalds is spelt in Russian alphabets.
On the metro line to Luzhniki Stadium (where the 2018 FIFA World Cup opening and closing ceremonies will take place) in Sportivnaya, I sat in between two Russians who couldn’t care if I was brown or white. If there are racists in Russia, my stay was perhaps too short to find them.
I had an abundance of Russian food and experienced fine dining at Lastochka, a restaurant set up in a stationary ship about a 20-minute walk from the stadium. Their Borscht and dessert are excellent. And even though Russia is famed for spirits, you can’t buy alcohol after 10 PM, even in the clubs. Yes, I was shocked too.
There’s a lot to see in Russia, Moscow especially. The nights are really short with the sun staying up till about 8 PM and coming out brightly by 3:30 AM. With electricity everywhere, you could be exploring the streets of Moscow for 24 hours non-stop like I did with Google. Hopefully, when next I visit with family, we’ll bump into President Putin at the gas station, and in shorts. *wink*