Sunday, 8 December 2013

Walking tour of Moscow

Cyril and Methodius
A few weekends ago, on the coldest day of the year by far, we found ourselves rushing on foot through Moscow, desperately trying to meet up with our guide from Moscowfreetour.com for the start of our two and a half hour walking tour of the city.  The e-mail exchange between us and the company ahead of the day had been fast and efficient.  They had provided us with comprehensive joining instructions on where, when and how to meet up with our guide.  Unfortunately, the directions assumed that everyone would be arriving by metro and we had decided it would be easier to walk!  It wasn't!!  It was much further than we had anticipated and took us a lot longer.  When we got to where we thought the tour should be starting from, with just a couple of minutes to spare, there was no sign of anyone.  We walked around the block and up a couple of side streets, but, after about ten minutes, decided that we had no choice but to give up.  Having made that decision, we headed in the direction of Red Square to get a warming cup of coffee and that's when we saw them - our group!!  Luckily for us, Pavel, our guide, was still doing his introduction, so we were able to slip in at the back of the crowd and enjoy the rest of this marvellous tour!

The Old English Courthouse
We began at the statue of Cyril and Methodius in the centre of the Slavyanskaya Square.  These two Greek brothers were ninth century Christian missionaries who are credited with championing the culture of the Slavic people and whose lasting legacy is the Cyrillic alphabet (named after Cyril - who knew?!).  From there, we were shown what survives of the old city walls and were told the story of Moscow's 'Chinatown' (there's no connection with China or anything Chinese!).  We were then shown Romanovs Chambers and The Old English Courthouse.  Pavel explained to us about Ivan the Terrible's fascination with England and told us of his marriage proposal to Elizabeth I - how different the course of history might have been had she accepted!

The street of churches
Our next stop was a viewpoint from where we could see most of 'Stalin's Seven Skyscrapers' - buildings put up using prison labour and which are now the most expensive real estate in Moscow!  From here, we made our way to Red Square and St. Basil's Cathedral (despite intense speculation, the onion domes have no great spiritual significance - they are simply the best shape to cope with the heavy snow of a Russian winter, apparently!), before nipping into GUM to get warm.

The changing of the guard
Our tour was timed so that we could witness the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier at 1pm - a spectacle well worth seeing.  Many more stories from Pavel followed and we finished up in Theatre Square, tired, frozen, but thrilled at such a wonderful experience.

These free tours are great because the guides are people who genuinely love the city and want to share it with you.  They won't bore you with lots of dry, historical facts.  Instead, they will regale you with interesting anecdotes and fascinating insights which will resonate with you for a long time after the tour is over.  The guides are not salaried - they rely on tips for their living.  I know these tours are billed as 'free', but please, if your guide is even half as good as ours, give him or her something as a sign of your appreciation.  On our tour, it was sad to see most of the participants slope off just before the end so that they didn't have to pay!

Pavel, our guide
You can see more of my photos taken on the tour here.

2 comments:

  1. I would love to go to Moscow some day.

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  2. Moscow is a wonderful tourism place to visit. Thanks for posting a nice article. Best of Turkey - Istanbul, Ankara, Cappadocia, Heraklion, Rhodes, Santorini, Greece.

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