The next morning we strolled down to one of the two restaurants in the hotel for the breakfast buffet. We’d learned the hard way in St. Petersburg that trying to order anything else off the menu for breakfast was pointless and potentially disappointing. Since then we’d stuck with the overpriced buffet and were happy that at least they didn’t charge for the three-year-old. I immediately noticed there was no champagne at this buffet…strike one for Moscow!

After getting all bundled up, we set off for the biggest tourist attraction in Russia…Red Square! The only thing between our hotel and Red Square was the Kremlin, so we walked along the wall and entertained the thought of going inside for a tour. I hadn’t wanted to prebook one as I didn’t want to commit to a time a few days into our journey too far in advance, and I’m glad we didn’t. Red Square took most of the day as it was, and we were starting to wear down…and get sick with colds. But the ticket line looked to be about an hour long. So booking ahead would’ve been a good idea if we’d wanted to go in.

The outside of the Kremlin wall is interesting in itself. There’s the Alexander Garden, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (which has a changing of the guard every hour), and…”to the right of the tomb, lining the walkway are dark red porphyry blocks with encapsulated soils from hero cities, Leningrad, Kiev, Stalingrad, Odessa, Sevastopol, Minsk, Kerch, Novorossiysk, Tula and Brest, Murmansk and Smolensk. Further to the right of these monuments is an obelisk in red granite, listing the names of 40 ‘Cities of Military Glory’ divided into groups of four.” (Wikipedia)

Outside the Kremlin wall.

Outside the Kremlin wall.

Memorial to the heroic city of Odessa.

Memorial to the heroic city of Odessa.

Just within site of the security entrance to Red Square we encountered a delay. Our son announced that he had to go to the bathroom, and we came across a few appealing souvenir kiosks that required more cash than we had. So we crossed the busy Mokhovaya Street via the underground walkway and crashed the Ritz-Carlton hotel. After using their shiny toilets and topping up on cash at a safe and reputable ATM, I was politely admonished by a security guard for taking pictures of the gingerbread house in the lobby. At least he didn’t confiscate my camera.

The lobby of the Ritz-Carlton with gingerbread house.

The lobby of the Ritz-Carlton with gingerbread house.

Then it was back to Red Square! We picked up a couple of fox fur hats from the kiosk (apologies to the animal-friendly folks out there) and soon had people asking us for directions in Russian…so they must’ve looked somewhat authentic. And Red Square was fantastic…although I was a bit surprised by the metal detectors they were funnelling people through…for some reason I thought it was much more of an open-access area.

But once we were inside we walked freely around the square, went inside St. Basil’s Cathedral, around the small Christmas market, and popped into GUM…the famous Soviet state department store that’s now an elegant, ornate and ridiculously expensive shopping mall. We also lied blatantly to our sweet son, which we try not to do, who wanted to ride on the lovely double-decker carousel, but the line was so long for tickets that we told him it was closed. (But we have promised to take him on another carousel in London, so do not fear that he is entirely neglected.) He took it well.

GUM all dressed up for Christmas...with part of the ticket line to the carousel in front.

GUM all dressed up for Christmas…with part of the ticket line to the carousel in front.

St. Basil’s was very different inside than I was expecting. Where most cathedrals have a large open space in the center, this one was just a honeycomb of brightly-colored little rooms and chambers. We also happened upon a group of men singing Russian hymns in the small central hall, and the acoustics were so impressive that we picked up one of their CDs. They’re called “Doros” if you’d like to look them up on YouTube.

Red Square!

Red Square!

View of Red Square from inside St. Basil's Cathedral.

View of Red Square from inside St. Basil’s Cathedral.

One of the eight smaller chambers in St. Basil’s.

Interior wall detail.

Interior wall detail.

With tummies rumbling we finished our big day out in Moscow and started walking back toward the hotel. We weren’t crazy enough to try to squeeze into the McDonald’s outside the Kremlin, but we had passed a sign for one closer to the hotel. So we pushed our way into still the busiest McDonald’s that I have ever been in and took the only opportunity I dared the entire trip to try and speak Russian…which consisted of reading the English-sounding words written in Cyrillic off the menu in a Russian accent. Happily, the Russian girl next to me was amused and eavesdropping and quickly translated the word for motorcycle when asked which toy our son wanted in his happy meal. 🙂

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