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TOFF TRIP TO MOSCOW & St.PETERSBURG MAY 2004

What is the size of a small town, has 3200 ( yes that's correct- three thousand two hundred!)rooms, 6000 ever changing inhabitants, a bank, post office, tourist office, and its own fully equipped medical centre? Answer, it's the Hotel Rossia close to the famous Red Square in Moscow. Add in corridors literally miles long and 4 entrances, one on each side of this enormous building.

Hotel Rossia Moscow
Hotel Rossia Moscow

Moving between the " wings " of the hotel required " Alice in Wonderland" type journeys. For example, to get from the south to the west side on floor 2, you had to go down to the ground floor, walk halfway around the hotel, and go up in a different lift back to floor 2 !

The hotel also had its own medical centre which proved to be very efficient when needed.

GUM Department Store

Adjacent to Red Square is Moscow's world famous and gigantic GUM Department store. Once the shop of choice for " the favoured few " only who were senior soviet officials and the relatively small numbers of tourists before Perestroika, it now parades all of the usual international designer label outlets that one sees all of the world. Much of its sales area is given over to concessions.

Our "fellow traveller " ( not in the political sense of the word ! ), Kathryn Bligh, writes of our visit to the over sixties club:

" A highlight of the trip was a visit to an over sixties club in a Moscow suburb to where we were escorted in small groups by some of the club members. (My guide was a young looking 74 year old, Tanya, who teaches ballet twice a week). Our guides led us through some of the most spectacular Italian marbled halls hung with chandeliers of the Moscow Metro. Trains run every minute and carry twice as many passengers as the London tube,(Moscow is now larger than London with 9 or 10 million people).

The over sixties club Moscow
A visit to an over sixties club in a Moscow suburb

At the club we were made very welcome and entertained by a marvellous display of Russian and international dancing, including a gypsy dance and a solo ballet dance exquisitely performed by Tanya. The only male dancer (very handsome!) performed a typical Russian dance and an amazing tap dance. They all wore the most beautiful costumes, changing several times. There was a little singing and poetry recital too. The smallest member was also the oldest. At a mere 86 her dancing and " joie de vivre " put many people half her age to shame!

After refreshments at the club our guides escorted us back into the centre of town". I will only add that after being so wonderfully entertained by their members, we responded with a hearty (if not very musical) rendition of a selection of our British old songs such as " My old man's a dustman ", "Tipperrary " ( our new friends seemed to know that one and joined in!) and the classic old time musical (Marie Lloyd ?) number, " My old man said follow the van and don't dilly-dally on the way." What is its title?

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Another souvenier stop

Our escort/interpreter to the club and the Mayor of Moscow's offices introduced us to her father who was 86 years old. He recounted and she translated how he had been trained apparently in England by Spitfire pilots during WW2.

Some of us learnt the hard way that on our overnight train journey to St.Petersburg the attendant locked all the toilets before we got on the train and would not open them until half an hour after the train left Moscow. Quite a number of us were queuing up by then !

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With guide in St.Petersburg

One of the other features of those visits that were arranged by the travel company, via Intourist the official Russian agency, were the guide/interpreters. We had different ones for Moscow and St.Petersburg and our coach stopped several times a day on its travels around the cities.

We were all unloaded at a series of souvenir shops where we were met with complimentary coffee and vodka. After 3 stops in one afternoon one learnt to decline the vodka!

Speaking for Carlie and myself we found the hotel food generally was quite good, although bottled water, which had to be used for everything including cleaning our teeth, bought in the hotels was very expensive.We all soon found a convenient and cheap "mini-market " nearby.

So to sum up: a wonderfully eclectic mixture of fascinating architecture, museums filled with the most extraordinary treasures; a very obviously prosperous elite ( the streets were full of huge brand-new Mercedes cars), very friendly and good-natured ordinary people, some of whom lived in apparent poverty in very shabby housing.

Verdict - unmissable !! Must go back.

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