Saturday, 23 June 2007

Day 3 - Moscow and train to St. Petersburg

The second full day in Moscow was primarily for more sight-seeing, but we were able to squeeze another couple of parks in.

The morning started with a tour of the Metro system. Yes, that's right we went sight seeing on their public transport system! In fact there were quite a number of arranged tours of the stations with plenty of groups being shown around, but we'd chosen to do our own thing using Jeppe's travel guide of the best looking stations.

Our base station Izmailovsky was one of the least opulent stations but even this one was cleaner and prettier than those back home.

Originally built in the early 30s at the request of Stalin, the stations were to double as places to live in the event of war, so to remind them of how great their country was the stations were made opulent with statues of soldiers etc.

If we ever did the same thing now in the UK would the statues be of z-list celebrities I wonder.

These statues are at Revolution Square station.

Apparently it's good luck to touch this dog's nose. Some tourists will believe anything, but it was attracting quite a crowd, who were all touching it. I found out when I got back that there's also a statue of a man holding a machine gun and touching the end of that is supposedly good for your love life. Had I known that , I'd still be there rubbing it now, the machine gun I mean ;)

It has been said that on certain days in the year the ghosts of Danish tourists can be seen floating through the station. I wonder if that's one of them...

In some of the more grander stations, chandeliers are commonplace.

It's also worth mentioning that the Subway is much deeper than anything I'd ever come across, even in London. The escalators traveled for minutes to take people up and down. It wasn't uncommon to see people sitting down to read their book along the way. It's also worth mentioning that I didn't come across one escalator that wasn't working. Another example of how bad London is, where outages are commonplace! They even have a member of staff at the bottom of each escalator watching the stairs via a series of security cameras, which some might argue is more entertaining than some of the shows broadcast on the main channels.

OK, this was one of the sign systems that took some figuring out. Basically along the long strip are the stations that the trains on this platform are going to visit. An arrow at one end will indicate the direction that the train will arrive in. Where a station on the line intersects with another there is a second sign below the station name showing the colour of the line it intersects with and the stations on that line. All quite obvious once you figure it out, we just don't have it in London. I guess because so many stations intersect with so many lines. Here they've made sure each station only intersects with two lines.

This was quite a cool station that celebrated the history of space travel. Each oval in the ceiling housed a different mosaic, which contributed to the overall story of Russian Space Travel.

Having spent 90 minutes or so deep beneath the ground it was time to emerge back into daylight and we'd chosen VDNkH as our destination.

Originally built in 1935 this area in Northern Moscow celebrates all things Russian, with a large number of pavilions, each of which celebrates a particular industry or region. We don't really have an equivalent in the UK, the Millennium Dome in 2000 would perhaps be the nearest we've had, but that's nothing compared to this, I'd want to visit this for a start.

This was what welcomed us as we emerged from the station. Yep it celebrated the history of space travel and looked like something out of Dan Dare in the process.

Moscow did have a few of these alley market things where each stand was a couple of meters wide and they all sold tacky souvenir mementos and dodgy pirated goods.

Not only did they have Transformers in the cinema before us, they even had it on DVD first!

Onto VDNkH proper. This is the Propylaea or entrance gate to the centre. Built in the 1950s it celebrates the triumph of the Russian people and features sculptures of people working in the fields.

Cute looking land train to carry people from one end of the place to the other. It's quite a walk. As you can see in the background the park has a theme park, in fact there are two; one on each side close to the main entrance.
This is the one to the left. There was supposed to be a kiddy coaster here, but it had been replaced with a fairly decent mouse, much better than the one in Gorky anyway.

The best bit, for those watching at least, was the final brake block. Keith who'd already ridden it knew what to expect unlike Jeppe who was riding it for the first time.

Looking back, not just at the nice roller skating girl but towards the second park which is to the right as you enter. That park was more tailored to the teenagers and grown ups, the one we're in here is for the kids.

Told you it was for the kids! Even so I don't think we'd be allowed to have tank theme attractions in the UK. Maybe this was to allow the kids to celebrate the might of the Russian military force, or maybe not.

Tiny red indian themed boat ride where the kids have to paddle the boat around, although they are assisted by a slight current.

Entitled "Power Horror Tower", the name seemed quite appropriate after a similar ride in the US had suffered a cable snap and cut the feet off some young girl. This one was behaving itself however.

The Calypso was running on a fairly decent program even with young kids riding it.

The whole place was immaculate, with plenty of people enjoying the sights but no litter or trouble anywhere.

This is Pavilion #1 standing almost 300ft high and celebrating the Russian Empire. It now houses the House of Russian Nations where visitors can learn about the Government's National Policies and stuff like that. I have no idea why that guy on the right is walking around with a shopping trolley. Now I think this photo is alright but if I was to take it from 20 metres further back it would be spoiled by...

Russian ripoffs of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, three of the Ninja turtles and Shrek and his missus. Now this was actually quite creepy because it was obvious that they were costumed people, but they did not move, so I was unsure whether there were people inside or they'd just left the costumes out. They just seemed to be there for people to have their picture taken with but no-one approached for payment when photos were being taken. Quite bizarre really!

This is the second park, which featured slightly better quality rides but less of them.

OK, most of the rides were better. I have no idea what this duck thing was!

The main coaster in the park is Astropax, built by Russian coaster makers Pax. However this ride wasn't open, which was a shame because it looked like quite an amazing ride with a unique layout.

Especially that camel back hump over the loop, usually track layouts have you going through the loop, not over it.

However it became apparent that this ride wasn't going to be open anytime soon. That guy was attacking the ride with an angle grinder.

and the train had been completely dismantled. I sent a rather cheeky text to Team Valt telling it them it may be open by the time they got here. Team Valt were 3 members also coming to Moscow and Tallinn but doing so in a different order. They'd already told us Tallinn's park was closed so we had started updating each other on what we'd found, and times of park opening and closing etc.

I don't recall the wheel working either.

If it had I would have wanted to ride on these exposed seats, as they would have been great for taking photos of the area.

This is the entrance to the park as if you were entering from outside VDNkH. As with Gorky we'd found the alternative way in.

Strange little building covered in Austin Power's themed graffiti ("yeah baby" and "shag")

Pavilon #71 celebrates Nuclear Power. It explodes every September 10th and is rebuilt by the 15th.

In the centre of VDNkH is the People's Friendship Fountain and because of all the gold (leaf over bronze and copper statues) is one of the most stunning pieces in the whole of the complex. Each woman in National dress represents each of the former Russian Republics. Unfortunately the fountains weren't running, the display is supposed to be quite stunning, but its still good even without.

On the left is Pavilion #67, one of a few wooden structures in the park and initially represented the natural treasures of Northern Russia (read forestry). It now contains the Exhibition and Business centre for the republic of Karelia, which sounds like a planet on Star Trek. On the right is #68 originally the Siberian pavilion (odd, you'd have expected it to be miles from the others) it's now the Exhibition and Business centre for the Republic of Armenia.

You get the idea now, lots of stunning buildings all in one place. This is Pavilion #66 representing Uzbekistan.

Where there was space, of which there was plenty, some had been taken up with attractions to keep the punters happy. Here's an example with attractions such as the Russian looking bouncy castle and what appeared to be a home made 2-seater top spin. We saw that running later in the day and it looked manic, and we were too chicken to try it, especially as it looked home made.

This "pavilion" was taken over by a property developer using the land to showcase the funky houses that he could build for you. You know that if you had the house with the big sloping roof you'd wait til Winter and slide down it.

It's another Disney rip-off! Nice little house behind it although not quite the quality of Sleeping Beauty's castle.

Pavilion #59 originally built for the Moscow (which is why it looks similar to the Kremlin towers), Ryazan and Tula regions is now the Grain Pavilion celebrating that particular industry.

The Stone Flower Fountain based on Urals fairy tales usually looks quite stunning but on this occasion looked bare. It had been drained so that some guys could prepare it for a synchronised music and light show that was due to take place in a few days time.

Pavilion #58 was the Ukrainian pavilion then was used to represent farming and is now back with the Ukrainians. Apparently they won it back in a game of Texas Hold 'Em.

Pavilion #18 belongs to the Belorussians

At the far end of the complex are these celebrations of Russian Flight; Two jets and a rocket. They're part of Pavilion #32 seen behind it originally represented Mechanization and which now represents Aerospace.

I thought this was some sort of giant swing attraction but it was just a Russian pylon not connected to anything. It all becomes clear when you realise that the building to the left is Pavilion #55 that celebrates Electrification. The larger building to the right is Pavilion #57, which is used for conferences and not tailored to one thing.

Heading back out more touristy attractions had come out, such as this camel and donkey.

A stunning fountain, don't you think!

Here's a HDR attempt at it.

VDNkH is quite an amazing place if you're interested in architecture. I could easily have spent more time here just taking in the place. Although the concept is a bit dated I still think its good to celebrate how successful your country is and it makes me wonder why more countries don't do it.

Heading away from VDNkH we decided to ride the cities monorail, which I thought would take us around the exhibition but in fact took us to the middle of nowhere! You have to buy a separate ticket to ride this, the travel card we had was rejected.

The Dan Dare monument. Actually the building that it's on top of is the Museum of Space Travel.

A big cathedral and to its right is the Ostankino Palace, now a museum.

After the tram ride we headed to Sokolniki Park, another massive park in the city south-east of where we'd been.

The reasons for coming here were two-fold. Firstly there was a small park with a coaster to ride, but secondly I had spotted something in another part of the park on Google Earth that I was convinced was a coaster but which hadn't been confirmed. So my curiousity had to be checked.

What's that??

Opposite this park is a massive hotel complex that wouldn't look out of place on the Vegas Strip.

Large fountain near the entrance of Sokolniki. This park is 6 square kilometres (that's 4 times larger than Hyde Park in London, twice New York Central park) and used to be used for falconry for the Tsars but is now open to the public as a recreational park, and a massive one at that!

As you enter the park the small theme park is over to the left.

They have another of those extreme top scan rides. So that one at VDNkH wasn't man made after all. I wonder if they'll ever find their way to the UK?

Nicely themed tilt-a-whirl

An indoor scalectrix attraction.

A fairly small selection of rides but indicative of the way Russian parks are. A small area within the much larger parks, no entrance fee, you just buy tickets for the rides you want to do.

That's the park's coaster a silly little caterpillar. To think I'd came all the way to Sokolniki to ride that!

I did like the paint scheme on this ride!

The diskO was a blast. The same operator was running most of the rides in this corner of the park so we had to wait for him to come over and let us on, no big deal!

Having left the kid park I then had to check out what was in the centre of the park. As we got close it was soon apparent that I'd found another coaster, we could see the cars moving past behind the wheel.

This was what I'd found. An unlisted Schwarzkopf City Jet coaster called Frozen. I was well chuffed with my find. For those that don't know Anton Schwarkopf is revered as a near-god within some factions of the coaster enthusiast community. His rides focused on fun, sometimes over apparent safety (he had faith in his designs, others didn't). He died in 2001 and I don't believe any new rides came out after his death.

The ride was actually a blast. With a spiral lift that didn't quite work; both times we were rolled back into the station and sent out again. There was a scary crackle of electricity halfway up the lift and there were no restraints on the trains (the Russian ride ops just pointed to the handles on the side of the car and said "you hold"). But it was fun and once you'd made it up the ride was very smooth and forceful, but fortunately had no air time, or else we would have been thrown out of the train for sure.

Having relayed the news to friends back home that I'd found an unchartered Schwarzkopf we then hopped on the big wheel to get some more pictures.

It goes to show that sometimes its good to head out the way for just a caterpillar coaster! You'll never know what you'll find.

Off in the background is the TV tower that actually stands derelict following a fire. They weren't sure if it would collapse or not but seems that it survived but people must be too scared to venture inside it. The monorail passes close to it, but I was on the wrong side so missed it.

Having finished with Sokolniki we traveled back to the hotel and whilst the other two rested, I decided to go and explore Izmailovsky park. Russian coaster maker Pax built their first coaster here in the early 80s but it was removed some time later. So I thought that if the park had a ride past then it would be interesting to see if there was anything there now, and after my find earlier in the day I thought I might be on a roll.

This is looking back towards the hotel complex.

The park is big enough to require tram stops within it.

This is the big wheel that I had seen from the hotel and which I'd intended to use as a directional aid forgetting that at ground level I wouldn't see it. I'd almost missed it having taken a wrong path earlier on.

This is an open space I guess they use for concerts and things like that.

There was a little theme park but it was closed. Well it was quite late in the day so understandable. The Russian above the main writing also says "Western City". Do you see how this reading thing works? Straightforward really.

Behind Bectepn City I found a second unlisted coaster. Sweet, but it wasn't running either :(

It was a small coaster and made by a company I'd not seen before. It's always frustrating to see a ride you want to do but can't.

So I thought I'd walk around and take a couple of pictures of the other attractions in the park. At this point an elderly gentleman, who'd seen me with the camera approached and asked if I was "American Journalist". I said that I was just a fan of rides (and British) and had come to Russia to visit parks. I don't think he understood what I was saying so I showed him some pictures taken earlier in the day (hurrah for LCD screens) at which point he realised why I was there. He then gestured to the coaster and opened it up for me. How cool was that? After one quick go and a thankyou I headed back to tell the other that I'd found a second unlisted coaster, and being the good person that I am texted Team Valt and made them aware of my find, giving them directions so they could share in the experience; I'm nice like that!

On weekends Izmailovsky holds a massive flea market. The rest of the week it seems to act as a hub for taxi journeys out towards the North East of Moscow. There were cabs everywhere and lots of hawkers trying to drum up business.

I thought I'd see what else was around the hotel, having explored the South. West was a main road and train line on which ran some of the longest trains I've ever seen. East were more shops and this cute wooden church.

The hotel adorned with Olympic imagery.

To the North was this massive castle thing. I can't actually find out what it was and the gates prevented me from getting close. From the research I've done back home the grounds hold the weekend market and I think the building houses the indoor market. If that's the case it has to be the biggest and overly themed market I've ever seen, so I'm sceptical.

Still it's a nice building all the same, if a bit Disneyish i.e. over the top.

A couple of placid stray dogs waiting to ambush any wheelchair bound russians who would be tired from having got their wheelchair up such a steep slope; easy pickings!

This was dinner that night, trout! Much nicer than it looked.

Finally it was time to say goodbye to Moscow and make our way to St Petersburg on the overnight train.

We got to the station in good time, as if we'd missed it we would have been in trouble as these trains are usually booked up well in advance. Each carriage has its own ticket inspector and after being allowed in we settled down for the journey.

Here's a little tip for you, try to travel in groups of four or you will end up with a stranger in your car, as we did; some Russian guy who didn't seem too concerned at us acting like kids in the car (he was actually pretty cool). Secondly make sure your phones are switched off, it's quite embarrassing for it to go off especially if you'd just agreed to not make any more noise. Also space is at a premium so don't be too surprised to find yourself sharing your bed with your hand luggage. Oh, and be careful of the train performing an emergency stop, as our's did; I nearly fell out!

Part of the reason for taking the train was to see what it was like as I was toying with the idea of doing a trans-siberian railroad holiday in the future. If I do that I might have to upgrade to a slightly bigger cabin, this was a little claustrophobic to have to spend a week on it.

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