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Monday, October 17, 2011

Russia: Arkhangelsk + Moscow

First of all, let me remind you I live in Crimea, which is the southern part of Ukraine, on the Black Sea shore... so  taking a trip to the north of Russia in February (it's considered to be the coldest month) was brave and stupid at the same time. In Simferopol (where we started our journey) it was +17C in the early morning, and when we landed in Arkhangelsk, it was snowing and windy, and the temperature (yes!!!) was -38C!!! In just one day we made a way down 55 degree and north 3000km:D  But all in a good time, so let me begin (1)...

The whole night of packing, re-packing and then packing the bags again, and at 5 a.m. we finally leave the house and drive to the airport of Simferopol... To our surprise, it wasn't the Boeing we expected (and paid for, huh), but some older plane, gathering 2 flights on board (and still having lots of free seats). Not to be upset though, since we did buy our tickets much cheaper than planned (we didn't just go with Russian Aeroflot... we went with Russian Aeroflot Nord which is a small Arkhangelsk company that gives you discounts for buying the tickets online, for buying them at all etc) (2)...

In just two hours we landed in Sheremetyevo (Moscow international airport), and having about the whole day to wait until the next flight, there was a chance to finally go see the Red Square. Being said is easier than done cos airport-city transportation system remains mystery for me even here in Ukraine, let alone a foreign country. We first wanted to go to one of the train-station where the sightseeing buses start their way, and so we looked for a taxi to get to the city (3)... 

Okay, one very important thing to know about Moscow is that it IS very expensive, I mean it. And it's also very..mmm... complicated place, so you better not take a taxi from the airport or station area , it's better to call a cab by phone (4). 

This wasn't the first time in Moscow, and the previous is still remembered by the 30 euro drive from Kursky train station to Radisson Hotel (when in fact it should've been at least 3 times less). You should be careful picking the car you're about to take, but don't be too frightened! Some worker from the airport just finished his day when we were trying to get a cab, and he offered his service for a comparably very low price. We later asked he'd wait for us in the city and then drive us back to the airport. Surprise: he only took one way+waiting, and no way back since he was coming back anyway O_o Oh yes, that's still about Moscow, and I didn't smoke anything LOL (5).

 Just a couple words about that hotel I mentioned earlier (Radisson Slavayansky) - I really loved it, mostly for a very friendly staff and home-like look of the place (the front entrance on the right and the hall is on the left). It had all those different paitings, some were odd, but some were as classy as the hotel itself. Once in a cafe there, keep your eyes open for the prices, or else, you might  end up drinking a cup of coffee that costs $20-50 hehe (6).

Back to the trip itself: just near the Red Square we had to buy a new sim-card for the mobile phone (it's cheaper than using roaming hehe). Just keep in mind that every region of Russia has its own roaming thing - so if you buy a pre-paid mobile phone in Moscow, you'll still be charged roaming once you're in Arkhangelsk. And as to this funny creature on the left, that's what we saw in Euroset shop there... Ain't it cute? (Consider it's as big as a real animal!) (7).

The Red Square itself is the best known place in Russia, that's where all the parades take place, and it looks indeed beautiful. There are lots of different souvenirs just near the entrance to the Square (including wonderful musical Saint Basil Churches made of wood that play 'Ochy chernye').  And of course, the main attraction of the Red Square is  the Kremlin... Did you know that back in USSR at the children's New Year 'party' (taking place inside the Kremlin) children were given little plastic Kremlins, full of candies? (8)

After having a great time (we were lucky as there was no snow at first, but then it started falling down, so we were freezing...) walking the Red Square, we realized how hungry we were (9)..

We found this weird looking 'Teremok' caffee (more of a birds' house cos it was veeery small and crowded) with the best pancakes i've ever eaten. Prices were low (especially, compared to others in Moscow), and food was good (ordering a pancake with red caviar I had no idea it would be 30cm in diameter with like several spoons of caviar! What a nice surprise!). Later that evening we were back to airport just to realize how different international and domestic Sheremetyevos are. Altho, both of them have lots of security, don't be scared, that's how it always looks... It's just that the domestic one is CROWDED like hell (10).

Having the Aeroflot Nord tickets again, and hoping we'd not be fed (since we ate more than we could hold earlier) we were surprised to see the red fish being served aboard, a really tasty one! (11)

And so late at night we landed in Arkhangelsk, snow being thrown at our faces with the strong wind, the airport bus looking glassy and weird, and us, being tired and omg-where-are-we-why-is-it-so-cold:P (12)

One important thing to know about Arkhangelsk: have rubles (Russian currency) BEFORE going there! Even though the city is big, you'll have trouble finding exchange and getting rubles for your dollars or euros, trust me, it's a weird feeling when the taxi drivers refuse to take dollars for their service, and there are just 3 banks that do exchange, and none of them work in the evening or weekend! (13)

The Arkhangelsk city itself is huge for a northern one (spreads for over 40 kilometers along the banks of the river and numerous islands), and of course one of the reasons for it to be interesting for me is the White Sea being near. Yes, I live on the Black Sea shore, and there's the White sea there!!! It's about 1300km from Moscow and has the population of about 350000. (14)

We had wonderful time in Arkhangelsk Art Museum (just in the center of the city) which holds original pieces of Repin, Shishkin, Aivasovsky, Vasnetsov  and many more famous Russian painters. Don't forget to turn off the flash light of your camera before taking pics. (15)  

And what a nice surprise was to see small kids sitting in front of a big painting, discussing it with the teacher. The city had this project to let kids understand classic art by explaining it to them. (16)

There's also a galleria with different things made of stones, teeth and bones of the animals (there are no longer that many people who know how to do those statues and figures)... And of course, the most shocking piece was this chess board! Just look at all those details:D (17)

The museum also contains hundreds of historical items from all around the Arkhangelsk area, and  even some old Orthodox religion ones (for instance this piece dated back 14th century). Knowing people can name the region the ethnic things came from just by the details and the colors (and there are nine  regions in Arkhangelsk area). (18)

Next important and the most valuable thing to see in Arkhangelsk is an open-air museum 'Malye Korely' - a village 25 km from the city and also a museum of wooden architecture and folk art.  Museum occupies the territory of 140 hectares and is divided into 5 parts that represent architectural styles of various areas in the Arkhangelsk region - Mezen, Kargopol, Onega, Pinega, Dvina. (19)

There was also people wearing costumes of several-centuries-ago-Russia, having all kinds of fun of that time, offering some hot food and tea, and surely playing snow balls. As it was very cold outside,  in about 5-6 hours I could no longer feel my feet, so we had to call a cab,. While waiting for it, we ate those meat beafs just outside the museum (still standing in the open air lol). (20)

Next stop is the small factory that produces all the souvenirs you'll find in Arkhangelsk. It is called "Belomorskye Uzory" (White See Patterns)... they produce carpets, ceramics, clay toys with beautiful decorative pattern, wooden buckets, amulets, spoons, bailers, furry dolls... The best thing you can get is woolen colorful gloves (on the right). They're very warm, and you'll wear them for like 10 years (very high quality), so don't think they're expensive! Also, what makes Arkhangelsk special is one of its symbols: the Bird of Happiness - they can be small and fit the size of you hand, or, they can be as huge as a suitcase, but they are hand made wooden things to bring home and hang under the ceiling! (21)
And if you're lucky enough, you'll see how all those things are being hand-painted (on the left). Yep, no machines involved, just women sitting there and making these things look the way we see them. (22)

Also, when you're in Arkhangelsk, you better know there lives a man who creates unique wooden things like vases who's decorated apartments for many billionaires around the world. On the right, u can see one of his creations - just look at it, it's the one piece wood, that looks like lace!!! (23)

As a matter of fact, Arkhangelk is a lot like USSR city, but it's got its modern look. On one hand, there are monuments coming from the old times, but on the other, the shops are great, and so are the SPA and hotels, and restaurants... (24)

Once ordering food, you better go with the fish one. The best place to eat is the restaurant of the Pur-Navolok Hotel, everything is delicious there! Try fish with the pear, or order meat with the cherries, but you'll be impressed. (25)

And of course, don't forget that the main sport in Arkhangelsk is skiing: in winter  there's so much snow that it's being carried out of the city by the cars. The huge river is frozen unless a ship comes thru (and that's how it looks like afterwards). And the best transport within the city is a taxi, cos it's not that expensive and it's comfy. Don't be frightened when the car slides on the ice (all the roads are covered with like half-meter ice in winter) - that's okay with the local drivers, and that's also a reason the cars are always that far from each other:D (26)


  1. your pictures are amazing. such great detail on all that you visited. just wonderful

  2. It's good that you wrote about the money exchange issues. That's one of the things that catches people off their guard lol. Also keeping the exchange certificates so that you can change the money back into euros or dollars should be kept in mind.


  3. I like that you mention the details that maybe useful for other tourists. your advice about taxi in Moscow is great! It is great how you describe cities. Your pictures are cool. they not only show the object but also let feel the atmosphere.

  4. I like the way you depict your travelling. Everything you mentioned about Moscow is true. There are also very many places to see in Moscow (even talking only about Red Square - GUM, Okhotniy ryad, State History Museum etc), thought I’m really happy you haven’t visited the Lenin Mausoleum.)
    And I really liked your depiction of Arkhangelsk. I have never been there, but now I want to.