Sunday, 29 December 2013

Feeling Festive in Moscow

Christmas trees for sale
We ventured into Moscow by train yesterday.  We normally take the bus, so this was a new experience for us.  We were pleasantly surprised by the ease of use, the efficient service and the cleanliness of the train.  It also gave us a different view of the countryside between where we live in Noginsk and the capital.  We were amazed by the number of tiny wooden trackside properties, most of them barely larger than the average garden shed, but clearly occupied by families trying to scratch a living from a small plot of land.  It must be a hard existence, especially in the depths of winter. 

The thing that struck is most, though, about our train journey was the very strange game the fare-dodgers play with the ticket inspectors!  The first time it happened, a few minutes into our ride, we really didn't know what was going on!  The young guy sitting opposite us got up and walked quickly down the aisle, leaving his belongings behind on the seat.  He joined a wave of people all doing the same thing.  It was only when we were asked to show our tickets that we twigged!  Everyone who had got up and preceded the inspectors down the train was doing so because they hadn't bought a ticket!  When the train stopped at the next station, we saw all of these people running back down the platform to rejoin the train behind the team of inspectors.  Our travelling companion was soon back in his seat, only to repeat the whole process again a few stops down the line!  It seemed to us like a whole load of hassle to avoid a very reasonably-priced fare (about $4 for an hour and forty minute journey), but they must have thought it was worth it.  The inspectors clearly know what's happening as they walk through the half-empty carriages with abandoned coats and bags left behind!

Our reason for the excursion into Moscow was to pick up some gifts to take with us to the UK in a few days' time.  We bought the ubiquitous Russian dolls for our nieces and great-nieces.  I know you can buy them anywhere now, but I thought the girls would feel cheated if we didn't bring them these souvenirs from Russia!

Christmas market
It was very odd being in Moscow yesterday.  For us, Christmas has been and gone, and, when we arrive in the UK on Wednesday (January 1st), the festivities will all be over and people will be returning to work.  Here in Russia, though, the celebrations are just beginning!  The Christmas markets are in full swing with shoppers out in force.  People are buying their Christmas trees to take home and decorate.  As in most of the developed world, Christmas in Russia is not a religious celebration for many, rather a reason to get together with friends and family and mark the new year.  For those who do mark Christmas, though, Christmas Day is January 7th, a date which, since 1992, has been a public holiday as part of the traditional two-week new year break.

GUM department store
The decorations in the centre of Moscow, particularly on and in GUM department store in Red Square, are stunning and certainly put us in the festive mood, albeit 'after the fact' for us!  Shame there's no snow at the moment, though - we've had plenty, but none for the past week, and temperatures have now risen to plus two, so there's been a big thaw.  I'm not complaining - I'm sure we'll have plenty more before winter's through!

See more photos of Christmas in Moscow here.

Skating in Red Square, overlooked by the Kremlin

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