Tag Archives: Travel

Northern Spain – The Caves at Altimira

Santillana del Mar in the rain

“I visited the Cave of Altamira while traveling in Europe with two friends in 1968.  Once inside, I was of course in awe, not only of the age of the paintings, but also of the delicacy and skill with which they had been executed. I think we tend to look down on our distant ancestors as primitive and stupid, but cave paintings like those at Altamira remind us that they were not.”                         Susan (Washington) – Blogger

On the final morning of our visit to Santillana del Mar the weather proved to be a disappointment, I could hear rain on the window as I started to stir and when I did the weather check I could only report back that the sky was grey and it was drizzling.

At breakfast our host confirmed the worst and informed us that the forecast was gloomy all day so we decided that it was probably a good day to go and do something undercover and perhaps visit a museum.

After breakfast we settled up and said goodbye and took the road out of Santillana Del Mar and then followed signposts to the Altamira museum on the edge of the town.   I wasn’t expecting a great deal to be honest so was surprised to find a very big car park and a large building built into the hills.  I was about to learn about something else that I was completely unaware of – Cantabria is the richest region in the world in archaeological sites from the Upper Paleolithic period (that’s the Stone Age to you and me).  The most significant cave painting site is the cave of Altamira, dating from about 16,000 to 9000 BC and declared, with another nine Cantabrian caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Well, you learn something new every day it seems!

Altimira cave painting

Around thirteen thousand years ago a rockfall sealed the cave entrance preserving its contents until its eventual discovery which was caused by a nearby tree falling and disturbing the fallen rocks.  The really good bit about the story is that it wasn’t discovered by Howard Carter, Tony Robinson or Indiana Jones but by a nine year old girl who came across them while playing in the hills above the town in 1879.  Her father was an amateur archaeologist called Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola and he was led by his daughter to discover the cave’s drawings. The cave was excavated by Sautuola and archaeologist Juan Vilanova y Piera from the University of Madrid, resulting in a much acclaimed publication in 1880 which interpreted the paintings as Paleolithic in origin.

So well preserved were the paintings however that there ensued an argument about authenticity and some believed the whole thing to be a hoax and it wasn’t until 1902 that they were eventually accepted as genuine.

We paid the modest entrance fee of €2.40 and went into the museum, which turned out to be a real treasure with interesting displays about the Stone Age, or the Paleolithic period if you prefer, with the highlight of the visit being a full size recreation of the original cave and its precious paintings.  Today it is only possible to see this copy because the actual cave is now closed to vistors.  During the 1960s and 1970s, the paintings were being damaged by the damp breath of large numbers of visitors and smoke from Fortuna cigarettes and Altamira was completely closed to the public in 1977, and reopened with only very limited access in 1982.

altamira[1]

Very few visitors are allowed in per day, resulting in a three-year waiting list.  It would be nice to go into the actual cave but actually the replica allows a more comfortable view of the polychrome paintings of the main hall of the cave, as well as a selection of minor works and also includes some sculptures of human faces that cannot be accessed in the real thing.

And, let me tell you, these people were really good painters.  The artists used charcoal and ochre or haematite to create the images, often scratching or diluting these dyes to produce variances in intensity and creating an impression of remarkable and sophisticated contrasts and they also exploited the natural contours in the cave walls to give a three-dimensional effect to their subjects.

The painted ceiling is the most impressive feature showing a herd of bison in different poses, two horses, a large doe and a wild boar.  Other images include horses, goats and hand prints created from the artist placing his hand on the cave wall and spraying paint over it leaving a negative image of his palm.

Numerous other caves in northern Spain contain palaeolithic art but none is as advanced or as famous as Altamira.

The entrance to the real cave is not so impressive however…

Entrance to the cave of Altamira

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Northern Spain – The City of Valladolid

Valladolid Spain

“The celebrated plateresque façades of Valladolid strike me as being, when one has recovered from the riotous shock of them, actually edible.”                              Jan Morris – ‘Spain’

The road to Valladolid and Palencia was just as dreary as the previous roads through Castilla y León as we entered the Tierra de Campos, an expansive fertile and arable farmland area, over seven hundred metres above sea level and to the traveller a vast desolate plain with virtually nothing but flat fields and open sky.

The road drifted north through a succession of characterless towns and villages but for naturalist entertainment they were flanked by swaying verges decorated with wild flowers – regal purple thistles, rigid and erect, sunshine yellow low-level daisies, shy and demure and blood red poppies, showing off and bending and bowing in the breeze like obedient courtiers.

The route today provided the opportunity for a short detour to the high plain town of Medina del Campo which had an especially fine castle.  Medina del Campo gained much influence  during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries because of its commercial and economic importance.  The main basis of this was banking, wool and textiles and in 1489 a great trade agreement united the Kingdoms of Spain and England with the reduction of trade tariffs, the recognition of France as a common enemy and the arrangement of the marriage of Catherine of Aragon to King Henry VII’s son, Prince Arthur – and after him to King Henry VIII which was the catalyst of tumultuous and irreversible religious reform in Tudor England.

As the medieval town slipped gradually from importance into obscurity over the next four hundred years the castle was abandoned and collapsed, but was restored after the Spanish Civil War with reconstruction pursued and financed by the Falange government of Francisco Franco, who had a nostalgia for structures having links to the Catholic Monarchs.  We walked around the castle and went inside but there wasn’t a great deal to see and I was disappointed that it wasn’t possible to climb the tower.

Medina del Campo Spain

Then Kim dropped a bombshell – she told me that she wasn’t that bothered about climbing towers anyway and this was on top of her announcement last year that she had had quite enough of Roman ruins.  I said not to worry because there would be a cathedral later and she said that actually, she wasn’t that bothered about them either.  Well, talk about kick a man while he is down and I felt guilty for a while that she had been feigning interest in all of the things that I like to do whilst at the same time I hadn’t bothered to show even the slightest glimmer of interest in shoe shops and jewellers!

And so we moved on…

The road took us past the town of Tordesillas but we didn’t stop to investigate.  It seems that the most famous thing about Tordesillas is that there was a meeting here between Spain and Portugal in 1494 and a Treaty was signed which gave Brazil to Portugal and all the rest to Spain.  This might have seemed like a good idea at the time but it rates as a serious negotiating disaster for Spain as it gave up the Amazon rain forest and all of its riches for the Andes of Patagonia!  This lack of bargaining skill must be similar to me own disastrous attempts at bartering in a Turkish bazaar.

It was still quite early so shortly after crossing the Duero for the final time, and as we were passing, it seemed impolite not to visit the city of Valladolid so we left the motorway and as the red poppies of the highway verges gave way to the red concrete of the city suburbs we headed for the centre.

Valladolid is a very crimson city, the reddest that I have ever seen, a sprawling industrial metropolis, the capital of Castilla y León, the tenth largest city in Spain but with its medieval heart ripped out and trodden under foot in the post civil war industrial boom and it does not feature on many tourist itineraries even though it was the city where Christopher Columbus spent his last years and died after falling out with the Spanish Monarchy over the question of royalties.

For a big city there was surprisingly little traffic and we followed signs to the centre and the Plaza Mayor and made our way to a convenient underground car park right below the main square.

It was midday now and  the expansive Plaza was really very attractive and all decorated and carefully colour coordinated in various complimentary shades of cream, scarlet and and crimson and to compliment the vivid colour scheme the sun was blazing down from above and made the whole place feel warm and hospitable.

We didn’t plan to stay long in Valladolid, it isn’t the sort of place that fills many pages of the Dorling Kindersley travel guide but because we were so close it seemed like a good idea. Our next stop was Palencia and there was just time to walk the main shopping street, admire some fine art nouveau buildings and have a snack and a drink in a café in the Plaza before it was time to go and return to the road. We felt a bit rude leaving so quickly but if we pass by again we shall pay it the courtesy of staying longer.

Valladolid_2

 

Russia, Final Day, Reflection and Assessment

St. Nicholas’ Cathedral Saint Petersburg

I was woken in the morning by the sound of squealing brakes and the unmistakable sound of metal on metal which means two vehicles have had a collision.

I leapt out of bed and from the eighth floor window I could see two cars joined at the bumper and blocking the busy intersection outside the hotel front door.  There was chaos all around and this was going to last some time because after an accident in Russia the drivers are not permitted to move their vehicles until after the police have attended the scene.

I imagine what caused the accident had something to do with the weather because overnight it had completely changed and instead of the blue sky and sunshine that we had become accustomed to there was a steely grey sky, pavement puddles steadily filling up with rain water and raindrops running down the window like tiny pearl drops but as this was our last day and we would be leaving by midday this really didn’t seem to be too much of a problem.

After breakfast Kim decided to stay in the hotel but this seemed a waste of the last morning to me so I decided to walk to the local shopping centre to have a final look around and so I set off in the rain and took the underpass route to the other side of the main road.  The underpass was lined with tiny shops, no more than kiosks really, selling a wide selection of goods – among them clothes, shoes, pastries, souvenirs and cigarettes and they seemed to be doing rather brisk trade – brisker trade indeed than the surface kiosks at the other end where the heavy rain was keeping people away as they rushed from the shelter of the underpass to the nearby shopping centre without looking left or right or stopping.

It was a modern shopping centre with a supermarket and a department store and although it was nothing like the boutique interior of GUM the prices were still quite staggering.  So staggering in fact that there were hardly any shoppers and I found myself alone amongst the merchandise except for a heavy presence of security guards and I think they were glad of something to do or someone to watch because wherever I went there was always one of these guys to accompany me – or perhaps I just looked shifty and suspicious!

I didn’t stay long inside the store but went back outside to see where all the people might be but the wet streets were still deserted and then I spotted some women with shopping bags going into a shabby building with blue swing doors and I followed them to investigate.  Here the mystery of the missing people was solved because inside the not very promising exterior was a market hall that was bustling with activity.  Rows of florists, dairy stalls, butchers and fish mongers and they were all busy because here the prices were much more reasonable and the local people were sensibly shopping here rather than in the pricey supermarket next door.  I walked around the stalls and enjoyed the sights and sounds of a real local market and then with time passing by returned to the hotel for check-out and pick-up.

The bus arrived on time and Galina explained that the reason we seemed to be leaving so early (our flight was not for another five hours) was that the traffic could be unpredictable and that she didn’t want to take the risk of running late and missing the plane home.  An hour later she rather sheepishly apologised for this being the quickest airport transfer that she could ever remember and this would mean longer than usual waiting in the airport departure lounge.

Nothing slowed us down – the automatic airline ticket machine dispensed our tickets and we were quickly through passport control and the security checks so we found some seats and while Kim enjoyed the unexpected duty free shopping opportunity I went over the notes of our holiday and thought about setting out the top five highlights.

And here they are:

1              Peterhof Palace and Gardens

Peterhof Gardens

2              The Moscow Kremlin

Kremlin Cathedrals

3              The Moscow Metro

Park Pobedy Moscow Metro

4              Red Square and St. Basil’s Cathedral

St Basils Moscow

5              The Hermitage in Saint-Petersburg

Hermitage Museum Saint Petersburg

That was a difficult list to compile I can tell you!

This had been a wonderful travel experience and one that only a few years ago I would never have imagined possible.  Saint-Petersburg was much as I expected, a northern European Imperial city with large squares and fabulous architecture but as I have said before I was totally unprepared for what I saw in Moscow which took me completely by surprise and I am left with one overriding thought – I’d really, really like to go back!

Russia, Moscow and Victory Park

Park Proberdy Metro Station Moscow

We planned to visit a few more Metro stations so we started at Prospekt Mira with its polished walls and vaulted ceiling and then the short journey to Arbatskaya with its cream walls and elegant chandeliers and designed to be used alternatively, should the need arise, as a nuclear fall-out shelter.

Our destination was Victory Park at Poklonnaya Hill on the outskirts of the city and this meant leaving the Metro at Park Pobedy which, at ninety-four metres, is claimed to be the deepest Metro station in the world. I know, I know, if you have been paying attention then several posts ago I told you that Saint-Petersburg was the deepest Metro in the world but, depending upon what measure you use, it seems that both claims are true.  Saint-Petersburg is the deepest overall on average and this Moscow Station has the actual deepest single point – so there you are!

Park Pobedy Moscow Metro

The escalator is one-hundred and twenty-six metres long, has seven-hundred and forty steps and takes three minutes to get from the platform to the surface.  We took the ride and left the station entrance into the fading light of the evening and walked the short distance to Victory Park.

In the United Kingdom it took over sixty-years to erect a monument to World-War-Two Bomber Command but in Russia the previous Soviet regime erected obelisks and memorials all over the place.  This huge open air museum commemorates victories in probably the two most misguided military adventures in the last few hundred years, firstly Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812 and having learned nothing from that catastrophe Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa a hundred and thirty years later in 1941.

I found it to be a strangely solemn sort of place and we walked through the flower beds and the water fountains with their crimson lighting displays (was that meant to symbolise blood I wondered?)  I was bought up on tales of the war told to me by my father, these were always gallant tales about impossibly brave paratroopers and square jawed commandos, about fearless desert rats and valiant fighter pilots, about courageous heroes and stiff upper lips, about medals and honours; I am certain that he never really understood what the war was like in its brutal reality.

He had books about the war; ‘The War’s best photographs’, ‘The Empire Youth Annual’ and three bound volumes of the weekly newspaper ‘The War Illustrated’. These told the stories of the sinking of the Bismarck, the Dam Busters raid and Montgomery’s victories in the North African desert.  The horror of the war in the East and the inhumanity of the Nazi concentration camps didn’t feature quite so predominantly and so fuelled by dad’s stories and patriotic British war movies starring Kenneth More and Richard Todd I grew up in some way thinking war was glamorous, brave and worthy.

At the centre of the park is an obelisk, exactly 141.8 meters, which represents 10 centimetres for every day of the War, a towering monument where St George (Patron Saint of Russia as well as England) slays a dragon below a monument that sets out the faces and instruments of war, soldiers, civilians and weapons are represented here to set out the horror, suffering and ultimate futility of it all. Starting at the bottom and reading upwards are the names of the besieged Russian cities until victory is finally reached at the top and behind the obelisk and the museum is a memorial to the victims of the prison camps and the sinking sun cast moody shadows of the suffering people depicted there.

It was getting quite late now and the shadows were lengthening and somebody somewhere flicked a switch and the fountains were turned off so we retraced our steps and left Victory Park, descending the elevator back to the Park Probedy Metro station and then took the short journey home where leaving the Metro at Rizhskaya, the scene of the 2004 Chechen suicide bombings that killed ten people, we were pleased to see that the old lady had finally sold all of her simple flower bouquets and was finally on her way home.

Russia, Caviar, Millionaires and Paupers

GUM Moscow

Red Square is a place that I think I would find difficult to tire of and we walked through Resurrection Gate and in the shadow of the red brick history museum looked down and marvelled again at the multi-coloured domes of St. Basil’s, at the granite blocks of the Lenin Mausoleum on one side and the cream facade of GUM shopping arcade on the other.

I think I would have been happy to wander around here for the rest of the day but it was lunch time, Kim was hungry and so we went again to No 57 CTOΛOBAЯ for something to eat and after the meal we walked through the malls to see the shops.

In 1996 when my son Jonathan was about twelve years old in I took him to London for the day and we visited the major sights and attractions.  On the way home I asked him what he liked most about the day and confidently expecting him to say the Tower of London or Trafalgar Square or Buckingham Palace I was taken aback somewhat when he declared the highlight of the visit to be the twenty minutes or so that we spent in Fortnum and Masons!

I was intrigued by that but he explained that he just thought the high prices were really funny – he wondered how they priced such an everyday item as Yorkshire tea bags and concluded that they must take the basic price, double it and then times it by ten before putting it on the shelves for the tourists.

Well, he would have found this place amusing as well then because the prices were truly astronomical and way off my scale of affordability.  In one shop a linen jacket cost £400 and that, I can tell you, is more or less my clothing budget for the entire year.

There was no doubting that they were nice shops, well laid out and all clean and tidy and clean and tidy no doubt because there were no shoppers inside them.  The prices everywhere were huge, in a food hall we bought some confectionary at massive prices and our knees buckled at the cost of champagne and vodka.  We took some photographs and were promptly told off for it.  The photographs were of the caviar where a tin about the size of a John West can of tuna was a heart-stopping 60,000 roubles and give or take a few kopecs that is about £1,200 and I don’t spend that much on groceries in six months!

Beluga Caviar GUM Moscow

Somebody must buy it though because it is apparently extremely perishable and will only last on display like this for a maximum of six weeks.  Worst still, once opened it has to be consumed within three days so if you are going to share a tin of this between two of you that is an eye-popping £600s worth of fish eggs each over a single weekend!

And herein lies the paradox because the gap between rich and poor in Moscow and Russia is huge.  According to research, the richest slice of Russian society has doubled its wealth in the past twenty years, while almost two-thirds of the population is no better off and the poor are barely half as wealthy as they were when the Soviet Union collapsed.  The wealthiest fifth of the population receive a pay cheque equivalent to nearly double its value in 1991, while the poorest fifth made only half in real terms.  In total, 60% of the population has the same real income or less than the average of twenty years ago and some people are now looking back fondly at the days of the managed economy.

Moscow is now officially the third most expensive city in Europe after Geneva and Zurich and whilst some people might be able to afford to shop in the GUM boutiques most have absolutely no chance of doing so.

It was late afternoon so we did some final souvenir shopping in the street market stalls outside Red Square and then took a Metro directly back to the hotel district.  After the GUM experience I took more notice of the people rather than the architecture.  Ordinary people trying to supplement their income by selling a few items – hand made crochet, second hand clothes or garden produce.  At the station an old lady at the entrance had a few bunches of ragged flowers from her garden or balcony, Kim gave her a 100 rouble note, which is only a couple of £s but the look of gratitude on her face was distressing, Kim turned down the flowers and she pushed the note deep inside her coat for safe keeping.

Two hours later when we returned to the Metro station to go back to the city she was still there so Kim gave her another 100 rouble note and I reminded her that the last time she showed an act of kindness like this thirty minutes later she was robbed on the Athens Metro.

Saint Petersburg Apartments

Russia, Josef Stalin – Despot and Visionary

Josef Stalin

It was our last full day in Russia and Moscow so we wanted to make the most of it and got up early, had a quick breakfast and then made our way to the Metro station where we took the line to the centre of the city and arrived at Novokuznetskaya which was opened in 1943 and honours the Soviet Armed Forces.

At street level we were unsure exactly where we were so we had to ask for directions several times before we were completely confident that we were walking towards the Moskva River and The Kremlin but we knew we were walking in the right direction when we saw the Peter The Great Statue which is the eight highest statue in the World and commemorates three hundred years of the Russian Navy.

I thought it looked good but perhaps a little unfairly this statue has been included in a list of the World’s top ten ugliest statues* and no doubt embarrassed by this, in 2010, Moscow offered the statue to Saint-Petersburg – who promptly turned it down!

Peter The Great Statue in Moscow

Our first destination was the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour which was first built on this site in the nineteenth century.  When Napoleon Bonaparte retreated from Moscow, Emperor Alexander I signed a proclamation declaring his intention to build a cathedral in honour of Christ the Saviour “to signify Our gratitude to Divine Providence for saving Russia from the doom that overshadowed Her” and as a memorial to the sacrifices of the Russian people.

As we approached it towered above us and blocked out the sun because with an overall height of one hundred and five metres to the top of its central golden dome it is the tallest Orthodox Church in the world and even though the guide in Saint-Petersburg had previously told us St. Isaac’s was the biggest I was prepared to believe anything now.  This isn’t the original building however because after the Revolution and during the dictatorship of Stalin, the prominent site of the cathedral was chosen as the location for a monument to socialism to be constructed which was to be known as the Palace of the Soviets.

On December 5th 1931 on the orders of Stalin the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was dynamited and reduced to rubble. It took more than a year to clear the debris from the site and some of the marble from the walls and marble benches from the cathedral were used in the construction of nearby Moscow Metro stations.

Approaching the Cathedral now and finding it difficult to understand how it could have been destroyed this was the time to think about Stalin the man, the monster and the visionary who created modern Moscow.  It is now generally agreed amongst historians that he was responsible for the deaths of at least twenty-million people, perhaps as many as fifty-million depending on the calculation criteria or almost twice as many as Adolf Hitler.

Stalin

During World-War-Two he encouraged tactics which led to the deaths of about eight-million of his own soldiers.  Additionally about three-million German, Hungarian, Romanian, and Finnish troops were killed by the Red Army.  Stalin’s policies meant no mercy to prisoners, and huge numbers died after being taken captive during the war. Following the war Stalin instigated a policy of terror on the German people.  This led to about two-million German civilians being murdered outright and thousands more committing suicide. Stalin enforced brutal police states on all the peoples of Eastern Europe which he overran with his armies.  Tens of thousands died in these takeovers.  German prisoners were kept in horrible conditions for as long as ten years after the war, leading to the deaths of at least another million.

In Russia Stalin caused the deaths of people of certain races and nationalities -Jews, Poles, Ukrainians, etc. people of certain economic status  such as the wealthy farm owners called “kulaks” by relocating them to the gulags or concentration camps in Siberia where they died of malnutrition, overwork and exposure.  He murdered political opponents, actual and suspected, in the thousands usually by a single gunshot to the back of the head. He forced the repatriation of all Russian soldiers taken prisoner during World-War-Two and treated them as virtual traitors, sending many of them to the gulags.

I think it is probably safe to say that he was not a pleasant man!

Palace of the Soviets

But he was also a man of vision who planned to make Moscow a modern twentieth-century city to rival anything in the USA, especially New York.

The Palace of the Soviets was conceived as a Communist Party administrative centre and congress hall and when built was intended to be the tallest building in the World, which would rise in modernistic buttressed tiers to support a gigantic statue of Lenin perched on top of a dome with his arm raised triumphantly in the air.  This all proved a bit too ambitious however and construction was interrupted due to lack of funds, problems with flooding from the nearby Moskva River, and the outbreak of war. The flooded foundation hole remained on the site until in 1958, under Nikita Khrushchev, it was transformed into the world’s largest open air swimming pool, named, not very originally, Moskva Pool.

Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was rebuilt to its original design in 1995–2000 and after walking around the exterior we prepared to go inside.

Cathedral of Christ Saviour Moscow

* The other nine in the top ten ugly statues list is:

Peace and Brotherhood Statue, Turkey (now demolished)

Kim II-Sung, North Korea

Victory Arch, Iraq

Tear of Grief, New Jersey USA

Michael Jackson, Fulham FC, UK

Rocky Balboa, sebia

Patient Zero, Mexico

Yuri Gagarin, Moscow, Russia

Johnny Depp, Serbia

Frank Zappa, Lithuania

 

Russia, The Moscow Metro

The Moscow Metro is the world’s second most heavily used metro system after the Tokyo’s twin subway. It has nearly three hundred kilometres of track, twelve lines, and one hundred and eighty stations.

Whilst visitors to London would be unlikely to consider the ‘Tube’ to be a tourist attraction in Moscow the Metro is a ‘must visit’ place and not just for getting around the city because each station has a unique design using elaborate decorations and materials from all over the country, including granite, quartzite, limestone, twenty kinds of marble, semiprecious stones and are decorated with plus bronze sculptures, majolica panels, stainless steel columns, glittering chandeliers, bas-relief friezes, stained-glass panels, murals, and mosaics.

The first plans for a rapid transit system in Moscow date back in the times of the Russian Empire, however were postponed by the World-War-One, the October Revolution and the Russian Civil War. The construction started in June 1931 and the Central Committee of the USSR Communist Party envisioned the stations as‘palaces of the people’ and used to illustrate the achievements that socialism brought to the Soviet Union’s workers and peasants.

Planning the subterranean visit was a little daunting at first because the map of the Metro is like trying to make sense of a knitting pattern with the station names all stubbornly named in Cyrillic letters with no concessions to an English speaking visitor but after a while it began to make sense and we planned a route to see the best of the stations mainly using the brown circle line which acts at some point crosses all the other radial lines and making it difficult therefore to get really badly lost.

Moscow Metro

There is an interesting legend about the origin of the ring line rather like the Tsar’s finger on the Saint-Petersburg to Moscow railway line.  A group of engineers met with Stalin to inform him of current progress and as he looked at the drawings he poured himself some coffee and spilt a small amount over the edge of the cup. When he was asked whether or not he liked the project so far, he put his cup down on the centre of the Metro blueprints and left in silence. The bottom of the cup left a brown circle on the drawings. Interpreting this as a sign of Stalin’s genius, they gave orders for the building of the ring line, which on the plans was always printed in brown.

Each line is identified by an alphanumeric index, a name, and a colour. On all lines, passengers can determine the direction of the train by the gender of the announcer: on the ring line, a male voice indicates clockwise travel, and a female voice counter-clockwise. On the radial lines, travellers heading toward the centre of Moscow will hear male-voiced announcements, and heading away will hear female-voiced announcements.

So, with plans carefully made we purchased our tickets and took the escalator down in a journey to the centre of the earth and spent an unusual evening hopping on and off the trains as we ticked off the stations that we wanted to visit most.  After one stop on the orange line we joined the circle line at Prospekt Mira and followed the map to those we wanted to see.  Being underground we were immediately disorientated so I cannot be sure of the route we took or the order in which we saw them but these were our favourites:

Close to the Kremlin and Red Square Ploshchad Revolyutsii (Revolution Square) has a main hall with a series of marble-lined arches, decorated with seventy-six life size bronze statues each of which represents an ‘everyday hero’ from the revolution and the early Soviet state, workers, peasants, farmers, engineers, scholars, parents, sailors, soldiers and other proletarians who had a role in Russian history. There is a legend that by rubbing the nose of the bronze dog of the Frontier Guard, you are guaranteed luck in passing an exam and this leads to a regular influx of students around the statue during the exams periods throughout the year. So, just in case I ever take another exam…

Ploshchad Revolyutsii (Revolution Square)

The trains come by every ninety seconds or so and soon we hopping on and off as though we had been doing it all of our lives.  We stopped at Mayakovskaya which won the Grand Prix for urban design in the New York World’s Fair in 1938 and with columns of marble and stainless steel is considered one of Moscow’s most beautiful.

Kievskaya built during a time of great famine, in the mid-1930s, the murals and mosaics depict idealized scenes of rosy-cheeked well-fed peasants enjoying the fruits of their labour.

The graceful Komsomolskaya with its yellow ceilings and bronze reliefs and then what I am prepared to declare my absolute favourite – Novoslobodskaya where stained-glass panels gave the impression of the interior of a cathedral but where ordinary people, factory workers, farmers, architects and painters, replace the Patriarchs and the Saints amid ornate flowers and stars.

We finished at Taganskaya decorated with fourteen large triangular majolica panels which include cameo portraits of heroes of the Red Army and intricate floral designs.

Curious as it may sound I am happy to confidently declare that the Moscow Metro was one of the highlights of the visit to Moscow providing a wonderful evening’s entertainment for just a few kopecs and so good we thought we might return the following evening and see a few more of the stations that we had missed tonight.

Park Pobedy Moscow Metro