Happy New Year folks, and hope you all had great holidays!
You won’t believe this… but this post is about… RED SQUARE! // Incidentally, the square I consider to be the most beautiful spot in Europe!
I hadn’t been in downtown Moscow on New Year’s Eve since… oooh, 15 years ago! Yep – 2001 was the last time, on Pushkin Square watching the fireworks. But I’d never been on Red Square on New Year’s Eve. What?! So this year I decided to make amends…
So how was it? Well, actually, my overall impressions were… mixed. And it’s those mixed impressions that I’d like to share with you today.
Let me start off by saying that Moscow around New Year (especially in the center) looks… stunning these days. Illuminations, lit-up building facades, extra street lighting, Christmas decorations, and perfectly pyramidal (just like Kluchevskaya Sopka volcano in Kamchatka!) Christmas trees from the tiny to the colossal. And all of that: EVERYWHERE downtown – from the large squares and main roads down to the side streets. And all of those squares and streets: packed full of happy faces. In all, more festive spirit than a school nativity play :).
But Red Square itself was really something: GUM was lit up with a zillion bulbs, while it seemed every needle on every branch of every Christmas tree had… undergone pre-Christmas/New Year casting :).
A skating rink was added to the square, as were an open-air market down the GUM-side (the opposite side to the Kremlin), barbecues, plus the obligatory snow and nippy weather!
Those were the good fantastic bits… Now for the not-so fantastic…
First up, the biggest ‘what the…?’: actually getting to all the attractions of Christmassy downtown…
So. To drive the last three (3) kilometers down Tverskaya Street at 6pm on December 31, 2016 took… an hour! Apparently things weren’t much better down in the metro either. And if we’d abandoned the car (but where?) and walked, that wouldn’t have been any quicker as it seemed half of Moscow had the exact same plans for New Year’s Eve as us: getting to Red Square!
And the nearer we got to the famous square, the more chokka the sidewalks got. Like sardines in a can.
Once on the (famously ‘red’ but not actually colored red; however, some of the buildings around it – inc. the Kremlin – are quite red) square, movement became a little freer nearer the Kremlin wall side – the opposite side to GUM and it’s outdoor market – but sometimes even there it got tightly packed with bodies, all of which were of course more corpulent than usual as they were wrapped up so well against the bitter cold.
We didn’t even try to get a look at the GUM-market: far too many folks in a confined space for comfort.
GUM itself was decked out deliciously:
But all that glitters isn’t gold accessible! We would have liked to have gotten inside GUM to warm up a bit, but no. The crowds trying to get in and out through the entrances were brought to a standstill as there were just soooo many of them. Everyone eager as heck, like salmon at spawning time, and the security guards on the doors like hungry (= angry!) bears on the shore.
So yeah, battling the crowds (and security) on New Year’s Eve on Red Square – it’s not for everyone.
Incidentally, I overheard quite a few folks express a wish to eat something. But I can’t imagine any eatery near Red Square would be worth visiting as it’d be so packed. I wonder, is it always like this at New Year on Red Square? Where taking children with you is a no-no and where it’s apparently mandatory that you’re rather drunk? Or does is get better later on, nearer midnight? And does everywhere stay open until after midnight? I didn’t want to find out; I’m just curious. So, does anyone know?…
Nope, once on Red Square on New Year’s Eve was enough for me. It seems you need to be outside the Moscow Outer Ring Road to be able to see in the New Year without being crushed!
That’s a shame, of course, as the Christmas and New Year period in Moscow is oh-so jingle-bells, jolly and jovial – and very pretty. And the way they spruce up Red Square (as if it needed any sprucing) is just splendid. And all of it topped off with a light coating of snow; the end result is Christmas-card-romantic:
And as luck would have it, I winded up back on the Square of Red a few days after the New Year festivities. Incidentally, maybe some of you don’t know this: in Russia there’s no Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day on December 24, 25 & 26; the main festive celebration is New Year’s Eve/Day; Orthodox Christmas falls on January 7; and the first week of January is usually a string of uninterrupted national holiday-days – this year until January 8. But where was I? Oh yes…
This year the first week of Jan – when everyone’s off work and in party mode – turned reeeaaal cold across eastern Russia (and much of Eastern Europe). I mean, minus 30 degrees centigrade is a rare thing for Moscow – it occurs just once every dozen or so years. And, a bit like the UK’s roads are never ready for the lightest of snowfall, Moscow and Muscovites are never ready for never appreciate such cold snaps. They’re just not used to them. Also, they make strolls outside not much fun at all – especially with small kids – as it’s hard to stay warm no matter how wrapped up you are. And who likes their nostrils sticking together if you take in a deep breath therethrough? :)
I say every dozen or so years… but that’s these days. But when I was little, temperatures would quite often go down to -25, -30 and even -40. I remember the sound of the snow underfoot crackling and the ice glistening under the moonlight as I’d walk home from school. Yes, such temperatures are comfortable to no man, woman or child; to no Communist, to no non-party member; to none of the intelligentsia, none of the dissidents, none of the proletariat. All are equal – equally frozen to the core! – at such extreme temperatures!
But -27˚С on Red Square on New Year’s Eve – I think that added something to the overall excitement of the experience :).
I mean, Russians complaining about the cold is a bit like… Cubans complaining about the tropical climate. Get used to it! It’s not as if you can change it! It’s simple: wrap up! Very well! Don’t fear the reaper cold! It’s never that bad. It’s not as if you’ll be out in it all day. And, again – maybe some of you won’t know this about Russia – everywhere indoors here is sweltering hot: every apartment, every restaurant, every metro wagon, every taxi, every store; so all you need do is occasionally enter and stay in any such oven, and you’ll be warm again in no time :).
Incidentally – iPhone 7s don’t take to the cold too well here; at minus-silly they go into a coma, only to come out of it after warming up again once indoors for a while.
After Red Square we drove over to the Ice Town on Poklonnaya Hill. There was literally nowhere to park there so we parked near the metro station nearby and took the metro up to the top of the hill.
This ice installation is definitely worth a visit if it’s not too cold – say between -5˚С to -20˚С. Any warmer and the ice will melt; any colder… you get it by now. It’s real windy up there as it’s so open and that can add to the discomfort level quite considerably. Whatever you do, don’t forget your gloves – like I did! I was snapping away with bare fingers, which almost got frostbite. Still, at least the pics turned out ok…:
It’s a small ice-installation but a very cool one – seemingly celebrating various Russia-themes, including this typically Russian wild animal:
That’s a salmon between the she-bear’s teeth (and it’s deffo a she-bear, since you never see a he-bear with kiddie-bears). Curious fact: the original salmon between the teeth in Kamchatka is made of steel, and it keeps getting stolen! Therefore, there are two variants of pics of the bear statue: one with the salmon and one without! While in Moscow there’s just the one variant – with the salmon – only it’s made out of ice!
// Incidentally, I didn’t slide down those ice-slides. I’ve done no ice sliding since skidding down the side of Mount Fuji. And I don’t think I’ll try it ever again.
Don’t know about you, but this doesn’t look like a Christmas-tree bauble but a… bomb. Eek:
So, to summarize: New-Year Moscow – definitely worth checking out; but you need to be… patient, and well-wrapped up!
All the photos from our Christmas/New Year strollings are here.
PS: I hope 2017 will positive and lucky and happy for all!…