I’m not sure where Risa heard about the Izmailovsky Markets, but I’m glad that she did. Well, at least I am in retrospect writing this. In what can only be described as a combination of a flea-market, a tourist market, and a theme park, this place seemed to have everything. Getting here took a little time as it’s towards the outer edge of Moscow, and it showed the second we exited the subway – this was much more like the Russia we’d experienced the last few weeks, than the luxury cars and designer clothes of central Moscow. We didn’t have great directions to get to the market, other than to follow the crowds of people. And sure enough, that worked for us – your mileage may vary!
We started with the tourist market, picking up some nice souvenirs (Matryoshka dolls for Risa, t-shirts for myself). The people here were a little more interested in making a sale than anywhere else we’d been in Russia. They weren’t at Turkish levels of annoyance, but they were certainly doing a good job of trying to draw us into their stalls.
They were selling all manner of Russian dolls, from ones with traditional painting, to others with more comical pop-culture or sporting references. There was also no shortage of Putin memorabilia, from t-shirts (the photo-shopped one of him riding a bear while shirtless was tempting to buy), to posters, fridge magnets and shot glasses. I was in two minds about it, but at the risk of someone mistaking it for genuine affection (instead of irony), I steered clear.
The flea-market was something else though, from used weapons and clothing, to antique toys and paintings. I could imagine someone looking to decorate the right type of café or bar getting a little carried away. I think Risa would have too if we had a house to put it in, but living limits the ability to decorate a house. It was surprising, but even with the proximity to the tourist markets, there were very few tourists wandering through the maze of junk.
That brings me to the ‘theme park’. The kremlin loomed over both the markets, looking like a weird amalgamation of some of the different churches and buildings we’ve seen in Russia (plus others from cartoons), with flamboyant colours, patterns and lavish shapes. There was a Vodka Museum, and a heap of other souvenir and arts/crafts stalls.
We saw a few comically stretched limousines in the car park, joking about people coming here for a wedding. Well, turns out that we were at least partially right! In the fifteen minutes that we wondered the artificial courtyards, we saw five separate wedding parties, all with photographers running around trying to capture some cheesy magic – though whether they were being serious or trying to be cheesy is hard for me to say.
It’s a little outside of town, but if you’re looking for something a little different, this place is certainly that! Though, I hear it’s only open (or at its busiest) on Saturdays, so I’m not sure what it would be like on other days of the week.
Other than the usual sights around Red Square, there was one place I truly wanted to visit in Moscow, and that was the Cosmonaut Museum. Yes, I’m a space/engineering nerd. But, that need not put you off, as even Risa thought it was truly fantastic, starting with the 100m high titanium sculpture mounted above the museum. Gold may be the metal of choice for churches and palaces, but there is something beautiful about this much titanium stretching skyward and gleaming in the sunshine.
We’d spent a little too much time in the markets (actually, we’d spent a little too much time packing and leaving the hostel this morning), so we weren’t left with much time to enjoy the museum with leisure. At first I thought it was just the one hall, containing some replicas of the different Sputnik satellites and crew capsules, but this was only the tip of the iceberg. The museum stretched into two long floors below, forcing us to rush our way though the exhibits. By rushing, we managed to see everything. By rushing, we managed to see nothing. Though, as there wasn’t that much information in English, it was mostly a case of looking at the exhibitions and admiring the design and work – maybe not so exciting for non-enginerds. But, the models of the rockets and space stations were awesome, and I was geeking out hard.
Just behind the museum, in VDNK, there were large groups of people gathered and we could hear what sounded like a music festival. Since we didn’t have any plans for the evening, we decided to have a wander around, and I’m glad we did. We stumbled upon an enormous park that was once (and still is, to a degree) a Soviet Exhibition, with large decorative halls for each of the republics that made up the former USSR, like Armenia and Kyrgyzstan (which still has a massive soft spot in our hearts).
Besides the former pavilions of communist propaganda, there was an enormous park, filled with fountains and people on roller blades. It seems that Russia is still/just in the 90s, or in-line skates never lost their appeal here. Either are likely guesses.
There was also the music that we kept getting closer, and closer, but hadn’t yet reached. The food/craft markets started first, then we caught a glimpse of the crowds around a small sound stage. But, that’s not what caught my attention, for I’d just seen an Sukhoi Su-27 jet, a Hind Mi-24 helicopter, a Vostok rocket and a Buryat space shuttle. Risa got sick of my amazement that they were just sitting in this park, so she went off to check out the music, allowing me to indulge. I couldn’t believe that they had a space shuttle just sitting out here in the elements! Though, after seeing these absolutely amazing photos of some shuttles being left to rot in their massive hangars in Kazakhstan, at least it’s being viewed by the people whose taxes funded the millions and millions of dollars for its creation (and abrupt retirement).
By the time I’d had enough of the rockets and jets, the musicians had started their last song. I have no idea who they were, but they were actually quite good, and they really got the young crowd excited.
It was a long journey back to the hostel to grab our bags before we made our way to catch our last train of the journey – a quick overnighter to Saint Petersburg. We nearly underestimated how long it would take to get to the Leningrad Station, and even with the express dinner from the potato loving Kroshka Kartoskha, we still had to partially jog to the station with all our baggage to get there in time.