Radisson Royal Flotilla River Cruise

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With the recent arrival of our guests, we finally had an excuse and opportunity to hop on board the Radisson Royal’s Flotilla. These beautiful, sleek, super-yachts travel along the Moscow River all year round and offer the most stunning views of Moscow. In the summer they have open decks and in the winter are billed as ‘ice breakers’ and literally keep the Moscow River from freezing completely.

The tickets are very reasonably priced and food items served on board from the menu are delicious and their prices comparable with most restaurants around. Although  first-class tickets for the upper deck are available, we were seated on the lower deck right up against the large panoramic windows. We were very fortunate to board the yacht whilst it was still light, although raining slightly, and enjoyed the view of the lights twinkling in the dark on our way back to the dock.

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Our boat began its journey at the Ukrainian Hotel (now the Radisson hotel – but old habits die hard, so Ukrainian Hotel it remains!)  and lasted about 90 minutes. Our winter coats were taken by friendly staff as soon as we stepped on board as we filed on board in an orderly and relatively patient queue. A waitress dressed a sailor appeared almost immediately at our table to take drink orders, it would have seemed rude not to have tried a vodka. – and when in Moscow! Another yacht came in to dock just  as ours was pulling out giving us something to watch. The we set off in the direction of the Kremlin. The place mats were A3 maps showing the route and some of the landmarks along the way. Had this expat been organised, and a lot more technologically minded we would have linked up our iPhone or iPad to the ships wifi system on board and would have had live feeds and info of your surrounds whilst sipping away on a sundowner, having a bite to eat or simply just in awe of some of the sites.

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Some really impressive landmarks we passed on the way (and yet to be investigated – expat style) included Novodevichy Convent, Luzhniki Olympic Complex with its big ski jump to nowhere, Lomonosov University, the space shuttle replica ‘parked’ at Gorky Park and this expat’s favourite, the Red October Chocolate Factory. Just after we passed the Kremlin for the first time, the massive yacht we were on slowed down, jet-like pumps were switched on and in the middle of the river, this amazing boat turned around one hundred and eighty degrees and began its slow cruise home.

No-one on board, even the ‘sailor’ men and women who plough up and down the river daily, could have failed to be in awe of the amazing view all around them as we were once again presented with the stunning view of St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin. Mr Expat quickly dashed upstairs into the open air to grab a few more pictures before the camera’s battery life ran out.  Enjoying the magnificent view of the moon and with the lights reflecting in the water, we sailed off into the darkness of the night with the stars in our eyes.

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Bolshoi Theatre: Backstage Tour

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This day was set up to be one of the most memorable and most awe striking experiences and it did not disappoint. We had family from outside  Russia stay with us, a mere three months after we moved here and almost before our belongings had arrived with the haulage company, and we really wanted to do something special that they would not only remember but that is unique to Moscow. We were very fortunate to have a privately arranged backstage guided tour of the Bolshoi Theater.

Bolshoi, in Russian means big or great, and upon arrival, you are met with a majestic sight of a  bronze sculpture of Apollo in his chariot supported by a row of colossal pillars, welcoming you to one of the greatest theaters ever built – the world renowned Bolshoi Theater. Located right opposite the large and busy road of Teatral’nyy, and destined to be overlooked by Apollo and his team of horses is a large statue on Revolyutii square over which parts of the Kremlin peak.  Once we walked through the great pillars and into the foyer of the theater, this expat could not help getting this overwhelming sensation of being surrounded by greatness.

An interior of marble, white and gold leads you down a maze of passages to beautiful, elegant small lifts that transport theater goers between the cloakroom and all the floors of the main theater – of which there are six. Coats duly checked into into the cloakroom we efficiently received a numbered token before we set off to the first floor of the Main Stage and entered the enormous, pitch perfect, acoustically sound, auditorium. As we sat in the seats of the amphitheater, we sat in silence for a moment just to take in all the beauty, splendor and history. The stage, which is at a perfect three degree angle, is located beyond the orchestra pit. Once you are viewing this from up close, you can’t help feeling very small and insignificant. Turning around to get an dancer’s view of the theater, it is dominated by the Royal Box in the center of the Belle-Etage and the rows of ornate golden balconies. On the far right, directly above the stage is another box, said to be the one used by Stalin and located directly opposite is the box where distinguished dancers and opera singers sat.

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We progressed to the top floor of the theater and entered the forth balcony. Walking over to the edge of the balcony, you can almost touch the magnificent crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling. The ceiling features beautifully painted figures, one on each panel, representing the twelve muses of Apollo.

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After a barrage of camera activity, we proceeded with our tour and headed up into the rafters that is the ninth floor, where all the members of staff work tirelessly to put together the perfect productions expected by discerning ballet and opera goers. We were treated to a private  rehearsal of Spartacus that was taking place on the rehearsal stage – the stage is an exact replica of the Main Stage and dancers rehearse each production here until the opening night when they take their costumes, their ballet shoes and what is left of their nerves downstairs to perform on the Main Stage for the first time. Making our way back, we passed through the wardrobe rooms where all the costumes are made. Here they work tirelessly, crafting each item by hand with the view of enhancing each performance. And the view from their window is just priceless – this expat would never get any work done!

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As our tour was nearing it’s end, we were led down to one of the lower floors and showed to two ballrooms. We made our way up one of a most beautiful marble staircases, surrounded by yet more crystal, gold and mirrors. The Imperial Ballroom was decorated in a warm shade of red, typically associated with soviet times. Everything looked absolutely immaculate and pristine as we took in one lingering last glimpse of all the beauty that surrounded us before making our way back to the foyer.

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