Monino, Russia – Part One – The Almost Forgotten Museum

monino russia part 1

I remember in my childhood watching a TV series narrated by Sir Peter Ustinov and it was this memory that bought me on an unlikely journey to Russia (specifically Monino). In the series the narrator took us through the evolution of Russian aircraft and made frequent references to the central air force museum in Monino. In my young mind, Monino was talked about by Ustinov with such reverence that it became enshrined in my imagination as the pinnacle of aviation museums.

monino aviation museum

Planning for Monino

The seeds of the journey were sown many years ago, I set about planning this trip with the same eagerness and excitement that I should imagine I felt when I saw my first airplane (although, I don’t remember when that was).

Monino is located in the Moscow Oblast area in Russia, it was easy then to deduce (as Monino lies 25 miles away) that the best place to stay would be in Moscow. As I had decided to head in that direction, I thought it would also be best to incorporate a few more places into my adventure.

I decided that my trip to would also take me to two other countries on the Baltic Sea, firstly Estonia, specifically the city of Tallinn to see a world-famous submarine, then I would stay overnight in Helsinki, Finland before catching a connecting flight to Moscow, Russia and finally Monino.

There were however a few things I needed to prepare before I even set off for Monino!

Russian Tourist Visa – Visiting Moscow and Monino

Unlike the old days of the Soviet Union, obtaining a visa these days is almost straight forward, note I said almost! First off you have to go to the Russian visa website which is run by VFS Global. Here you will spend at least fifteen to twenty minutes (or in my case an hour) filling out information about yourself, your family and also your past trips abroad.

Take Your Time to Get Your Russia Tourist Visa Correct

Because I travel extensively, this bit took a long while, you should find it a bit more straightforward, but bear in mind, accuracy is key! You must select single entry if you’re going in and out once, multiple entry allows you to cross the border a few times so only select it if you will be crossing the border more than once; do not get confused with this.

You must also list off the countries you have been to with approximate dates in the last ten years and it was some feat to fit some 45+ countries on to my application.

You then submit this online and must ensure that you print it out. Why? Because now I had to go to London to submit the application in person.

Visiting Russia and Monino by Invitation Only

Another key item to have and you must have this otherwise your visa will be denied is a formal invitation to visit the country, you can get this through iVisa and it will cost between £30 and £40 roughly. Most hotels include it in the booking fee and will email it to you.

If you’re staying in a private residence or hostel, they may not cover it, the invitation looks like this (see below) please make sure you print it out on A4 paper and full size. Otherwise, it will be rejected!

Travelling to London wasn’t an issue (as London is local to me). I had been to Russia a few times before so I knew the process. Located on Gee Street, Farringdon the unassuming dull corner building is like walking into a rundown council estate block of flats, which I imagine is daunting for first timers.

Obtaining the Visa in London

Inside the situation was much more habitable and in true basic Russian style the lay out is easy to follow. After a quick security search, you receive your ticket and sit in a row of seats awaiting your number to be called. It’s almost like a trip to the doctors.

Once you’re called you have to present your printed application form and passport, the clerk will then check your passport thoroughly along with your application.

I urge you not to forget this form as it will cost you money. Alongside the seating area is a bank of computers that cost you £6 per 15 minutes to use, with a further fee of 50p per sheet of paper is levied to print and for this reason I recommend you print it out beforehand.

Clearing Visa Checks for Russia and Monino

Once the clerk has checked and double checked your passport and forms, they will give you some options. You can have your application expedited which will cost around £100 or a normal service around £85. You also have the option to collect the visa or for a fee of £23 it can be delivered to your home address.

It had become an expensive day without the cost of using computers and printing forms.

russia visa example
Russian iVisa

Obtaining a Visa is Like Russian Roulette

I asked the clerk how I will know if I have been granted a tourist visa; she smiled and kindly replied, “it is like kinder egg a surprise inside”, it appears since the end of communism Russians have found a sense of humour (or some form of one).

I had chosen the normal service with home delivery option, oddly, it is cheaper than a train ticket by a good margin. I waited and waited, my passport was nowhere to be seen it and took nearly three weeks before the knock at the door came. I hurriedly opened it to find inside my visa.

Bear in mind that they do retain your passport, so this is not the time to be undertaking other travel plans.

Planning Travel to Russia and Getting to Monino

During my wait time for my visa, I decided to plan for getting around. When travelling to Russia you should always plan ahead and always double check your routes, times and method of travel. It is advisable to have a backup ready for each leg of the journey as public transport in Russia is notoriously unreliable.

I decided I wanted to travel via train from the airport to Red Square, this seemed easy enough as it was one train. Or was it? It was then I noticed my error.

Be advised that Moscow has two main airports Domodedovo which is the largest international hub and Sheremetyevo (more of a domestic and European hub airport). As I was flying from Helsinki I would be landing in Sheremetyevo and there are no trains connecting to the city at that time. A bus was a good alternative to link up with the metro, but I chose a taxi.


Hustlers operate inside the terminal and will charge you a high price for a taxi then walk you to the taxi and split the money with the driver, you’re best off just saying, “nyet spassiba” and walking outside to find a taxi yourself.

As I was going to be staying outside the city, I had planned much of my trip around public transport with the focus on using expensive taxis as little as possible. The metro is the best way of getting around and unlike the bland stations of the London underground or New York’s subway, much more effort has been made to make the stations attractive.

There are a lot of Soviet era mosaics and statues still adorning the walls and staircases making the metro a cultural sight in itself. Tickets are cheap too – much cheaper than a taxi.

Always check the location of your hotel and how far it is from a station; luckily for me it was a short walk between the two. Train times and bus timetables can be found by a simple google search though you should treat these as advisories only, as often as mentioned Russian public transport is very unreliable.

Helsinki, Finland

Ferry to Helsinki in freezing conditions. Wearing a Russian hat and thick overcoat
Ferry to Helsinki in freezing conditions. Wearing a Russian hat and thick overcoat.

We pick up the trail on the ferry to Helsinki, Finland. I will write about my amazing experience in Tallinn, Estonia in another blog post! In Helsinki, like all of the locations on this adventure, the air was frigid to the point that breathing through my nose became painful, my flaring nostrils freezing and feeling like sandpaper with every breath.

Cold Weather in Helsinki

If you’re not used to cold climates or don’t fare well in freezing conditions, I would recommend a summer visit. The ground was frozen and covered in sheets of slippery ice and snow. December travel to the Baltic is not for the faint hearted.

Fortunately, I prefer cold climates to warm weather, and I have experienced colder weather previously having made a brave trip to Kiev, Ukraine in the heart of their winter. This weather, being slightly warmer didn’t phase me and I coped well. Albeit fully equipped and clothed for cold weather.

I would strongly recommend the purchase of a Ushanka hat, it will be invaluable throughout your stay, especially when the temperature dips below freezing.

I arrive in Helsinki as a frozen but happy human and check into my hotel the Best Western. It is a short taxi ride from the ferry terminal, and I was more than glad to be heading to a nice warm bed after a long day of travelling. In less than 24 hours I had visited three different countries, travelling by car, plane and ship – so a rest and some good food was well needed.

Best Western Hotel – Helsinki, Finland

My room was the standard affair, a nice double bed in the middle with a tv mounted on the wall. The bathroom had a combined shower and bath, and it was safe to say, I felt almost at home. Starving, I dumped my bag and decided to check out the bar and grab some dinner.

Finland is westernised and I found the menu to be somewhat like walking into any restaurant back home. There were a few oddities that caught my eye so I decided that I should take a brave pill and opted for elk sausages with mash and gravy.

I have had many different cuisines in my life, but elk was one of them – when it arrived, I could hardly tell the difference between the English bangers and mash and the plate presented before me.

My word, the mash was creamy light and fluffy, the onion gravy was crisp and best of all were the sausages. I have never tasted a sausage like it, not in Germany, Poland, England or anywhere. I enjoyed them so much when I went home, I actively searched for them, having a few Romanians as friends helps as well as I later learnt they know where to get them.

Once I had filled my stomach with dinner and a little tipple of vodka to warm the cockles I decided to go to bed. I was a little disappointed that my stay in Finland was so short, it is a place I would recommend, and I hope to one day return.

No Matter How Prepared You Are – Things Will Go Awry!

Perhaps the single most infuriating aspect of travelling around the Baltic and specifically Russia is that you should expect the unexpected. Of my many adventures, I planned extensively for this trip, ensuring that I had correct documentation as well as scheduling all connecting public transport and flights.

I learned very quickly this preparation only gets you so far.

After a night of very deep sleep in the warm Helsinki hotel, I made my way to the airport where I was booked in to fly to Moscow. This is where my journey could easily have been stymied and I would have found myself in the frequent horror stories you read about in tabloid newspapers with headlines like “Family stranded in…”.

Flight Cancellation – Monino Trip Up in the Air

My flight had been cancelled. By cancelled, I mean completely cancelled with no alternative flight to cover the cancellation. Had I not been half frozen from my morning commute to the airport, it would have been easy to boil over. Fortunately, the comfortable bed and the fantastic night sleep had put me in good stead for the day.

I noticed there was an Aeroflot plane already at the airport, with the destination being Moscow. That is where I wanted to go! After a bit of pleading and some puppy dog eyes, I managed to charm the desk into letting me onto that flight. It was here, inadvertently, that I met one of my best friends to this day, by complete coincidence.

Aeroflot to Moscow – With a FREE Upgrade

russian architecture moscow

After making my way from the desk feeling pleased with myself, I made my way to the airport lounge. It was here that I met a young Russian woman named Irina, and no, before you get carried away, this isn’t a Hollywood love story where two hapless strangers fall madly in love in an airport terminal.

It did however prove to be a wonderful encounter, Irina was/is an Aeroflot stewardess, although off duty at the time and travelling back home to Moscow. After chatting for a long while as we waited for our flight, she managed to talk the airline into giving us both a free upgrade.

moscow red tower
The Spasskaya Tower, built in 1491 and designed by Italian Architect Pietro Antonio Solari. Overlooking the eastern end of Red Square at night.

It turned out that my cancelled flight to Moscow, was one of the best flights I have ever been on. Irina was more than helpful when I landed as well. She helped me to find and get a cheap taxi to Red Square.

Red Square – Simply Magnificent Architecture

It was then after many times in Russia I had finally come to the centre of it all. Before me lay the walls of the Kremlin, in front of me the beautiful cathedral of St Basils and off to my side the famous Gum department store. Behind me was the mausoleum of Lenin.

There was no mistaking it, I had arrived in Moscow.

moscow red square

In Part Two, you will be able to read about my grand Russian adventure as well as my visit to the aviation museum. Be sure to subscribe to be notified when this is published! Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram too.

Blair Shaw

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