We have now (18 Sep) spent 5 days in Moscow and it’s time to carry on our eastward journey. But before let me tell you what we experienced in the Russian metropolis.
To our surprise, the hotel we booked through our travel agency had a really good standard with nice rooms, TV (some international news channels), quite good (English speaking) service, Internet access, big breakfast buffet and so on. By the way, it has so far been the most expensive hotel on our whole trip, 1.200 Kr (130 Euros or 180 Dollars) for a double room with breakfast buffet. Since we were dead beat after our train ride from St. Petersburg to Moscow and adding the terrible weather, it rained cats and dogs, we took it really easy the first day. We had a solid breakfast, took a nap, watched TV, explored the hotel, used the Internet, called home etc. The only productive thing we managed that day was to pick up our pre-booked train tickets to Irkutsk and Ulan Bator from the Leningradsky train station. We took the metro and after some disorientated moves at the station, we found the office from where we were supposed to pick up the tickets.
The second day well rested and to some extend acclimatized, we were ready for Moscow downtown. The weather hadn’t improved too much, the sky was still covered in grey colors, so we decided to go to the State Tretyakov Gallery, the foremost depository of Russian fine art in the world, with a fantastic collection of Russian icons and other pre-revolutionary Russian art. The museum was a big hit for both Fredrik and me. As Western European one has seen fine arts from countries such as Italy, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, the US, the UK but Russian art somehow has never come to our sight before. We rented an audio guide and found it most interesting to listen to the different interpretations of and histories behind the paintings. Unfortunately but not that surprisingly, we were not allowed to take photos inside the museum so you have to come and see the Tretyakov Gallery for yourself.
After the museum, we strolled around. We walked through a park where we saw at least 6 couples of brides and grooms with their friends and family posing in front of reflex and video cameras. We also discovered a piece of art which made an impression on us. Close to the park we found some “iron” trees decorated with masses of spring locks. Each spring lock had two names and a date engraved, probably two beloved ones hoping or wishing their love to last forever. Cute!!!
From the park we carried on walking towards the Kremlin. By the way, Kremlin is the Russian word for "fortress", "citadel", or "castle" and refers to any major fortified central complex found in historic Russian cities. We crossed a bridge from where we had the first views of the stately Kremlin, the apex of Russian political power and once the centre of the Orthodox Church. It is not only the kernel of Moscow but of the whole country. It’s from here that autocratic tsars, communist dictators and democratic presidents have done their best and worst for Russia. We decided to visit the Muscovite “fortress” the next day and kept walking along its high walls through the Aleksandrovsky Gardens, along the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” where we stopped and took photos. The Tomb contains the remains of a soldier who died in December 1941 at Leningradskoe sh, the nearest the Nazis came to Moscow.
We kept walking in the hope to get to see the Red Square which lies outside the Kremlin walls. It was once a market square but during the centuries it has been a place where the occupants of the Kremlin chose to congregate, celebrate and castigate for all the people to see. To our surprise, the Red Square was fenced in and guarded; we could not get to it. We found out that there was an International Military Tattoo taking place, where 47 military bands from around the world would come together and perform, inspired by the Edinburgh’s Military Tattoo. What an amazing thing we thought in particular thinking of the location, Red Square. Wow!!!! We got some tickets for the next day or I should better say night. Fantastic!!!!
After a walk through and a short break at the GUM shopping mall, housed in a beautiful 19th century building with elegant and pricey shops, we finished our downtown trip for the day with dinner at a Japanese restaurant. Yummy!!!
The next day we were ready for the Kremlin. We were lucky, after having bought the tickets, we got in right away. We passed the Trinity Gate Tower started to wander around a bit until we heard the sound of a loud whistle from somewhere. Obviously, we had entered into an out-of-bounds area and the Kremlin police informed us “nicely” to stay out of there. There were no signs however, that could tell us where the out-of-bounds areas were. From time to time we heard the whistle and then we knew. We felt like dogs on training!
Eventually, we made it to the main attraction of the Kremlin, the Sabornaya Square with its beautiful, ancient cathedrals, palace and bell tower. The Assumption Cathedral was built between 1475 and 1479 and is the focal church of pre-revolutionary Russia. It is the burial place of most heads of the Russian Orthodox Church form the 1320s to 1700. The Annunciation Cathedral, built in 1489, was the royal family’s private chapel. Both cathedrals contain some stunning icons. No photos, sorry!!!
After a quick lunch break, we made our way to the Armory, a numbingly opulent collection of treasures accumulated over time by the Russian State and Church. We were above all impressed by the Faberge eggs, jeweled eggs made by Peter Carl Faberge for the Russian Tsars between 1885 and 1917, the joint coronation throne of boy tsars Peter (the Great) and his half-brother Ivan V with a secret compartment, baroque style horse coaches and gilded, gem covered jackets. Brilliant, in the full sense of the word!!!
Then at 7.00 pm we made our way to the Red Square to see the Military Tattoo. The view from the galleries was spectacular. We had St. Basils church, the towers and wall of the Kremlin right in front of us and thousands of Russians around us waiting for the music spectacle to start. Little by little it got darker and the illumination of the Red Square went on. Fantastic, what a view! The military bands started their show. We saw dancers from Ukraine, Danish, German and Russian military bands playing their drums and trumpets and others juggling their rifles to the music. There were Italian standard-bearers throwing their flags into the air and a huge multicultural bagpipers group with Australians, Canadians, Scottish and English played in full tones on their pipes. All together 1500 musicians and dancers came together who entertained an audience of about 40.000 people. And we were in between!!! What an amazing experience!!
The following day we visited St. Basil's Cathedral. Rising from the slope at Red Square's southern end, this crazy confusion of colors and shapes was created between 1555 and 1561, replacing an existing church, to celebrate Ivan the Terrible's taking of the Tatar stronghold of Kazan. Its design is the culmination of wholly Russian style that had been developed for building wooden churches.
The same day we allowed ourselves a real splurge at the Pushkin Café, the queen mother of haute russe dining, with an exquisite blend of Russian and French cuisines. Delicious!!!
Our last day in Moscow was filled with packing, buying food and getting ready for our Trans-Siberian train trip to Irkutsk, mailing home CDs with our digital photos, loading up photos on the internet etc. At 19.30 we got picked up by a taxi (we shared the taxi with a Swedish couple we met at the hotel who had the same destination) to the train station (Yaroslavl Station) where we waited for the train that should take us to Siberia.
Before I leave you here, some words about the Russians or the Muscovites. Apart from very few exceptions –like the receptionist in St. Petersburg whose shining teeth we never saw -, the Russians are very friendly people, always willing to help, for example, when you are lost in the street or need some translation help with the Russian menu. The only Russian words we really learned are “spasiba” (thank you), “pazhalsta” (you’re welcome), “dobraye-utra” (good morning) and “dasvidanya” (goodbye), somehow it works. The funny thing is, people in the street kept asking us things (actually, we have no clue what they were asking) as if we were locals. Somehow we must have blended in quite well with our grey outfits and bum bags. The only thing that was missing to make the look perfect was to have a cigarette in one hand and a beer bottle in the other.
That’s all for now, dear friends, but there is more to come in the next reports.
Big hugs and kisses,
Sabrina and Fredrik