The only thing Moscow had in common with St. Petersburg was the air. On sunny days the glare through the hazy sky left my photos looking washed out. When I breathed the air I smelled cigarette smoke laced with auto exhaust, or vice versa when I was out of doors.
But the extravagant 18th century palaces ubiquitous to St. Petersburg were nowhere to be seen in Moscow. In fact the city's architecture was so dull and monolithic I regretted my impatience with the overly fussy buildings I had just seen the few days before.
As our van sped from one site to the next within the crowded metropolis, I saw that Moscow was still dominated by relics from the Communist era. It was almost impossible to ignore the over-sized "Seven Sisters" buildings, commissioned by Stalin to look like Gothic skyscrapers that were scattered throughout the city, or the heroic statues of the Communist leaders.
It was surprising however that the most fanciful architecture in this city was buried underground. The vaulted arches over the subway platforms looked like cathedral ceilings. I wanted to stare at the detail overhead but the onslaught of passengers trying to catch their trains made me look away and pay attention to the direction in which I was walking. The extravagantly framed artwork reminded me of the paintings of royalty in at the Winter Palace, except they depicted laborers instead. We followed Alexi from station to station through the Moscow subway. As a rider of the New York City subway, I was awed by the extravagance and cleanliness of each stop. The rats and urine stench I that was accustomed to was wonderfully absent here.
As the stations became filled with morning commuters, we left the subway to have breakfast at McDonald's. It was already mid-morning and I was starving but I ordered coffee and a bran muffin because it was the only thing that seemed appealing. Mark ordered pancakes but when he did not find any syrup, he the reacted as if it a tragedy had occurred. Shorena and Alexi scurried around looking for some and only came up with jam. Later, as we walked down the Arbat one of Moscow's famous shopping streets, Kathie grilled Alexi about everything from the new Russian millionaires to the cost of real estate in Moscow. When Kathie asked about Putin's election, Alexi leaned in and sternly corrected her, "You know, he really wasn't elected."
The next stop was Novodevichy Convent and Cemetery also known as the New Maiden's Monastery. After the Kremlin wall reached its capacity of burials, Novodevichy Convent became the most prestigious cemetery in which Russians could aspire to be buried. It was founded in 1524 and where many Russian royal families sent their wayward wives and daughters to live. Now it was the final resting place for Russia's most famous people. As I walked by the grave stones it felt as if I were looking at a giant trophy case full of scientists, musicians, and writers. Nikita Khrushchev and Boris Yeltsin were there, as well as Raisa Gorbachev who was replicated in a statue of herself at the age of sixteen
Later in the afternoon we returned to Red Square to tour the inside of the Kremlin. Before the Soviet government occupied it, it was the Tsar's and Duke's residence and the site for the holiest cathedrals in Russia. While we were not allowed inside the government buildings, we could go inside both the Cathedral of the Annunciation and the Cathedral of the Archangel Michael where Ivan the Terrible was buried.
Our last stop was Christ the Savior Cathedral. This cathedral was a replica of the original that was torn down by Lenin's minister for a monument to socialism. Due to lack of funds it was never built and in 1990 the Russian Orthodox Church was allowed to rebuild the cathedral. I couldn't tell how faithful it was to the original but it was so huge and immense that I didn't question it as the largest cathedral in Russia.
By late afternoon our van made its way through start and stop traffic to bring us to our hotel. It was a tall monolithic building on the outside and like a dorm room on the inside but all I could think of was taking a shower.