Moscow - death and the metro

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Flag of Russia  , Moscow,
Thursday, January 5, 2006

Next day was as rapid fire as the first, but more successful in its many and varied achievements.

This was all in spite of the temperature plunging to -20C or so, down from the pleasant -5C that we had been enjoying since our arrival in Moscow.

Still, we donned our winter woolies and got out there, because like New York, Moscow never sleeps and it treats the bold to some interesting treats.

First stop was Red Square again - Leigh and Amanda were determined to see Lenin in all his waxy splendour. So line up we did and as the minutes ticked by it seemed to get colder yet. I tried to warm up by exercising my camera finger but that did little except add to the album Peter the Great's statue (including horse with three feet on the ground at once which is impossible for a horsey to do), as well as the Great Patriotic War Memorial with eternal flame, and also a picture of Europe's largest advertising billboards. That's one big Rolex ad!

Eventually we did get into the Mausoleum and after a short while with the yellowing but chipper Lenin, we were out the other side again. For those that are interested Lenin looks much healthier than the desiccated Uncle Mao, but then again they're both long dead so I doubt either would care in the slightest who's winning the beauty contest. After that we checked out some graves of Communism's other leading lights, including crazy Joe Stalin (arguably responsible for more deaths than anyone throughout history) and the deservingly popular Yuri Gregarin - spacetrekker extraordinaire. Their graves are on the east wall of the Kremlin, also guarded by soldiers with little sense of humour so the no chance of a photograph for posterity. Oh well.

Back on the metro and out to west Moscow to check out the Novodevichy Monastery and Convent. I don't know how it is both, as I'd think that could encourage hanky panky amongst the monks and nuns, but the architecture is truly spectacular and so well worth a visit. There are a number of unique buildings on the site, some that date back to 1524. Each has its own pleasantly unusual characteristics but as a whole they fit nicely together in the spacious grounds.

Inside some of the smaller buildings exhibitions of religious icons, vestments and other art can be found. It was interesting to be able to get up close to many of them - some of the detail is quite exquisite. Also surprising was the use of swastika symbols in Russian Orthodox as well, similar to those used in Buddhist art from countries just visited. Bizarre.

Continuing with the day's theme of death, it was logical to stop at the neighbouring cemetery and check out the view. What an eclectic array of gravestones these guys use! It's definitely not unusual to put a bust of the deceased on top of the headstone, and there seems to be little limit to the artistic potential of your gravesite if you really want to go that far. The result is a jumble of granite and marble in every conceivable shape and size, sculptures standing tall and flowing scripts to mark them all. It's pretty hard to get in here now unless you're famous, but we managed to see a few important guys from times gone by like Kruschev, Tolstoy and Checkov.

Back across the Moskva river, with a murky pall of smoke or steam belching overhead, we hit the famous Gorky Park. Fun-rides weren't operational but it seemed like half the city was here whisking around on ice skates and enjoying a festival atmosphere anyway. Here I met up with Susan, pen-pal for a short time and Moscow local who plays first violin with one of the major orchestras of the city. She wanted to practice her English so instead of skating around on our bum we adjourned to the cafe for some tasty 'Glint-vin', or mulled wine in the vernacular, which warmed us up no end.

After dinner our remaining time in Moscow was fast ticking away, but Dimitri thought a quick metro tour might be in order. I'll apologise in advance for the blurriness of some of the photos, as it's illegal to take them in the Metro so I had to be quick and furtive about it.

Anyway, the Moscow metro is an amazing piece of Soviet-era infrastructure, developed from the 1930's onwards and that is now an incredibly fast and efficient mode of transport with a capacity for up to three million journeys each day. Trains arrive every two minutes during the day and every five minutes at night (until 1 am). We had a dozen or so trips on it and not a hitch with any of them, often walking straight onto the train as we arrived on the platform.

What is more amazing is the artistic execution on many of the stations. There is grand architecture to be found in many of the central hubs, often complemented by dozens of frescos, stained glass windows or rich marble tiling as decoration. Revolution Square has a hundred or so huge marble sculptures of model Russian citizens like farmers, sports-people, engineers or factory workers. The fixtures and fittings (e.g. lights etc) match the decor beautifully and even work most of the time. They are amazing contemporary constructions that blend nicely with the older above-ground structures.

Riding the metro late at night is pretty funny too - we saw two dogs without owners happily snoozing on the seats going to who knows where, and the many drunk but harmless two-legged locals deserve a chuckle as well. They certainly liven up the many grumpy faces you see around town, both above and below the surface. All in all a great way to wrap up our time in the capital, so thanks Amanda and Leigh for your patience - I know it was hard work at the end of a long and tiring day.

Next entry -> Red rockets to St Petersburg

Old Rossian Proverb

Foolish is he who gets his tongue stuck to frozen metal.
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