Must see Moscow

Trip Start Dec 14, 2007
Trip End Mar 16, 2009

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Flag of Russian Federation  , Central Russia,
Saturday, June 21, 2008


How many times in my sorrowful separation,
In my wandering fate,
Have I thought of you, O Moscow!
Moscow, how much there is in that sound
That flows together for the heart of the  Russian.
  - A Pushkin (probably most famous Russian poet of all time) from Yevgeny Onegin - 
Even the train station where we arrived in Moscow (or Moskva in Russian) was beautiful and like most other important buildings in Moscow, was designed by a renowned architect.
We met-up with the Little Australian Sisters (Gill, Ruth and Kate), Annie and Daniel for dinner as they had arrived in Moscow 2 days earlier and by then knew their way around the city. Lucky for us! They patiently and with great enthusiasm introduced us to the cheap, fast and impressive Moscow Metro. The stations are elegant and graffiti free - many of them marble-faced, frescoed, gilded works of art. This is apparently on of Stalin's projects Moscovites are proud of and 14 million (some books give different stats) use the subway everyday. The stations were meant to double as air-raid shelters, which is why the escalators seem to plunge halfway to the centre of the earth. There are no official statistics available on the stations as to depth, etc. but our a guide explained the following day that the newest metro line which was opened in 2005 was reported to be the deepest at 98m!   
We started in a street famous for its night life and ad hoc live street art, Smolenskaya and enjoyed dinner at Moo-Moo's (yes, there actually is a huge cow outside). We then took a walk through Alexandrovsky Garden (nicknamed by us a "suck-face park" as people openly show their affection for all to see) leading to the Red Square, which is surrounded by the Kremlin, St. Basil's Cathedral, GUM Department Store (which is beautifully lit up at night), State History Museum, Resurrection Gate and Chapel of the Iverian Virgin.
Included in the Trans-Siberian package is a 3 hour guided walking tour of Moscow (and St. Petersburg when we arrive there) introducing the city. As we were lucky to have had an introduction by our friends the previous night, the guide took us on a back-street walk along Tverskoy Boulevard (where the 3rd city wall used to be, but was smashed down on Stalin's orders), an area where we could really appreciate the architecture of the city with distinct differences associated with the different era's (some destructive) the city went through. Unfortunately as neither of us is an expert in architecture or art history I cannot quite remember which buildings are associated with which era or style and merely titled associated photographs as 'Moscow Architecture' - apologies and we welcome corrections or more details associated with each building or style.
We stopped-off at the impressive 1906 Art Nouveau Gorky House-Museum, Designed by Fyodor Shekhtel and given to Maxim Gorky (unofficial State scribe for Stalin) in 1931. The house is a visual fantasy - from the sculptured doorways, ceiling murals, stained glass and carved stone staircase to the exterior tile work. There's a tale that Stalin hastened Gorky's death (1936) by covering the walls of his bedroom covered with toxic paint.
We continued on our own walking tour on the other side of the city passing the beautiful Gorky Park or Park Kultury. The guidebook warned us that we might bump into a rare species, namely the "Happy Russian", in this area... and indeed we did see a few! We can now confidently report back that they are not an extinct species. Sculpture Park is special park, surrounded by Art Galleries and ad hoc street artists exhibiting there master pieces, but the main attraction is the Soviet status - Stalin, Dzerzhinsky, some Lenins and Brezhnevs - put out to pasture here when they were ripped from their pedestals in the wave of anti-Soviet feeling after 1991. These discredited icons are joined by contemporary work.
Peter the First, known as 'the Great' for his commanding figure (reaching over 2 m) and equally commanding victory over the Swedes, dragged Russia kicking and screaming into modern Europe. And what better way to commemorate him than erecting a huge statue in the Moskva River? To me it looked oddly out of place.
We were very fortunate to be in time for the 5pm mini-sermon or blessing at the very impressive Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, completed in 1997. It sits on the site of an earlier and similar church, completed in 1883 to commemorate Russia's victory over Napoleon, but was destroyed during Stalin's orgy of explosive secularism. He planned to replace it with a 315m-high 'Palace of Soviets' (which includes a 100m statue of Lenin) - luckily this project never got of the ground, instead the site served the purpose of the world's largest swimming pool for 50 years. To attend a Russian Orthodox sermon in this Cathedral was very special.
Strolling through the parks surrounding the Kremlin and Red Square is fascinating - people from all walks of life come to relax and soak up the sun - from a group of elderly ladies singing to themselves, to tattoo artists and reptile handlers trying to make a buck. As mentioned earlier, to show affection to your loved-one is also (almost) expected - publicly. We spent hours just people-watching (I hope our mouths weren't gaping open).
We got up very earlier the next morning to ensure we are first in queue to buy tickets for the Armoury, which is a special exhibition within the Kremlin of which only a limited number of tickets are sold per day. We had the whole morning booked-out for the Kremlin, Armoury and Diamond Fund Exhibition (another special exhibition within the Armoury). We did not plan to visit Lenin's tomb as we say Mao in a similar state of preservation in Beijing and it's quite morbid to say the least. To our disappointment when we exited the Metro at 8am (on this freezing Sunday morning) to find the entire area surrounding the Kremlin, which included all Metro exists, Red Square and surrounding buildings, where blocked off by police. It turned out to be the day that the WWII started for Russia and there was an official ceremony at the Kremlin which the president was attending. It looked as though it would be closed off for the entire day and as we were due to depart for St. Petersburg that evening, we would have been in Moscow and not have seen the inside of the Kremlin. Wow, what a shocker as my youngest brother would say.
We opted instead to visit the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum, famous for its impressionist and postimpressionist paintings. We appreciated there comprehensive selection of Egyptian artefacts and wide variety of sculptures which we have never seen in this magnitude.
As Ryan felt like a burger he had lunch at Hard Rock Café (unfortunately a bit disappointing) and I had a very special lunch at Café Pushkin, with an exquisite blend of Russian and French cuisine.
Moscow was one of the biggest surprises (apart from Japan) on our trip thus far and was amazing to explore. I agree with the Lonely Planet summary of Moscow: "it's glittering and grey, beautiful and bleak, pious and hedonistic". I loved Moscow!
We boarded the Moscow - St. Petersburg train at 8pm due to arrive in St. Petersburg at 5am the following morning. We shared our cabin with a lovely Russian lady, I would guess in her late 50's who speaks pretty good English and loves travelling. It wasn't a night of a lot of sleep though, as another passenger joined our cabin at 1am and was a snorer.

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