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Published: August 11th 2019
Days 13 to 16 of 80
Lenin - murderer, dictator, despot, and Rolls Royce owner
Today we had an early start to queue for Lenin's Tomb, that is we were there around 8.10 for a 10 am open. We had seen the queues in previous days and decided we would rather spend our two hours of queuing at the front of the queue safe in the knowledge that we would be through and done by around 10.30, rather than join later with an indeterminate exit time. TripAdvisor reviews had shown that there is no mercy in just closing entry at 1 pm on the dot - the tomb is only open on 5 days a week, for 3 hours - whether or not there are people still in the queue who may have been there for hours.
Russian queuing was up to its usual standard. Around six people in front of us when we joined the queue, about 20 when they let the queue move up to security. On the way you walk through a sort of Corridor of Honour. There are around a dozen grave monuments to important people, typically former leaders like Joseph Stalin. Then also,
Ashes in the Kremlin wall
Yuri Gagarin is one of these
in the Kremlin wall, are the ashes of many other Soviet notables including Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, who actually died not long after - 1968 - in a Fighter plane crash.
How many people are buried in Lenin's Tomb? Answer coming later.
All the way around to the front and then down step dark steps. Paul had trouble seeing where to go as his eyes were slow to adjust from the bright sunlight outside . Pip had trouble seeing where to go as her Reaction lens glasses were dark from the sunlight and take 2 to 3 minutes to go light. But we managed to stumble our way down with some decorum. Mind you, the slightest noise from anyone was met with a stern "Schhh!!" from the young soldiers guarding the place at every corner.
Down in the centre of the tomb your journey around the walkway on three sides of the glass-sided sarcophagus takes barely a minute. No pictures, of course. The lighting makes the corpse look quite strange, almost like some stage effect corpse. Some say that it is not the original body, and that it is a waxwork, but who knows.
For a period of years in the early 50s the body of that other Russian murderer, dictator and despot - but we don't know if he had a Rolls Royce - Stalin, lay alongside that of Lenin but he fell slightly out of favour so his corpse was relegated to his current position outside.
As recently as the turn of the last century there were proposals to do away with the tomb entirely, end the 'cult' of Lenin and have him reburied in his home town. That idea was finally kyboshed by Vladimir Putin, on the reasoning that reburial of Lenin would imply that generations of citizens had observed false values during seventy years of Soviet rule.
Of course the whole visit, from security to exit, is over in 10 minutes or so, with at most 2 mins walking around the corpse. At least, it is of you ignore the 2 hour queuing time 😊
Something of a walking day after that. We said previously that almost everything we wanted to see was within walking distance, but, as of a few days ago Gorky Park was, we expected, one of the exceptions to that.
we looked at the map, our trusty Maps.me, and it showed around 4 km tops, and the sun had come out. It was a glorious, warm, sunny day, the only one we had had in Moscow, and so, especially as another sight on our list was en-route, that's what we spent the rest of the day doing.
The Church of Christ the Saviour, close to the Moskva River, is the tallest Orthodox Christian Church in the world. The original church was the location in 1882 of the world premiere of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.
That church was destroyed - dynamited - in 1931 on the orders of Stalin, supposedly to make way for a huge Palace of the Soviets to house the Legislative, though he made sure the gold was carefully extracted first. Construction started in 1937 but stopped in 1941 when Germany invaded and funds ran out. The steel frame was pulled down and the Legislative never built. Some of the marble was used in building the Metro stations.
The current church subsequently dates only from 2000 but you would never guess. No concession to modernity in this building design. In its inaugural year it was used
for the canonisation of the Romanovs murdered in 1918. Clearly the Orthodox Church has a lower entry threshold for sainthood than that of the Roman Catholics! Boris Yeltsin, who died April 2007, lay in state there.
The Russian, all-female, punk group, Pussy Riot, staged a guerilla performance here in February 2012 in protest against the Orthodox Church's support for Putin. 3 of them were jailed.
A steady walk to Gorky Park took us past the enormous bronze statue of Peter The Great, the 8th largest statue in the world. The artist originally planned the statue to be of Christopher Columbus and to be placed in the USA, but the Yanks took one look and said 'No thanks'. So he remodeled the head from that of Columbus to that of Peter and persuaded the mayor of Moscow to erect it within the river. By all accounts Moscovites have no idea why. Not only do they consider it to be a monstrosity, they point out that Peter the Great hated Moscow - that's why he set up St Petersburg! (Incidentally, St P were offered it, but they said Nyet!).
Gorky Park was opened in 1928 but had a total
face-lift in 2011 - old buildings and decrepit fairground rides removed, new paths, beds, recreation areas, art spaces, sports spaces built. They have done a very nice job of it. Probably amongst one of the best urban, family parks we have been to. The place was buzzing. Even the nuns of St Theresa's order were having an outing there.
Friday saw us once again battling with the labyrinthine ticketing system associated with the Kremlin, this time to access the Diamond Fund. If you want to know what we went through to get in you'd need to find our entry in TA - Moscow Forums - Our Diamond Fund experience.
Needless to say we did get in and wow, wow, wow.
The Diamond Fund is a unique collection of gems, jewellery and natural nuggets of gold and platinum. The present set up was opened in 1967 but its basis is in the gem collection of Peter I established in 1719, but added to by succeeding monarchs especially Catherine the Great who had a particular interest in expensive rocks!
The Fund is part of a larger State Fund of Precious Stones, which includes the monopoly for mining and
distribution of gemstones. Recent additions were 2006 - 'The Creator' at 298 carats the 3rd largest raw diamond in the fund; a 33kg gold nugget in 2003; 1989 - raw diamond 'Alexander Pushkin ' at 320 carats.
But the stars of the show are undoubtedly the Imperial Crown Jewels - Crown, smaller Empress crown, orb, Sceptre and belt, last used at Nic II's coronation in 1896. Obviously not intended to ever be used again, presumably.
In the Sceptre is the Orlov Diamond, 189 cut carats, given to Catherine as a present instead of a bunch of flowers.
The Imperial Crown is topped by a red spinel of 398 carats.
And the Crown, made 1762 for Catherine the Great contains just short of 5000 diamonds
Incidentally, for comparison we looked up the English crown jewels. The Cullinan, in the British crown at over 500 carats is 2.5 times the biggest Russian Crown Jewels diamond.
After revisiting Gum/Bosco for another helping of their baked cheesecakes we headed for the State Historical Museum. A very old style museum moving through Russian history from pre historic flint tools up to modern times, at least that's what it looks like. Difficult
to be absolutely sure, though, as there was no labelling in English. We had been really looking forward to this museum but our inability to understand any of the display somewhat ruined the experience. But some photos are attached.
The last item, just before the exit, was Lenin's Rolls Royce.
Meal that evening was Russian 'cafeteria' dining.
A thoroughly wet Saturday morning saw us catch the Metro to the Tretyakov Gallery rather than walk the 2km. It was well worth it. Its focus is Russian Art from 11th to 20th C. And it got everything so right that the Historical Museum yesterday had failed to do. Free gallery map, logical, numbered flow of room numbering, highlight paintings printed on the map, room information boards in several languages, everything labelled in Russian and English. And the English audio-guide - well, we wish we could download his scripts!
Amongst the best art gallery we have visited.
In hindsight several of our photos fail to show the sheer scale of some of the pieces. Should have allowed more visitor's heads to stay in picture. The 'ensemble' scene pictures are wall size - if your wall is in a
That evening our destination for our anniversary meal was White Rabbit.
Our walk there took us along (Old) Arbat Street, described in guides as a vibrant street for tourist shopping. And in keeping with many of such streets we have seen actually filled with the tackiest, cheapo but overpriced, tourist fleecing souvenir shops, restaurants and chancers.
It was busy, of course. Bur there was also a very significant presence of riot police and military looking people in body armour and carrying motorcycle style helmets. There were hundreds of them dotted amongst the street corners. Web search shows that 40000 people demonstrated today/Saturday - 3rd weekend running - something to do with city elections. Other than the police, though, we saw nothing of it.
On the way down the street we saw
Tsoi Wall - a graffiti wall dedicated to Viktor Tsoi and his band
Pushkin and his wife, Natalia, statue
St Nicholas church, a cute red brick / gold dome affair
And a shop window with a matryoshka doll set of 42 pieces. We didn't dare go and ask the price.
White Rabbit is a restaurant rated at 13 in the World's Top 50
Restaurant list, though that is mostly for the chef's out-there take on Russian cuisine which is only served through his Tasting Menu. We have grown weary and sceptical of Tasting Menus of late. Often too much ambition with too little good eating. A series of experiments in form, texture, appearance and presentation with the hapless diner the one being experimented upon. Apparently 32 of this year's Top 50 ONLY offer a Tasting Menu.
White Rabbit has a solid a la carte menu that we would describe as really really good quality Russian /French Bistro food. We found it very difficult to choose. So many things on the menu that sounded great, but only so much stomach room.
The other thing that White Rabbit has going for it is is location, 16 floors up, on a rooftop, beneath a glass, arched 'conservatory '. Beautiful views across the Moscow rooftops, partly dominated by a series of Soviet government office 'skyscrapers', some modern, color changing, office/flats blocks, and in the near distance the Kremlin.
We managed, after our meal ending, vodkas, to stumble our way back to the hotel.
Sunday - our Ruby Wedding anniversary.
We went metro
exploring first, though we think that somewhere we have missed the best ones. Maybe our research was misleading. Then, in the warm sunshine but cold wind we have filled time on Red Square and the new riverside park.
Tonight we move on, and so the keenness to complete and post this blog before we leave. Because we expect to be internet-dark for 4 days.
Tonight, just before midnight, we board the Trans-Mongolian Express for the first 4 nights/3 days of its 7 day journey to Beijing, stopping off at Irkutsk in deepest southern Siberia, next to Lake Baikal .
PS Answer to how many are buried in Lenin's Tomb is zero. Only 1 body in there, Lenins, and he's not buried.
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