Moscow, part three of our journey through Russia

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June 11th 2012
Published: July 24th 2012
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June 11, entering Moscow
I woke up this morning to a cement wall outside my stateroom window. After my shower the wall was still there and it wasn't until after my Qi Gong class that the ship began to move. I later found out that we were delayed by fog and had been stuck in a lock for over two hours. This of course moved our tour of Moscow back to 3pm but the sun was out, it was a delightful day (even with the occasional mosquito bites,) and we enjoyed watching Russian families vacationing along the Moscow Canal. Some people were camping, some were fishing along the river with long poles, others were boating, and as we got closer to Moscow we found sailboat racing, yachts, hot air balloons, yacht clubs and elaborate dachas. It was clear we had arrived in suburbia.
The Moscow Canal was the brainchild of Peter the Great but it was Joseph Stalin who made the most progress on this waterway system. Using millions of inmates from forced labor camps, Stalin completed the 80 mile Moscow Canal connecting the Moskva River toe the Volga. With its 15 dams, 11 locks, 8 hydroelectric stations, 5 pump stations 15 bridges and the Northern Passenger Terminal, the dimensions of this project were far greater than those of either the Panama or the Suez Canal projects. The canal provides for about half of Moscow’s water consumption and is an important source of hydroelectric power. With the completion of the waterway system Moscow became an important port connected to all five Russian seas.
The weather is very changeable in this region and the forecast for today was sun, clouds and rain. The predictions were correct. It was sunny until we docked, but by 3pm it was overcast and when we returned from Moscow in the evening we watched a thunderstorm light up the Moscow sky from the vantage point of the ship's Panorama Bar.
Our ship docked in Moscow, our final destination, at the crumbling Moscow River Terminal (with the Russian star and hammer and sickle at the top of the spire) on the Moscow Canal. The river station was constructed between 1933 and 1937 and is currently under reconstruction (like most of Russia). Shortly after docking we boarded our bus for a tour of the city. Our guide Alexey provided a brief history of Moscow as we drove into the city.
Yuri of Long Arms settled Moscow in 1147 building a wall around the village. As word of Moscow spread, peasants came by millions to Moscow Village from rural areas to begin socialization. Trade on the ancient Silk Road was a significant factor in the development of Moscow as an important commercial center. Ivan the Terrible made Moscow the capitol of all the Russian territories until Peter the Great moved the capitol to St Petersburg but in 1918, following the Russian Revolution, the capitol of Russia returned to Moscow. During WWII Moscow was under threat of the German army whose tanks were only 14 miles from Red Square.
On the way to the metro our bus drove by the White Church, built in 1921 by Lenin, a church intended for ALL believers, which was very unusual in these times. We passed by the old yellow KGB building that did not look as terrifying to me as it did in 1990. As we approached the Moscow River we saw the imposing golden domed white Cathedral of Christ the Savior where Tchaikovsky debuted his famous 1812 Overture. The church was mostly destroyed by Stalin in 1931 but was completely replaced in 1995. It is now the largest cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church seating some 10,000 people. Also on our way was the small yellow building where Tolstoy began one of his most famous (and my favorite) novels, War and Peace. On the narrow old St Barbara Street, the oldest street in Moscow, where at one time was the largest concentration of Russian Orthodox churches. We passed another landmark in my memory lane, the Moscow Train Station, the largest train station in Europe. In 1990 I took an overnight train to Tallinn Estonia and back again getting little sleep because I was peering out the train’s windows looking for signs of rural Russian life.
Today there are over 3 million cars in Moscow, and 2 million cars commute daily from the countryside into the city clogging the old carriage roads that were not designed to carry such traffic. The Moscow Metro, planned by Stalin and first opened in 1935, is the deepest metro in the world. The first stations were conceived as a bomb shelter as well as a means of conveyance. Moscow is a city of about 13 million people and as many as 9 million people use the metro daily. Many of Moscow's Metro stations contain extraordinary works of art with marble-faced and frescoed walls and gilded works of art on the walls and ceilings and in spite of the huge number of people coming and going daily through the metro, it is unusually clean and I saw no grafiti.
We left the bus and entered the Moscow Metro and, led by our guides, we all stopped at Ploshchad Revolyutsii (which I think was a feat getting all of us on and off the metro without losing anyone) to see the dramatic life-size bronze statues depicting idealized roles of men and women in Soviet society. Several guns and a dog's nose were frequently rubbed for good luck. We got off the metro at Teatralnaya Ploshchad. This stop is in the center of the city where you can find Red Square, The Bolshoi Theater, the famous GUM Department Store and the Kremlin. This metro stop is exactly like I remembered it 22 years ago. What is different is the fashionably dressed and extremely thin young women balancing on stiletto over the cobblestone streets. A vast difference from the short, overweight babushkas I remembered 22 years ago.
We came up from the metro across from the Bolshoi Theater and began our brief walking tour stopping first at the small, colorful Kazan Cathedral squeezed between the Gum Department Store and the Historical Museum. There was a service going on inside the church so we peeked inside and quickly moved on. Because Red Square was barricaded for the upcoming Russian Independence Day concert and celebrations, we had to walk through the huge GUM Department Store to get photos of St Basils. GUM stands for “state universal store” but in Tsarist times it was known as the “upper trading rows” which may make more sense since inside this enormous building are three corridors housing hundreds of individual shops on three levels. Most stores have recognizable brand names from Salvatore Ferragamo to Samsonite.
Outside, on the edge of Red Square we glimpsed the towering multi-colored domes of St Basil’s. We were lucky because the domes shone brightly in the brilliant sunshine but we were not so lucky because the whole of Red Square was barricaded preventing us from entering and also preventing us from grasping the enormity of this square. Many of us were quite upset with Viking for not informing us before we booked that this time of the year is likely to have restricted access to this most important and iconic site. I think we would have booked the trip a bit later had we known. We stopped anyway to take a few pictures but it was difficult because the barricades in place for the upcoming Independence Day celebration. The barricades did not allow us to have a good vantage point to represent St Basil’s sitting in the enormity of Red Square.
We did not have time to linger since we were again on the bus to the Tretyakov Gallery and Conservatory to see a wonderful performance by young professional musicians practicing the art of traditional Russian folk music. Ninety five percent of old Moscow was made of wood and was completely burned by Napoleon in 1812. The "Old Town" where the Tretyakov Gallery is located, was completely restored from 1930-1950 by Stalin who had understood the value of maintaining Russia's heritage. Stalin also built attractive buildings around the country unlike the horrid boxes "without face" of Brezhnev and Khrushchev.
To get to the conservatory we had to walk across the "Bridge of the Iron Trees" where it is a tradition for newly married couples to put padlocks with their names and the dates of their marriage on the trees. It has become so popular that the canal and bridge is lined with these heavy "trees". Earlier Alexey told us that there are a large number of young people getting married now but 80%!o(MISSING)f the marriages end in divorce with the average marriage lasting about 7 years. I wonder if these couples keep the keys to their locks to remove them after the divorce?
The Concert Music School students at the Tretyakov Conservatory performed an evening concert of traditional Russian music using variety of old Russian instruments like the balalaikas, bayans, domras and guslies. A pretty young opera singer dressed in traditional costume depicted stories though song followed by a comical but musically talented older gentleman.
We arrived back on the ship at 10pm to have a late dinner (the ship had provided another box lunch for us but it was again quite awful with soggy white bread, a thin slice of cheese a thin piece of lettuce and some mayonnaise, a bag of chips, a banana, a box of juice and an energy bar) but the dinner back on the ship wasn't much better. After dinner Dave and John retired and I brought Donna as my "date" to visit with our fellow (Texan) travelers Lafe and Angie in the Panorama Bar. We enjoyed their company as we sipped delicious black currant vodka while watching the lightning storm over the Moscow Canal. I finally closed my eyes around 1:30am and with the help of the vodka I had a very restful sleep!

June 12, Troitse- Sergiyeva Lavra in Sergiev Posad, one of the Golden Ring Cities
It was a warm, sunny morning as our bus set out on the old Yaroslavl Road, also called the “Northern Road” because it leads to the Arctic Circle. Thick forests (called wilderness in ancient times) edged the highways on the long drive to the Troitse-Sergiyeva Monastery in Sergiev Posad. A few bright blue, green and yellow dachas with white gingerbread windows dotted the "territory of the forever green tomatoes" grown in greenhouses in this hilly "Russian Switzerland". Not much topsoil is left in this area since the glaciers moved most of it to the Ukraine making farming a real challenge in this area. Yet fields of Queen Anne’s lace and lupine colored the meadows outside of Moscow. A lot of incomplete construction and run down buildings told us that all was not rosy, the signs of disrepair are everywhere in Moscow and, it seems, all of Russia. Most buildings are in need of fresh paint or cleaning, rusty balconies, chipped paint, shingles coming off roofs exposing bare wood beneath, holes and rubble in sidewalks, missing pavers in the walkway steps, are but a few examples of the challenges but despite all these observations, there has been an improvement since my visit in 1990.
I have also noticed that there are fewer old style "Babushkas" in the city although these wrinkled and stout old women can still be found in the country as I found later at the monastery. Every village had their own unique design for their colorful scarves and the babushkas proudly wore them around their heads and shoulder. In the 19th century matrioshka dolls were modeled after the fat babushka women. At that time a woman needed to prove she was strong, a hard worker and able to bear many children. A thin woman would be regarded as unmarriageable (unless she were a noblewoman) because she would be deemed unfit for her roles as a wife. In contrast, today you see many trendy ultra slim women with stiletto heels and cell phones diluting the unique cultural character that once was so Russian, and bringing a universal sameness to the big cities.
The Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra, or Trinity Lavra of St Sergii, is the holiest and most important monastery in Russia, located 75 km northeast of Moscow in the town of Sergiev Posad (formerly the Soviet city of Zagorsk, one of the Golden Ring cities.) This monastery is considered to be the spiritual center of the Russian Orthodox Church or the Russian equivalent of the Vatican with a complex of medieval buildings to rival those of the Kremlin. Peter the Great was "protected" here in 1685 by the monks from his sister Sophia. Sophia, who was acting as regent, tried to have Peter killed when he was seven years old in an attempt secure the throne for herself. In later years Peter gave good deal of money to the monastery for protecting him from his sister. While a young boy Peter had loved to hunt ducks so as a tribute to Peter the monks replaced the cross on the monastery's roof with a duck in honor of him.
From the 11th to the 13th century the Mongols held Russia in submission, executing Christians and exacting a high tax on the people. St Sergious blessed Duke Dmitri in a famous battle to defeat the Mongols. To honor the defeat that brought the freedom to worship Christianity in Russia, it became an important part of your religious life to make at least one 50 mile pilgrimage to the Holy Trinity Church in the Trinity Lavra Monastery on foot. Catherine the Great, as did most Tsars, made this pilgrimage by alternating in a sledge and on foot.
The early Church of St Sophia, was built in Novgorod, the first Russian Kremlin, around the end of 800 for the aristocracy, the 1st floor was for the peasants, the 2nd floor was for the aristocracy, thus began the 2 story church. The balconies for choirs, were symbols of heaven, voices of angels in heaven above. Choirs could hold as many as 1,100 singers including the people from town in this early church.
In early times the aristocracy was well educated but peasants spent only 1-2 years to learn to read and write. With most of the country basically illiterate, Icons were introduced as an important means of telling the religious stories of to describe Christ's life. The peasants could understand stories told in this way, thus religious icons became very symbolic for the Russian people.
The colors of the church domes are also very symbolic. The golden church dome represents the glory of Christ, a silver dome represents the inhabitants of heaven or heavenly light reflected, the green dome is the symbol of nature and paradise, consecrated in the holy trinity. A blue dome is consecrated in the name of Mary, and a black dome is the symbol of the universe (a black sky at night with stars in heavens).
Each monk had his own income and some made money from making icons. Many monks lived in the "wilderness", quiet in harmony with nature. Holy Trinity Monastery was established to create the same woodland retreat experience for the monks living within the monastery walls, isolated and cold in winter. The monastery was so far away that people came by skis to get communion. Only 12 monks lived here year round.
Along the wall in front of the monastery is the bearded statue of Sierge Posad, the man who founded this monastery. Inside we viewed a white crypt holding the body of the Archbishop who wrote the first books of the Russian religion. I was unable to find the grave of Boris Godunov but was told he was buried in an inglorious location just outside the walls of the monastery because he was an impostor.
In 1920, after the Russian Revolution, the Soviet government closed the Lavra but in 1945, following Stalin’s temporary tolerance of the church, the Lavra was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church. A side note, Stalin was Georgian and was a former priest. As he rose to power I believe this made him more relatable (and probably persuasive) to the many diverse ethnic groups of Russia.
Donna and I waited a long time in the wrong line (we finally figured it out) to get inside the cathedral to view a copy of The Trinity, the icon of Andrew Rubilov, considered to be the greatest medieval Russian painter of icons and frescoes. This icon (the original is in the Tretyakov Gallery) is considered to be his most famous work. I later had the pleasure of seeing this and many other beautiful icons in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.
Facial hair (to beard or not to beard) is not a distinguishing feature between a priest and a monk. Priests can become monks if they stay single. They can marry and are identified with a long black robe and cap. Monks can never marry and are identified by their black veiled hat, long black robe and large cross on their chest. Monks may ascend to the status of Cardinal and higher statuses as an incentive to stay single which is the emphasis now in the Russian Orthodox Church.
We were left to explore the churches and grounds for a short while so I walked through a long line of merchants to the bottom of the hill for a spectacular view of the convent. At the bottom of that hill I discovered a small church that had its own special charm. After photographing the shop sellers and their wares I returned to meet up with our group for lunch inside a building that used to house people on their religious pilgrimages. The lunch was simple, a nice meat based cabbage soup with potatoes and tomatoes but no beets. We were given bread but told that for breakfast, kasha is eaten instead of cereal. The group was given another hour to explore on our own but the heavens unloaded buckets of water forcing us to stay in the painfully loud lunchroom until it cleared. I grabbed my umbrella to head for the bus clutching the CD we were given from the United Choir of the Holy Trinity Church. As the rain let up Donna and I noticed a Babushka sitting with an empty cup hoping for donations. Her head was wrapped in a bright red scarf but lacking the usual flowery pattern. She smiled sweetly as our money went into her cup.
We returned to the ship from Sergiev Posad to change and rest up for the night tour of Moscow. While we were having dinner, our friends Lafe and Angie returned from their solo trip into Moscow and thoughtfully brought me two flags from the festival at Red Square. They had unsuccessfully tried to purchase tickets to the concert and celebration and said the square was mobbed with people but as far as they could tell the people in the square were orderly and well dressed. The demonstrators were cordoned off near St Basils and Lafe and Angie were not allowed anywhere near them. A recent fine increase was imposed on anyone wishing to demonstrate making me wonder just who would have that kind of money to demonstrate, and if they had that money would they care? When dinner was over I was surprised by the entire restaurant staff who sang happy birthday to me and presented me with a large, beautifully decorated chocolate cake that I shared my fellow travelers.
We left around 9pm for our Night Tour of Moscow (by bus) and Evening Canal Tour on the Moscow River and Moscow Canal. Along the way Alexey pointed out the Sovietski Hotel on Leningradski Highway where I stayed in 1990. It is still the home of the National Musical Theater of Gypsies. We also passed the International Business Center in Moscow, still under construction. Fewer people live in downtown Moscow where the city has become mostly commercial but the traffic is indicative of the number of commuters, even during non-business hours. Passing Gorky Park, we traveled on a very wide street with 7-8 lanes of steady traffic running in each direction!
Our bus continued into Moscow passing the massive wedding cake styled Hotel Ukraine (now the Radisson) with its intricate lace carved stone topped with the red Soviet five pointed star on our way to the Panorama of Moscow on Sparrow Hill where we found the Moscow University, the largest university in the world and one of the Seven Sisters, a group of "wedding cake designed buildings" in Moscow intended to impress the western world. Unfortunately the panorama of Moscow was diffused with smog despite the sunny day. Donna and I stopped into the lovely but very tiny Church of the Holy Trinity, part of Moscow University near the top of Sparrow Hill. The university, founded by Empress Elizabeth, is the first in the country dating back to the 18th century. There are currently 40,000 students attending this school from all over the country. To the right of the panorama was an enormous winter ski jump that, with plastic sleds, could be used in the summer. It looked pretty dangerous to me.
In the evening, the top of Sparrow Hill seems to be a place for motorcycles, fancy cars and their young owners to congregate, socialize and have a smoke. The platform was so crowded with motorcycles and people that you could hardly get to the wall to see the view but they were all having such a good time that I doubt that many of those who were there actually came for the view.
Catherine the Great had planted silver birches lining many of Moscow's city roads intending to bring the symbol of the Russian forests into the city but the birch trees did not survive the dry, hot summer climate and were later replaced with poplars, only to find out that in spring, most people are allergic to their pollen. Of course the smog and pollution might enter into the equation here as many of us have been frequently sneezing and blowing our noses.

Here is some Random Russian Trivia:
Moscow has more green spaces than St Petersburg,
The Scandinavian custom was to drink mead, a honey wine, but later Vodka replaced mead's popularity.
The best vodka is made with birch leaves. Vodka freezes at minus 50 Celsius and originally came 300 years ago from Italy!
Borscht comes from the Ukraine and pancakes are the symbol of the sun welcoming spring.
Women lived separately from men until Peter the Great. (Ahh, that Peter!)
Russians slept on benches, their customs being more closely aligned with Asian customs.
In the early centuries the language was Scandinavian (800-1000) but by Peter's time the aristocracy spoke French.
Russia adopted the Greek and Byzantine cultures but their wooden sculptures didn't survive.
There is only 1% unemployment in Russia now.
Russians are very superstitious and will walk away from a black cat, and you won't see a 13th floor.
There were food excesses in the 1950s so Khrushchev created dachas to produce more food for Moscow, the "big village"
We passed the factory where space rockets and engines for shuttles were made but now they are made in Fr Guiana.
There is a story that Khrushchev made a mistake one day saying "We will send rockets to the sun!", Brezhnev said "You fool, rockets will burn up!" Khrushchev, in order to save face, said "Of course we will go at night!"
From Oct to May much of Russia is covered in snow.
Starting In 2011 gambling was prohibited in most of the country except for a few select "special" zones.
"Russian winters are 9 months of expectation and 3 months of disappointment" which is, I imagine, why you see so many richly colored crafts and clothing.
We also learned that Russian people don't smile at strangers, they only smile at their friends.
The color red is the color of revolution and coincidently we see a lot of red haired people.

Around 9:30pm we began our hour long Evening Boat Trip on the Moskva River that snakes it's way through the city. It was barely twilight but the city was lit up like a Christmas tree with many five pointed red stars glowing in the bright evening light. The five pointed star, designed in 1920 by the Soviets to replace the double headed eagle, was shining on the many towers as we floated by the Kremlin. Trotsky said this new five pointed star represented global revolution all over the world. The GUM Department Store was lit up like a bright, enormous gingerbread house but we only got a glimpse of it because the whole area was still cordoned off for the Independence Day celebration on the 12th. I didn't expect the canal trip to be so beautiful and although it had its own character it was quite similar to our beautiful canal ride in St Petersburg. Our boat brought us through an area of elegant old buildings reminiscent of St Petersburg into an area of new modern buildings including the impressive Moscow International Concert Hall with its unique G clef perched as a weathervane on top. Many elegant hotels provide further evidence that Moscow is trying to compete in the 21st century, but they won't succeed as an international business center if they don't provide better signage in English and encourage people to go out of their way for foreigners. In 2004 Forbes magazine claimed there were more billionaires living in Moscow than in any other city in the world. By the time we ended our trip the sky had darkened and the city lights of Moscow gave the appearance of an important, world class destination.
After the canal trip we boarded the bus for a long drive across the city to reach the Novodivchy (New Maiden) Convent. In the dark, dusky night we walked through the long tree lined park to "Swan Lake" where we were surprised by a beautiful view of the convent with its fairytale lights reflected in the lake below. Years ago if a girl was not married by the age of 22 she ended up in a convent. The convent was used more or less as a prison for politically inconvenient women such as Tsar Peter the Great’s first wife, and also for his half sister. Since divorce was not acceptable, several of Ivan the Terrible's wives ended up here as a means of disposing them. (I suppose you could say that was better than losing their heads.)
The convent, built by Ivan III is currently half in use as a real church, half as a museum. At one time Convents like Novodivchy served as a line of fortification for Moscow. This particular convent was constructed as appreciation for retaking the town of Smolensk.
After midnight, on our bus ride back to the ship, Alexey told us that there is a good deal of religious diversity in Russia and as an example Alexey said that two of the republics are 99% Buddhist plus there are 150,000 Jews currently living in Moscow. In 1991 Boris Yeltsin opened all the churches but the people were not prepared for this sudden change, by way of example he said that Christmas, held by the Russian Orthodox on the 7th of January, is when many people go to Red Square to drink Champaign instead of attending service. Still, there has been a big leap forward for freedom of religion for in the past 20 years the Russian people have enjoyed more religious freedom than during the entire history of Russia and more and more young people are attending church.

June 13, Moscow
On our last day in Moscow Dave and I set off for our tour of the Kremlin with the Viking group but soon left them to enjoy this old fortress and citadel on our own. The name Kremlin comes from the Russian name krem, meaning strong material and referring to the conifers in the heart of Russia. The Kremlin was originally made out of wood before it was burned to the ground. The red wall was constructed in the 15th century and was shaped like a triangle because of its location on the hill where two rivers meet. This fortress was originally surrounded by water but later the area now known as Red Square was filled in to enlarge the space. Spassky Tower, which sits at the entrance, has four clocks each facing a different direction "covering the entire world."
When Moscow was just a village it was the chosen picnic place of Yuri the Long Arm. He invited his friends to where the Kremlin is now to enjoy parties and celebrations. This was considered to be the foundation of the city of Moscow. From a medieval citadel to a modern power center, Moscow’s Kremlin had played a significant role in Russia for over 800 years. As in St Petersburg, the existing Kremlin walls and towers were built by Italian masters in the later 13th century. Soon after the Kremlin became the center of a unified Russian state and the base of the twin powers of state and religion. In later years the father of Leo Tolstoy's wife lived inside the Kremlin as did other nobility. Stalin said the Kremlin should be a place of work, not living, and therefore created elaborate country dachas just outside the city in the golden triangle. These dachas are now used for special diplomatic guests.The "Golden Triangle" around Moscow is where you can find the most expensive real estate and the homes of many of the political elite. Now no one lives here, the Kremlin is used strictly for business. Political leaders live just outside the elite ring circle area of the city. Two thirds of the citadel territory is closed to visitors but Cathedral Square is the heart of the Kremlin and that is where we were headed.
Locally the term "the Kremlin has decided" has the same meaning as the President (or Putin) has decided. Putin recently passed a law declaring that the president can now serve for two consecutive six year terms where before it was one four year term. Many people we spoke to are very upset because there was no referendum on this, just a decree. Another note, our St Petersburg guide Gennadiy had said that Russia is uneasy about US rockets and other aggressive military European installments so close to Russia, and that Putin considers it an implied threat. Our guide suggested that we read Gogol's book "Bad Souls" as it is a good look at Russian Life.
The weather was again warm and sunny (low 70s) as we walked through the gates of the Kremlin wall. Maybe it was because the sun was shining but this time the Kremlin looked cleaner than I remembered back in 1990. Understandably it looked cleaner and better maintained than many parts of Moscow. Like Red Square, the Kremlin still had many scaffolds remaining from the Russian Independence Day celebrations the night before.
We passed by the arsenal with its imposing 19th century cannons captured during the Napoleonic wars and I remembered a gloomy fall day in 1990 when our Peace Delegation walked by the same building and a member of our party mistakenly photographed a a military man standing near an old cannon at the Kremlin. This person was immediately dragged into the alley between the buildings and forcefully reminded not to photograph any officials or buildings inside the Kremlin walls. The official then removed the film from his camera. Today, before going inside the Kremlin, we were told not to photograph any officials. I guess little has changed on that score. Walking further into the Kremlin we passed the Senate Palace commissioned by Catherine the Great. It is now the official residence of Russia’s president Putin. Negating the previous statement that said nobody lives inside the Kremlin anymore.
In Cathedral Square we were surrounded by many beautiful churches reminding us that for many centuries there was no separation of church and state. We inspected the imposing Tzar Cannon outside the Church of the Twelve Apostles. This enormous cannon is one of the largest ever made but it was never fired in battle, instead it sits “protecting” the Church of the Twelve Apostles. As we walked deeper into Cathedral Square we passed Ivan’s tipsy bell tower whose 21 bells would sound the alarm if and enemy were approaching. The oldest and most important church in the Kremlin, the Cathedral of the Assumption, is where the Russian emperors were crowned. I could imagine these monarchs walking through the elaborate frescoed entryway to pursue their destiny. We were wowed by the inside of the Cathedral of the Archangel with its tombs of medieval rulers. But the Cathedral of the Annunciation seemed to me to command the most attention, in spite of the remaining tents and barricades from the previous night’s celebrations.
As we walked around the park surrounding the Kremlin we passed the Tzar’s bell, the largest in the world weighing around 200 tons. As it was being made in 1737, a fire swept through the Kremlin and when water was poured on the red hot bell it caused it to crack.
When the Viking tour was over we said our goodbyes to Alexey and began our own explorations of Moscow. Peering through the Kremlin walls I found a wonderful view of the city with the golden domes of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior sparkling in the sun.
Once again, on our own, we were reminded that negotiating ticket purchases, finding entries, and other logistics was very challenging if you don't know the language or the culture. After asking many questions about where to buy tickets for the Armory (and getting differing answers) we finally found the ticket office but when we presented our 5,000 Rub note (we had been told on the ship that they did not take credit cards) the ticket agent said Nyet!! The ticket agent then indicated (through animated and quite aggressive gestures) that we needed exact change but since we were not prepared, that is all the rubles we had. Working our way through the crush of people we went to the gift store to buy something in order to get the right change but were rudely informed that they would not make change there either. Dave was quite ready to call the whole thing off but I was determined to see this wonderful museum so I made another attempt at the ticket office, this time with my credit card and, success! After another minor altercation with the agent dispensing the audio guides, we finally entered the famous Armory.
The Armory building was built in 1851 as a factory for making weapons and armors but now we were looking forward to seeing the Armory with its impressive collection of gem encrusted crowns, scepters, bible covers, icons and other religious objects. We walked through rooms of metallic filagreed frames surrounded an abundance of gem encrusted icons. We also found the massive gold clock designed for Catherine the Great that dispensed pearls on the hour. Nearby was the Faberge egg collection, one of the only remaining collections in the world. Many of these jeweled eggs were designed for the late Romanov family with images of the children of Nicholas II. I was later told that the Armory is the only place that real Faberge eggs are left in Russia, (replicas are in St Petersburg) the rest are in museums in other parts of the world. Catherine the Great's pearled coronation gown made with gold and silver thread was displayed and beyond the impressive weight of the gown I was amazed at the tiny waist! We also saw elaborate armor dating back to the 16th century as well as the ivory and gem encrusted throne dating back to Ivan the Terrible, the throne with 999 diamonds given by the Armenians as a bribe to the Tzar and the double seated throne utilized by Tsars Ivan and Peter Alekseyevich when both were crowned together. Large jeweled carriages and sledges filled the last rooms completing a picture of opulence and extreme wealth in the times of the Tsars. Dave can take only so much gold and gems in one day so we left the Armory in search of food and fresh air. Walking around the Alexandra Gardens we found a bench and enjoyed a simple banana and a bottle of water, content that we were not royal or noble at all.
After our rest Dave and I walked past the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and were whistled at by the guard for sitting on a wall nearby. We then left through the iron gates passing groups of Muscovites having their pictures taken while standing on a brass circle indicating the center of old Moscow, the “center of their world”. "Lenin" and "Stalin" were there in full costume as we walked into Red Square, still cluttered with scaffolding. We entered Red Square through Resurrection Gate. Dave was pretty tired by now but reluctant to return to the ship leaving me in Moscow alone so I suggested that we find a place to eat and sit for awhile inside GUM Department Store before continuing our exploration of Red Square. Inside GUM we found the upscale Bosco restaurant where, once seated, the waiters simply ignored us. Dave left in a huff and we climbed to the cheaper restaurant on the third floor. A bit refreshed after a slice of not so great pizza we left GUM in my quest to find the colorful domed neoclassical Church of the Trinity of Nikitniki behind Red Square. It had begun to cloud over as we found our way past a maze of construction to photograph this beautiful church located in the oldest section of the city (we had passed through here on our bus tour). Many government officials live or work in this upscale, trendy area. On the way we passed the Old English Court, also known as the Old English Embassy, one of the oldest secular buildings in Moscow.
It began to rain as I bought my ticket to see the inside of the iconic St Basil’s Cathedral. Dave opted out on the inside tour of this unusual cathedral (I guess he had seen enough churches) but I was enthralled with the inside for it was like no other I had seen so far and I had not been allowed inside during my visit in 1990.
Built by Ivan the Terrible, the inside was a maze of small stone rooms and winding corridors painted from floor to ceiling with elaborate frescoes and decorations. As I wandered inside I heard the deep melodic voices of a men's choir echoing off the old stone walls filling the rooms with a saintly air. Sadly I had promised Dave not to buy another CD...
By the time I left the church it was beginning to rain hard so we made our way through the remaining maze of Red Square scaffolding from the previous nights celebrations, past GUM and down to the Moscow Metro. We rode together on the green line but I left Dave to negotiate the rest of the way to the ship by himself while I changed to the brown line getting off at the impressive stops on the underground ring surrounding the city to see the elaborate mosaics, chandeliers and sculptures the Moscow Metro is so famous for. I think that the underground is cleaner and better maintained than what is above ground in Moscow.
I made it back to the ship on time despite getting off at the wrong stop where I ended up exploring the little shops and buying some excellent local pastries (it was a long day and I was hungry). We had our last meal with our friends Donna, John, Inga and Susie. I could have (and should have) made a meal of the delicious beet and herring salad, and the gnocchi was surprisingly good but the surf and turf was just fair. We finished our meal by sharing the remains of my birthday cake and then went up to the Panorama bar for a cranberry vodka before saying our farewells and packing for the next day.

June 14, last day in Moscow; afternoon flight to Tallinn, Estonia
I finished packing early in the morning and left Dave on the ship to rest while I ventured into Moscow by myself on the Metro to the famous Tretyakov Gallery to see its priceless collection of Russian art. It was a very rainy day with puddles all throughout the walkways along Leningradski Avenue. I was pleasantly surprise that the city thoughtfully placed rubber mats over the slippery tile walkways to help prevent falls. I rode the green line ten stops from the Moscow River Terminal to the old Tretyakov Gallery. It is much easier when you know the stops!
There is a reason that the Tretyakov Gallery is in the 1,000 things to do before you die book. Besides its fabulous collection of icons, it has some of Russia's most famous works of art depicting the the history and lives of the Russian people. Like the Russian Museum in St Petersburg, this gallery captures the soul of Russia. Unfortunately I wasted a lot of time waiting for someone to arrive at the booth to sell the hand held audio guides. They never did come so I tried to listen as the English speaking guides came through and thus made out pretty well. I spent two hours touring the museum (I could have spent a whole day but I didn't have the time) and I was able to eavesdrop on enough English guides to make it worth my while.
On my way back to the ship I hit the market stalls to buy Dave a Russian soccer tee shirt and a few small gifts that could fit in my suitcase, and I still made it back on time for lunch on board the ship before our taxi came to take us to the Moscow airport.


15th September 2012

Thank you!
Thanks for the delightful three-part blog of your Russian river trip. We are leaving next week for Moscow for the reverse trip. You've given us some good "food for thought." We're expecting rain, cold, and clouds at this time of year; any sunshine will be a bonus!

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