Day 2 (8 Sep) Kremlin, kitsch market, Moscow Metro and culture show


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September 8th 2014
Published: September 14th 2014
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We went down to breakfast bright and chirpy after a very long sleep to be met with 10 bleary eyed co-travellers who got in at midnight. We made up our sandwiches and got into the bus for our first excursion of the day. We were supposed to leave at 9am but Don and I were late so we started at 9:09. When our local guide Svetlana welcomed everyone onto the bus she announced today is our guide Michael's birthday. So we all sang Happy Birthday (both styles including Israeli, plus the Russian language of the global version) and we learned his age is like mine and Don's.

Our first stop was the Armoury Museum in the grounds of the Kremlin. Kremlin means 'fortress' and indeed this is a well protected zone. It was originally built as a defensive outpost. Now it occupies a central position in Moscow both figuratively and literally.

We walked down a long road with only official cars allowed to drive there. But we weren't allowed to walk in the road as we passed President Putin's official residence. Our guide Svetlana nearly swooned every time she mentioned Putin's name. But the papers reported that young ladies have a crush on him.

A bit of history - Moscow became the capital of Russia in 1327. Then in 1712 the capital moved to St Petersburg until after the Revolution in 1917.

We walked past the Tsar Cannon, the world's biggest cannon. (Everything in Russia is the biggest, the tallest etc.) It weighs 40 tons and is 5 meters long. Each cannon ball weighs 1 ton. This cannon has only been fired once and that was a test firing.

We entered the museum to see an array of royal costumes. The waists of some of the ladies measured 19 cms. From the age of three, girls were put into corsets and by 16 their ribs were quite deformed. As a consequence they had trouble breathing and would faint regularly. We also saw a beautiful display of carriages, saddlery and armour from the 12th century. The soldiers wore suits of chain mail.

We then walked through Cathedral Square so named because there are three cathedrals. These cathedrals celebrated life events of the royals. The earliest building was started in the 15th century. The Church of the Assumption with its three towers dates from 1479 and was the main coronation place. The Church of the Archangel Michael was the burial place of tsars and arch dukes. The Church of the Annunciation was the church in which royalty were married and babies baptised. This church was originally constructed with four towers but another three were added by Ivan the Terrible. The church only allowed people to marry four times. He wanted to marry a fifth, sixth and seventh time and therefore he was excommunicated. He used this church as a private praying area and to show his contempt for the church added the three towers. All churches need a bell tower but rather than build three bell towers one separate bell tower was built for all of the Cathedrals. The Bell Tower is 81 meters high and for the longest time no building was allowed to be built higher. The towers of all the churches are influenced by styles from the East.

We continued our walk past the Tsar Bell. As you may have guessed this is the biggest bell. It weighs in at about 200 tons. It was built in 1737. In 1836 in a foundry fire the combination of the heat of the fire and the cold of the water dousing the fire resulted in a huge crack in the bell and a piece weighing 12 tons came away from the bell. The broken bell remained in situ at the foundry for a very long time before it was finally decided to keep it and place it prominently in a visible spot.

We walked through the secret garden (private to the tsar) to arrive at the Spassky Gate face to face with the famous Kremlin tower (see lead picture in Day 1 blog) with its spire and gold star. Ostentatiously nearby is St Basil's Cathedral, which reminds me of Disney's gingerbread house in Hansel and Gretel.

Then on to the market of kitsch (my name for it). We walked past stalls of souvenirs and tourist stuff. We bought the obligatory thimble for my collection and left to go to the three floor mall. We made straight for the food court where we ate our sandwiches. Around us were the typical shops like Adidas, Nike, Rockport, etc.

Then back on the bus to drive round the corner to the Moscow Metro for our metro ride. We boarded the brown line at Partisanskaya (the partisans road) and saw the huge statue to the partisans who fought in the Revolution. Then one stop to the circle line. The circle line is really a circle (at least on the Moscow Metro map) unlike the oval-shaped circle line on London's underground. The stations are magnificent art collections with sculptures and ceilings celebrating Russia's history. We travelled to the station celebrating the League of communists which was built in 1954. The history of Russia was depicted in beautiful glass mosaics. Even though religion was discouraged by the communist regime there is a mosaic of the Virgin Mother and child, indicated because it is made in the colour blue which was the colour for virginity or innocence used by all classical artists. This scene was meant to depict motherhood. Our last stop was at Kievuska station to see the statue of Lenin. Amongst the obvious features we saw in the metro were the cleanliness and lack of graffiti. This could be due to the number of armed police patrolling. We observed them scrutinizing the papers of a young man, and they clearly didn't like what they saw because they marched him off.

Next we strolled past the statue of the popular poet Aleksandr Pushkin and his wife along the pedestrian mall. There we and other couples took turns adopting a matching pose for photographic purposes. After our picture Don and I snuck into MacDonalds to make a loo stop.

Then it was back on the bus for an early dinner at the JCC. This was our first and the group's second meal at the JCC, since last night we simply crashed at the hotel and skipped dinner. The menu for each night at the Moscow JCC began with a meze of salads, followed by one or two soups and then a meaty main meal, dessert and hot drinks. The food was reasonably good.

Finally onward to the Cosmos Hotel to see a culture show. The theatre we were in seats 1000 people, and there must be many more rooms - it is colossal. Unfortunately the theatre was half empty but the show was AMAZING. The dancing was exciting, vibrant and ... I have run out of adjectives. But what was so striking was the troupe were completely synchronised. A perfect ending to a full day.

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15th September 2014

Thank you!
Now I see for myself what Judy & Trevor have been seeing, though my view is vicarious and third-hand. Question: why is it called the "Russian Culture Show?" Is it strictly for tourists? Propaganda? Is it connected to the Giselle (the ballet) that Judy mentioned?

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