Sunday, 24 July 2011


Hi from Sandy and Anna!
Moscow is another amazing city. 10-12 million people, so we only see a fraction of it, mainly the older or central parts. We stayed at the old 1980 Olympic Games Site. There is a complex of 5 hotels, which have since been renovated, near to the underground, giving easy access to the city.
Breakfast, shower and a powernap after a very hot and cramped night on the train were a real treat. Then a subway trip to the Kremlin.  

The underground has a variety of artworks and lavish design work, from use of marble, gilding and chandeliers, to mosaics, relief carvings and statues. Over reliance on militaristic and worker solidarity themes and some is a bit too ornate, but there is also diversity, craftsmanship and excellent design.

The Kremlin was a bit of an eye opener. Always thought of it in terms of the Soviet regime, but it is actually a walled fort dating back to the 12th century, and full of churches and administration buildings. When Napoleon came to Russia in the 19th century, the Russians knew they were no match in a straight fight, so they stripped the Kremlin of all valuables, set fire to most of the city and left. When Napoleon arrived there were no food supplies or treasures. The Russians set siege to the Kremlin and Napoleon was forced to withdraw from the city within a month or so. I guess everyone who has read War and Peace knows all this, but for me it is all new! The joys of ignorance!

Inside is the 40 tonne Tsar Canon, the largest calibre cannon ever made, with a bore of 89cm or 35 inches and a length of 5.3 metres, and built in 1586. The carriage is from 1835 and the steel cannonballs are for show – it was designed to fire 800kg of stone shot - but there is no evidence it was ever fired in anger.

The Orthodox churches are interesting. While some are very large, they are often for ceremonial purposes, or glorified burial places for the elite. The regular churches may be very small area to allow intimacy with god. Paintings cover almost every surface. Including the ceiling and the dome. A significant portion of the space is reserved for the priest behind a full height high icon wall carrying rows of religious pictures. No statues are allowed.

Red Square was also a surprise; not as big as I expected (was I thinking of Tiananmen Square?) with the external wall of the Kremlin on one side and the Soviet-built Gym department store along the other. The massive cold war military parades were made possible by demolishing a couple of churches at one end. In characteristic Russian style, these have now been rebuilt.
St Basil’s church at the other end narrowly escaped demolition because it was built by Ivan the Terrible who apparently was a role model for Stalin. It consists of a central church surrounded by eight others dedicated to different saints and with their own tower, but all on a single foundation and exterior wall, with passageways and meeting rooms between. A really intriguing structure. Muscovites love Red Square. Red is associated with beauty, and even Lenin’s mausoleum and cemetery No 1, full of dead presidents plus Yuri Gagarin, placed in the middle of one side, has failed to dampen their enthusiasm..

The Moscow circus was a traditional circus but in a permanent venue, with the high wire, trapeze, juggling, clowns and an array of animals including horses, chimps, big cats and camels. Felt a bit guilty going when they trotted all that lot out.

Went for an explore around the city by foot and metro. The metro has a circle line linking all routes, making it very easy to get around. Except the long walk we did down the pedestrian mall was meant to end with a metro stop. After half an hour searching every entrance way, we finally concluded the stop was closed, so we did the whole walk back again. Great street musicians though - bought some excellent guitarist’s work, though Anna balked at buying the pan flautist’s CD.

One of the highlights was a Moscow by Night minibus - travel on the streets seems only possible after hours because of congestion during the day. So we got to see much more of Moscow above ground in the beautifully long twilight. The seven sisters are a series of massive high-rise Stalinist buildings spaced around the capital, with spires added to ensure they did not look like western skyscrapers. Two are used as hotels, two are government, and one is the Moscow University. This one is the Ukrainian Hotel and scrubs up very nicely in the early evening opposite the (Russian) White House.

A very relaxed last evening while we waited for our 20:25 overnight train to Kiev. Unfortunately it had long gone by the time we arrived at the station thinking it was at 10.25pm. Whoops, another dyslexic moment! Luckily we managed to get tickets for the 23:15 fast train which arrived in Kiev an hour earlier than our scheduled train. As usually, Sandy slept like a baby while insomniac Anna spent the night keeping watch. Oh well!!

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