Russian Glitz and Glamour
08.08.2013 - 10.08.2013 30 °C
Our second day in Moscow was going to be focussed on the Kreml, that much we knew. Our honcho then suggested a few things we could do, and we were quite happy to let her take the lead in the morning.
She took us first to Novodevichy Convent, a fortress-like structure that had actually been integrated into the defensive system of the city. It was the sort of rich-girl convent that wealthy families would send their daughters to if they had a little pre-contraceptives "accident", as well as a good place for the rulers to get rid of wealthy women if they wanted to claim their land, or in the case of Peter the Great, his half-sister Sofia when she lead a rebellion against him. As Verity put it, I wouldn't mind being locked up here. It's a very beautiful convent, but especially when viewed from the little lake outside.
After that we hopped on the metro for one stop to get to a view point in front of the Moscow University building, which was on the other side of the river up a little hill. We decided against taking the ski lift up - as it turns out, there is a skijump right next to it - and instead walked up to enjoy the view of the city, as well as some more brides. (Brides have been stalking us since St. Petersburg. It's been suggested that they might not all actually be getting married, but just taking advantage of the good weather to take some wedding pictures. Just up there, in less than an hour, we came across five brides, and only one of them had a dress I'd call pretty.) We also got some lunch up there, which a friend had recommended to me: Jacket potato, the Russian fast food of choice.
The Moscow University building is actually one of a few from, apparently, the fifties that remind me a lot of the Empire State building in New York. Can you see it?
Afternoon was Kremlin time. Renata and I had decided to go to the Armoury in addition to the basic Kremlin programme, and this is where my ISIC student ID really came in handy. I paid 100 roubles instead of 350 for the Kremlin admission, and 200 instead of 700 for the Armoury. That's nearly a thousand roubles less! I was really enjoying that, because apparently, in China they only accept Chinese student IDs for discounts.
The Kremlin itself was nice enough - quite an impressive fortress, which you could still see, but the churches inside didn't impress me much. The Cathedral of the Assumption was far too crowded, the other three were okay, but photography was forbidden everywhere inside, and I'd definitely reached my orthodox church limit for the month. (There's only so many golden icons and painted walls you can look at before they all start to blend. And you can't help but think how much money went into this religion, how powerful the church once was and - in Russia - probably still is. The Church of Our Saviour of the Spilled Blood in St Petersburg is definitely my favourite out of those we've seen, both inside and out.)
While we'd been exploring the Kremlin, Anastasia had been kind enough to get out tickets for the Armoury, which are only sold 45 minutes before the specific time slot. Here's the thing: I've been to Habsburg Treasury in Vienna, and I thought that was quite impressive. All those crowns, garments, and trinkets - my favourite of which was the huge emerald, hollowed out to make a box with a lid. But this was something else. The audio guide is quite good and included in the price, and I'm just one of those people who like to look at treasure, I guess. Both Renata and I were seriously impressed with the collection. Bibles in golden, diamond-encrusted covers and sparkling icon frames (again with the opulent religious stuff), fur-trimmed crowns and Fabergé eggs (one of them contained a little model of the Transsib), huge and carriages, and then, finally, the dresses. I love historical dresses, and these are incredible, especially the wedding dress of Catherine II. We didn't make it to the Diamond Fund, but that must be amazing as well. (Photography is forbidden in there, and even though I sneakily snapped some shots with my iphone, they're not really good enough to bother sharing here. However, this flickr stream gives you an idea, if you're interested.)
That evening found us back in the pedestrian street behind the Bolshoi theatre, eating sausages from the barbecue and drinking beer and wine out of plastic cups, enjoying the nice evening with our Bavarian friends, who'd caught up to us. Out of everything we did that night, the rooftop terrace of Chips was the nicest, even if they responded to drink orders rather randomly.
On our final day in Moscow, I got up early after a couple of hours of sleep, still feeling sort of drunk, because I was determined to check out Lenin's Mausoleum before getting on the train. Navigating the metro alone wasn't a problem, even if Moscow is far less tourist-friendly than St Petersburg (because Latin letters are a rarity). I discreetly jumped about half the queue when I got there - and felt sort of guilty about it - but no-one complained, and I was inside the gate by half past ten. Bringing actual luggage is not a problem as you can just leave it in the luggage storage (actually located in the building of the State History museum, but on the side of the Mausoleum!). I ended up paying 170 roubles for a 60L backpack and a hand bag, but otherwise, the Mausoleum is free.
Inside, of course, it's not extremely spectacular, and takes less than 15 minutes. First you get a new perspective on the Red Square, from the other side of the closed-off area. Behind the Mausoleum, along the Kremlin wall, are quite a few less important graves lined up, but among those, Stalin obviously drew the biggest crowd. Until his legacy was reassessed by Khrushchev, he had a place of honour on display beside Lenin, now he's outside, with people like Yuri Gagarin.
(Russians seem to be in a weird place in their own history. They don't like to talk about Stalin, though what they do say is definitely not very positive. In St Petersburg's Museum of Political History, he is mentioned, but not in detail. Lenin is still the Russian's national hero, and no-one seems to miss he Tsars overmuch. Our guide Irina joked that Russia was not a democracy, but a Putinocracy; and how "weird" it is to them that Americans didn't know the result of their 2012 election a few days before it happened. (Followed by, Oh, look, there's some policemen behind me - let's talk about something else before I'm arrested!) The way she put it was that Russia certainly isn't perfect, but she's optimistic for the future.)
In any case, the Mausoleum is very dramatic, made of dark stone inside, strategically lit so that only the guards who show you the way are properly visible. Lenin's body is underground, in a glass casket, also very dramatically lit with a strangely orange light. It's easy to see why some people think he's made of wax, but my Transsiberian Handbook, at least, says that he's actually the real thing, and that the secret to his good looks is bathing in a tub of chemicals every 18 months. He really does look very good for a guy who's been dead almost 100 years, neatly trimmed beard and everything. If you have the time, definitely go see him, it's a very macabre experience. Also, it's free.
As soon as I as out of the Mausoleum, I was off to the train station, and my last memory of Moscow will always be that young Russian dude at the metro station, who grinned at me and wordlessly picked up my bag to carry it down a long flight of stairs for me. Maybe not really representative of the Russian people in general, but at least now I know that there is such a thing as a Russian gentleman. Thank you, unknown Russian dude!