Monday 12 September 2016
We arrive into Moscow by train at 8.40am this morning. Most of us had slept pretty well on the train, although Dermott thought the tracks must have been made from cobble stones because it was rough at times. I bought tea for our cabin from Olga the stewardess and we shared some muesli bars – perfect to tide us over. Thankfully we do have a bus to transfer us from the station to the hotel; it is Monday morning and the traffic is bad but we are heading out of town. It shows us why most people take the Metro.
We are staying at the Izmailovo Gamma and Delta Hotels – that were built for the Olympics and are now an extremely busy tourist complex. They are so glitzy that it looks like we are staying at a casino. Thankfully we are able to check into our hotel rooms and then meet for breakfast. There are 2 huge restaurants that are used for breakfast, and one is entirely for Chinese guests. The two hotels are joined together and everything looks the same – several people end up trying to get into the same room number but in the wrong hotel. Our room looks out over Izmailovsky Park that Peter the Great used for his war games.
We meet our local guide Tatiana and head out for a tour of the city. Rather than battle with the Moscow traffic (12 million people in the central area) we take the metro – an experience in itself as many of the stations are elaborately decorated cavernous underground halls – we will explore these further tomorrow. For now we go from Partizanskaya metro station (built during World War II and dedicated to the Soviet partisans who resisted the Nazis) and exiting at Ploshchad Revolyutsii (The Revolution Square) metro station with its amazing bronze statues – one is of a frontier guard with a dog which is supposed to bring luck if you rub its nose.
Across Revolution Square we see the famous Metropol Hotel, then we walk down past the former City Hall (now the Patriotic War Museum), the Resurrection Gates to Red Square, and the State Historical Museum with its equestrian statue. From the State Historical Museum there is a great view across Manezhnaya or Manege Square where there are market stalls everywhere. At the end of the square are the Alexander Gardens, named after Tsar Alexander the First and commemorating various wars including the Victory over Napoleon in 1812 and the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45: the cast iron gates show images of the Napoleonic wars; the Ruins Grotto was built after the Moscow fires in 1812; and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Eternal Flame are dedicated to the Great Patriotic War. We are just in time to watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
From the Alexander Gardens we cross over the Trinity Bridge to the spectacular Trinity Tower entrance to the Kremlin. For me the Kremlin is a big surprise as I really didn’t know what to expect and had associated it with dark, foreboding walls and the KGB, whereas in fact although it is a fortified complex it includes five palaces, four cathedrals, towers, belfries and gardens – and it is stunningly beautiful!! It is the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation. As we enter we see the cannons outside The Arsenal, on the other side the State Kremlin Palace (or Palace of Congresses), and ahead of us The Senate. Although these are spectacular, it is only as we round the next corner that we really start to see the beauty that is hidden inside the Kremlin: the Spasskaya (or Saviour’s) Tower, Ivan the Great’s Bell Tower, the Tsar Cannon (the largest in the world and only fired once), the Tsar Bell (the largest bell in the world, never used because it broke and the broken piece weighs 11,500 kilograms), the Assumption Cathedral, the Annunciation Cathedral and the Archangel’s Cathedral.
We exit out through the Saviour’s Tower onto Red Square and get our first close up view of the truly awesome colourful onion-domes of Saint Basil’s Cathedral. Ivan the Terrible commissioned the building of the cathedral in the 16th century, and legend has it that he gorged out the eyes of its architect once completed, so that he could never again design a building of such brilliance. In front of the cathedral is a statue commemorating Prince Dmitry Pozharsky and Kuzma Minin, who gathered an all-Russian volunteer army and expelled the forces of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth , thus putting an end to the Time of Troubles in 1612.
There seems to have been a performance in Red Square with massive banks of seating set up, so unfortunately we don’t get the usual view of the square and it isn’t possible to see Lenin’s Mausoleum. But it is a spectacular view in all directions nonetheless. We go into the gigantic GUM department store and see its glass domed roof but it is very busy so we don’t stay long inside.
Our mission for our free afternoon is to visit The Kremlin Armoury Museum which houses massive collections of Russian art and wealth and makes you realise perhaps why there was a revolution! (Unfortunately no photos are allowed)
According to Wikipedia: The Kremlin Armoury is currently home to the Russian Diamond Fund. It boasts unique collections of the Russian, Western European and Easternapplied arts spanning the period from the 5th to the 20th centuries. Some of the highlights include the Imperial Crown of Russia by jeweller Jérémie Pauzié, Monomakh’s Cap, the ivory throne of Ivan the Terrible, and other regal thrones and regalia; the Orloff Diamond; the helmet of Yaroslav II; the sabres of Kuzma Minin and Dmitri Pozharski; the 12th-century necklaces from Ryazan; golden and silver tableware; articles, decorated with enamel, niello and engravings; embroidery with gold and pearls; imperial carriages, weapons, armour, and the Memory of Azov, Bouquet of Lilies Clock, Trans-Siberian Railway, Clover Leaf, Moscow Kremlin, Alexander Palace, Standart Yacht, Alexander III Equestrian, Romanov Tercentenary,Steel MilitaryFabergé eggs. The ten Fabergé eggs in the Armoury collection (all Imperial eggs) are the most Imperial eggs, and the second-most overall Fabergé eggs, owned by a single owner.
After The Armoury Museum we have a mission to get ourselves across town on the metro and find the Folk Theatre on Olympic Avenue. This is quite a challenge with several line changes and some difficulty finding which direction to go once we got out of the station – we are pleased that we left ourselves plenty of time. Eventually we find where we are going with just enough time to get a bite to eat before we are due to meet the others. We are going to a performance of the National Russian Dance Show: Kostroma. This is billed as one of the top shows in Russia covering “Vital historical milestones, traditions and customs of the multinational Russia expose originality of the hundreds of cultures of the united people of Russia plunging the audience in the times of christening of Rus, tsar’s Russia and USSR, revealing the life of the people living in the Far North, in the southern steppes, in the mountains of the Caucasus and in the Central Russia.” (Part way through the show I realised that I had see the show before – with the same performers – in Auckland last year!)
After the show we admire the city lights: the Olympic Stadium, the Moscow Cathedral Mosque and our Folk Theatre.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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