This all-too-brief holiday was a long time in the making. Even having an official travel invitation from the Russian government does not necessarily mean the visa process will go smoothly, who knew? I can only wonder what hassles await those with Tourist Visas! By the time we reached the Tatras over Poland on our departure day, though, all fretting was over. Moscow, here we come!
Feeling rather confident the rusty Russian I used in Kiev (yes, yes, I know the languages are different) would be of some use in Moscow was short-lived by the time I reached the Bankomat at Sheremetyevo Airport. Thankfully Armen, our awesome Armenian airport driver guided me through these first moments of extracting Rubles in Russian. In the car Armen’s stories and narratives made us laugh, and, perhaps more importantly, distracted us from the 75 minute slog in scary traffic to our hotel.
The first evening was a blur; by the time we reached our hotel and settled in all interest in going back out was lost. Except, we hate hotel restaurants so out we went to forage for dinner, and found a combination Sushi Bar/Mexican/Italian/Russian place that was jam packed with locals. The decision turned out to be a great idea, as the food was excellent!
The next morning, buoyed by the hotel breakfast of Congee and pickled herring (do not judge me) and armed with map, guidebook, and travel documents we bid Tony “Do Svidaniya,” heading to the Kremlin to start our sightseeing. Riding Moscow’s Metro is not for the easily intimidated or the agoraphobic, and we had to stop and decipher the stations (no English signs in Moscow!) with each connection. But we made it.
Alexandrovsky Sad, the expansive and beautiful garden adjacent to the Kremlin.
Memorable Moment #1 occurred as we were entering the Kremlin (and pretty much every museum and public building of interest). “Do you have knife?” was the one and only question asked as we passed through security and our bags were investigated. It was hard not to laugh.
We toured first the Armoury and Diamond Fund, which house the former Imperial treasures (and then some!) and made “our” little Habsburg Treasury here in Vienna look like a kiddie-collection. The Romanov’s were hands down the original Beadazzlers. Crowns with fur! A map of Russia made of diamonds! Overlays for paintings comprised of gems in every color of the rainbow! Decorated sleighs and carriages that would inspire even the most ardent feminist to wish for a prince! And of course, the pretty, pretty Faberge collection. Small wonder there was a revolution. And, absolutely no photos permitted.
Thankfully, an exhibit at GUM (the former state-run department store) on Russian winter fashions featured very good replicas of the crowns. How fancy I would look, wearing one of these on my morning outings with Clayton Theodore!
View above the Moscow River from the Kremlin grounds. Those would be the snow clouds that tagged along with us on this holiday.
Also visible from high atop the Kremlin grounds is the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. In 1931 Lenin ordered the original church on the sight demolished, though some of the marble was repurposed into Moscow’s Metro stations. The large remaining hole eventually filled with water, which Khruschchev thoughtfully transformed into the Moscow Pool. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, funds were collected and permissions granted to rebuild the church, now the tallest Orthodox Christian Church in the world. No irony there.
Memorable Moment #2 happened in the Architectural Complex of the Kremlin. I was whistled at by a handsome Politsiya! But not for the right reasons. In attempting a better photo angle of the church below, I inadvertently stepped off the unmarked tourist pathway and was swiftly reprimanded. Oops.
Inside Red Square, which is really more of a Red Rectangle, and opposite the Kremlin, the GUM (Glavnyi Universalnyi Magazin), the former state-run and now terribly high-end department store. The front of which was covered in scaffolding, thus meeting our travel requirement that at least one important structure in any major European city we visit be covered.
The interior of GUM feels like a dozen Parisian passages, all warmly lit from the light coming through the glass roof.
In front of the Kremlin is Lenin Mausoleum. No interest in dropping the Rubles to see the dead leader, so we took a pass.
Following dinner on our second evening Anna Grace and I gave Tony a personal tour of Red Square, expertly navigating the Metro, too! The Kremlin and the grounds were closed for the day, but the lights shining on the Kremlin keep the visual alive well into the evening.