Monday, August 6, 2007

Our Last Day in Moscow

We headed off this morning to the Novodevichy Convent only to discover that when we got there after a long train ride, that it closes on the first Monday of the month. We did however look at the exterior and visited the Novodevichy Necropolis that since 1932 has become the place of burial for outstanding figures in Russian history. We visited the graves of Yelstzin, Kruschev (all in black and white), Gorbachev, Ulanova, Tolstoy and Prokoffiev and lots of others.

We returned by train to Red Square and walked past Lenin's mausoleum to St Basil's Cathredral. It is absolutely dazzling on the outside but very basic on the inside.

We also visited the State History Museum. This has a huge collection covering the Russsian Empire from the Stone Age to the present day. On our way back we had a brief stop at the Resurrection Gate to visit the chapel of the Iverain Virgin that houses this icon.

After a 4 pm lunch, we rested, packed, went out for late afternoon shopping, happy hour and dinner. We are now almost ready for our early morning departure for Singapore.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Moscow Treasures

Today we toured the treasures of the Armoury, Russia's oldest museum. They have very limited entries and this was the only day we had been successful in gaining tickets. There are nine rooms full of wonderful objects. The gold was simply stunning. This museum has the largest collection of European silver in the world. There are bibles studded with precious gems inserted into gold filigree.

The Faberge eggs were exquisite. They were traditional Easter gifts between the Tsar and the Tsarina and put our chocolate eggs to shame. Many contained precious objects, one a gold train with ruby headlights to commemorate the completion of the Trans Siberian railway. Others had a gold ship, a gold horse, miniature portraits and lots more.

We also saw the royal regalia with thrones and crowns from the Tsars. The Monomakh crown had lots of gold filigree and gems with a sable trim.

The carriage room containes coaches and sleighs all lavishly decorated. Included was the large sleigh that Empress Elizabeth rode in from St Petersburg to Moscow pulled by 23 horses at a time.

Later we walked to the Pushkin Fine Arts Museums. We visited two of them. One had magnificent objects from Ancient Egypt, beautiful sculptures and paintings. Then we went next door to the 19 and 20 century European art that had possible the largest collection of Impressionist paintings in the world. There were full rooms devoted to each Impressionist artist.

We visited the nearby cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The original church was built from 1839 - 1883 to commemorate the Napoleonic victory. It was demolished by Stalin in 1931 who planned to build the 300 metre "palace of soviets" including a 100 metre statue of Lenin. This did not eventuate and for 50 years the site housed the world's largest swimming pool. This new church was built in 2 years to celebrate Moscow's 850th birthday opening in 1997 at a cost of about $350 million.

We returned via the statue of Peter the Great on the banks of the Muscova River. After a subway ride, we walked up through beautiful arcades and classy department stores on the way back to our apartment. An exhausting but exhilarating day!

Queueing in Russia

Russian skills in queueing developed during the Soviet era. It is said that if they saw a queue they would join it and find out what it was for when they reached the head. Perhaps they would be able to buy a cabbage and then cook shchi soup.

We have seen the Russian skills of queue jumping but mostly have been able to hold our own. We were tested when queueing for ferry tickets in the pouring rain in St Petersburg and the morning rush for tickets at the Hermitage Museum.

Today we felt our skills proven. We managed to get the very last tickets for the day to visit the Armoury in the Kremlin. We saw the wonderful treasures and managed to get a front row view of the wonderful Faberge eggs. One Russian guide tried to elbow us aside but was no match for our skills.

Some of the guides are fine but most must have had previous careers working with the KGB. Their only match are the museum officials and the train guards. They have been lucky to avoid being sent to the salt mines.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Day at the Markets

Today we ventured out to the Izmaylovo markets which are located next to Gorky Park. The weather was still very overcast with some heavy showers so we only had a brief look at the park before going into the markets.

We had considered Moscow a lot less tourist oriented than St Petersburg but the markets had things for all tastes. There was clothing for the locals, matryoshky dolls, khokhloma ware ( sounds like a title for a musical ) and old uniforms and odds from the Soviet era along with Cossack hats and lots more.

We travelled by underground which is quite a challenge when you can't read the script for the station names. The train stations are unbelievable , many being works of art in their own right. More marble than the Marble Palace and more sculptures than the Summer Garden. We came back via a different route and tried to visit the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall but it was closed for renovations. We added this to the Bolshoi Theatre which we visited yesterday afternoon which was closed till 2008. We walked back past the famous Pushkin statue on the way to our apartment.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Day at the Kremlin

We walked down to the Kremlin via Alexandrovsky Gardens.We were able to get tickets but not to the Armoury with its display of Faberge eggs.

The Kremlin is huge with 17 towers and dozens of major buildings. We visited the Assumption Cathedral where the Tzars were crowned, The Archangel Cathedral where Ivan the Great/Terrible and his son are entombed and the small Church of the Deposition of the Robe.We also saw the worlds largest has never rung, the worlds largest cannon...was never fired and the display of Cartier diamonds in Ivans Bell Tower. This included a ring owned by Barbara Hutton and several items owned by the Duchess of Windsor.

We were soaked on our return and had a very late lunch. Late in the afternoon we headed out again and saw the Bolshoi Theatre hidden behind is closed till 2008, and the adjacent fountains and sculpture of Karl Marx

On the way home we were drenched again so needed more dry clothes before dinner preparations.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Churches in St Petersburg

Earlier in our reports we told of a church that doubled as a lighthouse. In St Petersburg we visited many many magnificent churches. Most were closed during the Soviet era and it is interesting to learn of the use they were put to at this time. Some of these are..

* St Catherine of Alexandrine Church - a small church near where we stayed which was used as a vegetable store
* The famous Kazan Cathredral had the courtyards converted to vegetable fields
* The Vladimirskaya Church was used as an underwear factory
* The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood with its colourful onion domes was used as a warehouse
* The Temple of the Assumption was turned into an indoor skating rink - restored as a church, it now sells fresh cakes and choral music.
* The Church of Mother of God the Merciful was converted into a training base for submariners. The Russian Byzantine exterior is intact but the interior has a 26 metre tube for diving exercises.

The churches we have visited are full of worshippers although many operate only as museums and do not have services.

Red Square Parade

Our apartment is centrally located on Tverslayn St leading down to the Kremlin. As we walked down this morning, we passed the statue of Yury Dolgoruky, considered to be the founder of Moscow. The buildings are from a grand era and set the scene for what was to come.

When we reached Manezhnaya Place, the Kremlin and St Basil's was an incredible sight.

First we went into the Kazan Cathredral. It is only tiny and located at the entrance to Red Square. The original was demolished as it impeded the flow of celebratory workers in May Day parades. We saw the 1993 replica.

Red Square is massive. It was closed off for a celebration for the Special Air Borne Forces (Commandoes). We managed to find a retired general (only one star) to talk to. The backdrop was St Basil's Church with its multi coloured "onion" domes. This is the best known landmark in Moscow. The Kremlin is closed each Thursday so we plan to return tomorrow.

When you think of the GUM store, images of queueing workers waiting to buy the scarce products, come to mind. This may have been true once but today it has fashionable shops selling the latest in designer goods. Our purchases? A pistachio ice cream each.

We walked down to the Moscow River and back before returning to the apartment for a very late lunch. We have heavy rain this afternoon so are taking it easy for a few hours.

Explosion in St Petersburg

Almost forgot to tell you this.

All day we had seen the buildup of troops. On the way back past The Hermitage, the main road was closed. We were forced to take a long detour and passed several checkpoints.

Then, in the evening, it came. We were settling down when the explosion occurred. No. not the apartment hit by mortar. Once the metal bands from the Shampanskoye - Russian champagne - were released, it exploded, hitting the ceiling.

We took it as a sign to start on the pre dinner drinks.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Safe in Moscow

We managed to avoid the tourist police who lurk at the railway station to catch tourists and impose an on the spot fine and have arrived in Moscow.
It was a pleasant trip of 8 hours and they even provide lunch and tea/coffee. As we came into Moscow you cannot help noticing the massive power stations on the outskirts of town along with the industry.

Our apartment is 5 minutes walk from the Kremlin in the centre of the city. It has all mod cons and we have on line internet.We are looking forward to our visit

Places we didn't visit in St. Petersburg

These are a few of the places we did not visit.
  • Sigmund Freud's Museum of Dreams. It aims to stimulate your subconscious as you struggle to read the display symbolising what Freud himself would dream of.
  • The Russian Vodka Museum.(How would any become old enough to put in a museum?)
  • The Museum of Erotica
  • The Chocolate Museum..Well we did have a quick peep. ( Sounds like a comment on the Erotica Museum )
  • McLenins Hamburger Museum