Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Finally...Red Square in Moscow

This morning our ship's tour was going to Red Square, followed by a river cruise for lunch, more of the city in the afternoon, and a Russian folklore show that night. Phew!

Another of the Seven Sisters...

These flat topped apartment buildings are 260 m high. Living in Moscow is very expensive and condos in this building would cost up to $2 million. You can see the bridge between the two of them that contains mostly electrical wires and a walkway.

This is the entrance to the old airport built in 1910.

This looks like a palace, but it is most likely another apartment building.

Here is the train station that you would use if you're traveling to the rest of Europe.

A statue of Vladimir Mayakovsky, a famous playwright, poet, and actor. He became disillusioned with Russia under Stalin's rule and shot himself in 1930. Another impressive building in the background...

As more English merchants moved to Russia in the 1700s, they needed a place where they could meet and socialize. This is the old English Club with lions guarding it (that look a lot like dogs).

I noticed many of these paintings on the outside walls of buildings, which was kind of neat.

This is the main post office in Moscow, which still has the Communist emblem of the hammer and sickle. Our guide for the day told us that all parcels coming into the country are still opened and inspected. He has friends in England, who, when they want to send money to his son, hide it in the pages of a book. Otherwise, it would disappear.

Here we are at Red Square...I think we're actually going to be able to get inside today. The beautiful Saviour Tower...

Inside the square...it is huge! In the background is the State History Museum and the long building on the side is the massive GUM department store.

Lenin was the first ruler after the end of the Romanov tsars' reign. He died in 1924 and, against his and his wife's wishes, his body was embalmed and put on display in this red and black granite blockhouse. Line-ups to enter the mausoleum during Soviet times stretched across the square. Visitors descend stairs to the blackened chamber where only the corpse is illuminated.

Stalin was also initially buried with Lenin, but after his denunciation by Khrushchev, his body was moved and buried next to the Kremlin wall in 1961.

And once again, the stunning St. Basil's Cathedral which is the oldest church in Moscow, built between 1554-1561.

Jim and Kim in Red Square...

And with St. Basil's and the Saviour Tower in the background...

Mike and Marg...

Here's a little panoramic view of Red Square. I mistakenly called GUM the TsUM store...I'm already confused!

The impressive GUM...

We were given some free time and told to meet at the fountain in the GUM store. Being as we had explored it already yesterday, we went in and did a bit of people watching. Russians love their ice cream and we got a scoop which was really good. This girl couldn’t have looked more bored. Many people who live in Moscow work two and three jobs in order to afford to live there. They're tired!

The impressive fountain which was our meeting spot. You can't miss the fountain.

One of the window displays...

And then we had another rain storm, which stopped about 10 minutes later. So far, we've been lucky to have a place to hop into and haven't been caught in one of these downpours...yet.

Our last view of St. Basil's. It was the first time I noticed this statue; it's of Minin and Pozharsky, who led the forces that threw the Polish army out of Moscow in 1612.

This helicopter flew overhead and our guide told us that this is how Putin often gets to work. They will use two helicopters, one acting as a decoy. Putin should be living in the Kremlin where he works, but he doesn’t. If he doesn't use a helicopter, he comes to work by car and all traffic must stop. It can tie up the already insane Moscow traffic for up to 45 minutes, which that makes the people angry. Putin is not well-liked in Moscow.

In Moscow you park your car anywhere at all...on the sidewalk, in any direction. If you can find a spot, good for you. There are 7 to 8 million cars on the roads in Moscow and traffic is a nightmare. Later, when we were in one of the villages, a guide said "it takes 3 hours to get to Moscow, and then another 4 hours to get downtown."

Our next stop, a cruise on this boat with lunch on the Moscow River. It would give us a chance to see some of the sights, but from a different perspective.

Mmmm...lunch. The food was excellent.

We were well looked after...

Once again the Christ the Saviour Cathedral, which can accommodate 10,000 people. It is now sometimes referred to as the Pussy Riot Church.

We went by this monument several times and I was never able to get a photo of it, so this picture is taken from a book we had. It is called the Peter the Great statue and commemorates the 300th anniversary of the Russian navy, which Peter the Great established. It is 98 m high and the 8th tallest statue in the world.

It is quite controversial, however. In 2010 it was voted one of the ugliest buildings in the world. Originally, they tried to move the statue to St. Petersburg where Peter the Great spent most of his life. After all, he didn't even like Moscow and moved the capital to St. Petersburg. But St. Petersburg turned down the offer of the statue. The story is that it was originally meant to commemorate Christopher Columbus, but an American buyer for it could not be found. Over time, Muscovites have gotten used to it.

Another view of the Kremlin, which we would be visiting the next day.

And my lovely pink church...hey, you can see right through it.

One of the massive Seven Sisters...I believe this is the Kudrinskaya apartment building.

Neat mural on a building...

Our lunch tour was over and it was time to continue our sightseeing. The sky was ominously black.

This serene looking place is the Novodevichy Convent, founded in the 16th century. Women in these times were not very well-treated and could be sent here by their husbands basically without cause. Peter the Great had his half-sister, Sophia, and later his first wife imprisoned here, on the grounds that they were conspiring against him.

Beautiful place for a walk...

This momma duck is taking her ducklings for a walk to the river. There is an exact replica of this in Boston Central Park, which caught the attention of Mrs. Gorbachev when she visited. Barbara Bush had these made and presented on a return visit to Moscow. The momma duck is called Mrs. Mallard and they are based on the book "Give Way to Duckings."

They have become a bit of a tourist attraction and it seems that people like to feed the duckings.

Another of the Seven Sisters, this one is the Moscow State University.

Our next stop was Sparrow Hills, where you get a panoramic view of the city. This is the central sports complex which was built in 1955-56 and was the main stadium at the 1980 Olympics.

The new skyscrapers of Moscow. Our guide, Leonid, told us that in the next ten years they expect to be the dominate financial centre of the world!?

This is Trinity Church on Sparrow Hills. The first mention of a church on this site is in 1644. This church was built in 1811, survived the Napoleonic invasion in 1812, survived Communism when a highway was contemplated for this site, and still survives today.

Our next stop (are you tired yet?) was Victory Park on Poklonnaya Hill, one of the highest spots in the city. It was built in 1995 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the victory in WWII. On the weekend it's a popular spot for weddings and for rollerblading.

The obelisk is 150 m tall. At the top is a statue of Nike, the goddess of victory, which is cast in bronze and weighs 20 tons. At the bottom is St. George slaying the German dragon.

The museum has the names of the millions of people who died in the war.

There are reportedly 1,418 fountains, one for every day of the war. There was a group of young guys all dressed in white shirts. I think there was some kind of graduation going on, and shortly after a whole gaggle of girls came along to meet them.

One of the many, many limos we’ve seen in Moscow. This one held the gaggle of girls.

The lady on the left we dubbed Perfume Lady because you could smell her coming before you saw her; Leonid, our tour guide; Katia, one of the escorts from the ship; Jim; a British lady; and Mike.

Next stop, the Metro. They say it’s easily the most extravagant subway system in the world. Many of the stations have chandeliers, sculptures and frescoes more like a palace. This escalator is one of the longest in the world at 80 m. I thought the escalators in the London tube station were long, but this one just went on and on. The people on the other side were hoofing up the stairs as their escalator had momentarily stopped working.

It's the cheapest and quickest way to get around Moscow with a trip anywhere costing 40 rubles ($1.20).

A view inside one of the stations. We did not see one piece of garbage and the floors were immaculate. Leonid said they clean it 7 or 8 times a day. High 5 to Leonid who takes groups down here regularly. If you haven't been on a subway before, it's intimidating, but one where you can't read any of the names of the stops is more so. His advice if we got separated "don't cry."

Some of the artwork in one of the stations. These are the Russian nobles celebrating the victory over Napoleon. You can see various flags on the ground representing the French people who have been defeated.

These frescoes depict Ukrainian history and culture as this station was decorated during the time of Khrushchev, who was from the Ukraine.

A group of happy Ukrainians, as Khrushchev wanted them to be represented.

Endless chandeliers and frescoes...

Leonid was looking pretty tired at this point. He was a great guide and after leaving us at 7:00 that night travelled two hours to get home, only to return again in the morning. He is an English teacher during the school year and a tour guide in the summer. He says he never takes a vacation, which is not uncommon for many Muscovites.

It was back on the train and off again at another station. This one was built in 1938 and filled with bronze statues.

We popped out of the metro right across from the Bolshoi Ballet on a beautiful sunny day. This is a statue of Karl Marx, and one of the few times he didn’t have a bird on his head.

Back on the bus now, we were heading to the hotel where we would be seeing the Russian National Folklore show. The traffic is endless...eight lanes all waiting to go.

Some of the few homeless people that I saw. Leonid said that panhandlers can make a good living in Moscow getting up to 15,000 rubles ($500) a day.

It was a long and tiring day. We didn't have time for dinner, which we knew ahead of time, and they had suggested we grab a snack somewhere to tide us over. This is the Cosmos (Space) Hotel, designed by Russian and French architects and one of the best hotels in Moscow. It was also the venue for the folklore show.

This show was truly one of the best shows we’ve ever seen anywhere. The costumes were unbelievable; the way the dancers moved across the stage made them look like they were on wheels they glided so effortlessly. The description of the show: "This unique performance presents a mix of traditional national dance and contemporary ballet pieces. A journey through Russia’s long and rich history that reveals the country’s heart and soul." Even though we were tired, the time just flew by.

Outside the hotel is a monument of a rocket taking off into space.

There were a huge number of limos outside the hotel, including this gold Bentley.

What a day! It was hard to take in everything we had seen. When we got back to the ship at 10:30 p.m., they had a nice light supper and snacks waiting for us. Tomorrow, we're up early for our tour of the Kremlin.

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