Sunday, June 22, 2014

Finding our Way Around Moscow

Mike, our built-in tour guide, had a few places he wanted to visit today. Lead the way!

This was just up the street from our hotel. The building in the background with the green screen is the KGB headquarters. When Viktoria was with us yesterday, she commented how this was always a very scary area during Communist times. I think it still made her shudder.

The rest of the area around the hotel is lovely.

This is TsUM (pronounced zoom) one of the most high-end department stores in Moscow. Viktoria told us we were located in the Bermuda Triangle of shopping--TsUM, GUM and Detsky Mir, the toy store across from our hotel. As we walked by TsUM, we thought we'd pop in and use the washrooms. Nope, Sunday morning and they didn't open until 11. Oh well, I don't think we could afford to buy anything in there anyway.

Right beside TsUM is the Bolshoi Ballet.

The Bolshoi Ballet has been here since the end of the 18th century. It recently went through six years of intensive refurbishment inside and out, and the hammer and sickle on the facade has been replaced with the old symbol of Russia, the double-headed eagle.

While I was taking a photo of this fountain, I spotted a Hop On, Hop Off bus across the street. It seemed like a good way to get the lay of the land, so we hopped on.

This was the original Smirnoff (Smirnov) factory. It is now in the process of being renovated as a historical building.

This stop on the bus route had a row of fountains and these little bushes or trees.

Which turned out to be padlock trees. This is Padlock Tree Park where couples get married, write their names on a padlock, attach it to one of the many trees, and throw the key in the river.

This massive building is one of Moscow's skyscrapers called the Seven Sisters (a term which isn't used or understood by Muscovites). They were built during the Stalin era when he believed Moscow needed skyscrapers in order to compete with other world capitals. This one is an apartment building, the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building.

And another completely different style of apartment building...

Nice hair! The Kremlin in the background...

As we were driving by, the audio guide on the bus said "if there isn't a line-up at the Pushkin Museum, you should really try to get in." It's the largest museum of European art in Moscow.

So it turns out that June 22 is one of the biggest historical days in Moscow because it commemorates the day they entered WWII. The bus stopped here for 30 minutes and people started getting out of their cars which is never a good sign. President Putin was making his way to Red Square so all traffic must stop while his cavalcade goes through the city. One of the many reasons he isn't particularly well liked.

The Four Seasons Hotel has an interesting story. You can see that the left side of the building differs from the right side. When it was being built in the 1930s, the architect submitted the drawings to Stalin for his approval of one design or the other. Stalin simply signed his approval in the middle of the page. Too afraid to tell Stalin he had not made a decision, the architect simply had the building constructed with the two different designs.

We hopped off the bus and made our way to Red Square. Every where we turned, there were barricades blocking us from entering. We didn't know about the military services, so we kept trying different routes to get in there.

Another attempt and another barricade...

And yet another...we were determined, but we weren't getting far.

Pretty! This is outside the GUM department store and is a part of the Kremlin wall.

We wrote Red Square off for the time being and went to investigate the GUM store. GUM (pronounced goom) was built after a fire in 1812 destroyed the trading center that had been commissioned by Catherine the Great. Stalin converted it into office space in 1928 and in 1932 it was used to display his wife's body after she committed suicide. Under Soviet government ownership, it became a department store and was known for long queues, shabby goods or empty shelves.

In 2005, it became a private shopping mall with high-end stores. Only the ultra rich shop there and it is more of a tourist attraction.

A historic toilet...didn't check that out. I guessed it might cost more money than I had on me.

It is 800 ft long and this glass roof is the original design.


Lovely fountain...

Hmm...something looks a little out of place here.

The State History Museum, again taken from behind a barricade...

Jim and Marg decided to give it a rest while Mike and I did what we thought would be a quick walk to take some photos of places we had driven by on the bus.

The beautiful, stunning St. Basil's Cathedral was built between 1554-1561, taking the traditional Russian onion domes to the extreme. Churches in Russia were often built to celebrate military victories and this one was built to celebrate Ivan the Terrible's victory over the Tatars. Under each dome is a chapel.

There are many towers in the Kremlin Wall. This one with the clock is Saviour Tower built in 1491, and considered one of the most beautiful.

This is the same apartment building we saw earlier in the morning, but the lights strung are part of the attraction of Red Square at night. It is supposed to be a must-see, but with the White Nights, we were certainly here at the wrong time of year. The chances of us getting pics of the Square lit up at night were about nil.

Taken from a bridge, you can see St. Basil's Cathedral with the GUM department store in the background.

The Kremlin can see the palace and the domes of the churches

Looking down the Moscow River with Christ the Saviour Cathedral in the background...

A closer look at the Grand Kremlin Palace...we would be visiting the Kremlin on one of the ship's tours.

This pretty pink church is the Church of St. Sophia Bell-Tower on the opposite side of the river from the Kremlin. When it was built in 1868, it was the first high-rise structure on that side of the Moscow River.

Christ the Saviour Cathedral is the church where Putin worships. It looks old, but was actually completed in 1997. It is a replica of a church that was on this site and demolished by Stalin's order in the 1930s to make way for a swimming pool. Diamonds have been inset into the gold to make it glitter more. The reported cost to build it is $500 million, but we were told the actual cost is more like $3 billion.

The group Pussy Riot staged an anti-Putin performance here in 2012.

We went by this building several times in the next few days and I would always take a picture of it like I had never seen it before. For some reason I was quite fascinated by it. It turns out it's just an office building.

Mike and I got as far as the main entrance to the Kremlin when we found the sidewalk blocked again as part of the June 22 commemorations. We only wanted to walk about 20 yards around the blockade to get home. We were met with a sharp "nyet" when we tried to go around it. This started a 45 minute walk to find an alternate route home. Oh my aching feet! Fitbit steps taken that day: 23,574.

This gate looked interesting...

Sign showing Red Square...the major attractions are shown in English. What the sign below it says, not a clue.

Mike had read about an Irish pub close by and after the long walk that day I was ready for a Strongbow cider. An Irish pub has to have Strongbow, right? It took a little searching and asking but we persevered.

The waitress recommended the fish and chips which we all had. Yummy...that and and my two Strongbows.

Most of the tables in the pub were reserved as Russia was playing Belgium in the World Cup and this was serious business. Maria sat down at the table next to ours to wait for her friend and we started talking to her. She spoke very good English and was quite funny. She laughed at our pronunciations of the places we thought we were visiting on the cruise. Marg grilled her on everything from what she did for a living (journalist) to whom she was meeting. By the time her friend showed up to meet her, we felt like we knew him and we all applauded when he finally arrived. He looked very confused! Maria is holding up the gift of sardines he brought her.

I think he's very tired after holding this building up for so long.

We walked by the Ritz Hotel on our way home which has a bar called the O2 Lounge. Mike said it had panoramic views of the city (I told you he had done some research), so we decided to check it out. This is 10:30 p.m. and you can see how light it still is. A view of Red Square...

The Kremlin Wall...

Beautiful bar...there were so many girls up here dressed to kill and all taking modelling type photos from every angle. Not shy!

We walked by this building near our hotel. No shortage of fancy cars...

Jim and I in front of the Bolshoi Ballet on way our home at about 11:00 p.m. You can also see the TsUM department store on the right. Was it only this morning we walked by there?

Tomorrow we're going to Arbat Street for a little shopping and then off to the ship. Let the cruise begin!

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