Saturday, June 21, 2014

Touring Moscow with Viktoria

We slept well except for the ongoing construction at the building across the street. It's the time in Russia called White Nights where, for several weeks, it doesn't really get dark. The workers are taking advantage of this by working...all night.

Sometimes when you book a tour guide on-line, it can be an iffy proposition. Jim and Marg were checking something out while we waited for our guide, Viktoria, to arrive.

Hotel Savoy...we would definitely recommend it. The location is awesome, a stone's throw from the Bolshoi Ballet and Red Square.

And here is Viktoria, all smiles and happy to greet us. Contrary to my preconceived notions, most Russian women are slim and extremely well dressed.  And energetic! Viktoria travelled 40 minutes on a scooter to meet us at the hotel. She's using her iPad to call our driver for the day, who was waiting a short distance away.

Our heads were spinning with our first sights. I figured this must be an amazing palace or something and even though we drove by it twice, Viktoria didn't mention it. She was very busy with so much to tell us. It is the Epiphany Cathedral built around 1845. Christmas and Easter services were telecast on national television from here during the time when Boris Yeltsin was President.

(A note I must make here: Moscow and St. Petersburg and all the cities we visited in between are the wire capitals of the world. Without electricity poles, wires are strung from building to building and many of my photos ended up showing masses of wires. If I waited to photoshop all of them, I never would have started the blog, so apologies in advance. In also didn't help that I took this out the back window!)

So not to bore you with history, but there are some notable Romanov tsars you will hear about over and over. Peter the Great ruled from 1689-1725 and we heard much about him. His daughter, Elizabeth, ruled from 1741 until her death in 1762. She brought Peter III to Russia from Germany as her heir, but his reign was short-lived and his wife, Catherine the Great, succeeded him and reigned until 1796. OK...history over for now.

Because we would be seeing the major tourist attractions on ship's tours, we asked Viktoria to take us to other places. She chose to bring us to Izmailovsky Park, where Peter the Great grew up, and a favourite place of relaxation for people who live in Moscow (Muscovites).

Silver Island was a man-made island where the Romanov household was established in the 1660s. Here Peter learned to sail, which started his lifelong passion resulting in Russia becoming a maritime power.

One of the many (many!) statues we would see of Peter the Great. He was 6'7" with a small head on a large body.

Originally the church on the island was made of wood. When the Romanovs became tsars and had sufficient money, they tore it down and built this one, completing it in 1679. Badly damaged during Napoleon's invasion in 1812, it was restored in 1840 and the building on the left was added to serve as a military hospital and a home for veterans and charity cases. The five domes on the church was the standard at that time.

This little girl was having fun outside the cathedral as we walked in to listen the service.

The acoustics inside the cathedral were amazing. This was our first look at Russian churches and we were surprised to learn that none of them have seats. People stand for several hours during a service. Wow!

This path leads to the artificial Grape Pond, so named as Peter the Great's father grew grapes and melons that had not been previously grown in Russia.

We walked around the back of the cathedral and saw this lady. Now this is more like what I was expecting of the Russian women. Babushkas, not these glamorous girls we've been seeing dressed to the nines.

Beautiful Ukrainian tile work on the cathedral...

This bridge tower is also original and was used as a fortress to stop people from coming onto the island.

This was part of the original wall around the palace. The ceremonial gate is all that remains...

It reminds me of a mouth!

Some English signs...good to see. We were noticing it wouldn't be that easy to get around in Moscow.

As we were leaving, this limo arrived. The park is a very popular spot for wedding photos. It was a Saturday and Viktoria told us we would see many brides and grooms that day...and she was right.

Walking out of the park there were a couple of locks on the gate left by some of the wedding couples.

Our next stop was the Izmailovsky market. Marg and Mike had read about it and it seemed like a fun place to go. As the Communist regime was coming to an end, the market was established in 1990. Outside the market is this hotel, one of the largest in the world. It consists of four buildings like this and it was built to house Europeans who came to Russia to trade once Communism ended. It also provided lower cost accommodations for Russian merchants who were there to meet the European traders.

Here we are ready for our trip to the market...

The market is huge and is comprised of four areas: souvenirs, artists, a flea market and the kremlin. This is where I learned that kremlin means a fortified complex, it doesn't necessarily mean The Kremlin. You can see the kremlin in the foreground with the white wall around it.

Entrance to the market...

A colourful selection of pants...

Lots of hats...

Looking down the market...

Viktoria brought us into this store selling traditional Russian shawls. Women use them as warm wraps, but also to cover their heads especially in the churches.

Look what I found inside the store. A cat who was quite happy to ignore us.

There was an interesting story about this Dutch man pictured on this shawl who started this factory producing woolen scarves and shawls. It started before the Communist era and was run as a private enterprise throughout the whole era which was unique, as almost all enterprises were nationalized.

Although the shopkeepers didn't speak English, they understood quite a bit.

There were so many shawls that it was hard to make a decision. Marg and I both appeared at the cash with exactly the same one. What are the chances?

We moved back into the market and passed by these quilts with matryoshka dolls on them.

The matryoshka dolls are the nesting dolls. Viktoria suggested that we not buy things here. There was absolutely nothing wrong with them and the prices were good, but she said she would prefer that we support the artists in the little villages we would be visiting on the cruise who are much poorer than these people. We thought that was a great idea.

We started through the flea market. This part wasn’t quite as interesting to us as it was to Viktoria because it brought back a lot of memories for her. It was fun to see her excitement when she saw a childhood treasure.

One thing we noticed was that people do not smile. We would go through the market in our usual way, smiling at the vendors. Viktoria told us that smiling people are tourists. The men particularly do not smile as they like to show a strong front. We were learning a lot.

The artists' section was interesting. There were several paintings I would have loved to have bought.

In typical touristy fashion, we spied this figure and had to investigate. I don't really think we were supposed to be back there as we tripped over wire going in. I think she's been "put out to pasture."

And then we walked through this archway into the kremlin.

This part of the market was completed in 2002 and is another popular place for weddings.

It's hard to believe this is only 12 years old...

Jim being a tsar for five minutes...

As we were leaving, wedding parties were arriving one after the other...

Here comes another...

And yet does look like a fairy tale castle.

Time for lunch...we had asked Viktoria to take us to a restaurant that served traditional Russian food. 

This was the outdoor seating, although it was so nicely decorated and covered, it was like eating indoors.

You had to walk through this room to go down some rather steep and windy steps to the washroom. It looked like it might have been the original kitchen

Cute and folksy washroom...

These TVs were playing Russian soap operas. Aren't the wooden frames a neat idea?

Here is Viktoria having her beloved cup of coffee. After the second cup, she got the giggles which was so funny. We learned so much from her about Russian culture. She was telling us a story about people being thrown in prison for no reason, and we said "that's not fair." Her reply which stuck in my mind was "Russia is not a country of justice."

This ginger lemonade was so good...

Traditional Russian chicken shashlik or kebab. I can't say I loved the chicken. The taste was great; the texture, not so much.

We had been hearing about the dark Russian bread so I was looking forward to trying it. I was mystified by the bowl of oil and salt. Viktoria told us to put a bit of oil on the bread and sprinkle it with the rock salt. Yummy!

We shared this dessert because, although no one was really hungry, we all wanted to try it. Cold strawberry soup with a big glob of ice cream in it. It was delicious.

How about swinging while you have lunch?

The Perlov tea house was redecorated in this Chinese style in 1896 in order to catch the attention of a visiting Chinese tea trader in the hopes of negotiating a contract for tea delivery. Mr. Perlov didn't succeed with that, but it did catch the attention of Muscovites who became constant customers.

This area is known as White City or Bely Gorod. Peter the Great had the walls surrounding the area painted white, hence the name. This would be a mansion of a typical Russian noblemen.

And another such mansion right next to the church.

Two churches were built in this area, about 15 years after the church was rebuilt in Izmailovsky Park. The one on the left is the summer church, which didn't have any heat, and the one on the right is a smaller church which was used in the winter. The summer church was the first of this kind built in Moscow without any domes.

Looking at the Menshikov Tower, the summer church. It used to have a spire making it another one third taller, but it was struck by lightening and that part burned and was not replaced.

The winter church, Church of Theodor Stratelates.

We went inside the summer church and were shooed out by an older lady as we were talking too much.

Our next stop was Ivanovskaya Hill or Ivan's Hill. This monastery was originally built by Ivan the Terrible’s father as thanks for the birth of his son. Ivan didn't turn out to be such a great son and was tsar from 1547-1584 during a reign of terror. Later it doubled as a prison.

Across from the monastery is this traditional Russian church with five onion shaped domes. Europeans, mostly Germans, built houses to be close the church and to curry favours. In the time of Peter the Great, Russians expressed their dislike of the European community being so close to the Palace and Peter expelled them to an area that became known as the German quarter. Interestingly, this is now a Lutheran church.

This appeared to be an area with an older population as we saw many ladies dressed in this manner.

This was our driver for the day, Vladimir. Our van was very comfortable and Viktoria  kindly arranged for him to pick us up in two days time and take us to the ship.

Our heads were full and bursting with images and information. We gave Viktoria a warm hug goodbye back at the hotel. She presented each of us with a bar of very dark chocolate made near her home. We decided a drink was in order to talk about our day, so we set out in search of a place that didn't have $30 glasses of wine.

The streets around the hotel...

This looked like a nice area to sit and rest. We still couldn't find any decently priced wine so the guys had a beer and Marg and I had a margarita (of sorts).

Hey! And that's how you say Subway in Russian...

We had our own built-in tour guide with Mike, who, unlike us, had done a bit of research on the area we were staying in. Rain? Who cares...we're off to find a restaurant for dinner.

This actually wasn't far from the hotel, but you couldn't cross the busy street, so you had to find the underground tunnel and pop up on the other side.We were heading for the archway...

This is an outdoor restaurant which would have been nice if it hadn’t been raining

Pretty fountain in the restaurant area...

There were lots of very high end stores. We were quickly learning that Moscow is a very rich city.

One of the window displays...

Mike had read about the Beverly Hills Diner. It turned out to be totally a young persons' restaurant and we were easily 2-3 times the age of most of the other people.

They had great old music and lots of movie memorabilia. I'm sure the kids didn't have any idea who these old movie stars were, and I'm not sure kids back home would have either.

This wine was not $30 a glass; it was $30 for a carafe. We knew it wasn’t going to be great wine, but the expression on Marg's face when she took the first mouthful was priceless. But by the end of the bottle, it wasn't half bad!

The biggest clubhouse sandwich I've ever seen...

I'm not sure about the purpose of the clapboard on the waitress's back...

Our waitress was adorable and she spoke a little English which helped us.

The cars actually had benches in them facing each other, so you could eat in them.

The after dinner glow...

We walked by a construction site on the way home. They have this neat idea of putting up these screens to hide the construction site. This shows the area near our hotel with the Bolshoi Ballet on the left.

Back in the hotel room...this is what it looks like at 10:00 p.m. with the White Nights.

The end of a great first day in Moscow. Tomorrow we're going to putter around and see some sights around Red Square...

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