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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  

Russian Flag MOSCOW


August 20. MOSCOW "Touring the Kremlin"  Another noticable difference from my previous visit to Moscow was the number of tourists.  That is probably mostly due to the summer season and was nowhere more evident than at the Kremlin.  Due to the Chechnyan rebels all tours of the Kremlin required an official guide and the lines and crowds outside the main entrance were ridiculous.  We talked up a couple of guides lingering around but didn't get a good feeling from either - one was too pushy and the other had a thick monotone Russian accent.  Eventually we found a nice woman who seemed cheerful and turned out to be surprisingly knowledgeable. Guides are a crap shoot and this time we lucked out.  She even occasionally interjected her comments with sarcastic witticisms about Russia and its history. 

The Kremlin, meaning fortress, has been the seat of power in Russia since the 1300s, shifting from Vladimir.  During the reign of Peter the Great the capital was moved to Petrodgrad (St. Petersburg) but was later returned to Moscow.  Surrounded by 2.25 km of red walls in triangular formation and containing a some beautiful historical buildings and cathedrals it is an impressive place to visit. 

We entered the walled fortress from the Trinity Gate Tower and were immediately accosted by the view of a gray, stale Soviet building, the State Kremlin Palace.  It was a concrete block that could house some thousands of people , each equipped with translation headphones.  Today it is used for concerts and our guide lamented that the architecture was a sad addition to the Kremlin complex. She pondered whether or not visitors some decades into the future would have an appreciation for this 20th century building but the consensus was probably not.  Some of the Soviet buildings around Moscow had an attractive, if somewhat stiff, style but this was just a cold flat building.  Too our far right, along the front wall stood the ornate 17th century Poteshny Palace, where Stalin lived, the last leader to live within the Kremlin.

Across from the Soviet hall stood the beautiful yellow and white Arsenal Building with 800 Napoleonic cannons lined along its front.  To the right of that stood the slightly newer Senate Building that was built under Catherine the Great, also in yellow with white trim.  Beyond that was the Supreme Soviet Building, built in the 1930's and less ornate than the other two buildings but still keeping with the yellow and white motif.  On my first visit to the Kremlin I came alone and wandered with my guidebook, trying to understand the layout of the complex but didn't notice the differences in all of the yellow and white buildings.  Each represented a different period in history and together made an interesting comparison.  Just beyond the Supreme Soviet building my old guidebook had told me that there was a Lenin statue but when I had gone searching for it I only found a flower garden around an empty marble disc.  Today the flowers are still there but Lenin has not made a come back.

In the middle of the Kremlin stood a cluster of cathedrals around an open square.  The Kremlin was once the center of the Orthodox Church.  The most impressive of the cathedrals was the Assumption Cathedral, the burial place of most of the heads of the church from the 1320s to 1700.  The walls were covered in colorful renditions of biblical scenes and gold accented icons adorned the altar and walls.  

On out the outside of the square stood the 16th century dome capped Ivan the Great Bell Tower.  On the outside corner, along the river side of the square, was the Archangel Cathedral, burial grounds for the tsars as well as the place where weddings and coronations took place.  We were fortunate to have a choir sing us a few short songs from in front of the altar so we could hear the resounding acoustics.  Also also the river side and butted up against the Great Kremlin Palace was the Annunciation Cathedral, which had separate entrance built for Ivan the Terrible because the priest felt he had too many sins to enter through the main stairway and pray at the altar.

We wound up our tour by walking along the river side of the Kremlin, past the Great Kremlin Palace (yet another yellow and white structure) to the Armoury and State Diamond Fund.  I had decided to pass on seeing those again due to the outstanding ticket cost so Rob planned to come back later in the week to see them.  

The weather had been beautiful all day and we couldn't have asked for a better tour of the Kremlin, if a bit rushed due to all of the tourists.  My first visit to the Kremlin had been in the off season and as much as I appreciated the information provided by our guide I had really enjoyed wandering the empty complex on my own with hardly any other tourists in sight. 

From the Kremlin we walked to Kuznetsky Most, a hip street of shops and cafes only a couple of blocks away.  We went in search of an English bookstore where we were able to find a guidebook on the Baltic Countries, but not the latest Harry Potter book...  We stopped for coffee in a cafe called Coffee Bean and the decor made us feel like we were back in the US.  The service was slightly better than the Russian average as well.   

The Kremlin tour had taken its toll on us so headed back to our grabbing sandwiches at a different cafe along Kuznetsky Most called Prime.  In all of its bright lime and metal decor it was another recent addition to Moscow's collection of western style cafes and restaurants.  Unfortunately, the prices were all in line with prices back home as well. Only 1% of the population can afford to eat out more than once a year so I have to wonder who keeps all of these places in business and why there aren't more affordable places for an average Russian person.

Back at our apartment we had to call the random man, whose name we had been given by Legend Tours in Mongolia, who was supposed to have our train tickets from St. Pete's to Lithuania.  I had tried to call him earlier in the week but there seemed to be a language barrier.  This time we called in our home stay mother and asked her to give the guy her address in Russian.  It worked and he would stop by the next morning with our tickets.  That was a relief. 

August 21. MOSCOW  The weather took a dramatic turn for the worse again and it was pouring rain.  It was a good day to visit the Tretyakov Gallery, an outstanding museum of Russian art that was a short walk from the apartment.  It was also clogged with tourists but we still managed to navigate our way through the extensive collection in relative peace.  The highlight for me was the beautiful collection of old icons, the country's largest and somewhat in jeopardy since the churches are starting to ask for their icons  back now that they have resumed activity.  In concession the gallery also has a renovated church as part of its complex. It acts as an active place of worship and, supposedly, gives some credibility to the gallery housing so many other icons.

We spent several hours going through the gallery and, in order to avoid going into the city center , attempted to get lunch at good old McDonald's but in Russia the fast part of fast-food is strangely absent.  The McDonald's are so continually packed that you can be lucky to make your to the front of the line let alone just grab a quick bite.  Thwarted we opted for some local bites at nearby kiosks but weren't satisfied so, in the end, we hopped on the subway and went back to Prime on Kuznetsky Most.  It was a disappointment the second time around but their sandwiches and salads were still a healthier alternative to McDonald's and significantly faster too.  Being so near Coffee Bean we made another stop there to relax for a bit.  I headed back earlier than Rob from there but stopped off at Okhotny Rad shopping center to use the Internet on my way home.  I was looking forward to a nice nap but found my sleep interrupted by Anastasia who needed (understandably) to use her computer - a relatively small down side to living in a home stay set up.  It was an old Russian building, probably over 65 years old from what our host mother said and with four people living there all of the rooms were well used.   Rob came back a few hours later and we ventured out to get some dinner in the neighborhood.  We later learned that the apartment building had been robbed in broad daylight while we had been staying there.  Our host family was quite shaken up by it.  I am sure the police on Moscow didn't provide much consolation, if they weren't in on it themselves!  We felt bad for them but were also glad that our stay was nearly over. 

TRANS SIBERIAN RAILWAY Ulan Ude Aug 6-7 Irkutsk Aug 4 Aug 5-8 Yekaterinburg Aug 8-10 Aug 11-12 Kazan Aug 13 Nizhny Novgorod Aug 14 Golden Ring Aug 15 Aug 16-17

MOSCOW Aug 17-19 Aug 20-21 Aug 22-23