Moscow – Day 1

My Russian friends tell me I can’t see Moscow in two days, but if I’m to be back at work 19 August, I can’t hang around too long at each stop. So, with only two days in Moscow, what do I choose to see in this huge city so full of history? Well, check with the Lonely Planet guide book for ideas, that’s one thing I’ve learnt the hard way (by not opening it until the end of a visit, or after I’ve left).

The Trans-Siberian Railway Lonely Planet guide book very wisely suggests that with only two days, you start with the St. Basil Cathedral and the Kremlin on the first day. Which I did yesterday.

So how do you find the Kremlin? The lady at the reception at my hotel gave me a metro map for Moscow and circled the correct station after I’d written “Kremlin” in Google translate.

I started sensing possible problems when I discovered that neither the map, nor the metro station I went to, had any names in English – like they did in St.Petersburg, so I quickly took a photo of the station name before starting my journey, to be absolutely sure I’d return to the same station. Which was a good idea, since the Russian text you see bears very little resemblance with the words you actually hear over the loudspeakers.

The instance I saw the Assumption Cathedral inside the Kremlin wall, I knew my Moscow stop had been worth it. Even the frescoes on the outside of this church, which they laid the first foundations for in 1326, were gorgeous. And the inside if this cathedral was absolutely stunning. Sadly, taking photos inside was strictly forbidden.

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This might well be the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen. Several of the large icons on the iconostasis were incredibly beautiful, and the 14th century icon “Saviour with the Angry Eye” was also stunning in its simplicity.

The other three cathedrals inside the Kremlin walls were also beautiful. The domes of the Annunciation Cathedral somehow caught some sun light for a moment during the rain showers.

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The Tsar’s Cannon – the biggest in the world with an 89 cm bore – and the Tsar’s Bell – also the biggest bell in the world at 202 tons – were obviously impressive in size. However, I wasn’t in the mood for silly posturing for photos with cannons and bells so it was really the churches that impressed me the most during my Kremlin visit. Leaving the Kremlin, there was another sun moment on this very wet and rainy day as I walked outside the walls.

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The visit to St. Basil’s Cathedral by Red Square was quite different. Each of the colourful domes has its own room or “church”, and walking through this labyrinth rooms, it’s quite easy get lost. Also, since I constantly seemed to get squashed between large Spanish and Danish tour groups that all insisted rushing to wherever the small male choir were chanting, this visit turned out to be all but serene and contemplative. Chaotic is probably a more appropriate term.

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Still, I had some quiet moments when I could enjoy St. Basil’s Cathedral. The interior struck me as a combination folklore-style patterns (some of them almost tongue-in-cheek) on walls and ceilings, and more worshipful and solemn designs. But I refuse to use the cliche “this is a church full of contrasts”. Though it is, of course.

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The Red Square also had elements of semi-kitsch with an elevated walkway in pale green saying “Happy Birthday!” I don’t know whose birthday it is – I should obviously google it – but to my mind, Red Square is quite a serious place, meant for military parades and such. Right now, it’s actually a flower exhibition of sorts. A nice one, though.

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I wasn’t able to follow the Lonely Planet guide book’s instructions for the evening on day one: an opera at the Bolshoi Theatre or dinner at Cafe Pushkin. I didn’t get further than taking a photo of the Bolshoi Theatre. After that, I was as good as dead, and just about managed to find my station by the help of my photo of the station name.

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