Friday, 11 October 2013

A cloudy day in Moscow

The ubiquitous Russian doll
Having recently relocated to Noginsk, we want to make the most of our proximity to Moscow and explore this fascinating city.  With this in mind, we made our first trip there last weekend.  Unfortunately, it was a grey and gloomy day, so the photographs are not the best, but we saw the major sights and thoroughly enjoyed our time!

The bus from Noginsk terminated at Partizanskaya metro station, from where we were able to get a direct line to Ploshchad Revolyutsii, the closest station to Red Square.  We emerged next to the Historical Museum and spent some time browsing the souvenir stalls close by before venturing into Red Square itself.  Some of the impact of this magnificent space was lost because the area was filled with a massive stage and seating area.  We couldn't, therefore, walk across the square and were restricted to the periphery, but the bonus was that we got to see the full dress rehearsal for the start of the baton relay for the winter Olympics, which was due to take place a few days later.  We'll go back to Red Square another day to take some better pictures!

Rehearsing for the start of the baton relay

After watching the entertainment for a while, we ducked into GUM, the most famous of Moscow's shopping malls and now home to all the designer names you can think of.  It's an impressive building, but, unable to justify even the price of a cup of coffee, we didn't buy anything; we just made use of the (free) toilet facilities and then made our way to St.Basil's Cathedral.  This iconic building with its colourful onion domes, was well worth the entrance fee.  The biggest surprise to me was that, unlike almost every cathedral I've ever visited anywhere in the world, St. Basil's doesn't have any large cavernous spaces.  Instead, the interior is a series of small chapels and a maze of narrow corridors, such that you find yourself retracing your steps and going back into rooms you've already seen, in your attempts not to miss anything!
St. Basil's Cathedral

From St.Basil's, we headed for the Moskva river and walked along the outer walls of the Kremlin complex.  There is an awful lot of renovation work going on in Moscow at the moment, ahead of next February's Olympic Games, and we were fascinated to see the realistic facades which had been put up in front of riverside buildings to hide the work going on behind.

The Kremlin
Our visit to the Kremlin was a highlight.  I hadn't realised how vast the complex is.  We queued for a very long time to buy our tickets.  The system seemed incredibly chaotic, but it was clear that a new ticket office is under construction so, presumably, these issues won't be a problem in the future.  Knowing exactly which ticket to buy in order to visit everything, including the armoury, was a bit of a mystery, but, eventually, with the help of a friendly Muscovite, we paid our 700 rubles each (about £14) and got our tickets.  It later transpired that we should have paid 1,050 rubles each (£21), but, by the time this came to light, we were miles from the entrance and an obliging security guard took pity on us and allowed us through (providing we remained outside and didn't venture into any of the remaining buildings!).

Furry crown!
We visited the State Armoury first as this was on a timed-ticket system.  The collection on display represents the wealth accumulated by Russian princes and tsars over many centuries and is completely overwhelming!  I don't think I've ever seen so much gold in one place before!  I was particularly taken with the furry crowns!  I know Her Majesty wears crowns which are trimmed with ermine, but these were full-blown Russian-style fur hats with a crown on top!  I'm sure it's not the desired reaction, but it made me giggle!  I also loved seeing the collection of magnificent dresses, including Catherine the Great's coronation dress.  These outfits were incredibly wide and explain the reason for the huge doorways inside buildings at the time!  The other highlight for me was the large number of ornate carriages, some of which had been turned into giant sledges to make them better able to cope with the Russian winters.

From the armoury, we walked through Cathedral Square and admired the churches there.  The cathedrals of the Archangel, the Assumption and the Annunciation are all striking buildings filled with wonderful works of art.  Another 'not-to-be-missed' sight in the Kremlin complex is the Tsar Bell.  This bell, weighing over 200 tonnes, is the largest in the world.  An 11.5 tonne piece of it broke off while it was still being made and this is now displayed beside the bell.

Police presence
After completing our visit to the Kremlin, we walked back towards Red Square through Alexander Gardens and paid our respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  We had a very expensive coffee and a snack before heading back to the Metro station, stopping to wonder at the vast numbers of armed police pouring into the square as we did so!  It's a pity none of them were around when my wallet was stolen a few minutes later!  A sour note to end a really good day!

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