Saturday, November 04, 2006

Moscow Nights (More Like Days, Rather)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Weather: Redundant.

Up and on the road to town early (Leningrad Highway - some Russians are still hesitant to let go of their Soviet Past), we headed directly for the Kremlin. Our tour guide, Natasha, gave us an overview that just about repeated verbatim the information Valera had given us the day before, including the particularly weak joke about their lower house of parliament, the Duma. Duma means "to think" in Russian - - apparently the people of Russian don't think their leadership does that very often.

The Armory is housed in the Romanoff Palace within the Kremlin. On display was a particularly impressive display of Tzarist regalia, including the coronation gowns of Catherine the Great and Elizabeth I. Catherine's, rather small and almost painfully so was quite a contrast with the more bovine Elizabeth. Per Natasha: "A big girl, no?" Also smaller than expected was the coronation robe, in gold silk and ermine, of Nicholas II.

The collection of Faberge eggs was less than impressive - - only five shown of the ten held in the collection. We did not get a complete response as to where the rest were. I found the display in Richmond, VA much more impressive.

On that note, there was a room filled with Royal Coaches that demonstrated the evolution of Tzarist travel from somewhat primitive, Catherine I, which had no mechanism for steering. Turning required lifting the entire carriage and facing it in the desired direction. With each carriage, the technology and decoration became more elaborate and ornate.

Other displays of silver, gold and vermeil ranged from beautiful to outrageous.

We then visited the Diamond Fund, where fewer pieces were on display than one might have expected. There were only three or four cases containing what looked like family pieces. I'm sure most of what remains, or at least a significant portion got out just before the revolution with the Dowager Empress. There was one beautiful tiara of diamonds with pear-shaped pearls dangling. One may see that piece adapted for costume purposes in the near future.

We stopped in some of the cathedrals on Cathedral Square before leaving the Kremlin for Red Square. John chose to line up to look at the still-dead Lenin.

I declined. I buddied up with another member of our group for a little shopping in Gum Dept. Store (which, by the way, is a mall). It it quite the upscale location with stores including Prada, Louis Vitton, numerous jewelry stores and Adidas.

We then began looking for a cafe to find a bite to eat, but only located the mall food court, complete with S'Barro (which looks like "C'bappo" in Cyrillic) and fried chicken. Not content with "mall food" we ventured out of Gum to search the area. The first candidate was not acceptable. The second, Cafe Norma Club, turned out to be a topless bar, certainly not my market! Wandering back through Gum, we left Red Square and found another food court in a new shopping location nearby. This one had a kiosk marked "brasserie." It wasn't great, but it seemed a little less "touristy" than anything else we'd seen.

I came back across Red Square to meet the bus on the other side of St. Basil's Cathedral. Time did not permit to take a look, but various reports confirmed that there would have been little to see.

John shared his observation from Lenin's Tomb. The preserved body, which has been on continuous display since his death, was presented in a remarkably regal manner. The bier and body are draped in purple velvet. Lighting focused on his face and hands, the only skin exposed. John noted that the treatment was just like the way Russian religious icons are made. The ornate metal coverings on icons are traditionally made the same way, with only the images of exposed skin remaing exposed on the icon. Interesting treatment from a people who didn't believe in God.

From there, we headed to Arbat Street, a pedestrian street reported to have the best in shopping that we would see while in Moscow. Such was not really the case. There were countless souvenir shops and kiosks, all carrying the same theme and variations of matrioshka dolls, printed floral wool shawls, fur hats, Soviet military regalia, t-shirts, books, etc. I did manage to find two final pieces to bring back to friends.

A couple of sights along the way. First is a statue/tribute to Peter the Great. Originally, this was to have been a tribute to Christopher Columbus and given to the US about the same time as the Statue of Liberty, but the politics of the period never got the piece completed and it was repurposed.

This is KGB Headquarters.

Here's another shot of the Bolshoi, under renovation.

The Tchaikovsky Concert Hall (We heard that the American, Van Cliburn, won the first piano competition there in the 1950's. We heard that every time we drove by it, and a couple of times when we didn't.)

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior, shown in the shots below is a reconstruction of one that was "blown up" by the Soviets in 1933. The original was built in the 19th century. At one time, Stalin had begun construction of the enormous House of Soviets that was to have had a giant statue of Lenin on top. The scale was to be such that a helicopter landing pad was planned for his outstretched palm. The building was never constructed and it ended up as the site of a swimming pool and outdoor recreation for many years. the Soviet government fell and the cathedral was reconstructed in a period of less than five years. It turns out that much of the building had been saved and stored prior to its first destruction. It may be hard to see, but there are bronze relief sculptures on the walls of the building that had been saved.

According to
The reconstruction raised considerable patriotic feeling amongst many Russians, although some Muscovites opposed the project on aesthetic grounds, claiming that the hastily built replica of the original church lacked elegance and balanced proportions.

Citibank's presence was quite frequent as we drove through the city.

Our last scheduled stop for the day was Tretyakof Art Gallery, which John and I declined to visit. It had already been quite a long day and the thought of being rushed through yet another stop was undesirable in the least.

Dinner was another incident of familiarity on the verge of breeding contempt. When John requested a second glass of iced tea, Nastja returned with a tray of four glasses. I'm sure the gesture was as much for her own saved steps as our liquid needs.

I bid a brief but grateful farewell to the restaurant manager, Andre. If he is representative of the other restaurant managers in the employ of Viking, I would recommend others with special dietary needs to explore Viking Lines. I'd like to say that the food was exceptionally good, but it wasn't. Our Swiss chef did have a very nice and with the soups. Salads were often an adventure - he showed a fondness for overuse of parfait glasses for the salad course.

Before we arrived on board, I had considered that I might be hungry for much of the trip. I didn't lose a pound. Ice cream ended several lunches and most dinners.

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