Our time in Moscow over the last two and a half days has been full of activity with us seeing more interesting sights and learning more about Russian culture.
Our visit to the Kremlin was quite remarkable. First, we stood in a large cluster of people as a tour group and waited for our turn to enter. Then it was through a rather strict security process and bag check before we could walk for quite a long distance around to the other side of the complex to see the Armoury. Unlike its name, the Armoury is not a weapons store, but instead, a royal treasure house. It was full of priceless objects like Faberge easter eggs, royal carriages, gold and silver gifts to the royal family, dresses, vestments and other royal outfits that somehow survived the revolution and the Stalinist times. We saw some ancient suits of armour and medieval weapons, and this is one of only six, or seven, royal armouries remaining in the world.
The name Kremlin really means “fortress inside a city” and most old towns have one. We often use the name to refer to the government of the Russian Federation in a similar sense to how the White House is used to refer to the Executive Office of the President of the United States. The existing Kremlin walls and towers were built by Italian masters over the years 1485 to 1495. It has an irregular triangular shape encloses an area of 275,000 square metres. Its overall length of the wall is 2,235 metres and the height ranges from 5 to 19 metres. The thickness of the wall is between 3.5 and 6.5 metres.
The heart of the Kremlin is Cathedral Square. It is surrounded by six buildings, including three cathedrals. The Cathedral of the Dormition was completed in 1479 to be the main church of Moscow and where all the Tsars were crowned. Some of the early patriarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church are buried there. The gilded, three-domed Cathedral of the Annunciation was completed next in 1489, only to be reconstructed to a nine-domed design a century later. On the south-east of the square is the much larger Cathedral of the Archangel Michael where almost all the Muscovite monarchs from Ivan Kalita to Alexis I of Russia are interred.
The traffic in Moscow is exceptionally busy. Even so, I was excited to see the rather ornate station where David and I finished our Trans Siberian Railway trip a few years ago. We passed it on a number of occasions as we wrestled our way downtown from the ship for our various visits.
Another very interesting visit was to go to the The Monument to the Conquerors of Space. This was erected in Moscow in 1964 to celebrate achievements of the Soviet people in space exploration. Above the roof, is a memorial depicting a starting rocket that rises on its contrail. It is 110 m tall, has 77° incline, and is made of titanium. The Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics is located inside the base of the monument. There were many models and pieces of equipment of what our guide called the ‘Golden Years of Russian Space Exploration (1960’s through tho the 1980’s)’. I don’t know whether these days are no onger golden, but Russia currently has the only permanently manned space station (Mir) which is no mean feat. At then museum we could see the first Sputnik, the craft in which the first animals weresent to space and vehicles for use on Mars.
We had a chance to meet with a Cosmonaut, Alexander Laveykin. He was was selected as a cosmonaut on December 1, 1978. He flew on one spaceflight, for the first part of the long duration expedition Mir EO-2. He flew as Flight Engineer, and was both launched and landed with the spacecraft Soyuz TM-2. During this mission he spent 174 days 3 hours 25 minutes in space. He was awarded the titles of Hero of the Soviet Union and Pilot-Cosmonaut of the USSR, Order of Lenin and the Russian Federation Medal “For Merit in Space Exploration”.
We were intrigued by his description of his background and experience. We had some time to ask him questions and I asked ‘What form of communication did you have with your family while you were in space?” (This was he first time I had ever spoken to a Cosmonaut or Astronaut and it was quite a thrill to get his translated answer). He told us that considering it was 1987 when he was in space, he was allowed to have 5 minutes tele-conference every two weeks. He then went on to say that nowadays, Cosmonauts can call home at any time on their mobile phones.
This morning, before we sailed, I visited the Moscow Museum of the Armed Forces. This was built to display Russia’s military history – mostly about WW2 or the Great Patriotic War. Inside were display cases, dioramas and displays that showed the history of the war against the Nazis. Russia had a terrible time during that war. Over 27 million people perished. In fact, taking into account the revolution, WW2 and Stalin’s purges, 52 million Russians were killed in conflict between around 1930 and 1965. It’s only over the last decade that there have again been an equal number of men and women in Russian society. At one time, there were seven times the number of women as there were men!
Some of the more modern displays in the museum showed some equipment used in Afghanistan and a jumble of metal turned out to be the remains of the famous CIA operated U2 flown that was shot down and flown by Gary Francis Powers.
We have had some splendid evening entertainment as well during our time here. One night we went to see the Aquanautics Circus. This was a great family show and I am sure that our grand children would have thoroughly enjoyed it. The show had a background created by a water fountain of ever changing height, pattern and colour. Some acts were performed on ice and others on a large tarpaulin covering the ice rink. Jugglers, acrobats, dancers and a couple of clowns put on a very entertaining show.
Last evening, our last in Moscow, we attended a choral performance by an A Capella choir who sang a mixture of Russian Church Music and Folk songs. I was expecting to hear some uninteresting and heavy classical Russian music but I thoroughly enjoyed the singing. I recognised some of the melodies and bought a CD before leaving. I thought they were terrific!
We left our port in Moscow at 2.30 pm today and followed up with a compulsory emergency drill where we all looked very lovely in our bright orange life jackets. They look to have never been used and I hope that they stay that way, at least until the end of our trip. I suggested to Jill that she should stand on the dock as we left to take a photo of the ship leaving, but neither she, nor the crew, thought that would be a good idea!