Our exploration of Moscow began in earnest yesterday morning with a visit to Red Square to visit Lenin’s tomb. We travelled by the Metro (subway) which is distinctly impressive
The Moscow Metro was begun in Stalin’s time in the 1920’s. It has over 200 kilometres of track to 172 stations across 11 lines. Some of the earlier stations are very decorative as the soviets used them to showcase communistic achievement. They used the marble from the churches for decoration and some of the platforms have murals depicting how good life world be under Communism. As a result, these stations look like a piece of art in themselves. The trains run every two minutes, carrying over 8 million people per day – all for the standard fare of 17 Roubles (60 cents) from anywhere to anywhere.
It was at Red Square that we were given another lesson in Russian culture. The length of the queue meant that the wait would be well over an hour. We were approached by a guide who offered us a conducted tour without waiting in the line for 300 Roubles (about $12). We opted fur this but found that as soon as we had passed the security point, that our ‘quide’ said goodbye and returned to the line to find another couple of suckers. The money was simply a bribe (fee) to allow us to walk straight through. However, it did save us a lot of time and it only cost about 10 Roubles per step through the tomb.
Seeing Comrade Lenin is virtually a carbon copy of visiting Uncle Ho in Hanoi. The buildings are very similar in layout and the guards both enforce the same type of respectful demeanour with no talking, no hands in pockets and no smiling. Lenin looks like the same type of waxwork body. The main difference between him and Uncle Ho is that the soviets have removed Lenin’s brain to try and determine why he was so intelligent.
From Red Square, we walked through the town to Arbat Street, one of the oldest streets in Moscow. It was originally filled with the homes of wealthy merchants, but is now a mall and full of souvenir shops.
We had lunch here before heading off to do some more sight seeing. Russian meals (lunches) typically consist of four small courses – a small salad, soup, main course of meat and potato / rice with a desert and sweet black tea.
Our first stop after lunch was a large market that we reached after three changes of train on the Metro. It was here that I bought a set of Russian dolls for Audrey, my new grand daughter. Because she can’t read yet, I feel that I can boast about my purchase and it will still be a surprise that she can enjoy later in her life. I found a beautiful set of dolls that tell the story of the Ice Queen. There are nine pieces in the set and they are all hand painted and signed by the artist.
After we had finished at the market, we returned to our hotel for a rest before going out again for dinner and a return visit to Red Square to see it when it was floodlit. It was raining and very wet by the time that we arrived but perhaps some of the reflections on the wet ground will add to the photos.
On the way, we stopped off at some of the more ornate Metro stations on a little self-made tour of the train stations. A few years ago, we would have been arrested for taking photos in these places, but this is no longer a problem and the policemen didn’t even bat an eye as we flashed away.
Today, we visited the Kremlin and the Armoury.
The Kremlin is an impressive area within the old fortress that includes a lot of historic buildings, cathedrals and military relics including old cannon & mortars. It is still the location of Mr Putinï¿½s presidential mansion and his departmental offices. There is an ugly soviet style building in the middle which was commissioned by Kruyschev as the meeting place of the elected communist party representatives. It is another one of the places that our guide hoped would be demolished soon.
The Kremlin area is protected by the military and tourists have to keep to defined pathways. Any hapless individual that strays out of the defined areaÂ are warned by a shrill blast of a whistle and signalled to get back to where they belonged. In the central square, there were a lot of black limousines with blue lights on top. Every now and then six or seven would speed off in a small convoy to some unknown place, carrying unknown people.
The highlight of our day was a visit to the Armoury. This has a deceptive name because rather than being full of weaponry, the Armoury is a royal treasure house museum. It contains the Russian crown jewels, and significant treasures including ambassadorial gifts, carriages, costumes and some ornate antique weapons.
There are only five such places in the world and I have now seen three – Tower of London, The Armoury in Moscow and the Royal Museum in Stockholm. I am happy to pass on the fourth in Iran, but I hope that I can one day get to the fifth in Leipzig.
We had a quick and inexpensive lunch in the food court at the underground shopping centre near Red Square and were able to just get a glimpse of the changing of the guard at 3.00 pm.
We finished our time in Moscow with a cruise along the Moscow River. Not only did this give us an opportunity to stay off our feet for a while, we also passed many of the sites that we have seen over the last few days and it acted as a bit of a summary of our time here.
Tonight we have a very late train to St Petersburg, the last stop on this tour.
We are leaving Moscow with a number of interesting and favourable impressions. It is a very cosmopolitan city with a rich blend of history and modernism. It has a superbly efficient underground transport system, while traffic on the roads is congested and bottlenecked. It looks to be in much better repair than most other places that we have seen, although there is still some work to do. People still smile.