Thursday, January 3, 2008

Baby it’s cold outside

It was the coldest day since we’ve been here – 5’F according to Michael’s car. Of course it tried to fool us by being sunny. We bundled up and Mike took us on a bus tour. We have been sticking to this section of the city, so this was an opportunity for us to see more.

The first stop was Christ the Savior Cathedral. It’s the big white one with gold domes in many pictures. Our tour guide was obviously religious and anticommunist, so she provided many side comments to the standard script. This cathedral was destroyed in 1931 and rebuilt in 1991. It is magnificent and glad to know there were still craftsmen with the skills to duplicate all the intricacies of the original. The only thing I noticed different from the old ones was the brightness – guess it needs a few centuries of candle burning to provide the usual patina.

One of the details I found fascinating was an 8 pointed star any quilter would recognize. The guide said it is a traditional design in the marble mosaic floors of a church as it represents eternity. We weren’t allowed to take any pictures, so I’ll have to trust my memory.

She also pointed out the lists of names on the walls of the foyer. These were the men who defended Moscow from Napoleon. As you can imagine, it takes walls several stories high just to name the units lost in that war. The destruction of the church then not only harmed religion but part of their military history. Some of the marble was stripped before the building was blown up and used in subway stations so not everything was lost to the people. That thought seemed very important to the guide.

The bus was parked across the street, so we got to practice crossing a main road without a traffic light again.

We drove down a road dedicated to medicine – a soviet design with a maternity hospital on one end and the mortuary on the other. Most of the buildings in this part are old – stucco of various pastels with white ornate decorations. I didn’t think Moscow would have as many soft colors as a tropical location. We passed many concrete apartment houses of the Stalin era. I knew they had communal kitchens and bathrooms but I didn’t know they don’t have elevators. Some of them are 10 or 12 stories high. I feel like a wimp complaining about the climb to the third floor for Claire! We also passed some new expensive condos – would be a great addition in any city.

We then stopped at ‘the convent”. I don’t remember the name but it is on the opposite side of the river from the Kremlin where many of the photos we see are taken. It is now a cemetery for many dignitaries but we didn’t have time to pay our respects.

We then rode past Moscow University. It’s better than the pictures. A great building with expansive grounds including a stretch to the river that reminded me of the Mall in DC.

We passed the ski jump constructed for the 1980 Olympics – too bad there isn’t enough snow. We saw the arch commemorating the triumph over Napoleon and drove passed a large park that has monuments for all the towns that fought in WWII. Mike loves it, of course, - he eyes still sparkle talking about getting to climb on tanks and stuff. Think I know where the girls will be playing this summer.

Then it was back to Red Square. Our first guide had told us the entrance arches had been removed by the soviets to allow the large military equipment to enter for the parades. This guide noted the small chapel between the arches was also restored to maintain the tradition of thanking God before entering the Kremlin. She told us Lenin’s tomb is always closed during the holidays so he can’t be offended I wasn’t able to pay my respects.

We stopped in GUM again mainly for the bathrooms. There aren’t many public restrooms and I didn’t think the many port-a-potties all over the city would be warm enough. The food emporium was open and we enjoyed looking at everything. There was a wide variety of all sorts of goodies – including some caviar that was tagged 128,750ru. We picked up some cookies but I regret not getting something from the huge tea assortment. I was leery as I couldn’t figure out if anything was “no caffeine”.

We then had lunch at an Azerbaijani restaurant. We had a soup that was so delicious that Ron immediately searched the web for the recipe. I had Chicken Kiev – so I have completed my gastronomic list for this visit. Tomorrow we are going to the ballet – so my wish list of things to do will also be fulfilled.

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