Moscow Sept 23
Really big day with a further tour of the city including a run past Gorky Park and on up to a popular look-out over the city vista and the Olympic Stadium including the two ski jumps which now look as though the skier would finish stuck up a tree. Sergei's comment "No one really cares anymore as Russia has got about one world class athlete".
This part of the city almost as popular for wedding parties as Red Square. The look-out about 200 m above Moscow and 800 m above sea level is also the location of the Moscow University (one of the seven sisters - extravagent buildings built in 1947 to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the founding of Moscow. There were to have been eight built but the last, it was felt would have dominated the Kremlin, so that one was donated to Warsaw in Poland). The university building is very impressive home to some 40000 students. We can only imagine the party crowds up here in summer.
Back to Red Square for Sergei to give us a talking/walking tour " in the rain". A lot of young people lining up outside what looked like a fan park set up for a Champions League match. Amazing feeling standing in the middle of where those parades of missiles, tanks, soldiers etc all filed past the heads of the politburo. Strange also that on the opposite side to Lenin's mausoleum is the GOM shopping centre where Muscovites used to line up for hours just to get some bread. It's now a typical Western shopping centre with all the brand name stores attempting to sell their overpriced stock to the very few people who 'believe' they need to buy such indicators of affluence. We can only assume they survive predominantly on the tourist dollar. Unemployment in Moscow is around 1% (14% for the outside areas) according to Sergai. But there seemed to be a bit of an imbalance between the cost of apartments and average wages.
Outside Red Square was the COM shopping centre. Three stories underground with again the typical shops found in most malls worldwide. Much busier in these stores. Security obviously still a major concern with all stores having security guards at the entrances and in one pharmacy we visited there were as many as five security and about ten floor staff in a store of no more than 100 square meters. Sue found one young lady with very good English to be most helpful.
After lunch we entered the Kremlin. Security surprisingly low key. While the Kremlin still contains the working offices of the president and all his cronies it is also a museum. Big excitement every now and then when one of the heavies left in a cavalcade of black limos and 4 wheel drive security vehicles.
At this stage the tour becoming a bit "not another bloody monastery full of religious icons" but when one considers that these peoples built a new monastery every time they were successful at war and given tumultuous European history it is not surprising to find a set of towering gold leaf covered cupolas around nearly every corner. Monasteries and palaces - they obviously didn't have time for anything else in the 100 days of summer.
There were originally 8 monasteries inside the walls of the Kremlin. Think there are probably now four remaining. All have fantastic names like the Church of the Ascension of the Robe of the Virgin Mary.
The Armoury Museum inside the Kremlin has an amazing collection of materials from the days of the Tsars with original dress items, wagons, cutlery and china etc etc. Unlike the name might suggest, it did not contain a lot of items of war. Some suits of armour and ceremonial swords, pistols and rifles could hardly compete with the multitude of gold and silver, pearls and emeralds on the ladies dresses and the religious regalia of the patriachs. The amazing thing is that the Bolsheviks preserved these symbols of repression. There is a fortune in gold, silver and jewels locked up in this museum alone.
Sergei our guide made one of his classic Russian sayings about the fact that the 2 most useless things in Russia were inside the Kremlin - the big Kaiser canon that never fired a shot because the creator was terrified it would blow up and a brass bell of 70 tons that was too big to swing. If it had been able to ring it would have been heard 50 miles away.
Another interesting statue was to Peter the Great it is a ship and sculpture of his head. Russians call it Peter Columbus as it is believed the sculptor offered it to the USA to recognize Christopher Columbus and when they refused he just changed the head.
Had a very Russian moment when the bus was trying to get us home last night from the cruise at 11.30pm - all the streets were blocked but the police allowed us to walk the last kilometer right into the area that was being checked for a bomb (we only found this out today). On the way down the fairly dark street we passed a soldier with an automatic rifle lurking in the shadows.