Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Moscow Revisited


The Moscow Kremlin, or fortress, which protected the seat
of Russian government from the time of Ivan III

The morning of the third full day in Moscow, we visited the State Armory of the Kremlin, with its treasures from the tsars and its military exhibits. We saw, in particular, the glittering crowns and gowns and swords of the tsars and tsarinas, the elaborate silver platters and goblets given to tsars (including Catherine II) by ambassadors from all over Europe, and books with jewel-encrusted silver or leather covers. We saw coronation gowns and thrones and carriages, each more elaborate than the next, of all the monarchs from Peter the Great through the unlucky Nicholas II. And the Faberge eggs – one celebrating the 300 years of the Romanov dynasty and one celebrating the children of Nicholas II – were particularly beautiful and sadly ironic. It’s a wonder that these treasures were preserved and not melted down for coins or destroyed out of spite during the Russian Revolution. Apparently, many treasures were sold to European and American collectors by the Soviets to raise cash for the early regime. Obviously many of them were saved.

St. Basil's Cathedral on Red Square, built by Ivan IV to
 commemorate the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan. A parking
lot mars the view of the church, built outside the Kremlin walls

After that, we visited the cathedrals inside Kremlin Square – an impressive aggregate of white churches with gold domes. We went into the Cathedral of the Dormition, with its large, thick, circular pillars supporting arches high above the floor, layer upon layer of frescoes covering the walls and pillars, all telling some story, now lost on most viewers. The cathedral was built in the late 15th century, and it is the church where the coronation of tsars and emperors took place. A throne of Ivan IV stood before the iconostasis, crowded with silver-bordered icons. We were not allowed to take photographs, but for an idea of views inside the church, you can see photos from Wikipedia here

We did not go into any of the other churches.
Golden domes of the churches/cathedrals within the Kremlin
The communists destroyed churches throughout the Soviet Union, but somehow they didn’t destroy many Moscow churches, except for the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The cathedrals within the walls of the Kremlin, itself, seem to have been spared. Outside the churches, and outside the Kremlin walls, we saw the Tsar’s Bell and the Tsar’s Cannon, neither of which ever functioned. Afterwards, we had a pretty good lunch at the Hard Rock CafĂ©, although it didn’t come up to the standard of food on the ship. That evening, I didn’t participate in the group activity (a singing concert).

Church of the Dormition, oldest of the Kremlin cathedrals,
constructed under orders of Ivan III by an Italian architect.
Closed under Communism, it was reopened in 1990.

The last day in Moscow, I went with part of the group to the Tretyakov Gallery, a marvelous collection of Russian paintings from medieval times (icons) to modern (impressionist and post-impressionist). The largest and most interesting paintings in the collection (for me) are those of the Russian Realist style – artists from the 18th and 19th century who depicted authentic landscapes and social situations, artists whose names are scarcely known in the west: Perov, Vasiliev, Kranskoi, Surikov, Repin. I had previously seen a couple of the paintings that I remembered – one in a book on religion in Russia, the other at an exhibit at either the Met or MOMA. I believe the latter may have had an exhibit on Russian Art two or three years ago while I was visiting New York.

Cathedral of the Annunciation, Cathedral Square

I also visited the Tretyakov Gallery nearly 20 years ago when I was first in Russia, and I remember particularly the landscapes from that time, as well as a life-sized portrait of Leo Tolstoy in peasant garb.

That afternoon we set sail down the Volga Baltic Canal. This Russian landscape along the water is so soothing, so inviting; it generates in me an intense sense of nostalgia and longing.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Volga River and Moscow, Day 2

I'm picking up the thread of a travel blog that was interrupted over a year ago by several months of illness and by catch-up activities afterwards. The entries are from the journal and photos of a trip to Europe and Russia in 2010--my last overseas trip--during which I tried to see all the places still on my bucket list. It was a wonderful, if exhausting, trip. The previous entry was posted in September of 2014!

6-2-10 (continued)

That first evening in Moscow, I didn’t go on the optional “Sunset tour” of Moscow but rather chose to get some more sleep.

The following morning, we took a bus tour through Moscow to several well-known spots, including Sparrow Hill, where Moscow University rises in stern prominence with its Stalinist main building – one of the “seven sisters” of Stalinist architecture in Moscow. There I bought a couple of souvenirs from a vendor who had a table set up on the edge of the hill overlooking the city. I understood the numbers he told me when I asked him, “Skolko stoit etot?” the Russian is beginning to come back.
Souvenir vendor in the Sparrow Hills;
Moscow University in the background.
 We also went to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, the main cathedral in Moscow, which had been destroyed by the Communists, but was reconstructed (1994 – 2000) in brilliant white stone topped by golden domes. The interior of the church was beautifully painted and gilded; the alter was covered by the largest, most elaborate baldaccino I remember ever seeing. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photographs inside the church.
Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Moscow
Afterwards, we visited the famous Novodevichy cemetery (new maiden cemetery), where we happened to see Nadeshda Yeltsin enter by car and place flowers on her husband’s grave. Our guide, Natasha, was almost overcome at the sight of her, and she couldn’t stop talking about Nadeshda and Yeltsin during the entire walk through the graveyard. We saw graves of entertainers (a ballerina, a comedian), politicians (Khrushchev and Stalin, besides Yeltsin), writers (Pushkin, Gogol, Chekhov), musicians (Shostakovich) and many others I no longer remember.
Nadeshda Yeltzin laying flowers at her husband's grave
Anton Chekhov's gravestone
Shostakovich's memorial
Khrushchev's grave


That afternoon, we heard stories from veterans of WWII (“The Great Patriotic War”), including a man who had participated in the fighting in Stalingrad, and a woman who had been an army nurse and had been captured by Germans. The person who introduced them was one of our guides (we have six for the 214 people on the trip), and she seemed quite overcome by the idea of these great patriots. She actually wept as she introduced them. Another woman was with the group of veterans, apparently an academic, and her presentation had a Soviet-style flavor to it.
In the evening, I opted out of going to the circus, having already seen the Moscow Circus the last time I was in Moscow (1992), and also because I really don’t much like to watch trained animals, especially not big ones like bears and elephants that are not really domesticated.