Thursday, August 27, 2015

Moskow 9 -- Moskva river boat tour

Moscow, the capital city of Russia, is situated on the banks of the river Moskva . A river trip or cruise is a great and...monotonous way to see the city center and its main attractions; no traffic, no smog, no pressure of any kind. It's cool and cozy inside the cabin;  you can buy a drink and enjoy the views .

inside the boat cabin

There are all kinds of boats circulating on the river, and several kinds of tours to choose from. I bought my tour ticket at the embankment near the Kievskaya metro/railway station ( a very impressive building in itself). It was a one way ticket to Novospassky bridge, and from there I walked up to Proletarskaya metro station.

The views on both sides of the river are captivating: the "Red October"chocolate factory (I fell for their milk bar 'Alenka'), Gorki Park (russian Disnyland),  the Kremlin, St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow State University, the Tetryakov Gallery, Peter the Great monument, etc...

'Red October' chocolate factory

                              Tetryakov contemporary art Gallery

                                   Peter the Great monument (partially captured)

At the end of this leisurely water trip, I felt glad I gave myself the opportunity of seeing  Moscow from another angle.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Moscow 8 - GUM and ZUM

It may sound strange, but the above words are the names of two very respectable department stores in the very heart of Moscow: Gum (pronounced Goom) located along the Red Square, and Zoom (pronounced Tsoom) next to the Bolshoi Theater.

GUM is actually a shopping mall, and a very expensive one. 
I think there's something wrong in the location  of this extravagant mall in the historic center of Moscow, especially opposite Lenin's mausoleum.
Having said that, the place is well worth a visit as it is unique architecturally.

                          the red  color belongs to Lenin's mausoleum

It is not exactly an one - piece building like ZUM; it consists of a series of arcades on three levels connected by small bridges and covered with a glass roof. Inside, there are lots of designer shops with western brands. It definitely has class, and it fits the requirements of both the russian elite and the rich tourists.

                      the glass ceiling and the interconnecting bridges

On the ground floor there's a luxury supermarket (which sells among other goodies, finest vodka and black kaviar). For the people with a tight budget there are the ice cream stands which are very popular.( I must confess I didn't like the taste of the local ice cream sold there).

                         licking icecream always makes a good picture

On the third floor I got acquainted with an eatery called Solovaya 57. It's a sort of canteen where you can have a decent meal for a decent price. I had lunch there  twice, and fell in love with their pastry of cherry strudel and cherry pie.

                   people taking the escalator to the Solovaya 57 canteen

                                            Solovaya 57- inside and outside

ZUM is situated in the theater area (Bolshoi and Mali theaters). It is a high end department store with renowned brands in clothing, cosmetics, shoes, accessories, perfumeries. Those looking for real fur will find it here.Those who wish to relax with a cup of coffee will do so at the nice cafe on the fourth floor,

                          the facade of  ZUM department store

Across the store there are some shops, eateries and benches. People seem to enjoy sitting on those benches , and looking ahead at the entrance of ZUM, at people going in and out of the big store.

             in the background, the red sign of the back side of ZUM

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Moscow 7 - The Bolshoi

If you're lucky enough to obtain a ticket for a ballet or opera performance at the worldwide famous Bolshoi Theater - then  you probably get your chance to be exposed to the highest form of culture available.

Tickets, however, are expensive and have to be bought in advance; even a tour of the  building's renovated interior is not without problems. The tour takes place only on certain days and you have to queue. As I was limited by time, I decided to just go and have a look from the outside at the historic building and its surrounding area.

The Bolshoi is not far from The Red Square and one can easily reach  the place  by metro.  There was no sign anywhere with the name Bolshoi, so I had to ask a passer-by to make sure that was It.

The neoclassical building is beautiful and  has a lovely fountain and garden in front of it. People seem to love sitting on the benches in the little garden, enjoying the sight of the fountain.

The 'neighbor' on the right side of the building  is the back (ugly) of the ZUM department store. (Something should be done about that; it kills the view).

                                the back side of ZUM (Tsoom) store

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Moscow 6 - May They Rest in Peace!

So many great people in one, relatively small place!!

Moscow's prestigious cemetery Novodevichi 
is the resting place of who's who in russian politics, culture, science, military and other walks of life.

To mention just a few : Khrushchev, Yeltsin (politics), Chechov, Gogol (writers), Prokofiev, Shostakovich (composers), Oistrach (violonist), Rostropovich (cellist), Shaleapin (opera singer), Galina Ulanova (ballet dancer), Tupolev (scientist).

Nikita Khrushchev-  his bust                                                   Boris Yeltsin
surrounded by a black and white structure

  Anton Chechov                                                      Fedor Shaleapin

                                                                      Galina Ulanova

Two wives of famous politicians seemed to attract a lot of visitors: Nadezhda Alliluyeva, Stalin's second wife ( committed suicide) and  Raisa Gorbachev, wife of Mikhail Gorbachev ( died in a german hospital after a 2-month struggle against leukemia).

Nadezhda  Alliluyeva

                                                                Raisa Gorbachev
              (A female statue is overlooking the grave; at the back- tiles that cover ashes in the wall).

The Novodevichi cemetery looks more like an exhibition of sculptures: bronze sculptures, marble sculptures, sculptures depicting accurately  the deceased and their profession; life size statues or just busts. A huge variety of styles, materials , colors.                   
Luckily, my knowledge of the russian alphabet helped me with reading  the names on the headstones.  At a certain point I also followed a guided group, and so I managed to visit most of the famous graves.

Many trees and bushes lining the alleys and the rows, as well as flowers near the graves - soften the rigidity of marble, bronze and stone  used in the building of the monuments. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Moscow 5 - Izmailovsky Market

'Izmailovsky' is  mostly  a weekend market, and it comprises several sections: souvenir section at the front; flea market, antiques, and art, at the back.  Like all markets, this one is also colorful and exciting, but not noisy; the lack of noise came as a pleasant surprise to me.

I wandered through all the sections, but since I was interested in buying some souvenirs, I naturally concentrated on the souvenir part of the market .

Besides the souvenir stalls,  there was a space (full of smoke) with meat stands, red tables and chairs, for people to have a barbeque meal.
Here's my meal (not cheap): grilled lamb (big bone, little meat), some vegs, a very delicious pita bread, a bottle of sparkling mineral water.

The souvenir part of Izmailovsky market is based mainly on two elements: matrioshka dolls and memorabilia, with some additional stalls and shops that sell T- shirts, russian fur hats with ear flaps woolen socks, shawls,  lacquer boxes, table coasters etc..As they say, there's something for everyone.

According to Wikipedia, matrioshka is  "a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside the other" .To put it simply - doll inside a doll, inside a doll, inside... The name 'matrioshka', as one understands,  refers to the mother figure of a big russian family.

I was utterly amazed at the huge variety of those dolls. They were of all shapes, colors, size, quality, hand-made or only hand-painted, with 3-5 and even more nested figures. Prices - accordingly.

As for Memorabilia items-  these include soviet era medals, pins, knives, coins, stamps, propaganda posters, busts of soviet leaders, and more.(Back, at the flea market , one could find  ' heavier' military stuff :rifles, helmets, uniforms, war masks).

The best part of my day was at the end of my visit at the market when I reached the metro station to go back to town. Outside the metro station called Partizanskaya, a trio from Colombia was performing rhytmical spanish songs and enchanting the audience. The russians seemed to be very generous with the money they put in the yellow box.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Moscow 4 - Within the Kremlin Walls

Once again I found myself in a long queue , actually two queues- one to buy a ticket , the other at the security checkpoint.

I knew touring the Kremlin ( Moscow's fortified complex overlooking the Red Square and the Moskva River) could be a matter of several hours and there was no place there to buy food or a drink, so I carried with me a bag containing a snack, some fruit and a bottle of water. The young man at the checking point wanted me, for some reason, to get rid of the bottle. It seemed crazy. I went to another checker who let me in without any problem.   

After entering the gates of the Kremlin  one gets into an  atmosphere heavily dominated by the great russian  spirit, history, architecture, religion, wealth.

                                                     entering the Kremlin

The Kremlin grounds, surrounded by red walls and towers are well kept, with  a lot of pathways and gardens. There are five cathedrals, a huge bell (that never rang), a big cannon (that never fired), the headquarters of the President of Russia and his administration (not open to public), several museums.. .

                                                           walls and towers

I particularly liked the Cathedral Square with people going in and out of the churches, standing outside, chatting and taking pictures ( no photography inside). From the  pathway adjacent to the square, there's a good view of the Moskova river .

the cathedral square
Russian czars were crowned in the Assumption Cathedral  and burried in the Archangel Cathedral.  

The Archangel Cathedral has more than fifty royal graves, including that of Ivan the Terrible  &two sons, and those of the Romanov dynasty members.                                            

For many people, the highlight of the Kremlin tour is a visit to the 'armory'- the rooms that house the treasures of the czars. It is not allowed to take pictures inside , and words cannot do justice to what the eyes see there: superb royal carriages, items in gold, silver and precious gems given as presents by foreigners to the czars, coronation gowns, thrones, and then the jewelery chamber (the Diamond Fund for which one needs a separate ticket and going through security check).

                             heading to the armory entrance under sudden rain drops

When you see the treasures of the czars it's easy to understand the meaning of revolution. People were starving, and the czars were accumulating  exorbitant riches. The clash had to come sooner or later.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Moscow 3 - St. Basil's Cathedral

St. Basil's Cathedral in the Red Square is the most spectacular, incredible sight in Moscow mainly due to the  multi - colored, onion shaped domes of its nine turrets. Each turret  has a small chapel beneath it with  altar, decorations, and lots of religious artifacts on display.  

To enter the cathedral I had to stand in  line and buy a ticket; it was worth it. The interior was beautifully decorated  with frescoes, icons, bricks.  I  moved from one tiny room to another, taking pictures (without flash) , enjoying the richness of color, delicacy of shapes, and intricacy of details.  I felt like  I was in a fairytale castle, and I even managed to climb up  the steps of the narrow staircase and have a  look at the Red Square from the top.

To be able to 'absorb' all of the inside and outside beauty  of this religious and architectural masterpiece, one has to visit it more than once. Definitely. 
I was told that sometimes a male group of 4-5 singers, with angelic voices, perform in one of the chapels.  It didn't happen while I was there. So, hopefully next time.... 
                                                           on the back stairs

When I came back to the hotel, I suddenly became aware of the brick wall on the way to the room area; it  seemed to have been inspired by the ones within the cathedral. I liked that.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Moscow 2 - Lenin's Mausoleum

                 Lenin's portrait -  wall of metro station Biblioteka Lenina

The mausoleum  is situated in the Red Square, opposite the big, expensive GUM store. The father of communism in the same area with a symbol of capitalism !  Ironical. Across the mausoleum, people  at GUM (General Universal Magazine) are drinking coffee, licking ice-cream and... looking at the tomb of Lenin. A somewhat  weird scene.

Before entering  the mausoleum, you have to stand in a long queue; when you're in,  you start descending  narrow, black stairs you can hardly see because of the darkness around.  No handrail available. If it weren't for a japanese tourist couple who held me by my arms, perhaps I wouldn't have made it to the ground area.

Finally, a spot of light - it's Lenin. He looks quite well, like he is just asleep, with one fist clenched , the other open. The maintenance of his body is a combination of great art and science. Kudos to the russians for their skill and perseverence!

You are not allowed to take pictures or to stop; you have to keep moving  around the glass structure he's laid in, and then climb up and... out ( to the Kremlin wall necropolis where you pass by the graves of other prominent russian figures: Stalin, Brezhnev, Andropov, Gagarin...).
I felt an urge to raise my hand in a salute both outside the mausoleum and inside ,while watching his embalmed body. Great Man, a real statesman, one that had shaped russian and world history.

There have been debates on the possibility of his burrial, after 90 years of display.  My personal opinion is that they won't do it, they can't do it. It has become a major "attraction" to the world. Each year, millions of people come to see him. The Red Square will not be the same without him. A visit to Moscow is meaningless without a visit to the mausoleum. I suppose, he will eventually be buried when his body will no longer properly respond to the preserving procedures.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Moscow 1 - Avtozavodskaya metro station

The little hotel I stayed at in Moscow some ten days ago, was located in a nice neighborhood, near the metro station called Avtozavodskaya. The name rang a bell, but I thought it was because lots of russian words have the suffix ..'.skaya'.

The next day, however, I noticed on the inside wall of the station a granite plaque with names and a date on it - and it struck my memory. I remembered that in 2004 (precisely on 6 february, according to the commemorative plaque) a bomb had exploded in one of the metro train cars killing more than 40 passengers and wounding more than 120. Survivors had to walk a long distance through the dark tunnel to get rescued or to find a way out. How horrible!

                            entering  Avtozavodskaya metro station

I stood , for a while, in silence with my head bent, in recollection of those innocent people who were on their way to work, school, market, home - and never made it. They were the victims of a cruel, despicable act of terrorism.