Emerging from the belly of a Moscow metro station, one is confronted with the monochromic blocks that passes off as architecture in Russia. Stalinist Gothic, the dominant style during the Soviet era, is a visual attempt to put into practice the philosophical desires of “curbing the excesses” of the country’s opulent past.
Dull greys leach the life out of every building, the color out of every face. Add the rain, which shrouded the crowded city in gloomy clouds upon our arrival, and Moscow looks positively depressing.
Thankfully, the city didn’t stay ashen for long.
At night, Red Square lives up to both meanings of its Russian name, krasnaya ploshchad. Krasnaya means either “red” or “beautiful” in Russian, though it was the latter meaning that city planers intended. Swathed in a warm red glow — light bouncing off the Kremlin’s red bricks — the entire square is a must-visit at both dusk and dawn.
Alan and I were exhausted from our flight from St Petersburg and the lack of sleep the night before (I blame the White Nights and their never-setting sun). By the time we found our Airbnb hostel and got a decent nap, it was late — many things were closed. We didn’t want to waste the day though, so off we went to Red Square, marveling at pretty St Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin (home of the Russian government and an amazing Armoury), GUM and the State Historical Museum.
They were preparing for some sports festival out on the Red Square, so we didn’t get to see the full expanse of space; the view was marred by tents, construction materials and poles. To be honest, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to take “the perfect shot” — you know, the photograph without the hundreds of tourists and their unwieldy cameras (I’m guilty of that all the time), the mess in the foreground, etc. I have to constantly tell myself that (a) a photographer (not that I really consider myself one haha) captures the truth and essence of a space/person at that given time, and that (b) travel isn’t about that Photoshopped, color-adjusted memory. So, still learning, I guess.
We headed back to the Kremlin in the day, and honestly, the Armory is the best museum I’ve ever been to in my life.
Photographs weren’t allowed, but that’s alright: going camera-free really helps you soak in all the marvelous treasures Russian royalty have received over the centuries. Fabergé eggs (the original Kinder surprise!), gem-studded altar gospels, gilded & crafted pewter jugs… I found myself struck by this particular Faberge egg — the Trans-Siberian — for obvious, feeling-of-connection reasons (picture from icollection.com).
Tsar Nicholas II presented this egg as an Easter gift to his wife Alexandra in 1900. Apparently the train had five carriages and could even be wound. Looking at this, and all the other wonderful, pretty things on display, I found myself quite in a world of magic. I mean, obviously all these beautiful, expensive things came at a cost — money spent on an exquisite egg presumably meant, more directly than indirectly, more hungry peasants out on the street. But it’s so easy to get carried away when all the things in your palace are these fantastic ornaments that seem the stuff of dreams and the wildest of imaginations.
I was also blown away by the carriage section of the museum, or as Alan put it, “the Lamborghinis of the 18th century.” Photos don’t really do them justice but try to take my word for it: the fact that these giant cars still look so impressive despite the centuries is testament to the handicraft and skill of their makers.
I don’t think I would have minded hanging out in the Armoury for a longer period of time, but we get around 90 minutes for a self-guided tour. You must book a seance (not our word, the Kremlin’s) in order to get in. Seances, or sessions, come at various times which are listed on the Kremlin website.
Post-museum, we decided to walk around the rest of the Kremlin. The Cathedral Square is so named for the three cathedrals that surround it, and to be honest, I have no idea which one this is. They all kind of looked the same after a while, except that one was a slightly creepy one that housed the crypts of all these old Tsars, but I didn’t really have much of a choice cos it was raining and we needed shelter.
I have no idea why they needed so many cathedrals, but I suppose that in line with the theme of Russian excess, here’s a photo of the Tsar Bell. It’s a little bit of a ‘fail’ story, since the bell had never been rung once, though that has probably something to do with the giant slab that it’s missing.
And here’s the Tsar cannon! Which apparently has only been fired once. The cannon balls are too large to be fired, but they’re mostly for show (I hope).
Here are the rest of our Kremlin pictures:
No Putin-sightings but (a) no biggie really and (b) he wouldn’t have been dressed like this:
St Basil’s Cathedral
We got inside the cathedral too late to rent an audio guide, so our eyes did most of the understanding. I thought St Basil’s was gorgeous — have always been partial to color explosions — but I found myself leaning towards St Petersburg’s Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood as a matter of preference.
The interiors in Spilled Blood are much more impressive for one, with the murals in St Basil’s comparatively muted.
The church winds around a lot and it can get a little confusing, and the numerous altars to various saints complicate matters too. Also there were large hordes of tour groups crowding up the narrow walkways, so you’d do well to walk ahead of them. Or you could be cheapskates like us and eavesdrop on some of the historical tidbits — though honestly, St Basil’s is so full of altars that a non-Catholic like me just kinda tunes them all out after a while.
One of the few couple pictures we took on this trip:
I don’t know why this post took FOREVER to come out but here it is. Not the best, I know, but I just need to get in a habit of writing. Already all my trip memories are starting to fade and this makes me a little upset. I’ve been busy: with work (this is real life, gasp!) and with Alan (he’s leaving for the States soon) and it’s just all too easy to forget that there is a a God to trust in, to commit to, to abide by. Not going to lie, the last two weeks have been tiring (I worked a six day week in spite of the holiday weekend) but I am grateful for today’s reminder that I can rest fully in His grace.
MORE STORIES TO COME~~~