Grand Tour of Moscow 25.8.12
Posted by Lisa Hill on August 26, 2012
This was the first day of our tour with Cox and Kings and so we met up with Irina our guide and set off on the coach with our driver Sergei for the Grand Tour of Moscow. I think we saw everything of significance that there was to see – the Seven Sisters which are mega buildings commissioned by Stalin, Moscow University, the ring roads, assorted bridges, lots of gorgeous churches and many fine buildings dating from the 18th century and so on. We went to the Arbat which is a pedestrianised street in central Moscow where tourists like us buy silly Russian hats and drink complementary shots of Vodka (and yes, we did both, and bought some nice presents for our friends), but we resisted buying any Babushkas. It’s very late now and I’ve had a cocktail or two so it’s all a bit of a blur, but what stands out is the extraordinary way that the Russians have rebuilt churches that the Soviets demolished, the magnificence of Red Square and the artwork in the Metro stations.
The first church we visited was the restored Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The Soviets blew up the original in 1931 – there are photos of it on Wikipedia and also this excellent video at YouTube – like those amazing restorations in Barcelona, it’s very hard for the general tourist to tell the difference. We went to St Basil’s too, (that’s the one with the brightly coloured domes that everyone associates with Moscow) and saw some gorgeous icons in situ. We were also treated to a glorious a cappella male choir performance while we were there, just five voices but it was spine-tingling, especially the bass.
Red Square, to people of my generation, is associated with those ominous displays of Soviet military power during the Cold War. But to people here, it’s associated with celebrations of victories over assorted interlopers, most notably Napoleon who left with his tail between his legs in 1812. There will be mighty celebrations on the 200th anniversary of this event this year because in a city as old as Moscow, this is recent history and it’s well worth having a party! There are also surprising examples of Soviet humour: Stalin and Lenin lookalikes posing for photos, and people joking about how they queue up to see Lenin’s mausoleum to make sure he’s really dead.
We saw the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts – to which we hope to return later in our stay if we have time. It turns out that I was completely wrong about the availability of Western artworks here, it’s just that they’re not at the Tretyakov. At the Pushkin, there’s Goya, Matisse, Manet, and all the rest, and we discovered this when we went in to use the loo and saw the museum plan but there wasn’t time to go in and see them all. We whizzed past the Moscow Library and a statue of Dostoyevsky, and also a huge bookshop which apparently stocks books in English too. We spent a bit of time in the local temple of commerce, ‘Gum’ which is a massive shopping complex full of international designer brands and a lot of window-shoppers and then we did the trains.
It’s probably really hard for anyone in Melbourne to imagine that we spent two hours riding around on the subway looking at stations, but that is exactly what we did. It turns out that the station we used the other day was one of the shabbier ones, the main stations are magnificent, each one done in a different style focussing in some on Soviet heroes or history and in others on the culture of the Soviet republics.