Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Archive for the ‘Moscow 2012’ Category

Moscow Kremlin, and on to St Petersburg!

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 28, 2012

KremlinToday we visited the Kremlin, home of the bogeymen and heart of the Evil Empire during the Cold War. KrKremlinemlin means fortress,  and the images of the Soviet Union that we grew up with were of this fortress – these massive stone walls of sombre red; intimidating displays of military hardware that were a powerful allusion to nuclear armaments that threatened world annihilation; endless formations of grim  soldiers; and the Soviet leadership basking in their unadulterated power.

Today the Kremlin is full of tourists gawking at the ancient cathedrals that so unexpectedly lie within its walls. In the days of the Tsars, they built these churches and chapels for different purposes – weddings, funerals, private prayers and so on, because even though Ivan the Terrible was a very cruel man and the lust for power had the same effect on some of the female rulers too, they were still very religious and hoped that erecting magnificent churches would absolve their sins.

The complex is much bigger than I had expected.  There are buildings from all different periodKremlin (Stalin's building)s, including the ugly Stalinist one that confronts the visitor at the entrance.  Stalin lived there for a while until his wife committed suicide and then he apparently couldn’t bear it.  Putin doesn’t live there either, apparently he has a posh apartment somewhere on the swanky side of town.  So it’s just used for administrative purposes.

KremlinThere are lovely gardens which include a monstrous broken bell commissioned by the Empress Anna and a beautifully decorated cannon, which (like the bell) has never been used.  Why something intended to be used to kill a lot of people should have been cast with gorgeous decorations I do not know.  It seems rather odd to me…

The Armoury is now a museum full of Russia’s treasures: gowns that belonged to Catherine the Great and other members of the royal family; splendid vestments belonging to the Patriarchs; magnificent carriages; chain mail suits of armour and swords and of course the fabled collection of Faberge Easter eggs.  Alas I have no photos of any of these marvels because we weren’t allowed to take any (but I have a souvenir book instead).

KremlinThe best thing about this whole experience is that it’s a reminder that the world can change.  People my age grew up terrified of the Soviets and all that they represented.  Visiting Russia was an impossibility for all but diplomats, journalists and spies.  And now ordinary people like me can visit as tourists and make friends with ordinary Russians. The new Russia is a symbol of hope which shows that countries and cultures which seem hostile and alien don’t have to stay that way, not if the people will it otherwise.

In the afternoon we said farewell to our wonderful guide Irina who did so much to make our stay interesting and enjoyable, and then took a clean, comfortable, high speed train to St Petersburg.  More tomorrow!

Posted in Cathedrals & churches, Historic buildings, Moscow 2012, Museums, Russia 2012 | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Sergei Posad, and Kostroma Folk Dance, Moscow 26.8.12

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 27, 2012

We were met by Mikhail, a young seminarian not far off his ordination, and our tour guide Irina translated for us when his English failed him.  He was a lovely young man, still tossing up whether to become a monk or a priest, and the decision is a fateful one because in the Russian Orthodox Church priests must marry.  He is an only child, so I expect his parents would prefer the latter.

Moscow Sergiev Posad 001If he does marry, he and his bride can be sent anywhere in Russia, and it will be a case of the Lord will provide.  If he is sent to a remote village somewhere like Siberia, he will have a house to live in and a garden plot to raise vegetables and perhaps keep a cow and some chickens, but apart from that he will rely on the generosity of his parishioners, because unlike the wealthy churches of the west, the Russian Orthodox church has no funds of its own.  Tourists’ entrance fees and the permit to take photos help to raise funds for a monastery of historic significance like Sergei Posad, but there is no money to spare to support priests anywhere else.  (And it is highly unlikely that Mikhail would have a house like this enchanting one that we saw along the highway en route).

Moscow Sergiev Posad 008It’s a functioning monastery, and today was a Sunday so it was crowded with pilgrims and worshippers.  Services start at 5.30 am and continue till late in the evening, and I wasn’t the only one in our group who felt a bit like an interloper when surrounded by so many people who were there to light candles and to pray.  I felt more comfortable in the church where there were no services at the time, but I must admit that it was lovely to hear the congregation in song. Quite different to the professionals we heard yesterday, but very touching.

Moscow Sergiev Posad 020

The art works are lovely. Not all of them are originals; some are restorations, late additions and substitutes but in the end it doesn’t really matter, (or not to me, anyway).  They are lovely to look at, and they are symbols of a faith that means a great deal to the people here.  After all those years when these believers were denied their churches, when aggressive atheism meant that many of the churches were stripped of their artworks to be sold off or destroyed, and when the buildings were used as storehouses and museums, well, even a non-believer like me respects the value of these churches.

Moscow Sergiev Posad 014This rather unimpressive edifice is the tomb of Boris Godunov, the subject of Mussorgsky’s opera but also Tsar of Russia in the 16th century.  I can’t remember why he is buried here and not somewhere else, I’ll have to look it up to find out when I have more time.  but whatever the reason, you’d think a Tsar would have a statue at the very least but no, just this box which looks more like a potato storehouse to me.

Alas, I don’t have any pictures of the highlight of the day, the performance of the National Russian Dance Show, Kostroma.  The first half of the show was a series of tableaux depicting the history of Russia, and after interval there were traditional folk dances from all over the Russian federation. The costumes were gorgeous and the dancers were superb.  But if you hunt around on You Tube you are bound to find a clip.

Update (back at home)

Here are a couple of links:

It’s late now, very late and tomorrow we are off to see the Armoury and the Kremlin and then we’re off to St Petersburg on the train.  The plan is to upload this in the morning after breakfast!

Posted in Cathedrals & churches, Gardens, Historic buildings, LitLovers pilgrimage, Moscow 2012, Museums, Russia 2012, Sergei Posad 2012 | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

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.

More tomorrow!

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Posted in Cathedrals & churches, Historic buildings, Moscow 2012, Russia 2012 | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Marriott Hotel, Moscow 25.8.12

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 25, 2012

Moscow 25.8.12 011

Moscow 25.8.12 012Today we said farewell to the lovely staff at the Swissotel Krasnye Holmy and moved to the Grand Marriott where tomorrow we will meet up with the rest of the tour.

Once we were settled in we had a bite of lunch in the one of the hotel restaurants, and I had a manicure in the beauty parlour. Travel is very hard on the nails, and the hard water here has made my hair strangely curly too, so I could easily have spent the whole afternoon being pampered but we took a walk instead.

The Marriott is right in the centre of Moscow, a stone’s throw from the Kremlin and surrounded by dozens of shops and restaurants – including MacDonalds.  Compared to the Swissotel, the pace here is positively frenetic, and what’s really interesting is that there’s a whole lot of street life going on underground as well, as we discovered when we took a subway to cross the road. Imagine the Victoria Market underground, and you have some idea.  You could spend the whole day shopping there – buying anything from souvenir kitsch to underwear or books and never come up for air!

Today’s Bookish Moment was easy because we Moscow 25.8.12 015Moscow 25.8.12 014discovered Pushkin brooding over a nearby park.  We also soon noticed Moscow’s version of London’s blue plaques, large carved images of Moscow’s best and brightest, but alas we didn’t recognise any of the names or faces so they were a bit wasted on us.  However I did like the decorations on some of the apartment blocks, which in general are rather gorgeous here.  They seem to range in age from the 18th century onwards, and apart from some of the dowdy 1960s ones, they are as attractive as those you might see anywhere else in Europe, but with architectural elements which seem to be distinctively Russian.

We dined out at the Kitezh-Grad on Petrovka St which serves traditional Russian cuisine from all over the country.  We wimped out on the bear, because last night’s chef at the Graf Restaurant warned us off it, but we decided to lash out and have some Russian caviar pancakes which we shared over a glass of champagne, and Siberian dumplings with game (minced deer and wild boar).   The main courses were so huge that neither of us could finish them but they were delicious: I had venison served in a Hunter’s style with ‘cowberries’ and Tim had wild boar with what we think was burghul and fried apple with a raspberry sauce.

I know the layout for these photos isn’t as tidy as usual, but internet access is free here in the lobby and expensive in the room, and so I’m rushing to finish this so that we can put our feet up!

Posted in Dining out, Moscow 2012, Russia 2012 | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Tretyakov Galleries Old and New, Moscow 23.8.12

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 24, 2012

Most tourists with only a day or two in Moscow see only the permanent collection at the Tretyakov Gallery, because it’s centrally located near the major hotels and everybody recommends it.  It houses Russian Art from the 11th Century to the beginning of the 20th Century, so it has all the gorgeous icons and the kind of 18th & 19th century paintings that most people really like.  Of course it’s a must-see, but if you can venture a little further afield, it is well worth going to see the other Tretyakov Gallery as well…

Nobody here has even mentioned the New Tretyakov Gallery which houses the collection of Soviet art, and we would have missed it too if we hadn’t had a copy of Frommer’s Moscow Day-by-Day which showed us that it was nearby.  Our hotel (the Swissotel Krasnye Holmy) is in the business district and so for us the  New Tretyakov Gallery was just a short taxi ride away.  We left the cab by the river at the monument to Peter the Great (which is a most impressive sight, vaguely reminiscent of the Christopher Columbus monument in Lisbon, but (as you’d expect in Russia), much bigger, and then we took a short walk along the waterfront to the gallery.

It’s a big boxy lump of a building, and it’s more than unprepossessing inside, but the ticket seller and the information desk were friendly and helpful although they didn’t have a word of English between them.  However there was an information pamphlet in English with a map, and if you do as we did and head straight for the 4th floor, it’s brilliant.

We’ve seen a bit of fascist art in the Museum of Modern Art in Rome, but like most westerners, I suppose, we’ve interpreted it as propaganda.  Well, so it is, but if you take the time to look through this marvellous collection, you can also see something else.  This kind of art is also an expression of pride in the Soviet accomplishment, a celebration of the remarkably rapid transformation from a backward agrarian economy into an industrialised superpower.  There is a painting of the first Soviet airship; and another of two lovely college girls getting an education that was formerly denied them.  There is a terrific one of a car race with elegant automobiles, and there are city landscapes showing the building boom and Stalin’s skyscrapers.  Yes, because we know our history we know that these examples of economic progress were achieved at enormous personal cost to thousands of people, that some were built using slave labour and that Stalin’s collectivisation meant mass famine, not to mention the loss of personal freedoms, but nonetheless these paintings are not mere propaganda.  They show the people’s pride in what has been achieved in a very short time.  And while some of the art is not very sophisticated in its execution, some of it is rather beautiful.  I think this is one of the most interesting galleries I’ve ever been in because it challenged my preconceived ideas, and I like that.

Tretyakov Gallery (source: Wikipedia)

We had a restorative coffee in the cafe (not recommended, try the one outside instead perhaps?) and then set off for the permanent collection.  Although there were no monstrous queues like the Louvre or the Prado, the ‘old’ Tretyakov was bustling with visitors and the occasional tour group, and the atmosphere was quite different.   There was a cloakroom, a luggage room (for travellers, what a good idea!), an audioguide desk, three souvenir stalls and two cafés.  We sampled one of these for a buffet lunch, and although I left my satay uneaten because I wasn’t prepared to risk my front teeth on it, the steamed rice was quite nice and so was the Greek salad.  (Russians do seem to like their meat very well done indeed.  And I am looking a bit grim in this photo because the cakes seem to be rather well done too, but I thought you might enjoy seeing the bridal chairs which provide the cafe with sparkle that it otherwise might lack).

Once upstairs in the gallery proper, the curatorial guards (who were all sturdy looking women) were mostly awake, though more than one of them seemed to be more interested in their Sudoku than keeping an eye on any would-be thieves.  The casual attitude of European gallery guards never ceases to amaze me because I am used to the ones in the our gallery at home, who pounce immediately on any infraction of the rules, even breathing too close to the pictures earns a rebuke and woe betide anyone who flourishes a camera there!

Lunch over, off we went to look at the pictures.  Presumably the Soviets got rid of most of the portraits of aristocratic worthies, but there’s still plenty left to fill half a dozen rooms (see some here) and there’s a couple of royals as well, including a rather nice one of Catherine the Great walking the dog.  (It’s a borzoi, not a corgi).  But these wear a bit thin after a while, and then there are the usual landscapes, allegories and so forth.  Before long it dawns on the (western) visitor that there are no recognisable names – no Titians or Vermeers or Rembrandts, all the artists are Russians that we’ve never heard of.  It might be different at the Hermitage in St Petersburg, but here in Moscow that long Cold War seems to have meant that they never got to see any of our art, and we never got to see any of theirs.  No cultural interchange.  Imagine being just being an ordinary person like me who enjoys art, and never being able to see any of the great European masters! How much more dreadful that would have been for an artist!

What makes the ‘old’ Tretyakov really special is the collection of icons.  I find these enchanting.  Before we left home I bought a book about them and if you scroll down to the bottom of my review of it on the ANZ LitLovers blog, there’s a link where you can see some of the ones featured in the book.  But to see dozens and dozens of the real thing is just fantastic.  Some of them date back to the 11th century and even so the colours are still fresh and alive and you can sense the sincere faith of the people who made them.   There were also some very old mosaics and a lovely tapestry as well.  It was worth getting footsore for this part of the gallery alone.

Eventually it was time to make our way back to the hotel, so we decided to brave the Metro.  Everybody raves about how splendid the Moscow Metro is, and certainly it is true that the architecture is magnificent BUT all the station names are in Russian, and it took all my ingenuity to find out (a) which station we were in and (b) which of the two entrances we should take to get to the green line and (c) which of the innumerable platforms was ours and (d) which stop we should alight from because lo! the number of stops did not correspond with the map.

Anyone who tells you that you can get by in Russia without knowing any Russian is pulling your leg, it simply isn’t true (unless you stay in your hotel all the time).   If I had not known how to ask где есть? (g’dyeer – yest/where is?)  we would still be wandering around underground even now!  The taxi drivers don’t speak English either, especially not numbers for telling you how much to pay, and not all of them have meters, so you need to have a list of numbers to point at if like me, you’re not very good at remembering the larger numbers.

Tomorrow we say goodbye to the lovely people here at the Swissotel Krasnye Holmy and join our tour group at the Marriott on the other side of the CBD.  Red Square and the Kremlin, here we come!

You will be pleased to hear that I managed to have another Bookish Moment in the restaurant we went to for dinner.  I had some more very well cooked meat (allegedly veal) with a Pasternak sauce.  It was rather pale, so it did remind me of all that snow in Doctor Zhivago….

Update (now that I’m back home)

I was wrong about there being no big name artists in the Moscow galleries.  They’re at the Pushkin.

Posted in Art Galleries, Moscow 2012, Russia 2012, Significant statues | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Moscow 23.8.12, Tolstoy and Chekhov Tour

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 23, 2012

It is beginning to dawn on us that here in Moscow, Australians are exotic. It is standard operating procedure for us to announce our origins, lest anyone think we are Americans, and each time our announcement is met with surprise, a broad smile and an effusive welcome.  Nobody really knows where Melbourne is, and they all think we must be missing the hot weather, but they are delighted we are here, and are even more delighted to show off their fascinating country.  It’s very nice.

Anyway, today we made our pilgrimage to Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy’s estate outside Moscow, and in the afternoon, to Chekhov’s.  The tour was excellent, and even though it was rather expensive, it is probably going to be the highlight of our trip. It was a private small group tour in an 8 seater people-mover, but Tim and I were the only tourists so we had it all to ourselves.  Perhaps the GFC is still affecting tourism, or perhaps it’s because it is coming to the end of the season, but there were none of the crowds I was expecting and it turned out to be a lovely day.  (And great weather too, warm and sunny, about 20 degrees C.)

Our tour guide was Oleg, a genial and sophisticated man whose English was excellent. (He speaks four languages). Yasnaya Polyana is about 200k from Moscow along the dead straight M2 and apart from the occasional clusters of dachas, the landscape is flat and monotonous.  But Oleg kept us interested with chat about all kinds of things, from the social and economic changes in Russia since the transition from the Soviet system, to the battlefields of World War II.  He often takes people on battlefield tours as well, and, fresh from my reading of Anthony Beevor’s Stalingrad and Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate (both of which Oleg had read), it was more than a little chastening to look out across the fields and forests and hear him talk about the Germans encircling a city like Tolya (a.k.a. Tula) as we drove through it, or to imagine them only 30km from Moscow before their advance was stopped.

According to Wikipedia, the Germans did occupy Yasnaya Polyana, and turned it into a hospital, but fortunately the house contents had been evacuated to Moscow, and subsequently to Tomsk, and even more fortunately the Germans didn’t destroy it, as they destroyed so many other places, when they left.  It was interesting that there was no mention of any of this by the local guide, Anna (ably interpreted by Oleg): it was as if they were not prepared to taint this most special of places with any mention of the interlopers.

Tolstoy 001The gardens and orchards are kept much as they were in Tolstoy’s day, as is the house.  You can see the building that Tolstoy turned into a schoolroom for peasant children, and you can see the fields where he is said to have toiled with a scythe alongside the peasants.  Inside the house there is the leather couch where generations of Tolstoys were born, the dining room where Sonya welcomed the guests,  and not only the desk where Anna Karenina and War and Peace were written, but also Sonya’s study where she transcribed, (and some say, edited), the manuscripts from Tolstoy’s near-illegible handwriting.  BTW the photo of the dining-room is from Wikipedia because you’re not allowed to take photos inside.

Tolstoy's parlor

Yasnaya Polyana is showing its age, and I must admit that I wondered a bit about preservation issues.  There are priceless original manuscripts, items of clothing, paintings and photographs that while sometimes stored in glass cabinets don’t appear to be in a temperature-controlled environment.  On the other hand it is very special to wander through the rooms and see in situ the desk at which the great man wrote and the books he read.  It reminded me a little of our visit to Ho Chi Minh’s house in Hanoi where there is a similar focus on the choice of a simple lifestyle and rejection of luxury on moral grounds.  It might spoil the message that these men tried to share if their homes were altered in the name of preserving them.  It is certainly very moving to meander down the pathway to the gravesite and find a simple raised mound without even a headstone.  People bring flowers in tribute and place them along the border of the gravesite instead.

Tolstoy 010Russia (Tim's) 029At the adjacent cafe we had a traditional Russian lunch – salad, borscht, grilled pork and potatoes – and then, running a bit late, we set off for Chekhov’s estate.  Even though the road was sealed it was in very poor condition so we were bumped around a bit as we barrelled along, but it was no worse than many a country road in Australia, I suppose.

Chekhov wasn’t wealthy like Tolstoy was – he went into debt to buy the estate but wasn’t able to make a go of it.  Even though the place is very beautiful I think the purchase was a bit of a mistake – he seemed to have had endless visitors and not much of the peace and quiet that a writer needs.  Still he was able to produce The Seagull there, and in the building which he took over for himself, you can see a little plaque that says (in Russian) ‘My Home, where I wrote [Uncle] Vanya.

Our guide here was a lovely lady called Tatiana, who still gets emotional when she talks about Chekhov so I think he is much loved even today. She told us all kinds of interesting things about the Chekhov family, their visitors and even their household staff, and there’s more I could tell but I’m nearly out of battery so I must stop now!

Posted in Historic buildings, LitLovers pilgrimage, Moscow 2012, Russia 2012, Yasnaya Polyana 2012 | Tagged: | 11 Comments »

Moscow, 22.8.12

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 22, 2012

Moscow Day 1 001We said farewell to the Marina Bay Sands just before midnight and left Singapore at the ungodly hour of 2.30 in the morning.  As is usual for these middle-of-the-night flights, there was the bizarre practice of giving everybody ‘supper’ before lights out but eventually everyone settled down and (thanks to a generous serve of cognac) I eventually nodded off too, only to be woken up a couple of hours later for breakfast. Oh well, at least on Singapore Airlines the food is edible and there was plenty of time to watch a rather droll French film spoofing molecular gastronomy.

And then we were in Moscow!

Our first surprise was at Passport Control.  We were expecting a long and tedious queue, but no.  It turned out that almost the entire plane load consisted of returning Muscovites and transit passengers en route to Houston.  The Muscovites went one way, and the Singaporeans in transit and their ‘green cards’ were firmly marshalled off to the right, and Tim and I found ourselves all alone in a room with two bored officials who perked up no end when at last they had something to do.  Our visas appeared to be in order, but it did seem a bit odd that Tim was required so sign something and I wasn’t.  It was all in Russian so we have no idea what it was.  Was it a confession? A transfer of all his worldly wealth to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for an investment project in the Urals, or for that babushka who sends us emails begging us to save her from some terrible disease that only he can save her from?  Who knows, but the officers seemed very friendly when we tried out our scraps of Russian to say ‘good morning’ and ‘thank you’ so we hope there will be no ominous knock on the door in the middle of the night and that Tim will still have some money in his account when we get home.

We sailed through customs with equal ease and were then met by a burly looking gent who turned out to be our driver to the hotel.  Without a word of English but with quaint old fashioned manners such as I have not experienced since the 1970s, he relieved me of my suitcase and with Tim and his bags bringing up the rear we set off down a maze of twists and turns until we located his somewhat elderly Ford in a rather scruffy looking car-park.  No matter, our gallant escort won my heart when he even opened the car door for me!  As we barrelled along a broad highway towards Moscow we introduced ourselves, but I forgot to pronounce Lisa with a Z (as in Leeza) which meant – oops! that I had introduced myself as a fox.  I must remember not to do that…

Alas, very soon the traffic became a real bore. With the exception of pristine Singapore, the industrial outskirts of most cities are mostly pretty awful but in bumper-to-bumper traffic offering a closer look than you’d really want, Moscow seems a bit dingier than most.  From what we could see, it could use a Singaporean makeover: fresh paint on the buildings, a thorough clean up and some greenery would not go amiss.  Whether it was the rich aroma of diesel fumes from the (universally grubby) cars and trucks around us, or the lingering effects of night-flying, but before long Tim and I nodded off intermittently and only perked up when the traffic cleared a bit and the more interesting urban centre replaced the monolithic apartment blocks.  I could see Vitaly smiling as I began to pick out Russian words I knew: bank, office, restaurant, cafe, theatre, and I was pleased I had made the effort to learn a little bit.

Vitaly was our first Muscovite and very sweet he was too.  Not like the pert young miss on the reception desk here at the Swissotel Krasnye Holmy who had the cheek to ask us if we expected to stay in the same room together.  I find it hard to believe that an international hotel hasn’t encountered married couples with different surnames before, but even if we hadn’t been married for 20+ years (as I very promptly informed her), what business would it have been of hers? If it’s good enough for the Prime Minister of Australia to be shacked up with her beloved and no ring on her finger, it’s no business of some little hussy on a reception desk!

Once again we have a great view from our room.

When the unpacking was done and we’d freshened up, we decided to have a light lunch in the hotel restaurant.  For starters Tim had a seafood soup and I had a scrumptious tomato soup made with orange and rhubarb. The breads were a surprise: delicious black breads, not like those horrible stodgy black breads we’ve had at home, but light and fresh in texture, and sweetly scented with the aroma of brown sugar.  For main course Tim risked the crumbed carp and found it delicious, but mine … well, let’s just say that the potato mash and roasted tomatoes were lovely, eh?  The wines were good, the tea and coffee were refreshing, the service was prompt and friendly, and the whole thing cost only about $75.00.

Moscow Day 1 008Moscow Day 1 009Moscow Day 1 010

Moscow Day 1 011Moscow Day 1 012The hotel is not far from the river, so we took a short walk to orientate ourselves.  It was just as well we had rugged up because the wind was quite brisk, but we pottered about for about half an hour and then headed back for a snooze.  We have the long awaited trip to Tolstoy’s estate tomorrow and it’s an early start, so today isn’t a day for doing anything too energetic.

Update, later the same evening…

I am delighted to be able to  report that I’ve had a Bookish Moment already.  Yes, in the City Park cocktail lounge on the very top floor of the hotel (where the views are spectacular), I had a cocktail named in homage to Mikhail Bulgakov, a ‘Margerita and Master’ .  Mostly made with vodka (of course) but also with a violet flavouring, it comes in a big flashy glass called the Margerita, and a small, not so dominant sort of glass, called the Master.

Posted in Dining out, Moscow 2012, Russia 2012 | Tagged: , | 11 Comments »