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)

Posts Tagged ‘Moscow 2012’

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: | 3 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 »