Sunday, June 21, 2015

Not Your Cold War Moscow

As a child of the 60's and 70's, images of warty old women hunched over in long bread lines were seared into our memories. The ghost of Leonid Brezhnev is on the Kremlin wall saluting goose-stepping soldiers as sinister music plays in the background. The bogey man was out there waiting to pounce on cheerful children frolicking in the California sun. It's hard to forget those images but Russia has moved on from the Soviet era. It's the 21st century over here but still, we Americans may have had too many grainy black white films etched into our memories to let those images go.

Our guests and I continue to ask the local guides about the Soviets. But they don't care and its been over for almost 25 years now. I have found something quite different in Moscow - a vibrant city that seems exceptionally comfortable in its own skin. Not once have I felt threatened while walking the streets. I  saw one man in a city of 18 million who may have been homeless. There are way too many automobiles on the streets but very few blaring horns are heard. Wide green city parks, a very large meandering river, shops, young people, even tranquility among the hoards. It's just a glimpse I know, but much can be learned by watching people go about their daily routine. What a surprise this has been!

This is St. Basil's Church in Red Square. I thought it was the Kremlin but its a church.

It is exceptionally colorful

This is GUM on the west side of Red Square. It is a giant shopping mall.

The Kremlin is a fortress of 78 acres surrounded by a red brick wall and the seat of government for Russia. Just outside the wall n Red Square is Lenin's Tomb.

We had taken a five hour flight from Siberia but turned our clocks back five hours. So after a full day already, we arrived at 10:30 AM and time for a tour of the city center by boat.

It is a great way to see the city as the Moscow River meanders back and forth through many different parts of the city. I had no idea that Moscow had a Paris-like river within it.

A giant statue of Peter the Great along the river. We were not allowed to take pictures inside the Armory, but this is where much of the royal treasures of the monarchy are kept and the collection is indescribably rich - jewel-bedecked Bibles, gold chalices, 16th century carriages of the kings and queens, 12th century armor and chain mail. The Armory inside the Kremlin is a must on any visit to Moscow.

The view of St. Basil's from the river boat

We visited two churches inside the Kremlin walls. I love to see religious iconography and this place is rich in it.

The Kremlin grounds are well kept and a joy to the eye in summer

The Novodevichy Convent where "discarded" queens were sent by the kings

We also visited the Novodevichy Cemetery, which has some scenic and colorful headstones of important Russian actors and politicians.

Like this one

Or the grave of Boris Yeltsin with the colors of the Russian flag

Easy to know what he did
How about the grave of the quintessential bogey man - Nikita Krushchev.

Moscow, like many old European cities was walled for protection. When the walls came down, they were replaced with parks and avenues.

We had lunch in a restaurant near this park and a wedding was going on nearby. This woman exemplifies the spirit and optimism of the youth here. They are suspicious of their government, unsure of their intent, and wanting to be a part of the larger world they inhabit.

We took a tour of the Moscow Metro and saw four or five of the ornate stations

Most were built after World War II

One of the them has 90 sculptures, many of Soviet era athletes

I saw many people rub the nose of this dog for good luck

This is the center of Moscow, their geographical baseline. It is said to be 700 kilometers to St. Petersburg from this spot. Many stand within the circle and throw a coin over their shoulders.

I've never seen this before, but this dog was begging for money

The GUM shopping hall is huge

We also visited Star City, outside Moscow. It is the equivalent of the Johnson Space Center in Houston

Here they have on display the MIR space station and the Soyuz capsules

We got a talk from cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin who spent six months on the International Space Station in 2013

He was an incredibly gracious guide for our small group in the MIR capsule and he showed us a 15 minute video of his time up there

We visited the winter home of Leo Tolstoy, the famous Russian writer

Some scenic views of the house

Backyard scene

The Christ the Savior Church along the Moscow River. Joseph Stalin had the old church torn down here but it has been rebuilt since the fall of the Soviet Union

Pedestrian bridge across the Moscow River. It was almost like being in Paris.

The Kremlin from the pedestrian bridge

Kremlin towers

The old and the new in Moscow

City apartments

Life goes on! And so does this trip. After three nights in the big city, we now head up to the high Arctic and Spitzbergen. We'll be on a five day cruise looking for polar bears and walruses and glaciers. No internet there so I will write more once we get to Iceland on Friday.

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