Our train pulled into Moscow station, as scheduled, at 7:20 AM.
The night was not nearly so bad as we had feared—the berths reasonably comfortable, despite dire warnings to the contrary. Even the bathrooms were serviceable, if not particularly enticing. I slept a few hours, and woke feeling ready for the day.
The downtown Aurora Marriott Hotel was not ready for us to check in so early in the morning, but did afford us the opportunity to drop off our bags and enjoy a pleasant breakfast before leaving for the day. Our bus dropped us off in the shadow of the Kremlin walls,
and we walked into the fortress for our first visit, in the Armory,
(a nice group of kids...)
where the state treasures of the tsarist times are kept—amazing objects dating from as early as the thirteenth century, including both temporal and sacred ritual artifacts, chalices, icons and bibles encrusted with gold and jewels; eleven fabulous Faberge eggs and other state and royal gifts; textiles and clothes, wedding and coronation garments and patriarchs’ robes. Another jaw-dropping display of wealth and luxury…
From there, a walk through the Kremlin grounds
to the glorious plaza of the seven churches with their golden domes and spires.
We stopped in to visit the magnificent Church of the Assumption,
the traditional site of the coronation of the tsars, and admired what our guide informed us was “the biggest bell in the world”, cracked in a fire and useless now, but awe-inspiring simply for its size; and next “the biggest canon ever made”, across the courtyard from the senate and the office buildings of the administration and the city residence of the president, now the newly inducted Medvedev.
Leaving the Kremlin, we walked on through the Alexander Gardens and past the World War II memorial, recalling with anger and sadness the twenty-six million Russians, many of them innocent civilians, who died at the hands of the Nazis in that unhappy period of the country’s history. Further on, we reached Red Square,
where Lenin still rests, it seems, in his mausoleum, though rarely now on view to the public. Ellie and I recalled the lines that stood, even in winter, on our last visit to Moscow, waiting to get in an pay respects to the first leader of the Soviet state. No lines, these days. And no honor guard. And Lenin himself, we heard, is rather the worse for wear: most of his body has decomposed, leaving only the hands and face, which need special preservation efforts in a basement laboratory below the tomb. Sic transit gloria mundi, no?
A brief architectural visit to the famous art nouveau GUM Department store with its great interior spaces lit by long skylights above,
with Ellie and I recalling, once again, those bad old days, when GUM was inaccessible except for the privileged few apparatchiks, and where there was virtually nothing to be purchased in the stores even for those few who had the money to indulge. Lunch at the Goudonov Restaurant off Red Square reminded us of the dreadful, virtually inedible food in Moscow, 1989, in the few new “private” restaurants that had only recently opened. Our lunch, preceded by a foretaste of four different chilled vodkas, was a veritable feast by comparison.
On our way back to the hotel, we made a brief descent into the famous Moscow Metro station,
with its deco spaces, its steep elevators, and its rows of social realist bronze sculptures. Then back on the bus for a mid-afternoon return to the hotel. Some were foolhardy enough to venture out again almost immediately for a visit to the Moscow Art Fair. I chose, instead, to spend a couple of quiet hours in the hotel room, and to catch up with this travelog.