21.08.2016 - 21.08.2016
A truly amazing day here in Moscow!
My plan was to arrive at the Kremlin when it opened at 10:00 so I could see the various museums and sights there. I ate a good breakfast at the hotel, though they have no sugar for the coffee; plenty of milk or creamer, but no sugar whatsoever. Strange.
As I was making my way to the entrance of the Kremlin, I noticed a large line queuing up near the barricade in Red Square that was closest to Lenin's Mausoleum. I walked up the line to see if I could overhear what the queue was for; I surmised that it must have been for entrance to the Mausoleum and decided to wait as well. I was quite ecstatic as I thought this area was closed off due to the approaching celebrations; this was one of the main sights I wanted to see here in Moscow.
I had to wait in line for about 25 minutes; eventually we were let in just after 10:00. There were metal detectors and guards glancing through people's bags, but it was a token effort. Then we were able to walk along the Kremlin Wall Necropolis, which is where many of those who took part in the Russian Revolution are buried. There are several people who were cremated and their ashes were buried in the wall of the Kremlin. The locations of these burials are marked by black name plaques along the Kremlin Wall.
Several of the prominent Soviet leaders are buried in the ground alongside the Kremlin Wall, right behind Lenin's Mausoleum. Included among them are Andropov, Brezhnev, and Stalin!
After strolling among the tombs, it was time for the main event: Lenin's Mausoleum! The building is done in red marble and is quite imposing; it is much smaller than the mausoleums of Mao Zedong or Kim Il-Sung, but still quite impressive.
Inside it was quite dark and it took my eyes a few moments to adjust to the darkness. We descended several flights of stairs, with guards at each landing; they kept pestering visitors to be silent while they were inside (sadly many of them just ignored the warnings). The room with the body was quite large, with only dim lighting on the body itself. It was eerie walking around and looking at Lenin: he's been dead for 92 years now and he looks as though he is asleep. They've done extensive work to preserve his body over the years and its quite amazing. There were some Asians ahead of me (I couldn't distinguish their nationality); they bowed three times at the foot of the coffin to show their respect for the dead. The entire visit lasted only a couple of minutes before we were rushed back outside and onto Red Square. It was a great treat to get to visit the Mausoleum, especially after the disappointment I felt yesterday!
I then made my way over to the Kremlin entrance, but found that the ticket office was located in the gardens nearby. The ticket office was split into two sides: one selling tickets to the courtyard and churches, the other selling tickets for the Armory museum (which had the longer of the two lines). I stood in line for the Armory tickets for about 30 minutes before I was able to get my ticket. Some Italian douche cut the entire line and bought a ticket, despite everyone in line creating a fuss over it. I ran into him at the security check going into the Kremlin; he was trying to shove his way through and I blocked him.
I entered the Kremlin through the main entrance and was in awe of the many palaces that make up the Kremlin complex. There were also many, many tour groups entering the Kremlin, most of them either Japanese or Chinese (there were several groups from both countries). I hurried over to the Armory as my ticket allowed entrance in 20 minutes.
The Armory is a museum that contains weapons, armor, and many trinkets from Russian history (such as ornate plates, cups, candelabras, ornaments, etc). There was one case that contained several jewels that were created by Carl Faberge. The Faberge Eggs on display included:
Trans-Siberian Railroad (complete with a miniature train),
Memory of Azov
Pictures were not allowed in the Armory (or the other Kremlin museums); the images above are pulled from Google. Another treat was a porcelain dish set for sweets that was on display: the set was commissioned by Emperor Napoleon I for the wedding of his brother Jerome; later they were packed up and shipped to Tsar Alexander I as a gift after the Treaty of Tilsit. Each dish had its own unique painting of a figure on it.
The first floor was full of various robes, dresses, and other clothing that was worn by many of the Tsars and Tsarinas. The coronation dresses were outstanding, as were the dresses worn by Catherine II. Next were several imperial thrones, including the dual throne that Peter the Great used when he was co-Tsar with his brother at the start of his reign. The final room contained several carriages that the Tsarinas used, particularly those uses by Catherine II and Anna. They were huge and incredibly ornate. There was also a winter sledge on display, as well as an older carriage that was gift from England in the 1600s.
I was making my way to the exit when I came across the entrance to the Diamond Fund museum, which is inside the Armory; it was not well advertised and easily missed. I went up to buy a ticket, but was told that they were going to be taking their lunch break. I planned to walk around the Kremlin for the hour, but discovered that if I left the Armory, I would not be readmitted. I went back into the museum to walk around a bit and then read some comics on my phone while I waited.
The hour-long wait was worth it. The Diamond Fund consists of two small vaults, but they are quite impressive. In the first room are several display cases filled with loose jewels found from around Russia, including one with thousands of loose diamonds (there was even a map of Russia made up of the loose diamonds!). In the center of the room were a set of cases filled with raw precious metals; it was rather interesting to see them in their natural state. Several of them looked quite fluid; I could almost imagine them in their liquid state millions of years ago, flowing around the rocks and cooling/solidifying that way (ah, science!). There were three large solid gold (99.99%) bars in the cases as well; I was amazed at just how large the gold bars were. Next to them was a solid silver bar as well.
Along the other side of the room were cases filled with jewels: tiaras, earrings, broaches, etc; all of them were made with diamonds rubies, sapphires. The one piece that caught my eye was a large rose broach that was made up of 1,500 diamonds!
The second vault contained only five cases, but they were the crown jewels (literally!) of the museum. The first case contained jewels of the Russian Tsarinas. The highlight of this case was a massive red tourmaline (260.86 carats) that was shaped into a ripe strawberry; this was a gift from the king of Sweden to Catherine II. The second case contained more of the jewels, each one covered with diamonds.
Next came the crown jewels of Tsarist Russia! The crown, which was used for each coronation from Catherine II (1762) to Nicholas II (1896); it was made with 5,000 diamonds, 75 pearls, and topped with a large spinel (398.72 carats). To accompany this was the Imperial Orb and the State Scepter, which was topped with the Orlov Diamond (189.62 carats). The smaller crown for the Tsar's wives was also on display (it was covered with diamonds as well). The last two cases contained more jewels, including a Field Marshall's baton, several Imperial Orders (medals), Imperial chains, and broaches. My visit lasted around 30 minutes and it was well worth it; truly something that should not be missed.
I headed back out to the Kremlin complex and walked around the gigantic squares. The pedestrian pathways were clearly marked out, including crosswalks on the streets; if someone veered off from these, the guards would blow their whistles to get their attention. I went into several of the church museums that were open, including the one where the earlier tsars were buried; their coffins are all above ground and in stone.
I visited both the Tsar Bell and Tsar Canon, each of which was gigantic!
I noticed some small gardens across the square and walked around them for a few minutes before eventually heading out of the Kremlin. By this point I had spent over four hours at the Kremlin! It was time to go and visit St Basil's Cathedral.
Making my way over to the Cathedral was a major pain in the ass as Red Square was filled with tourists, many of them in groups. The large areas that were blocked off herded everyone into a confined area, which only made matters worse. I hate to say it, but I was not very impressed with the inside of the Cathedral; it is not nearly as interesting as the exterior. The building serves as a museum now and houses many religious items, many of which are very interesting and beautiful. However, there were only a few rooms that you could enter and they were mostly quite small.
After my visit to St Basil's Cathedral, I walked over to the metro station and took it for several stops to get to the cosmonaut museum.
This part of Moscow was full of people, and most of them did not appear to be tourists. Street vendors lined the streets and there was even a small amusement park nearby (it resembled a state fair in size). The cosmonaut area was really neat: the centerpiece was a huge sculpture of a rocket taking off. Leading down the walkway away from it were several statues to commemorate the prominent people from the Soviet space exploration, including Yuri Gagarin. On either side of the rocket sculpture were massive murals: one with Lenin leading the people forward, the other with Gagarin leading the scientists.
I did not go in the museum as it was jam packed with people. Instead I headed for a nearby square that had two large Soviet-era monuments. One was a large entry gate, similar in style to the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Atop the gate were two workers celebrating, along with communist symbols.
The second monument was a huge building with the hammer and sickle all over it, topped with a spire and a large red star. Directly in front of this building was a statue of Lenin (the first such statue I've seen in Moscow so far).
After spending several minutes admiring the square and the sights, I headed back to the metro. On the way I grabbed an ice cream from a street vendor; ice cream is insanely popular here! After arriving back in the city center, I walked over to the infamous Lubyanka building, former headquarters of the KGB. This is where people would disappear to and get tortured or murdered.
I walked back to Red Square along a very nice pedestrian walkway, with stores and restaurants on either side - including a Krispy Kreme. After reaching the Square, I decided to head back towards my hotel. En route, I stopped at a local restaurant for dinner. Dinner tonight was borscht and Russian beer. I truly didn't know what to expect of the borscht, but it was pleasantly surprised by how delicious it was! It came with some bread and olive oil. It was a hearty and quite tasty dish. The beer was one of the best local beers I've had, with a good bold flavor.
Now it's time to get some work done, rest and prepare for another full day of sightseeing tomorrow!