22.08.2016 - 22.08.2016
My final full day in Moscow and it was jam packed with sights to see... and hot as all hell. Plus I got a lot of sun. A lot.
After breakfast I headed out into the city, though not to Red Square. No, today's adventures would take me away from the tourist groups and into other parts of the city. Up first was the Novodevichy Convent, which required a quick metro ride to reach. The metro signs are all in Russian without any English, except for on the one metro map in each station (which is not always easy to find). The maps I had with me did not have the Russian spelling for the stop I needed, but thankfully I was able to sort it out after a few minutes. The metro stops are quite deep underground, I was reminded of the metro in Pyongyang; I can see how they would have been used as bomb shelters. There was a younger guy (maybe mid-20s) on the metro with a gigantic bouquet of red roses; I tried to subtly take a picture with my phone, but I couldn't quite get it. I was curious as to where he was going with such a huge bouquet so early in the morning.
After arriving at the destination stop, I once again ran into problems figuring out how to navigate my way around the city. There were no street signs to be seen and the map I had was sub-par for this part of town. I wandered around for a few minutes before finding my way. I first visited the graveyard of the Convet, which was quite large and had some truly amazing graves. There were several tour groups walking around as well; I tried to follow along to find the interesting graves.
I walked around to the front of the Convent and found that not only was their an entry fee, but also a fee to take pictures. I was able to stand outside and take some pictures. I didn't have any rubles left (I'd spent the last of my cash on the metro), so I decided to skip going inside the Convent.
I took the metro up one stop and got out so I could begin the real walking tour of the city. Up first was Gorky Park, a lovely space right along the Moscow River. There were oodles of flowers all around, along with several places to play a variety of sports.
I continued my walk back towards the city center and my next stop was Monument Park, which was right across the street from Gorky Park. This was the inspiration for a scene from the James Bond film "GoldenEye" when he meets Janus in the park with the fallen statues. The park in Moscow wasn't as intimidating, but it did have a fantastic collection of artwork. Walking into the park, I saw several modern sculptures.
Working my way farther into the park I found the true highlight: Soviet-era statues and busts. The two main subjects were Lenin and Stalin, though there were a few statues of Brezhnev as well. Clustered together were several statues of Lenin of varying sizes, along with several busts. There was even a strange cube-shaped sculpture that had Lenin incorporated into it. Along side all of these statues was a large crest of the USSR.
I made my way over to the riverside area of the park and found the monument to Tsar Peter I (Peter the Great). He was a truly innovative tsar: he traveled to Amsterdam to learning shipbuilding from the masters and was instrumental in building the Russian navy. The monument thus incorporated boats in a major way. The monument was GIGANTIC: easily several stories tall. The base consisted of several large ships, stacked on top of one another, topped with a massive ship. On the ship was a huge statue of Peter himself. This entire monument was on the tip of an island in the Moscow River. It was amazing to get to see.
I took a rambling route to my next destination. I crossed over the river to visit a nearby square, but en route I notices some ornate church spires to my right and decided to have a look. They appeared far closer than they were; it took me about 20 minutes to reach the church, walking around some smaller local streets (I saw no one else there with a camera or who looked like a tourist). The church was quite beautiful, but it was closed and so I could not go inside.
I made my way back to the square, which was decorated for the upcoming festivities; the entire city has been decorated in similar fashion. There were several games for kids to play in the square, along with a large garden full of vibrant flowers. It was a smaller square, but it was nice to visit.
The final stop today was the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, which is a massive Russian Orthodox church on the bank of the Moscow River. The original church was demolished by the USSR government in the 1930s; it was only recently rebuilt by the city of Moscow. I was able to go inside the church (photographs not allowed); it was gigantic and ornately decorated. There were people all over praying and lighting candles. It was a really peaceful and inspiring place to visit.
By this time I was rather exhausted from the heat; it was in the mid-80s and quite humid; I'd been out walking for about 4.5 hours by this point and needed to get inside somewhere to eat and cool off. I began to wander my way back towards Red Square in search of either an ATM or a place that accepted Visa (and that had a menu with pictures or in English). I reached Red Square without finding anything; there was a local restaurant that looked appealing, but their prices were outrageous. Finally, in desperation, I went to... McDonalds. BUT it was the McDonalds in Red Square. Lenin would roll over in his mausoleum if he knew that the ultimate symbol of American capitalism was so close to the Kremlin. The food really helped revive me (the chocolate shake especially...) and then I wandered around Red Square again.
I ended up buying a couple souvenirs: two Soviet-style military hats (one for me, one for my nephew). The other souvenirs being sold were just junk; I liked several things, but they would just sit on a shelf collecting dust for years, so I didn't see any point in buying anything (though I did like a replica of a Faberge Egg, but not for $150!).
I spent the evening strolling around Red Square. It is beautiful and magical at night: lights blazing everywhere, the red stars glowing atop their towers. I walked down to the main gate of the Kremlin, around the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and all through Red Square; I even walked out to one of the bridges over the Moscow River to get a truly spectacular view of the Kremlin complex at night. It was surreal and I was soaking in the experience of just being in Red Square; it still feels like a dream.
One side note, until today I hadn't thought too much about Napoleon and when he took Moscow in 1812, which is quite surprising since I idolize the Emperor. However, I heard an announcement from a museum in Red Square that they have one of Napoleon's swords (I'm going tomorrow morning). After that I kept thinking of Napoleon when I would look at the Kremlin, thinking about what the city must have been like before it burned. Then I also thought a lot about Lenin and Stalin ruling the Soviet Union from the Kremlin complex. There's so much history wrapped up in one fortress!
I've also taken nearly 500 photos during my three days here in Moscow. Yeah. A bit overboard.