We stand transfixed. The sheer beauty is difficult to contemplate. On one side a Disneyland-like structure with thousands of sparkling lights; on the other, a foreboding stark red wall stretching into the distance. Straight ahead is a building too fanciful to be real and everything is magnified by the reflections off the wet cobblestones.
Red Square is the epicentre of Moscow and it hasn’t let us down. St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin, Lenin’s mausoleum, the GUM department store, the Kazan Cathedral and the State Historical Museum are all here. Yet at 10:30 pm we are almost alone.
It is our first day in Moscow and already we love the place. We are staying in one of Stalin’s epic buildings which is now the Hilton Hotel. We have travelled to Red Square in the famous and incredibly noisy carriages of the Metro. Now we have entered the square through Resurrection Gate.
This is where, in 1941, tanks took part in a military parade before rumbling off to the front line just outside the city.
It is also where, during the cold war, lines of intercontinental ballistic missiles showed the world the Soviet military might. Tonight it is quiet, beautiful and slightly wet.
Travelling the Metro is a challenge and a magical experience. Many of Moscow’s metro stations are architectural masterpieces, dripping with sculptures, reliefs and mosaics expounding the benefits of a communist life. We take the circular route and alight at each station to admire its beauty. We later find that this is one of Moscows most popular sight-seeing tours.
We buy our admission tickets and also extra tickets to the Armoury. Inside is a fantastic collection of palaces, cathedrals, churches and towers. It is good to see Poteshny Palace where Stalin lived and the offices of the Russian president.
We enter the Patriarch’s Palace and adjacent Church of the Twelve Apostles before seeing the wonderful Assumption Cathedral with its bright, warm and spacious interior. There are several other churches and cathedrals and the Great Bell Tower.
Perhaps the highlight is the Armoury, which has a fantastic collection of treasures. The famous Faberge eggs made from precious metals and jewels are marvelous. There are coaches, royal regalia and more.
I suggest we see Red Square in the daylight so we walk the few hundred metres and are again transfixed by the view. My wife is also taken by the huge GUM department store which is actually a nineteenth century gallery with footbridges, little squares and all the expensive international goods you ever wanted.
St Basil’s Cathedral is breathtaking from the outside but the interior is dark with many small chapels and nooks and crannies and is slightly disappointing.
Photo by Phensri Rutledge
Walking the streets
First stop on day two is Theatre Square, where we take in the lovely facade of the Bolshoi Theatre. Unfortunately performance tickets are not available. A little further on we see the infamous dull yellow KGB building.
In the Kitai-Gorod neighbourhood, the churches and merchant’s houses along Varvarka are a showcase of Russian architecture from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
After taking the Metro to Arbatskaya station, The Arbat, a pedestrian street packed with shops, street vendors, bars and cafes is before us. It’s touristy but locals also come here to see the buskers and to bargain.
Now we walk down Tverskaya Street to Pushkin Square. Pushkin is Russia’s favourite poet and his statue overlooks Moscow’s favourite square. It is late but the shops, sushi bars and restaurants are all open.
The wrought-iron street lamps, flashing advertising signs and large TV screens provide an exciting atmosphere we hadn’t associated with Moscow.
Our third day is spent in the area south of the Kremlin. First stop is the secluded Novodevichy Convent where we are blown away by the architecture. Then to Gorky Park where there are many strollers and an amusement park by the river.
Walking back towards town we see the enormous and controversial Peter the Great Monument with Peter perched atop a ship. It’s hard to miss the huge Christ the Saviour Cathedral recently rebuilt after the original was blown up by Stalin in the 1930s.
A quick stop at the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum with its famous impressionist and post-impressionist paintings concludes another wonderful day.