The Kremlin (fortress/citadel)
Saturday June 12:
Finally caught up with ourselves and our sleep last night. We found our 3 lost travelers, Marilyn, plus Tim and Lisa from UCLA, all of whom were forced to stayed in Frankfurt to get Marilyn's visa fixed. Yesterday, the rest of the group toured the first of 3 fortress walls of the Kremlin. (I guess everyone had walls around their cities back then -- a lot like China)
Then we visited the Cathedral Square, one square surrounded by four large cathedrals that have been restored since 1991. The Annunciation Cathedral was the "personal shrine of the Tsars". The paintings inside the cathedral are quite old and worn. The cupolas, from the inside, are quite massive and are painted as well. There is a specific structure and order to the tiers of icons (the religious paintings on the walls).
State Historical Museum on Red Square
Driving through Moscow, there are lots of tall black monuments to various heroes -- mostly poets (Pushkin), musicians (Tchaikovsky) and authors (Dostoevsky). Some modern liberation heroes. The many political heroes of the past 70 years were removed and are now stored in The Dishonored Heroes Museum.
There are many tree-lines parks although most are weedy and not mown - a decadent luxury, not doubt. The pepper trees throughout the city give off these white plumes -- called pukhs or fluff -- that fill the air like snow and choke the throat. They planted these as fast-growing trees after the war, not realizing what would result. They are gradually replacing them, now, thank heaven.
Traffic normally is pretty heavy along the main boulevards but Saturday was Boris Yeltsin's "Independence Day" -- the first day of an elected President of the Russian people, so everyone was on holiday in their datchas -- their country homes. The guide said that 70% of Muskovichi's have a country home in addition to their "community housing" or apartments/flats in the city. Everyone retreats every weekend and especially for a Saturday holiday that gives them a three day weekend.
On Friday we visited, also, the State Armory which houses all the crown jewels, carriages, and Faberge eggs of the tsarist Russian. It was as awesome a collection of wealth as any capitalist empire -- and reminiscent of Iran's Crown Jewels as well. Many gifts (such as jewel-bedecked carriages and throwns) were given to the tsars from companies that were grateful for their powerful trade monopolies. Goes to show that things haven't really changed -- today's grateful business leader express their appreciation by donating funds to political leaders or to Moscow's restoration programs, such as the gilt that was donated to cover the cupolas of the Annunciation Cathedral.
These restorations are proceeding in major steps. Moscow is very clean, with much new construction everywhere. The city and its citizens are very proud of their Major Lubcheck, who more than likely will run for the Russian presidency in the year 2000. Taking Russian into its next millennium, if the opposition doesn't smear his reputation too much beforehand. Ah, yes, politics.
Moscow celebrated 850 years in 1997, but was found to be somewhat older than that. Still, just another reason to celebrate.
Private entrepreneurs hawk post cards, Matroushka dolls (the painted dolls-inside-dolls), Russian fur-lined caps, watches, and t-shirts (Lenin and McDonalds) at the pier and at all our stops along the route. Enterprising young men. Many of the dolls look machine-painted. It would have been interesting to see how they make these. The museums and other tourist locations have small counters for selling books and cards of the museum, but no cash registers. It reminds me of the U.S. around the late 1940s. It's almost as if they don't, yet, really expect to make a sale or don't quite want to document that a sale ever occurred.
They take dollars and return rubles, but need help with the conversion. Mostly, older women staff the museum retail desks. Men staff most of the outdoor stalls, but a few hardy women are there as well.
Water color paintings of tourist cityscape scenes are common. Some of the tourists thought they couldn't take these hand paintings out of the country -- mistaking them for true national icons, which cannot be purchased and removed legally.