Waterways of the Tsars – Chapter 2: Moscow and Monty Python

Metro ArtSuch a big city, where do I start?  I'll just start at the beginning … in the shower, well I had to be clean to go out!  Big enough for two, but only if you just want to stand there, Viking supply good quality L'Occitane products, so save your money and weight in the suitcase by not bringing your own.

People possibly lived in Moscow as far back as 500 BC, but the wooden fort built in 1147 for Uri (the long armed) Dolgoruky, Grand Prince of Kiev, really led to the teeming metropolis that is here today.  He has a fine statue on Tverskaya St. in front of the Moscow Municipality.  We explored the city by a combination of bus, boat, Metro and on foot to get a feel for how it all hangs together.  The combination of excursions put together by Viking, the information by their great tour guides and some free time worked very well for us.  Due to the often heavy traffic it can take up to an hour by coach to the city centre.  Close by the dock is the Metro, the end of line 2, which takes less than 30 mins into the centre.  So you might want to consider an early start by Metro to maximise your free day, plus catch some of the marvellous statues and decorations that adorn some stations.

Cathedral of Christ our SaviourLet's not forget breakfast, how do you want your eggs Mr Steve?  Well I'd like mine diamond encrusted with lashings of gold and that's exactly what I got with a visit to The Armory.  As well as some of the fabulous Faberge Eggs, there is a magnificent collection of gowns, crowns, swords, armour, amongst its 4,000 precious items.  The Armory is situated within the Kremlin, the focal point of political power in Russia since the capital was transferred back here in 1918.  The first wooden walls were constructed in 1150 but from the 1300s they began to be replaced with the imposing red brick walls that now surround the 800 years of history contained within.  It also contains a couple of white elephants, not pale skinned pachyderms, but The Tsar Bell at 223 tons (cracked at casting) and the giant Tsar Cannon, neither of which have ever been used.

Did you know that Russia adopted equal rights for women before the USA?  Well in 1918 the ladies got the vote here 2 years before their US counterparts.  Still I wasn't feeling very equal when the lady in front of me was allowed into the Cathedral of Christ our Saviour in a short mini skirt but I was refused entry because I was wearing crops that showed a little knee and below.  Still there is much to admire from the outside where its shiny golden domes add a further richness to the already abundant city skyline.  The pristine nature of its dramatic statues and carvings are partly due to the fact that it's only been here since 1997, replacing the one originally on this site destroyed during Stalin's time.  Interest in religion is on the increase we were told and if you are interested in religious buildings you could positively overdose in Moscow.  The 15th century Assumption Cathedral within the Kremilin walls is an eye catching riot of frescos and gilded features.  Without doubt our biggest fix came from the simultaneously awe inspiring and totally crazy Intercession Cathedral, better known as St Basil's Cathedral.  St Basil's CathedralYou'd be forgiven for thinking that Monty Python had a hand in the design or that it secretly houses Willie Wonka's Chocolate factory but the tumultuous combination of onion shaped domes, shapes and colours does actually have some order to it.  It is totally brilliant (even better at night).  The onion shaped domes have a practical application as well as an aesthetic one in that this shape does not allow much snow to collect on it, whereas a flatter structure could collapse under the weight of the plentiful snow experienced here each winter.

St Basil's is at one end of Red Square, not red because of any association with the communist era, but because red once meant beautiful.  Its cobbled streets have been the home of many a showpiece parade and is flanked on one side by GUM (a Mall).  We weren't interested in the shopping side of the GUM, but inside and out there are some magnificent floral displays that are worth a look, plus you can find some clean, free toilets (essential for all travellers).  The Lenin Mausoleum is also in Red Square, where you can file past the Father of the Revolution.  We took in the Place of Skulls, allegedly where executions took place in days gone by.

GUM at Red SquareWe caught our breath alongside the Kremlin's western wall in Alexander Park, an oasis of flower beds and fountains, where we let some of the historical facts settle in our brains before we drank in some more.  It’s a good place for people watching as you sip a cold drink.  We then paid our respects here at the Tomb of the Unknown soldier, a memorial honouring those unnamed soldiers killed in 1941 during the Great Patriotic War.  Try and catch the military precision of the changing of the guard at the top of the hour.

A walk down the riverside to enjoy the sights and the sunshine brought us to the elaborate and gigantic statue of Peter the Great, allegedly loved and loathed by Muscovites in equal measure.

It's probably at night though that the visual spectacle reaches its peak.  We cruised the river for a grand display of local illuminated architecture, finishing up in Red Square. The GUM building was lit up like the Christmas Coke advert and the walls and towers were picked out with spotlights.  We also enjoyed the exclusive Classical Folklore Concert which combined skill playing some traditional Russian folk instruments with a great sense of theatre.

It was time to leave the city behind and begin our 1800 km journey to St Petersburg, next stop Uglich.

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Viking River and Ocean Cruises

•  Read Waterways of the Tsars – Chapter 1: The Ship and The Stroganoff
•  Read Waterways of the Tsars – Chapter 3: Uglich and Yaroslavl
•  Read Waterways of the Tsars – Chapter 4: Mother Volga and The Cool Table
•  Read Waterways of the Tsars – Chapter 5: Jurassic Park and the Squirrel

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Steve Aldridge

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