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August 05, 2005

Mother Russia

MOSCOW - So what a change to go from the far east to the doorstep of Europe!

After watching the world roll by our window for nearly a week it was finally time to engage the world again. Although we were admittedly a little frightened to leave our safe cocoon of comfort we were soon navigating our way to our hotel via the Moscow subway.

Our arrival in Moscow by train also marked another fun occasion: We were to be joined by my mother, Mary, for two weeks. So the next day we again took the subway to one of Moscow's 5 airports to meet her. From there we made by taxi to our gigantic soviet era hotel the Rossiya. This place was truly a gargantuan at 2900 rooms, but the location could not be beat with Red Square just outside our window.

We all got a thrill to be actually walking in Red Square - a place none of us would have ever dreamed we'd be visiting only 15 years ago. It was not impressive in size, but the sense of history was palpable: On one side the famous St. Basil's cathedral erected during the reign of Ivan the Terrible, on another the looming red walls of the Kremlin and the tomb of Vladimir Lenin.

The next day we passed though those mysterious Kremlin walls. Despite its association with the atheist Soviet regime the Kremlin is home to many religious buildings, including "Cathedral Square," with three major eastern orthodox churches within spitting distance of each other. We opted to get a guide to show us around and so we were whizzed around by the enthusiastic Alla who crammed our heads full of factoids and anecdotes about the place.

We finished our visit with a stop at the Armory - which we had to have Alla bribe our way into, don't ask (apparently this type of thing is SOP in Russia). The armory houses a huge collection of Tsarist era booty: Extravagent gowns worn by Catherine the Great et all, Coronation Carriages with enough gold to blind you if you look at them directly, scepters, crowns, gold, swords, gold, silver and more gold. Perhaps the most interesting were the elaborate fabregie eggs used as gifts - one of which opened with a button on top to reveal a model of the trans-siberia train cast in gold. People just don't give gifts like that anymore!

To continue the train thing we spent part of our last day touring the Moscow Metro ( the name of their subway system). Not your average tourist destination? You bet, but this is not your average subway system. One of the intersting things about the subway here is that it every few of the 12 seperate lines was built during a different soviet leader's regime with a corresponding difference in style - often a dramatic difference. Most unique and impressive are the lines built by Stalin. As part of his grand show he made sure the lines would impress vistors with the "prosperity of the Soviet Republic."

Impressive they are - with imported marble, gold fixtures, glittering chandiliers and towering mosaics these stations are like underground palaces. They run deep below the city as well; sometimes as far down as 200 meters (over 600 ft) because the subway doubled as bomb shelters.

We said farewell to Moscow with a boat trip down the Moscow river, taking in many of its important buildings along the way.

Posted by Jim & Lisa on August 5, 2005 09:25 AM
Category: Russia

It's nice to hear from you guys again. I have your blog near the top of my bookmark list, so I look for posts about every day. During the long time you were on the train, I kept thinking "Oooo! I can't wait to hear what all is going on!". hehehe

Moscow is one of the places I'm really looking forward to seeing. Thanks for the info.

Here's a question, though - On the Trans-Siberian (Mongolian) and other places you go - how is the level of smoking? I know here in the States it's tapering, but I always hear the rest of the world is as smoky as can be. Have you found that to be true? Just curious...

Can't wait to hear about more of your adventures!


Posted by: Jae on August 19, 2005 01:57 AM
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