Our morning started a little later than usual as I only really woke around 8.30 am. Showered, dressed and out the door with vegemite toast in hand for breakfast and down from our 5th floor fortress apartment (double doors - a wooden apartment door then a steel outer door). Just walked out the door as the Uber driver turned up to deliver us to Slavyanskaya Ploshchad to join a walking tour of Moscow's centre.
Ate the remainder of our brekkie as we waited - a yoghurt, granola and fruit tub. Enough to keep us going till the end of the tour. Very quickly joined by Marina who was to be our walking tour guide. Started off with a brief history of Moscow and its establishment and the creation of the Cyrillic alphabet by Cyril and Methodius, two brothers from Byzantium who were spreading Christianity to the Russians and the first church established in Moscow in their name on the banks of the Moscow River. It was the brick version built in the 16th century, after the first wooden one burned down. The church had the somewhat curious name of the Church of All Saints in the Middle of Nowhere as at the time it was outside the city wall. Appropriately, there was a statue of the Cyril and Methodius in Slavyanskaya Ploshchad where we started the tour. During the Soviet era, this church became a secret KGB headquarters. Our tour then took us past the original British consulate or embassy building dating back to the 16th century when Ivan the Terrible actually had the hots for Queen Elizabeth I and tried to marry her. There is a lot of reconstruction work going on around the Moscow River presumably for the soccer World Cup being held here next year. There is actually going to be another bridge across the river and a huge park is being built. It is supposed to open in September this year but they really haven't even started the bridge apparently.
Next on the agenda was the Romanov family home and their private church where all members of the Romanovs were baptised or married. It also included a later building built for the servants of the family. At this point Marina told us all about Ivan the Terrible, the last Tsar of the first dynasty of Tsars. He apparently deserved his name by murdering his own son and heir along with thousands of others of whom he was afraid. His other son was weak and died at an early age and so the dynasty died out. After a short civil war the Romanovs started the second dynasty which lasted 300 years until 1917 and the Revolution.
Anyway, Ivan thought he was a pretty good guy and decided to build a magnificent church to glorify himself and perhaps get a certain ticket into Heaven. Hence the magnificent church we see today - St. Basils. It's proper name is the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Lady on the Moat but even back at the time of its completion that was a mouthfuland it was nicknamed as St. Basil's in honour of a homeless guy Basil who was a shoemaker but then after a vision became a religious convert. He was buried originally on the site of St Basils in another church and the name of St. Basils seemed to stick.
Pretty amazing structure and it is just a stroke of luck that it still exists as it was to be demolished in the early Soviet era to make way for an enormous highway. It was pretty much the intervention of one guy at the time that prevented its destruction.
From St. Basils we continued into Red Square itself where we could see the front of the church, the enormous walls of the Kremlin with its belltower, GUM department store, the Russian Museum and Lenin's Mausoleum. Would you believe our luck, as Lenin's tomb has been closed for 2 months to renew his suit and wash him before he is put back on display on Wednesday week. We came all this way to see him, and he decided to have a bath and get changed instead. Bit reminiscent of Beijing where I did not quite get to see the body of Mao either. Ah well, the bane of a tourist's life that things don't always go as planned.
Had a quick walk through GUM which is a long way now from the State Department Store back in the 50's an 60's where people had to queue for essentials from the government. It is now a beautiful 3 storey shopping arcade filled with Hermes, Prada, Gucci and all those other high end stores that your normal person just does not patronise. Beautifully decorated out for spring though with fake cherry trees and lots of flowers. While in GUM Marina gave us an opportunity of purchasing tickets for a performance at Bolshoi theatre tonight. Although Eloise had been trying to get us tickets for the ballet during our visit, they have proved elusive and there is only a modern ballet in the smaller newer theatre. We tossed up and decided to go see the French opera Faust this evening in the original 300 year old theatre. How cool is that.
Continued on to the Alexander Gardens where we viewed the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Eternal Flame and watched the changing of the guards on the hour. Many flowers around the memorial stone for Leningrad following the terrorist attack last Monday.
That pretty much ended our tour of inner Moscow which we all found so informative and filled in many questions we had. It had started to rain by now and was becoming bitterly cold so we thought a lunch break was needed. Went to a shopping mall across from the gardens and into the food court where we could partake in Russian food or KFC, pizza, baked potatoes, almost anything. After filling our bellies and resting our feet, we opted to take the 2pm tour of the underground Metro stations with the same guide Marina. It was now raining consistently sand we thought it a better option to stay dry underground.
We started off at Arbatskaya station, the first to open in Moscow in 1935. This is quite a sumptuously decorated station as the Communists wanted the common folks to believe that they too had the right to palace type structures. Very ornate station with bronze light fittings and granite walls and floors.
Next stop was at Revolution Square where we were greeted by 76 larger than life bronze statues depicting everyday life. Also very Art Deco in style and opened in 1938.
Our third station was Kurskskaya which also opened in 1938 and had very thick grey granite walls. This station at 40 meters below ground became an underground bunker and bomb shelter during WWII and practically became an underground city with hospitals, schools, playgrounds for children and hairdressers. There were actually 150 babies born in the underground during the war. It also became a library.
In the 1950's the stations became much bigger and brighter such as our next stop at Komsomolskaya which sports ceiling mosaics depicting Russia's war victories through history. One mosaic was originally of Stalin leading a troop of soldiers but that was very smartly replaced by a mosaic of Lenin in 1958.
Stop number 5 was at Novoslobodskaya which contains many beautiful stained glass panels which were made by the Latvians as the Russians did not have that skill in their culture. The windows are meant to depict peace in the whole world. One large mosaic at the end of the station had a small child reaching up to the head of Stalin above. This was soon to be replaced by doves and olive branches as a symbol of world peace.
Stop 6 took us to Belaruskaya Station which depicted the people of Belarus happily at work with equal opportunity for both men and women. Belarus was the first part of Russia overrun by the Germans with 25% of its population decimated in WW2. It had a very strong resistance movement.
Our last stop was at Mayakovskiskaya and was named after the Russian poet Mayakovski. It was opened in the 1930s and actually won an engineering prize at the New York Exposition at that time. The station is 30 m underground and was the first station to be so deep It used pillars to support it an also used steel to hold the main arches (the same steel is also used for planes) and it holds the whole station together under the weight of the ground and buildings above. The mosaics in the ceiling alcoves all depict scenes in the air.
Certainly puts our railways stations in Melbourne to shame. The metro system here is vast with over 5,000 trains operating and trains running about every minute. It costs 55 rubles per journey no matter where you travel and is used by millions of people a week as the streets of Moscow are so congested with traffic. They continue to expand the network and continually open new lines and stations.
Back to the apartment after our tour for a little R & R and change into clothes a little more suitable to go to the opera at the Bolshoi Theatre. A little disappointed that we were not able to get tickets to a ballet as there was only a modern ballet showing in the smaller newer Bolshoi Theatre. We preferred to see the 300 year old theatre so the opera it was with a performance of Faust in French. Not much help to us that the subtitles on the screen over the stage were in Russian. We had to rely on a downloaded synopsis of the story to follow the opera. Pretty predictable though with the usual operatic hero, heroine and villain. In this case we had Faust, Margarita and Mephistopheles or the devil. Poor old Faust and Margarita never quite get it together to make a go of it before Faust is duped and taken in Hell and Margarita ascends to Heaven. You really don't need to know French to understand a typical operatic tragedy. The opera not really our thing but it was the theatre and experience that we came for.
The theatre itself was magnificent with rich red velvet seating and gold dripping from all decorations on the balconies. The vertical seating was divided into small balconies over five levels and each balcony holds 30 patrons. Each balcony has its own door leading out into a beautiful marble corridor, once again with gold decorations. There are individual toilets around the outer side of this corridor so there are no great queues at the start or intermission. Hopefully the photos will do the theatre justice.
Three extremely tired and hungry ladies were now ready to have a quick bite to eat before retiring for the night. Back to our apartment area by Metro and upstairs to a small café where we had some pancakes with ham and cheese and Vanessa a Greek salad and drink each. We were obviously a novelty in the café as it seemed they could have been daring each other as to who was going to serve us with a few giggles from the girls when a young man obviously drew the short straw.
Bsck to the apartment, a bit of Facebooking and now time to sleep the sleep of the very weary tourist in time to do it all again tomorrow.