Cannot believe our time is coming close to an end in Russia. However, we have one last big push to get seen what needs to be seen!
With rugged determination we are going to walk back down to the Kremlin and secure tickets for the Diamond Fund within the Kremlin. This collection is basically the Crown Jewels of the Tsars along with whatever else they could purloin.
Vanessa ran ahead to hopefully secure tickets for us before the rush as they sell out pretty quickly for the day. Bit of a detour when we reached Alexander Gardens because of some official ceremony involving a military band, lots of soldiers and lots of big official cars at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Obviously involved Italian dignitaries as the band were playing Italian songs and there was an Italian flag. When the Russians cconduct things like this the area surrounding it is completely blocked off to the public and we were re-routed right around the outskirts of the garden precinct. Were able to get a bit of a look at the band and soldiers marching from near the underground shopping centre.
Finallymade it to the ticket centre to find Vanessa well advanced in the ticket queue and before long we had our much desired tickets. We hand no inkling of what we were about to see though.
Lined up at the Armoury entrance with our tickets for the 10.30 session at the Diamond Fund. We were still standing in the queue at 10.45 as security checked every single persons handbag etc. Once through that we had to queue yet again as they obviously only let in a certain number of people at a time into the vault.
Finally it was our turn after the obligatory cloaking of our coats (our backpacks had to be checked in outside the Kremlin) to enter the vault. There was an immense glow coming from the entrance from what we were about to see. And we had an audio tour guide to help us understand what we were about to see.
The Diamond Fund hold one of the largest (actually the third but we won't state its position because we want it to be BIG) collections of precious metals, rare gems and uncut diamonds, and jewellery of historical value in the world. The collection was begun by Peter the Great back in 1719 when he had a list of all the regal regalia made and established the State Depository of Crown Jewels. Peter thought it important to catalogue everything and it grew from there as all future acquisitions and creations were added to the list. Catherine the Great apparently added to the State collection quite considerably during her reign.
The very first showcase gave us a bit of an idea of what was to follow. It contained examples of rough diamonds and the many colours which have been found along with chunks of other beautiful untouched precious gems, including the rare red spinel.
Moving on to the next case we were standing in awe in front of 6kg or 30,000 carats of uncut Russian diamonds mined in the Ural Mountains. Also displayed was a map of Russia about 30cm across containing gem grade diamonds. Would have liked to slip a couple in the old pocket but definitely an impossibility with the officious looking Diamond Fund guards making sure looking was the only thing you did.
Onto the next case we saw a display of cut diamonds, on the left jewelly grade diamonds and those on the right industrial diamonds. By now we were getting a good impression of the priceless value of everything before us and this elevated a few more notches at the next case with uncut diamonds with names! There are 926 diamonds in this case with a weight of ml34,328 carats, including 20 individual diamons of over100 carats each.
Of course the next case contained cut diamonds sshowing all the different styles of cutting and included a rare black diamond. This case contained a mere 4,500 carats of diamonds.
In the centre of the great hall was a continuous display case containiing over 100 nuggets of gold and 20 nuggets of platinum mined in Russia. There are also three gold bars weighing over 10 kg each, part of a shipment of 460 gold bars Russia was sending to the US on a British ship in payment of a lend lease agreement in 1942. All but 30 of these gold bars were recovered by the British in the 80's and returned to Russia. Guess the Brits kept the remaining 30 odd as a finder's fee. This case also contained a complete collection of rare platinum coins.
Get an idea of the wealth we were looking at yet? Well hold your hats because that's not all folks. Now we moved onto the jewellery section of the vault. The following row of exhibits was titled The Splendour of Gems with elaborate pieces of jewellery crafted in the mid 18th century. Unfortunately no photographs were allowed butI don't think the glow radiating from the cases would have allowed a good photo anyhow. Once again I will find some pics online of some of the more elaborate pieces but it will be easier to do when I am home on the big computer with better speed.
The most unusual piece I would have to say was a miniature vase which could be filled with water and a corsage placed in it. But by far the most impressive was the actual crown jewels with the reat Imperial Crown made for the coronation of Catherine II in 1762. It consists of 4936 diamonds weigh 2858 carats and 75 natural pearls and topped with a rare 399 carat red spinel. It weighs 1993.8 grams. The crown jewels also comprise the Orb, Sovereign's sceptre and a smaller crown for the Empresses. WOW is the only word I can use to describe these and I have also seen the British crown jewels.
The rest of the vault contained contemporary Russian crafted jewellery and Orders and decorations bestowed on the worthy. The three of us walked out of there with our mouths all wide open at what we had just seen. Truly amazing.
Having seen all the bling, it was time to go out to Red Square and visit inside St. Basil's which we have only seen from the outside to date. Had read that it was not too impressive inside but we all thought it beautiful. It is actually made up of 10 different chapels, obviously when they got tired of the existing ones, they just created another!
Had a few more things to see on the agenda so it was off to GUM for the obligatory daily icecream before ordering an Uber to go back to the apartment to drop off bits and pieces before heading to Museum of Contemporary History and an exhibition for 100 years of the Revolution.
Caught our Uber eventually after he was diverted in traffic. Thought we would take an Uber to save some time but this was a futile effort. After waiting for the Uber 20 minutes he was again diverted towards the outer ring road by going over the Moscow River. Keep in mind that it was a 20 minute walk to our apartment from GUM and this was turning into an epic journey. The main problem was a Communist walking tour we were hoping to do at 4pm.
Our supreme leader and her able assistant vanessa consulted the GPS every driver has and then Google maps to find we were extremely close to Gorky Park and the Fallen Heroes Monuments. It was about this time that an ominous looking policeman pulled
us over to the side of the road. Our driver, a small Uzbekistani man, was not wearing his seatbelt (because it was broken). Neither were Eloise and I because there was no buckle to clip into in the back seat. Eloise whispered a quick "pull your seat belts over Mum" and she did likewise and we hid them with the backpacks. The policeman obviously asked for the driver's ID and we were somewhat amused when our little man pulled out a deck of cards and shuffled through them trying to find the requested card. Next thing our little man is being told to get out of his car and is escorted back and into the police car.
We sat there for maybe 15 minutes before our little man came back mumbling away. Not sure whether he copped a fine or not as his English was very minimal but we think it may have cost him our Uber fare and a few more. Vanessa managed to convince him of a change in our plans by showing him Gorky Park on her phone. He understood and before long we were dropped off at yet another square containing a large Lenin statue with a background of apartment blocks from all angles.
It was maybe a 10 minute walk down to the Park containing the Fallen Heroes statues. We needed a bit of sustenance by now so we made a quick purchase from an underground kiosk in the pedestrian crossing of a Kit Kat Triple for me, a Mars Bar Max for Vanessa and a Snickers Super for Eloise. As indicated by their names, all of the larger variety.
Had a bit of trouble finding our fallen heroes at first as the park contains lots of contemporary sculptures. We did see a ginormous statue of a sailing ship together with a hugely out of proportion seafarer in front of it. Never did quite walk far enough to find out who it was. Eventually found our fallen heroes, a number of statues of prominent figures such as Stalin, Lenin, Breshnev which have been removed from their original setting. I guess they felt awkward about destroying them so they scattered them around in a park to keep them on display. Kind of weird but interesting.
Took our obligatory tourist shots then went via the pedestrian subway over the road to Gorky Park, the Moscow equivalent of New York's Central Park. It was like an ant colony of workers out with their gardening tools and paintbrushes sprucing it up after a glum long winter in preparation for a short and sweet summer. Of course, it boasts the biggest outdoor skating rink in the world!
By now the intrepid travellers were a little footsore and feeling the effects of an unusually hot day which eventually reached 19 degrees. A little hard when you leave the apartment rugged up for 3 degrees then Moscow decides to turn on a beautiful spring day. Didn' t phase the Muscovites who were still rugged up in scarves, coats and hats but us with our many layers we started to feel uncomfortably hot.
Back onto the subway after our wander through the parks and home to our apartment to drop some layers of clothes and have a much needed cup of tea. After a suitable rest it was back out and a 400m walk up the street to the Museum of Contemporary History and in particular an exhibition detailing the 1917 Revolution for the 100 yeat anniversary this year. Both girls excited to see it as they both teach the Revolution in history. Unfortunately only major points were in English as well so it was hard to figure out a lot of the documents etc. exhibited. They managed to find themselves a great set of propaganda posters for use with the kids.
Our day was not yet over with the Museum. Once finished there it was back on the subway for a trip over to Arbat, a shopping street where we did a bit of shopping. By the time we got there, the beautiful day had been replaced by rain as predicted. Not heavy though, just annoying. Just so happened that Hard Rock Cafe was at Arbat and it called out to us for dinner. Usual slow service in receiving food when you order and Vanessa's burgervwas sent back by the waitress as it obviously wasn't a veggie burger. The food muzt apparently sit for some time as the fries were lukewarm. Despite these setbacks it was nice to have a "normal" meal.
By now three sets of feet were aching as we had walked a massive 25,000 steps today. We were also all exhausted by the time we made it back to the apartment via a couple of metro station changes.
Our last day in Moscow tomorrow sadly.