There is seldom a time when a particular destination grabs my attention and makes me sit up and take notice.
This was Moscow – a subtle mixture of the past meeting the present, displayed in a way that captures both the thrill and the suspense of what is awaiting you around the each and every corner.
A fresh perspective of an ever-changing Moscow
My latest journey took me to Moscow; and although I did, subconsciously, relive the negative feelings that everyone in the US felt about the country back in the late 70’s and 80’s (I am old enough to remember, although young enough to make it to any meaningful sense of it), I was elated for the opportunity to explore and soak in the culture – of both the people and the country as a whole.
Moscow the capital and the largest city of the Russian Federation, is a city in which one comes face to face with all that is great and frustrating in Russia. The generous people of the city are as evident as the extreme tension of a city coming to terms with the un-assuredness of social change. More so in Moscow, then anywhere else in a country of 6.592 million square miles can one feel the Soviet of the past colliding with the capitalistic future.
Riding the Metro in Moscow
My first encounter with Russia was the Metro – yes the Metro. I often enjoy public transportation, as it is a great way to truly look at a society in a whole at its purest. I was on my way to Red Square, and I got a very small taste of what I was in for just by taking this mode of travel.
Not only are the Metro stations clean (being from Boston I can certainly appreciate that), but elegant designs of lavish use of marble, mosaics and sculptures were at every stop. I asked another traveler who had been to Moscow quite a few times and he filled me in: these stations were built during the rule of Stalin and were created to display the best of Russian architecture.
Metro stations in Moscow such as Mayakovskaya Station, the Novokusnetskaya Station , the Novoslobodskaya Station and the Kropotkinskaya Station are a must and are almost entirely clear of tourists.
From Trinity Square to Red Square
Red Square is an enormous 400 by 150 meter square and it epitomizes everything that Moscow is and once was. Established in the 15th Century under the rule of Ivan III, Trinity Square, as it was originally called, was later named ‘Krasnaya Ploschad.’ The word ‘Krasnaya’ originally meaning beautiful in old Russian became red in more modern times. Some common assumptions are that the ‘Red’ in Red Square refers to Communism blood spill.
On its four sides stand the Kremlin, GUM Department Stores (which is becoming more akin to a Macy’s), State Historical Museum & St. Basil’s Cathedral which stands in the spot where the Trinity Cathedral – after which the Square was once named, stood. Here you will also find Lenin’s tomb, a gleaming granite mausoleum to the revered founder of Socialism. A quick side note, however: when Lenin’s tomb is open, most of Red Square is blocked off.
Over the years, Red Square has acted like Moscow’s equivalent to Rome’s Forum – a meeting place for the people, called Muscovites, for celebrating religious festivals, public gatherings, Tsars’ addresses and even watching executions. Various political dissidents were publicly butchered here by Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great.
I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to visit Lenin’s Mausoleum. It isn’t often when you get a chance to see such an influential historical figure in the flesh – of course some cynics do claim that the embalmed body is in fact a wax work.
Taking up the entire eastern side of Red Square is where you can do most, if not all of your shopping. Looking more like a palace then a shopping centre, GUM (pronounced goom) is the largest mall in Russia. I’m not much of a shopper, but as you enter into this complex, you are hit with its elegantly-decorated interior. A fountain is centrally located while three parallel arcades invite you to explore some designer shopping – and the glass ceiling is also an attention grabber.
St. Basil’s Cathedral & the State Historical Museum
If there was one architectural symbol of Russia, and there are many, it would have to be St. Basil’s Cathedral. The domes, cupolas, arches, towers and spires inspire everyone that sees it. A magnificent mix of Western and Eastern architecture, ‘‘The Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed’ is the most recognizable structure in Russia.
The State Historical Museum was next. Constructed in the late 19th century, with its red brick walls and ornate cornices, the State Historical Museum is a great addition to Moscow’s Red Square. All manner of treasures lie awaiting for that prospective explorer.
You are taken back through Russian history through artifacts dating back to its Neanderthal beginnings. You can also check out a 5,000 year old long boat – and of course there is plenty of glitz and glamour of the 19th century Ruski royals and aristocrats. The whole experience here takes about 1-2 hours, but if you want to know Russia from beginning up through he Russian Revolution, it sure is well worth it – and if you’re hungry, One Red Square Restaurant is housed here, where you can eat like a Tsar!
The Kremlin, Moscow
I saved one of the most anticipated stops on my journey for last: a chance to visit the seat of the Russian government, the Kremlin. Being of Russia’s top tourist attraction is no understatement. The Kremlin is often filled with people wanting to set foot inside of the building where some of the most infamous leaders once held court. Ivan the Great, Ivan the Terrible, Stalin, Gorbachuev all held sway here and it was within the walls of the Kremlin that they made their marks in history.
Beginning back in the 1150s, the Kremlin began in a much smaller scale then it is now. As Moscow grew in wealth and power, so did the modifications. Ivan the Great was responsible for the most ambitious modifications. Italian architects were brought in to build new walls and a number of cathedrals including the Cathedral of the Assumption during the period of 1475-1516. The architectural styles are a timeline between the 15th and 20th centuries.
A trip to Moscow was something that was truly one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences that you speak about with your friends. Although, with the surfacing of some great airfare deals, that once in a lifetime opportunity may be coming around a few more times.