From Russia with love... or something

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The clock is ticking here in Moscow.  I'm scheduled to leave for Krasnodar on Thursday morning, and it seems quite possible I won't be back in Moscow again.  This is utterly bizarre to me.  How can it be over so soon?  How is it that I've done NOTHING?  I'm filled with regret about what I haven't seen and what I haven't done here in the city.  I think perhaps my expectations were unrealistic.  In that past I've always visited foreign cities as a full time tourist, free to determine my own schedule and pick from the menu of amazing things to do more or less at my leisure.  This kind of life really isn't that at all.  I'm here to do a job, and I'm doing it 5 or 6 long days per week.  In the small amount of time left, it's often been hard to muster the energy to go out and explore.  That's why I was so pleased to spend a full day out on the town last Saturday, with my new co-worker and buddy Gerald, who only arrived a few weeks ago.

Once again, the weather was grey, cold and rainy.  In fact, I genuinely cannot remember the last time we've had more than a hour or two of sunshine.  Certainly there hasn't been a drop of sun on a weekend since about August.  It's frankly a bit dispiriting.  Nonetheless, with a friend to share the experience with, it was much less annoying.  We started out at Izmailovsky Market, where I was able to show Gerald around like an old pro.  I picked up a few bits and pieces, including some nice linen tea towels with the days of the week on them (in Russian, of course!), and some little Christmas tchotchkes.  And because the weather was so cold, and we still had a lot of walking ahead, we both splashed out on big silly fuzzy hats, which made life way more comfortable.

The hat seller man clearly is not exactly Annie Leibovitz, so please forgive the fact that this photo is only slightly less fuzzy than the hats.  And yes, we're doing the Vulcan "live long and prosper" thing.  It's a long story...

After the market, we headed back into the centre of town to do a long walk past a few of the big sights.  At the Metro we got an unexpected treat.  I've already told you that the Moscow Metro really is a work of art.  In this case, that was true in a very literal sense because the train that pulled into Partazanskaya Station to take us back to town was the Watercolour Train, an art gallery on wheels.

And it's not just the outside of the train that's pretty... oh no.  The outside is just the beginning.

The cars are actually decked out like an art gallery!  Honestly, the Metro system might be the coolest thing about Moscow by a long chalk... 
(This is not my photo, but it illustrates things MUCH better.)

The lovely art train eventually dropped us off at Arbatskaya,  where we stopped to warm up with a cup of cofffee and then walked to the first stop on the agenda, Christ the Saviour Cathedral, on the banks of the Moscow River.  At just over 100m high, it's the tallest Orthodox Christian church in the world.

A nice shot from the opposite bank of the river.  
Imagine how lovely that would be if the sun ever came out!

Judging by appearances, you could be forgiven for thinking that the cathedral has been there for hundreds of years.  And in a sense, that's sort of true.  The original was first conceived in 1812, in thanks for Napoleon's retreat from Moscow.  But as these things generally go, it was not actually complete until 1860.  Those of you who know anything about Russian history may be able to guess what happened next... in 1931, under orders from Stalin, the cathedral was demolished.  Stalin planned to use the site to build a grand monument to Socialism called the Palace of the Soviets.  The Cathedral was dynamited on Dec 5, 1931, after having much of its interior opulence stripped and sold or repurposed.  Apparently some of the marble benches made it into nearby metro stations.

As is often the way with these big building projects, the grand Palace of the Soviets was delayed due to lack of funds (and flooding from the nearby river).  Eventually - and this is the best part - Kruschev turned the foundations of the Palace (all that was ever built) into the world's largest outdoor swimming pool.  (Honestly, you could just not make this stuff up.)

See?  How crazy is that?

It wasn't until 1990 that they finally got around to trying to rebuild the demolished cathedral and it wasn't completed and consecrated until August of 2000.  I find that very surprising, because it honestly looks like it should always have been there.  Also, cathedral building is just not the kind of thing you expect people to be doing in 1997.  Listening to "Candle in the Wind" and watching "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"?  Yes.  Building a gigantic Russian Orthodox Cathedral out of a swimming pool? Not so much.

Christ the Saviour is, of course, a working church, so we observed the correct proprieties and put the cameras away.  Also, men must uncover their heads and women keep theirs covered, so Gerald removed his fuzzy hat, and I kept mine on, and we had a quiet walk around.   The pics below are from Google, and you can see how opulent and stunning it is.


We were there on a Saturday and the place was full of ordinary Muscovites, there to worship. In fact, it was these same ordinary Muscovites who helped pay for the magnificent building.  More than one million of them donated to the construction fund.

Orthodox churches are laid out very differently to non-Orthodox ones. (Is that the right term? Non-Orthodox?  It sounds weird.  Then again "Un-Orthodox" is worse...) Mostly, there seem to be individual shrines or icons or relics placed around the interior, and people were lining up to kneel before them or light candles.  I always feel like a bit of an intruder in these places, but there were so many people it was easy to blend in.

Apparently the cathedral is quite an accurate replica of the one that was demolished, which is nice.  Before I'd seen the place, when all I knew about it was that it was built in the 1990s, I was afraid it was going to be some kind of modernist nightmare, which, as you can see, is not even remotely the case.  Phew.

After we left the church Gerald and I continued our walk, though by that time is was actually spitting rain and the temperature was dropping even further and the sun was starting to set. Our path took us past a few other remarkable Moscow sights, but I think I'll save those for another time.  With my days in Moscow winding down, it'll be good to have a little something saved up to tell you about the next time I manage to scrape up a few hours of blogging time. No promises about when that will be, but we live in hope.

1 Comment:

Anonymous said...

Huh...I always take sunflowers as a sign from Grammie....

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