This morning we rose fairly early, tired though we were, because
we wanted to see as much of the Kremlin area as we could. We hadn’t really
slept enough, but we didn’t want to waste part of the day.
Mid-morning we took a taxi to Red Square, which we found on
arrival was set for a festival of some kind. There were high bleacher stands
around the square and a number of marching bands were practicing. Based on
poster all around it appears the festival will start Saturday, and
international in scope.
We were fascinated to see Saint Basil’s Cathedral, one of
the most recognizable churches in the world, with its brightly painted onion
domes. It was built in the 1500s on orders of Ivan the Terrible (more on him
anon), to celebrate his victory over the Kazan khanate, which allowed him to
claim the title of Czar of all the Russias. It is now a museum which we entered
right away, paying the 500 Ruble entry fee (about USD 8). The rooms inside are
surprisingly very small, the icons, other decorations, and artifacts are
impressive but not awe-inspiring in scale. Basil, or Vasyli
Russian, is buried in one of the first rooms one enters.
He was an eccentric fellow who walked about naked, wore chains as a sort of penitence
and told off Ivan the Terrible for his cruelty and his inattention during
church services. Ivan came to revere him.
Leaving Saint Basil’s we walked around Red Square, past the State
Historical Museum, and went to the back of the line to see Lenin’s Mausoleum. The
line was very long, stretching along the north-west to south east wall of the Kremlin
and many Russian cities have one). It took an hour for us
to reach the security checkpoint where we went through a metal detector and had
our daypacks and messenger bags searched. Then we wandered along the Kremlin
Wall Necropolis where Soviet dignitaries are buried including people like,
Stalin, Kalinin, Dzerzhinsky, Brezhnev, Andropov, and the American Communist
Bill Haywood (who, while appealing a violation of the espionage act, fled to
Then we arrived a Lenin’s tomb, a large stone structure on
top of which the Soviet Nomenklatura
military and other parades. Those are iconic photos, engraved in the memories
of those who remember the Cold War. I had read that we would have to store our
bags and surrender our cell phones so that no photos could be taken, but we
were simply warned loudly and sternly by a guard as we prepared to enter “No
photos!” There were six or eight guards, one at each turn, so we were never out
of sight, as we descended the stairs into darkness. We finally came to the
body, which has been on display since he died in 1924, and looks just like the
photos. Public opinion in Russia is that he should be buried like the others in
the necropolis, but Mr. Putin has resisted the idea, as he is also actively rehabilitating
the memory and reputation of Joseph Stalin.
Pausing to reflect on Lenin’s life and the results of his
efforts, we walked back out into the warm sunlight. We made our way slowly (I’m
still nursing my sciatica) back down around the Kremlin wall, to the tomb of
the unknown soldier, just outside the walls. We continued on to the ticket
counters were I purchased tickets to the archeological exhibits within the
Kremlin walls. Then we walked up and through the Trinity Tower Gate. It was
memorable to enter the walls of the seat of power I’ve heard about, and in some
ways feared since my childhood.
While security was obviously present, stern-looking policemen
were blowing whistles liberally to keep people where they were supposed to be, there
was nothing overtly threatening about the place. Bright sunshine and blue skies
gave a sense of peace. Entering the western, Trinity, gate, all the buildings
on one’s left are the seats of Russian Power: the Arsenal, the Senate building
the Presidium and so on.
To the right are the ancient churches of the Russian
monarchy: the Dormitian Cathedral, the Annunciation Cathedral and the Archangel
Cathedral where Ivan the Terrible is buried. Terrible
is the translation of a word which more properly means inspiring terror or awe
, not in the
sense of evil
But if you read on him
at all you will find he was often a terribly cruel and mentally unbalanced man
in addition to what could be considered the actions on the positive side of the
ledger. In violent times, violent men rule.
Back outside we saw the Czar Cannon, mean to awe and impress but not to be used. The giant cannon balls before it are too large to fit in the barrel. We also saw the Czar Bell, which was destroyed by fire before it ever sounded.
We paused on the edge of the hill next to the
Grand Kremlin Palace, built by the Czars and now the official residence of the President
of the Russian Federation, though apparently seldom actually used for that
purpose. Below we could see boat traffic on the Moskva River, and a beautiful
view of the city. I hoped to exit directly back onto Red Square, but all the
Kremlin gates were closed to tourist traffic except the one by which we had
So we retraced our steps and walked around toward Red Square passing the recently-installed monument to the Romanov family as we went. We came to the equestrian statue of Marshall
Zhukov, the great Russian General of WW2, and personal friend of General and
We made our way back to the GUM (acronym for Main Universal
Store) department store, more like a mall now. Built in the 1890s is was famous
under the Soviet system in the 1950s as the one store that didn’t have a
shortage of consumer items. Lines of waiting shoppers sometimes stretched all
the way across Red Square.
We had a light lunch on an upper level passage between rows
of shops, and browsed for souvenirs in what are probably the most expensive
souvenir shops in Moscow…. Leaving empty handed, we caught a taxi back to our
hotel, where we arrived at the end of the afternoon.
Hervé arrived a little before 7:00 pm and we caught up on
our news. He and his family have been in Russia for 14 months on their first
diplomatic posting, but have been downsized over the current diplomatic spat
between the US and Russia. His work has been so demanding that they’ve really
not had any time to sightsee other than around Moscow. He talked sadly about
the soon-to-be-unemployed Russian embassy personnel who are being treated as
traitors by the Russian government for innocuously working for the US State Department, and will probably find it impossible to
find other work as a result.
Hervé and his family will leave the country early Sunday
morning headed for the US for several weeks before moving on to their next
posting in Germany.
We talked about the work of the Church too, and our present
trip, but mostly about their challenging situation.
He left about 8:30 saying goodbye until tomorrow evening
when they have invited us for dinner. We had a light dinner and prepared for
the activities of tomorrow.