I visited Moscow and Saint Petersburg in May with a great study abroad group. From browsing museums and galleries to paying (and probably getting ripped off) for squat toilets, we navigated Russia despite the language barriers with various degrees of success. I have over a thousand pictures and more many stories, but here’s a handful:
We visited one of the most iconic buildings in Russia on our first day in Moscow – Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square. According to legend, Ivan the Great took out the architect’s eyes so that he could never create anything as beautiful again. (That didn’t really happen, though, thank goodness.) We walked from our hotel near Paveletskaya station to Red Square; after crossing the Moscow River, we could see the Kremlin towers and the Cathedral’s domes come into view.
Seeing the Cathedral in person was a strange experience; photographs prepare you to some extent, but the style is so different from anything in the States that it appears almost as if it rose from the pages of Hansel and Gretel. I couldn’t decide if it looked more like a painted cardboard model or a jaunty mosaic, and yet it wasn’t a fantasy, but an immense, breathtaking – dare I say sublime? – structure designed and built by human hands.
The Tsar Cannon was cast in 1586. It’s 20 feet long, weighs 39 tons, and stands guard near the Kremlin cathedrals. Russia is incredibly fond of large things: the Tsar Cannon’s friend, the Tsar Bell, lies just a few yards away – all 202 tons of it.
Can you guess who ordered the construction of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower? Legends say that Ivan the Great used to drop small animals from the top of the Bell Tower. It had more productive uses though; its 21 bells are the first to ring on church holidays, signaling all the other churches in Moscow to ring theirs. Napoleon had a go at the tower in 1812, but was thankfully unsuccessful in destroying it.
The Cathedral of the Annunciation was almost blindingly bright on the day we visited it; its golden domes symbolize flames of heaven.
The Dormition Cathedral is dedicated to Mary, the Theotokos (“God-bearer”). An icon of the Dormition crowns the arching doors of the Cathedral, depicting Mary’s Assumption and her reunion with God.
We visited the State Duma while we were in Moscow. That was a rather… interesting experience. We went to the four major “Oppositional” parties (whose leaders are Putin’s friends, according to the Duma worker who gave us a tour). The Liberal Democratic Party (which is actually a fascist party) gave us party bags full of party things like hats, a book of Party songs, buttons, and a watch.
We also encountered a very dour-looking man who introduced himself as a prominent member of the Communist Party. He was eager to take a group photo with us, though for some reason this request sounded rather ominous coming from him. I was amused to discover that the Communist Party office lounge sports a red grand piano in the corner. So much depends upon a broken piano / glazed with bright polish / beside the red couches. (Christie is at the far right in this picture.)