We got an early start on our second day in Moscow bcause the forecast called for rain, and we didn’t want to miss any of Red Square or the Kremlin after finding it closed for Victory Day festivities the day before. While we were still shaking off the exhaustion from the previous day’s walkathon, our first sight of the massive square, with the Kremlin’s walls spanning one side and the iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral all the way at its end.
We only perused this for a minute, as we discovered the Kremlin’s entrance was actually outside the square and wanted to beat the worst of the lines. We were slightly worried that it wasn’t open at all, so the sight of one large line when we got there wasn’t so bad. After braving that and walking inside, we suddenly found ourselves in the very heart of Russia, a feeling that would have been impossible for our parents to experience and about as likely as walking on the moon for our grandparents.
The heart of the heart of Russia would have to be the small central square flanked by five cathedrals and the Patriarch’s (Russian Orthodox Pope, essentially) Palace. We headed straight here past Soviet and Tsar-era government buildings, which you couldn’t enter anyway and got it to ourselves to begin with.
From there our morning was spent exploring these churches (the Armory and its museum and diamond collection was sold out to tour groups). Each has its particular character and charm. The Ivan the Great Belltower was closed… but looked cool from the outside.
The Archangel’s Cathedral houses the remains of several Tsars, and was appropriately dim and dour inside. The Annunciation Cathedral was smaller, but more colorful and rustic, and The Church of Laying Our Lady’s Holy Robe was even more so on both fronts, with an interesting selection of carved wooden religous art to boot. On the other hand, The Assumption Cathedral was massive and covered with opulent paintings and golden fixtures. The Patriarch’s Palace was also full of beautiful objects and decorations on a much smaller scale.
Our next two stops kept up this Cathedral tour, to very different results. St. Basil’s is just as enigmatically designed and fascinating to behold on the inside as the outside, from the basement museum where we learned St. Basil was a naked saint to the winding passageways of the upper portion whose curves and colors reminded me of Gaudi’s unfinished Barcelona masterpiece- the Sagrada Familia.
The brand new Christ the Savior Cathedral, a few metro stops away, on the other hand was pure massive ostentation- undoubtedly grand but too cleancut and new for my tastes.
The last church of the day, the Church of St. Nicholas of the Weavers, we passed on the way to Tolstoy’s home and decided to duck into. I’m glad, because outside of St. Basil’s, it was easily my favorite. Its colorful exterior reminded me of Peruvian (Ayacuchan) churches of all things, and the interior was simply (by Russian Orthodox standards) and beautifully decorated and full of devout old ladies saying their prayers. It felt like a church more than a tourist attraction or symbol of the State.
Tolstoy’s Estate Museum is a simple clapboard house and small garden on the outside, but inside a rather fascinating look at one of our most interesting thinkers and writers, giving a real feel for his personal and family life and a small peek into his writing process.
The rain finally came as we headed for the Tretyakovsky Gallery, which would’ve been perfect if they hadn’t closed two hours early for the holidays. We instead had an overpriced coffee and waited out the worst of it before walking to the nearby Gorkiy Park. On one end is the intriguing Art Muzeon Sculpture Park, full of both old Soviet-era statues of Lenin and Stalin that were pulled down in the 90s and modern sculptures on the theme of Communism among others.
The massive, ostentatious Peter the Great statue was also at this end of the Park.
On the other was a large family-friendly venue with restaurants, coffeehouses, and sights like a space shuttle and fountains to stroll around and enjoy, even in the sprinkling rain.
Our one regret in this full day was that due to holiday closures, schedule changes, and crowding we struck out on Moscow’s many great museums. Our trip to St. Petersburg in June will have plenty of those, though, and at the end of the day, it’s not the worst thing in the world to have another excuse or three to come back to this beautiful city.