Kremlin & Red Square
Trip Start May 20, 2012
16Trip End Jun 02, 2012
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Both of us fell into bed – exhausted. Beth was asleep before her head hit the pillow. I could not sleep. I finally gave up trying and took a shower at 5:30 A.M. I was standing in the bathroom trying to figure out how to shave without a razor when a light knock came at the cabin door. It was a room steward with a shaving kit and tooth brushes. How they knew I was up and without a razor is beyond me? Again, Viking was on the ball.
I had breakfast while Beth slept. At 9:30 A.M. I attended a ship safety briefing in the Sky Bar given by Chris, our Program Director
After lunch, we loaded on 5 buses and headed for Moscow’s Kremlin and Red Square. At 3 A.M. last night, I was surprised by the amount of traffic we encountered coming from Domodedovo Airport. This morning was a stunner…total gridlock. Accidents were everywhere especially fender benders and minor rear end collisions.
Our guide Sasha explained Moscow traffic was never like this when he was growing up. The vehicle population exploded after the fall of the Soviet Union. "Today", said Sasha, “Russians are among the most materialistic people in the world. Cars are the new Russian status symbol and are driven everywhere even if there is no place to park upon arrival.”
“The old Russian Lada brand vehicles are nearly extinct”, Sasha reported. “Today everyone wants the high powered imports from Europe, America and Japan. That is true despite a 100% luxury tax on all such vehicles.” He explained there is so much money in Moscow today that 100% taxes do not reduce the demand
We saw Sasha was right. On our drive from the airport, Beth and I had never seen so many Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Toyota, Lexus, Ford, Chevrolet and other dealerships on one highway. They even outnumbered McDonalds, KFC and other fast food establishments…of which there were many.
We finally reached the Metropole Hotel where we disembarked and began the mile walk to the Kremlin. At one point, we passed through security turnstiles and metal detectors for our bags. I didn’t see anyone being stopped. The police guards appeared glassy-eyed and bored.
Kremlin means a section of town fortified by walls, ramparts and palisades. Many, many Russian towns have a “kremlin” but it is Moscow’s Kremlin which is most well known. The Kremlin dates from the 12th Century and is located on an easily defended high mound in the oldest quarter of the city. The Kremlin walls are 65 feet high with 19 towers at regular intervals.
The Kremlin is the center of government for the Russian Federation
At the center of the Kremlin is Cathedral Square. Among the highlights of the Square are: Cathedral of the Assumption (1475-79); Cathedral of the Archangel (1505-1508) and Cathedral of the Annunciation (1484-89). The 266 foot tall Bell Tower of Ivan the Great was constructed in 1508 to serve the cathedrals in Cathedral Square.
The Czar Bell on display was cast in 1735 and has never rung. It is 20 feet tall and weighs 445,170 lbs. In 1812, Emperor Napoleon actually considered confiscating the bell and taking it to France. He was unable to budge the huge bell.
Another really interesting item on the Kremlin grounds is the Czar bronze cannon. It is huge. At 19 feet long and 39 tons it is actually a huge mortar. The weapon was cast in 1586 but has never been fired in war. It was originally placed on a wood carriage. That carriage burned in 1812 and was replaced by the current metal carriage in 1835.
After leaving the Kremlin, we entered Red Square
Don’t get me wrong…Red Square is big…very big. However, I thought it would be even larger than it was. A quick look at Lenin’s mausoleum failed to impress. What was interesting was to learn Stalin no longer shares the tomb with Lenin. He has been demoted to a resting place between the mausoleum and the Kremlin wall. That area was not accessible to us.
If Lenin’s tomb was somewhat of a disappointment, St Basil’s Cathedral (1555-1560) was among the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen. Beth and I both took picture after picture of St Basil’s incredibly beautiful onion domes. After seeing Red Square, we were given some free time to wander on our own.
We wanted to see the changing of the guard at Russia’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We walked downhill out of Red Square and toward the statue of Russian World War II hero Marshal Zhukov.
With a few minutes to spare and sweating from an extraordinarily hot Moscow afternoon, we took a brief detour to the Golden Arches. That’s right, a McDonalds right in front of the Kremlin!
Beth learned quickly that there is no waiting-in-line etiquette in Russia. If you’re big…push your way in. So, she got behind me and pushed me to the head of the line. We got our much appreciated Coca Cola but the price of $3.00 each was a little stiff.
Refreshed…off we went to the Tomb of the Unknown. The honor guard had just started its patented goose-stepping walk toward the Tomb when we arrived. I was a little upset that several Russian teenage girls giggled, laughed and generally acted like jerks during the ceremony. Afterwards, we walked to a shady spot to sit down and rest. “How disrespectful of those girls”, I said. Suddenly, I looked up and a Russian soldier materialized in front of us
Duly chastened, we started the long walk back to the Metropole Hotel and the comfortable bus seat for the ride back to our evening classical folklore concert. The concert was held at the Ekaterina Palace by a young ensemble calling itself “Moskova”. Only Russian folk instruments were used. From the resounding ovation the players received everyone totally enjoyed the performance.
At 9:30 P.M. we returned to the ship for dinner. I was literally cross-eyed from fatigue after two nights without sleep. The best news of the day was that our luggage had been delivered to the ship earlier in the evening. I am certain Viking’s persistent follow up on our behalf was responsible for the suitcases being in our stateroom.
At 11:30 P.M. I staggered down one deck to check email. I was worried about how the dogs had responded to our departure. There was no word from Joy, our faithful dog sitter. There was, however, an email from United Airlines offering us some sort of gift for their abominable service. They really don’t get it! All we want is decent service for the dollars we pay. They believe they can dump on us for two days and then buy us off with gifts or coupons. I was furious…again.
Fatigue finally took its toll. I had had two hours sleep since I got up Sunday morning in Gulf Breeze.