A Travellerspoint blog

24: Van Gogh

rain 19 °C

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Had a really great sleep in this morning after an extremely late night.. It’s amazing- the sun doesn't go down til at least 10.45pm so you find that you don't feel tired when you would normally feel tired! But geez you pay for it the next day!

Anyway the plan for today was to go to the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum. I have to say at the outset that I wasn't super excited about spending the morning wandering around an art gallery. But I have to say, that I am definitely an art convert! It was amazing to wander thru these hall ways that contain so many works of art that are by some of the most famous artists ever. The Pushkin has works by- Monet, CeZanne, Van Gogh, Matisse just to name a few. The Van Gogh's definitely had the greatest impression on me. The Pushkin owns 5 Van Gogh's and one of them (Prison barracks) was my pick. The colours and the brush strokes are just amazing! I also really quite enjoyed the CeZanne's. I understand now why the masters are so talked about and wanted.. The colours and the details are just awesome!

After enjoying the museum for a couple of hours we went hunting a photography museum that was supposed to near the Pushkin. We're not sure if we ever actually found it but we did find a totally modern, abstract museum which was "god-awful" to use one of Bookie's expressions. Absolute waste of money! I mean how can you sell a piece of stretched canvas inside a glass case that has no paint, picture or anything visible??? Or what about a piece of green tent canvas that has some salt crystals visible on its surface????? Anyway half an hour later I was back out on the street and looking for lunch.

After lunch I took off to find St Basil's cathedral. St Basil's is surprisingly small on the inside! It is actually 10 churches that are all combined into one building (each of the onion domes represents a separate church). Each of the churches wouldn’t be large enough to accommodate 40 people standing so you can get an idea of how small they are. St Basil's still operates as a working church a couple of times a year on major orthodox holidays but in the main is just a tourist attraction. You can see the relics from St Basil (a Muscovite in the 1500s who apparently performed miracles for the poor and sick in Moscow) but the highlight is the painted interior. Every wall is covered in frescos, depicting parts of the bible. St Basil's is quite a rabbit warren.. you could play an amazing game of hide and seek.. The many onion domes lead to heaps of small passage ways going each and every way! I'm so glad I made the effort to see St Basils as it has such an interesting and beautiful interior!

We started to head back towards our hotel around 6pm as we needed to have dinner etc to get ready to catch our last overnight train to St Petersberg at 12.45am! Fingers crossed the train is on time and we can get to sleep quickly tonight!

Posted by weary_feet 11:03 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

23: Opulence

sunny 28 °C
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Early start this morning as we had to meet our guide at the entry to Lenin's tomb at 9.30. It’s a bit surreal walking passed a dead person, especially a dead person who has been dead for almost a hundred years! Lenin's tomb abuts the outside of the Kremlin walls and is directly opposite the GUM department store. His tomb is surrounded by tombs of Communist leaders and the heads of the Russian military.

He is housed in a red and black granite mausoleum.. You are walked in one side of the tomb.. I would describe it as a bunker (considering all of the military personnel watching him and the huge steel doors on both ends and the metal detection at the gates).. and past his body, which is housed in a glass coffin. He is lying on his back with eyes closed. Both hands are resting on his hips/ upper thighs, one hand clenched in a fist the other open. He is surrounded by a red nimbus (thanks to red spotlights overhead). The whole room is quite gloomy and the only light comes from the tomb.. As I said, quite surreal. Total time in the mausoleum would be less than 30 seconds! The embalming process happens daily with him being injected with some drug, he is also pulled out of his coffin every 18 months for his overhaul- this includes him being dunked in paraffin wax! Pretty amazing when you see him. You would think he is a wax figure not a body that died 100 yrs ago... Or, maybe that's the conspiracy, maybe he is wax and...............

After checking out Lenin we entered the 27 acre fortress that is the Kremlin. The Kremlin was built by Ivan the Terrible in the mid 1500s. It is a red brick enclave that houses the President and many of the cities beautiful cathedrals. It was originally the home of the Tsars of Russia until Peter the Great moved the capital to St Petersberg in the 1700s.

Everywhere you look in the Kremlin is a new site.. Many parts of the Kremlin are off limits to the public as they are used for the governing of Russia. For example after entering the Kremlin (they are only two public entrances) you can only walk on the paved parts of the road ways.. Anything cobblestoned is off limits and is used by the govt vehicles. Medvedev was in residence and invited all of us Intrepid travellers in for coffee and sweets (well in my dreams I was invited into the Presidential palace!!).

Interesting fact about the Kremlin. As everyone knows it was used as the main power base for the govt of Russia under the Communists. During this time, a few new buildings were constructed inside the Kremlin walls, a military training and office block and the People’s Congress (hall of the Communist party). The Congress was a building that was only used once a year when all of the communist heavy weights would travel to Moscow for the yearly congress meeting.. The hall seats 6000 people! The communist party had a hotel built also in Moscow just to house these congress members for a once a year meeting. Linking the hotel, airport and congress building is a "not so secret" underground rail line that was only used by Communist personnel.. It is not so secret because since the fall of Communism the average person has heard the stories but during the Communist era it was unknown to regular people.. Apparently the rail line also links the 6 "Stalin Towers" that he had built (The Stalin Towers remind me of some sort of Gothem City look-a-like!).. Sadly, many circa 1600 buildings were demolished to make way for these buildings.. One such was a church that had many of the early Tsarina's tombs...

The Kremlin is largely made up of churches.. I swear there are more churches within the Kremlin than in most cities in Au! (ok so that's an exaggeration but you get the drift).. I was really surprised that so many of them survived the Communist era.. Apparently, Lenin decreed that all the Churches and Heritage buildings were to be saved as cultural icons for further generations and thank goodness he did as some of the churches are just beautiful.

The main cathedral (Assumption Cathedral) inside the Kremlin walls is the one where all of the Tsars were coronated. Even after Peter the Great moved the capital to St Petersberg in the 1700s, all of the Tsars and Tsarinas of Russia were coronated in the Kremlin. The thing I find so astounding about the Russian Orthodox churches is just how beautifully painted the interiors are.. The Assumption is no exception.. All of the walls are covered in frescos and the icons at the front are surrounded by gold.. Just amazing!

After viewing all of the Churches (I'm starting to understand the "ABC" syndrome of Europe-- most of you will know what I'm talking about) in the Kremlin we went into the Armoury Museum. The Armoury Museum within the Kremlin houses probably the greatest collection of jewellery, silver ware, ornaments that could be found anywhere in the world. Staggering, does not even describe the museum. It has been in existence since the mid 1600s and was built to house the Royal Jewellery (and all other stuff) since that time. Again unbelievably very little of the collection was touched by the Communist regime and is largely complete!

You begin the tour of the Armoury by viewing all of the coronation gowns and coats by most of the Tsars and Tsarinas since Peter the Great's time. You can actually see the gown that Catherine the Great wore for her coronation! The gowns have been untouched for centuries (in some cases) and are enclosed in glass cabinets for viewing. After viewing the opulence of the gowns (seed pearls, gold threads, silks galore) we went into the throne room. The throne room houses all of the thrones that most of the Tsars used throughout their reigns. Every Tsar had his own throne constructed for his coronation and reign. They range from an ivory built throne by Ivan the Terrible through to a gold and jewel encrusted throne that Alex II used... Just amazing.. Again they are virtually how they would have been hundreds of years ago.. nothing has really been restored so you can clearly see where velvets have been worn out either by age or wear during the reign of the monarch. Within the throne room you can also see the crown jewels of the Tsars... The original crown (built by Ivan the Terrible) is quite Mongol in construction and really highlights the Mongol influence up until Ivan's time.. It is fur rimmed with a basic gold dome for his head a few jewels (emerald most prevalent) pushed into the gold. It wasn't until Peter the Great that the crown was changed and a more "traditional" crown was adopted, gold encrusted with jewels.

The next room is the carriage room and you can see all of the carriages the royal family had and used for the past 300 years.. There is everything from kid sized carriages (Peter the Great was only 12 when he ascended the throne) thru to very ornate gold encrusted carriages used for parades etc.

The final area to the museum (although by far the largest) is the area that shows the collection of gold, silver and jewel encrusted tableware and ornaments that the Tsars used and had. The show cases are endless with every conceivable type of dinnerware and ornaments. It was really quite overwhelming. After a while the show cases just started to meld into one.. The $$ that the Tsars must have had must be overwhelming! Apparently, many collectors etc now come to Russia just to see all the different styles of tableware looked like.. For example during the time of Thomas a Becket much of the English silverware was melted down to produce coins etc so much of that style of silver ware is no longer visible except in the Armoury Collection!

After oggling at the Armoury collection we decided to stay in Red Square and visit the State History Museum. The history museum is housed in this beautiful fairy tale castle on the western edge of Red Square (by the way, red square is not named for the Communist affiliation-- it has always been known as the red square, which signified the beautiful square). After seeing the Armoury Musuem the State History Museum seemed pale in comparison! It shows the history of Russia from prehistoric times right thru to late 1800s. Unfortunately it did not show any of the 20th centuries history so was a little dull for me (i was sincerely hoping that this museum would portray the whole history of Russia).

By 6pm our feet were absolutely stuffed so we decided to make our way back to the hotel and try and find a Georgian restaurant on the way (that had been mentioned in Lonely Planet). After spending more than hour looking for the place (god I wish I could read cyrillic) we gave up and ended up walking back to the hotel to have dinner in the restaurant.

After dinner we all met up again and went on a tour of the Moscow metro. Again talk about opulence. The underground has to be seen to be believed! We followed one particular metro line (apparently the most beautiful) and got off at each station to oggle at the mosaics, stained glass and MARBLE! The metro in Moscow puts most 5 star hotels to shame and it is only really a station for trains!! Most of the stations are some sort of tribute to the might of socialism, with lots of patriotic looking frescos of people in paddocks working or army personnel cheering. And of course there were heaps of Hammers and Sickles and Bundles of Wheat as well as frescos of Lenin and Stalin! Gotta love the soviet propaganda!

By now the time was well after 12 pm and when we were on our way home we decided to detour to Red Square to see the Kremlin and St Basils at night.. Gosh what a way to cap off an opulently, fantastic day! V much time to go to bed now as tomorrow we are off to see the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum and St Basils Cathedral.

Posted by weary_feet 10:33 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

22: Mockba

sunny 25 °C
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Arrived off the train just after 9am. Had to take a subway ride to get to our hotel.. Man the back was damn sore after carrying all of my gear for the km or so..

Anyway, after we got to the hotel we went for a bit of a walk and to get some lunch at a local cafe. Immediately after lunch we decided to go for a walk back towards red square and see if we could see the Gulag Museum on the way.

The streets of Moscow are really beautiful. Many have the car lanes separated by tree lined boulevards that are just beautiful. The main type of trees in Moscow are a type of poplar which means that at the moment the air is thick with white fluffy stuff (seeds from the poplars).. It’s crazy but the streets and sky look like they have snow in them!! (Lucky for me I don't seem to be super allergic to these seeds so smiles all around!)

After a few false starts we found the Gulag Museum. Russia is quite difficult because English is not prevalent and the Cyrillic language isn't much like ours... the annoying thing is that most maps and lonely planet etc are in English translation but all of the street signs are in cyrllic.. I've managed to become at least passingly ok at reading and understanding cyrillic so I've been designated as street sign reader and translator in our little group!

The Gulag Museum was a little underdone.. The museum definitely gives you the idea that gulag life was incredibly difficult but with no English translation on anything (and no English speaking people in museum) you couldn't get the whole picture.

After leaving the Gulag we walked down to the Kremlin via the Bolshoi Theatre.. It was at this time that I just started to have many jaw dropping moments... I had no idea how beautiful the architecture is in Moscow... I was so surprised by how many "knock-out" vistas you can see.. Around every bend of the Kremlin my camera came straight out and I took bucket loads of photos... The Kremlin complex is just awe inspiring.

By this stage it was getting towards dinner and we had planned to all meet for dinner at a Soviet style cafe for some Russian food.... Unfortunately the Soviet cafe met expectations from a looking point of view but the food was pretty ordinary and was western not Russian!

Off to bed now ready for a big day tomorrow trooping around the Kremlin!

Posted by weary_feet 10:18 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

21: More of the same

sunny 21 °C
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Nice start with us eating a great brekky of waffle/ cakey things with strawberry jam! Yum (might be the best brekky we've had so far). Spent the morning organising my stuff for our train trip that arvo. Went back to the market in Kungur and got more baked goodies- rock cakes and more waffles-- for the journey north to Moscow.

The trip was very uneventful. We've got the drill of getting on and off the trains totally sorted so our trip went like clock work. Our first step is always to put away our packs and make our beds to get ourselves sorted. Tracey (being a hotel manager) makes a big effort when it comes to bed making and I have to say that this attitude has rubbed on the rest of us.. We all make an effort to have nice tidy beds in which to recline/ sit on for the rest of the day. Next step is always to unpack our 3 bags of food.. Christ we have some food.. I'll give everyone an idea-- we have a bag dedicated to chocolate and baked goods, a bag for dry goods (noodles, crackers, tea, coffee etc) and a bag for fruit and spreads. It is crazy the volume of food we seem to buy but also consume on board a train.. When there isn't much else to do we do tend to eat!!

We wiled away the remainder of the time playing endless games of "May-I" (yes I've taught the team the Rach/ Dunham stand by card game) and reading our books.

Not much more to report we should arrive in Moscow tomorrow approx 9am.

Posted by weary_feet 10:56 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

20: Churches

rain 18 °C
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A v early start this morning as we had to exit the train at 1am and go to our hotel in Kungur for a bit of a sleep before we set out for the day. I've managed to score my own room and I have to say I'm really enjoying having all of this space to myself!!

We started with an early brekky and then a walk around town. Its a sunday today so the town had its market on in the main street which was great for some yummy baked goods (esp considering brekky in the hotel was an inedible omlette and a small piece of bread). The town of Kungur is really picturesque. The town was founded in 1663 so it has heaps of beautfiul old buildings in different states of repair and of course orthodox churches! The town is set on the banks of the Silver River and the churches have pride of place overlooking the river. At the summit of the town rests this beautiful old stone orthodox church which we were able to climb to the bellfry to see the lay of the town. Just beautiful.

We had lunch with a loverly lady Inka who invited us into her home and cooked lunch for us. Lunch was 5 meat soup and Rice with Chicken. Really tasty. On top of this Inka taught us how to make Russian Pies.. Flour, water and an egg make up the pastry.. The inside was a vegetable I haven't seen before but looked like Spinach and tasted like Lemon!! When added with heaps of sugar the Lemon flavoured Spinach Pie was pretty damn tasty!!!

We spent the afternoon in Kungur's famous ice caves. We had to catch a bus between Inka's place and the ice caves and just as we left Inkas the heavens opened and we were heavily rained and hailed on!! My gosh we were wet!!!! Luckily I had packed my rain jacket (as we were going to the ice caves) so was able to keep the worst of the storm off me but everyone else was absolutely satched.. Entering caves of below zero and wet isn't normally a good combination!!

The caves themselves ran for almost 2km.. The first few chambers are well below zero and contain huge ice stallictites and mites and frozen rivers. One of the caves even had what looks like a frozen waterfall! The remainder of the caves contained huge underground lakes and old coral.. The reflection of one of the lakes is just incredible.. for a while I didn't realise the lake was even there!! Overall the caves were a little underwhelming but for those few readers who ever actually make it to Kungur it is the main attraction so you'd better attend (or cut down your stay by a couple of hours).

No more plans for Kungur until we get on our train to Moscow tomorrow arvo at 1pm.

Posted by weary_feet 10:55 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

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