Saturday, 27 August 2011

Suzdal to Moscow

In which a coin is not a coin
Starring participants in the Kremlin International Queuing Competition. 

Moscow felt like an enormous, slightly terrifying city after sleepy Suzdal but you can actually get round most of it on foot. We took a rather dull boat cruise down the river from which you can see the spires of the Kremlin, the state University buildings and some of the big churches. 

Glass metro bridges over the river

The metro is also surprisingly easy to use once you’ve worked out that the what you thought was change is actually the metro ticket (a small coin that isn’t a coin) and got used to matching up the cyrillic to work out what direction the train is going in. And it’s elaborately beautiful – each station individually designed: some with sculptures, some just have colourful tiling and one has a mosaiced ceiling commemorating Russian battle victories. 

Moscow University
There’s mobile phone signal, everything is spotlessly clean, the police patrol up and down each platform in little huddles of four (making it quite hard to take pictures – you’re not actually supposed to) and the escalators go down so far and so steeply that there really isn’t any point in feeling guilty about not walking up.  All extremely civilised.

Metro Escalators

To get into the Kremlin or even into Red Square itself at any time of year, you have to queue.  To get in in August, you have to queue for a long time.  In a lot of queues. This provides an interesting insight into international queuing techniques and cultures.  We got into the first line (to go through security) at about 10:00.  By 10:30 we had moved about ten steps forward and the line had become a 'bunch' as about 30 Spanish tourists merged into the side and wedged their way gradually in front of us.   Next we queued to put bags in the cloackroom, then queued to get into the Mausoleum where, eventually rushed so quickly past Lenin's waxy visage we hardly had time to take it in.  Back in the main square we rushed down to St Basil's and joined the queue to have a quick look around inside and were proptlye wedged out of the main chapel by a French tour group who weren't going to move an inch until the choir had sung. 

Cathedral Square in the Kremlin

After going to see the changing of the guard (delivered with a very entertaining goose step) and more walking around the square we joined the queue to get into the Kremlin.  This started out as one line but quickly turned into two and then a third was added by the Japanese.  When we finally arrived at the front all three queues merged to pass through a turnstile. The Russians were having none of the one-one system and I eventually had to elbow my way in front of someone who then tried to come past me from behind while I was in the security scanner.  He did get told off by the guard. 

Thankfully the Kremlin was worth every sweaty second in the sunshine. But of course we were now behind schedule – the tour guides have to stick to a strict time limit to avoid losing their licenses and so we were rushed through Cathedral Square to see the icon screen in the incredible main cathedral, the world's biggest cannon, the world's biggest bell and then of course, got in the queue for the armoury. It has been a very long time since I saw the crown jewels at The Tower so my experience in these matters may be out of date, the but the collection at the Kremil was absolutely incredible – from 12th century beakers, to bejeweled bibles, every gift given to Russian emperors, carriages, wedding dress and my favourite - faberge eggs including one that had a little Trans Siberian train that came apart to fit inside.    ­­­­­

Ate a fantastic Soviet Style canteen in the G.U.M the main historical shopping mall. They even had a beer machine that worked by inserting a coin, and holding a cup in place while a pint of beer was dispensed.  All the décor and menus very 1950s.

While we were there Red Square was being set up for a huge military tattoo due to start in a few weeks.  So there was plenty of practicing going on including men riding two horses each by standing on their backs and some sort of strange laser show.  In the background, St Basil’s changed colour in time to a tune blasted out over load speakers, rendering it even more Disney like than normal. 

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