"High-brow culture, low-brow action, and the spy who loved us."
After breakfast Vlade pick us up around 10 and we headed out to our first stop: a tour of world famous Boishoi Ballet Theatre. By now we had gotten somewhat familiar with the vibe in Moscow, and it was a good one. The omnipresent security checks notwithstanding, this was a very pleasant and civil society. Beside graffiti being practically non-existent, we also never saw even a scrap of litter on the ground. Driving in the city was hectic due to the inordinate number of cars, and the fact that they drove very close to one another, but during our entire trip, I never saw one incident of road rage, horns honked in anger, or any other display of animus. In fact, why don’t you come along with us on our commute by clicking here.
After placing cloth booties over our feet – not the easiest thing to do when you’re wearing boots - we embarked on our tour. The tour was in English, and, quite interestingly, was given by a docent who once toured the US when she worked for the Moscow Circus.
Needless to say, the theater lived up to its reputation and was absolutely stupendous. No words, including mine, could do it justice. The ceiling was at least 80 feet high, and the fretwork and gold leaf on the upper balcony walls was stunning. That work alone took 300 artisans over 6 years to complete. Interestingly, the panels on the balconies were faced with paper mache’ instead of wood. This was done in order to retain the theater's amazing acoustics. An enormous chandelier made up of 25,000 pieces of crystal, hung from the ceiling and once had been lit with small oil lamps. Currently, the illumination came from electric lights and the Boishoi now had its own power supply.
After purchasing our tickets and going through another metal detector and security screening, we headed into the world famous Kremlin. As Americans, we often only think of “The Kremlin” only in terms of it being the seat of power for Russia and – during the Soviet era – for the entire republic. But in reality, its governmental function is only one aspect of this complex of structures filled with rich history.
The name Kremlin means "Fortress Inside a City", and besides the Grand Kremlin Palace, the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation (Putin), it contains four other palaces, four cathedrals, and the imposing Kremlin Wall with Kremlin towers. For the most part on the tour, you walk around on the inside of the walls and tour the various cathedrals. You can see the Grand Kremlin Palace, but you can’t get closer than 500 feet from it.
One of the more popular attractions inside the Kremlin walls was the Tsar cannon. An enormous piece of artillery Guinness certified it as the worlds largest cannon. Although there was evidence to support the claim that it been fired at least once, it had never been used in battle.
Right next to the cannon is the Tsar bell, which was commissioned by a niece of Peter the Great. It too holds a world record as the largest bell in world at 445,166 lb, but unlike the cannon being shot, it has never been rung. A team of researchers did once simulated its sound by studying its metallurgy and using computational models. A giant piece of the bell, 23,000 lb, broke off when ill-advised guards threw water onto the bell to try to save it during a fire in 1737. You can only imagine what fate awaited them for their actions. Probably acted as the target for the Tsar cannon when it was test fired.
It was here, when we were standing next to the Tsar Bell and cannon, that I first noticed her.
Sure enough, wherever we went, she seemed to be keeping us in her sights, albeit from a distance. She never looked directly at us, but tried to act nonchalant. It didn’t work, and I thought that her prowess as a stealthy monitor of these visiting Yankee Imperialists barely came up to the standards of your average department store “secret shopper.”
Before long, we had nicknamed her Natasha, after the character Natasha Fatale in the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. Soon, we began to joke about it and make up little scenarios and stories about out little spy who came in out of the cold. In short order, our personal spy Natasha, became the highlight of our day.
After seeing several of the Kremlin cathedrals, we turned back toward the exit of the Kremlin. And what a coincidence; so did Natasha! We watched her as she crossed paths with a young man and there it was, just the slightest of facial expressions that told us they were working together. Then she doubled back and followed us again.
Just for fun as she was following me, Tim told me to stop so he could steal a shot of her. And he did. And with that one shot, Natasha's hopes of having a long and prosperous career with the KGB came to an abrupt end.
My My was a very popular local chain and was set up like a cafeteria with a huge variety of Russian fare to choose from. Inside the rustic interior it was crowded, noisy and doing a brisk business. But it was fast and efficient and we went through the line quickly and then sat down to eat. The food was tasty, reasonably priced, and we all decided that we would definitely keep it on our list of favorite eateries.
By now we were starting to run short on time for our evening activities, and so we knew that we wouldn’t be able to sightsee much here. We took some of the requisite snapshots of us standing outside of St. Basils and after Vlade informed us that you could not really get too close to view the historic leaders body inside Lenin’s tomb, we decided to skip it and head on out.
We descended the escalator into the metro tunnel and Vlade got us into the proper queue for our train. We had only stood there for few moments before the loud whooshing sound of our approaching train filled the station. As soon as it stopped, the doors sprung open and people got off or onto the train with practiced deftness. The doors closed a few moments later and we were off.
The train accelerated rapidly and I guessed that it achieved a speed of close to 50 MPH. It slowed down just as quickly, and it soon became apparent how the system managed to move so many people every day.
None of us really knew what to expect of the hockey game. We had so far seen the high culture and high end side of Moscow with the Boishoi and the Radisson Royale, but we going to be getting down in to the blue collar trenches with this event. Would it be crowded with a bunch of drunken Russian fans brawling with each other, vomiting and falling down the steps? We didn’t know. How bloody would the game itself be? We were pleasantly surprised.
Besides the stadium being nice, the fans were well behaved and the action on the ice was fast-paced and non-stop. Dave had secured us corner seats right down by the goal and only a few rows up. The home team, the Dynamo’s won the game 1 – 0 and it was a great way to end what could only be described as an eclectic and unforgettable day in Moscow, Russia.
Why don’t you come along with us again tomorrow right here?