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Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
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Frank Bernheisel
Posted 09.20.16
Just Outside Washington

FRANK BERNHEISEL
All photos courtesy the author and Kathy Cavanaugh

A Day in Moscow

Donald Trump has been making so much news with his relationship with Russia we just had to go to check it out. So Kathy and I signed up for a Viking river cruise from Moscow to Saint Petersburg, starting August 24. We traveled with our friends, Julie and Jonathan.

We disembarked at the Moscow airport and walked to get our luggage, and meet our transportation. The airport could have been anywhere, except for the signs in Cyrillic. Fortunately, most signs had English subtitles.

Stepping to the curb outside the terminal to catch our transport, a Porsche Panamera pulls up first -- it was not for us. During our coach ride to our boat, I was amazed at the traffic, which consisted of almost all European, Asian, and American models, and mostly new.

The coach took us to the Viking Akun, which was docked at the Park Severnago Rechnogo Vaksala on one of the many canals and reservoirs that connect the Moskva and Volga Rivers; about 13 miles from the Kremlin. The picture shows the afternoon traffic along the river drive with the Kremlin's red towers and gold church domes in the background.

traffic

Moscow is a big city of more than 12 million people, and the Russians have fallen in love with the automobile -- there are over 5 million in Moscow alone.

The streets radiate out from the Kremlin and have ring roads to form a transportation network. This modern design was built in the 1830s following Napoleon's destruction of the city. The Metro follows this basic plan.

Moscow is a very green city, with over 100 parks within the city limits, not to mention countless gardens, boulevards, and squares. The public spaces are clean with no litter or graffiti and very well used by the Muscovites. The parks always seemed busy and had structures and theaters designed for children. Also, we saw countless wedding ceremonies in parks, easily identified by the women in long white dresses. (Official marriages are performed by ZAGS -- the organization that registers all marriages, births, and deaths in Russia -- after an application and a 30-day waiting period.)

Our first trip on the Metro was with a guide to Red Square; it was fast and the stations were attractive and efficient. The cars were a bit rustic but ran about every five minutes. The Metro was opened in 1935 and built in Stalin's monumental style. Stations were all different and meant as a patriotic statement -- many with statues, mosaics, and paintings and they were spotless.

metro

The statue on the right is one of the 60, which represented workers and soldiers in the Revolutionary Square station.

statue

Exiting from the Metro put us in Revolutionary Square -- we walked past the Hotel Metropol, one of the finest Art Nouveau buildings in Moscow, the Moscow City Hall, and to the plaza in front of the State Museum.

museum

This is a big red brick pile in the Moscow baroque style, with WWII's Marshal Georgy Zhukov on horseback in front. The plazas were filled with people, kiosks, and amusements for adults and kids. We noticed that the Russian women were as fashionably dressed as those in western European and American cities -- no babushkas in Moscow.

The weather was great, and all of Moscow seemed to be out enjoying the city. We went through Resurrection Gate was built in 1535, demolished in 1931, and rebuilt in 1994-1996, into Red Square. At this point our guide left us on our own to wander around and see what we wanted. The signs were all in Cyrillic, which made navigation a challenge.

goround

Red Square is bounded by the Kremlin on the west, with a massive brick wall running the entire length of the square. (Kremlin is Russian for fortress and most Russian cities have a kremlin.) Lenin's tomb is next to the wall in the center but we could not get to it because Red Square was partially fenced off in preparation for the International Military Band Festival. Many countries, Japan, Israel, Italy, Greece, etc., had sent bands but not the U.S.

GUM

The famous GUM department store formed the east boundary of the square with a façade of almost 800 feet. It is a large glass-roofed mall similar to Brussels and Milan with 200 shops, including Prada and Ferragamo. GUM is shown on the left with a display of new Jaguars in front.

Saint Basil

The famous Moscow landmark Saint Basil's Cathedral closes the square on the south. St. Basil's was built in 1560 and is truly amazing; forcefully secularized in 1929 and is now part of the State Historical Museum. It seemed that everyone, Russians and tourists, were in the square, this Thursday. We walked past St. Basil's onto the Bolshoy Kamenny Bridge where Boris Nemtsov, an opposition leader and critic of Putin, was shot last year.

It's a short walk from Red Square to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, which I regarded as symbolic of the resurgence of the Russian Orthodox Church that I saw in Russia.

Saviour

During the anti-religious campaigns during the Soviet era, millions of Christians were killed, over 500 monasteries/convents liquidated and several hundred churches blown up, including Christ the Saviour. This demolition was to make way for a Stalinist Palace of the Soviets, which was never built. The church was rebuilt to the original specifications during 1995–2000; our guide said no state funds were used.

The next picture is of Julie and Kathy in Red Square.

women

We reconnected with our guide and had a box snack sitting in our coach. We then walked along Lavrushinski Lane to a theater in the Tretyakov Gallery where we were treated to a performance of a 20-piece Russian folk orchestra, which included mandolins, accordion, and balalaikas (one was 4 feet across). Two people from our group were invited on-stage to play balalaikas; they did well and it was lots of fun.

After the show we walked back to the Vodoorvodny Canal and across the foot bridge, which provided a good view of the fountains. This led to Bolotnaya Square, an execution site in the 16th century, which is now a favorite recreation spot for Muscovites, left picture. On the far side of the square we met our coach for our return to the boat.

bolotnaya

Travel by foot and Metro in Moscow is easy and convenient. Not so was travel on the streets by coach or car. I decided the traffic in Moscow was about as bad as Washington, DC. Except when it was worse; this evening when we were caught in a big traffic jam and sat on the bridge near the Kremlin for half an hour, picture above.

This was compounded by a police-escorted motorcade that left the Kremlin, for which the police cleared the roads they needed of all traffic. The half hour trip to the boat took two hours.

Our Russian guide denied that the motorcade was Vladimir Putin, but I am sure it was.

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