Travel Story Moscow shines in its majesty

Photo of Malcolm Quekett

The Russian city's architectural and cultural treasures have survived the turmoil of wars and revolution.

Our van inched through the rain and traffic snarl on the way from Moscow airport into the city. More than 45 minutes passed with hardly a word from our driver.

And then, as the drab concrete apartment blocks on the city’s outskirts lining the main arterial road gave way to wide, elegant streets and the weather lifted, he burst into life.

“Kremmelleeen,” he said, illustrating the familiar red wall to the side of us with an expressive sweep of one arm as he steered the van with the other.

And then shortly afterwards as we drove on, he swapped arms.

“Bolllllshoi,” (grand arm sweep). Again, it was to introduce a building which hardly needed an introduction.

The residents of Moscow are justifiably proud of their city.

It is little wonder.

It has been the heart of a nation which has been at the forefront of some of the most influential events in world history, especially in the last century. 

And fortunately many of the architectural and cultural treasures which became part of the city’s rich heritage have survived the turmoil of wars and revolution and can still be seen.

From our base at the elegant and well-situated Budapest Hotel, we headed out on a pre-booked tour around the major landmarks.

We crisscrossed the Moskva River, which snakes its way through the city centre, and it provided a good way to get our bearings.

A stop at the Novodevichy Convent, founded in 1524, was a disappointment because the rain and humidity meant the highlight of the visit, the cathedral, had been closed to protect its valuable frescoes. But we viewed a collection of religious icons in its museum before driving on to the impressively laid out Moscow University campus.

A lookout there provided a wonderful view back over the city, including the tops of some of the unique Stalinist-era buildings which peaked above the city’s skyline.

We finished the tour at Red Square, the site of Lenin’s tomb, and the popular view of St Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin which has launched a billion postcards.

Next we checked out some of the famous underground stations. We were not disappointed. Many of the metro stations are works of art in themselves.

Dubbed the people’s palaces, some have elegant entrance ways and platforms, vaulted ceilings, chandeliers and bronze statues.

Various travel guides offer their views on the best stations to visit, and we particularly enjoyed Kievskaya and Ploshchad Revolutsii, which features bronze statues paying homage to the former Soviet Union’s people’s heroes such as workers, soldiers and farmers. Rubbing the nose of one of the statues of a dog is said to bring good luck, and as a result several dogs’ noses are shiny through constant rubbing.

It is possible to see Lenin’s body inside his tomb, a pyramid-like structure about halfway along the Kremlin wall in Red Square.

The next day we made our way to Red Square by 9.30am and found ourselves about 100m from the front of the expanding queue for access to the tomb. The line began to move almost as the clock hit 10, and within about 15 minutes we had reached the security checkpoint at the admission point.

At the tomb entrance a young guard pointed to the outline of my phone in a pocket in my trousers, and said something like “zxynetsneyjkjdghptasotnif”.

I took out the phone and showed him what it was, and he said something similar to his first phrase, which I figured meant “turn it off”, which I did and was rewarded with a nod.

It was then down some steps into the gloom, and around the corner to where the corpse of the man who changed the world lay.

It is not permitted to stop and gawk so I walked as slowly as possible while trying to make it look like I was keeping up a steady pace, as I tried to store away mental images to describe what I had seen. I had asked my extended family travelling with me to do the same, and together we came up with the following short descriptions for the Father of the Revolution: cold, small, plastic, lifelike, at peace.

The Kremlin is also home to the Armoury Museum, which is crammed with pre-revolutionary era treasures such as royal gowns, thrones, crowns, luxurious carriages and extraordinary Faberge eggs.

As I wandered past the collection, it was impossible not to feel thankful that for all their revolutionary fervour in the country’s times of great upheaval, the agitators had the good sense not to destroy the symbols of all they hated but to allow their preservation for us all to wonder at down the ages.

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