Monday, September 03, 2007

Cool place, the Kremlin.

Saturday morning, Kathie was already showered and getting dressed when I woke up. Rising, I noticed that my face felt puffier than usual. A look in the mirror confirmed what I suspected – I was a little pink from a mild sunburn. But who cared? This was Kremlin day! The forecast called for light rain (same as any other day), so we packed umbrellas and headed out for the buses.

We filed off our bus and queued up on the sidewalk in Alexander Gardens, just outside the Armory Tower Gate. Once inside the Armory, we checked our jackets and umbrellas and followed our guide from exhibit to exhibit, ogling thrones, gowns, carriages, FabergĂ© eggs, crowns, and weapons. It was hard to keep our lower jaws from coming unhinged. Each item was more fabulous than the next. Just walking in the room, we couldn’t miss Catherine the Great’s coronation dress – the skirt alone had to be five feet wide.

“How could she walk through a door?” I wondered. Our guide told us the dress had a little mechanism Catherine could use to “deflate” the skirt. Pretty smart.

And did you know that Peter the Great made his own boots? Between traveling to Europe to learn how to design and build his own navy and design and build St. Petersburg, squelching rebellions, and making his own boots, when did that man find time to rule? Then our guide told us a story about Peter (I think it was Peter) having his second wife’s lover’s head cut off and left in a box in her bedroom. Now that’s just gross.

At the end of the Armory tour, we used the ladies’ room (it looked nice and clean but the sign on the stall wall said to put your used TP in the trash can instead of the toilet– ick!) before we picked up our stuff and exited the building. We walked past the impressive Great Kremlin Palace (where foreign dignitaries such as George Bush are received), all the while imagining lines of Soviet soldiers and tanks queuing up on the broad roadway running along beside us for parades in Red Square. Of course, it’s quite possible that soldiers and tanks never queued up here, but my mental image was pretty intimidating.

We entered Cathedral Square, flanked by the Cathedral of the Archangel on the right and the Cathedral of the Annunciation on the left. A misty rain fell as we joined other onlookers to watch a small parade of young soldiers on their steeds. Kinda reminded me of the Citadel parades on Friday afternoons.

After we all crowded our drizzled-on selves into the Cathedral of the Archangel, our guide explained to us that this was the cathedral where the pre-Peter the Great tsars and their families regularly attended mass. (It’s also where the 11-year old Tsarevich Dmitry is entombed. More on him when we reach Uglich.) The walls, as in all of the other cathedrals and churches we visited, were covered in icons – four tiers of them, to be exact. When faced with such an overwhelming volume of images, it’s hard for me to focus on just one. So I simply walked around and enjoyed the overall effect, imagining that the warm, rich colors of the seventeenth century-style frescoes must have been quite comforting to the churchgoers.

Back outside, our guide told us that the smaller Cathedral of the Annunciation across the way there was used for weddings and coronations. We didn’t go in but later we got lots of pics of the onion domes.

Leaving Cathedral Square, we passed the Ivan the Great Bell Tower, built in 1505, and stopped beside the Tsar Bell. This sucker is the largest bell in the world and weighs – by some accounts – 200 tons. I figured it was on the ground because someone had obviously overestimated their ability to get a 400,000 pound bell up to the fifth floor of the tower…let alone mounted. But no, this was not the original bell. The original fell from the bell tower during a fire in 1701 and shattered. (Imagine the din that must have created. I bet dogs in Mongolia howled for days afterward.) The pieces were melted down and recast into the bell standing before us, but it was damaged before it could even be hung when some idiot poured cold water on it during yet another Kremlin fire.

You’d think someone would have developed a fire safety program after that first fire. Maybe they did but they were all deaf from the clanging of the falling bell – and the howling dogs - and couldn’t hear the smoke alarms screaming all over the place. I keep telling my kids to not listen to loud music…

On we walked and stopped by the Tsar Cannon. It weighs 40 tons and looks too pretty to use for killing people. Oh well.

In front of the State Kremlin Palace, which was built by Krushchev for Communist Party congresses and looks totally out of place amidst the older, more elegant buildings, our guide told us a little of the Kremlin’s history. Prince Dolgoruki chose this spot on the Moskva River back in 1156 for his wooden fortress (kreml means “fortress”). Italian architects were brought in during the 1400s to do a little redecorating, much of which Stalin destroyed. The guide pointed out Trinity Tower, through which Napoleon marched victoriously back in 1812. He marched his short little self right back out not long after, because his captives refused to surrender as long as his troops were inside the Kremlin. And then the townspeople set Moscow on fire. What is it with these people and their fires?

Our guide explained to us that President Putin (for whom Kappa No He has the hots) resides somewhere here now, so a large portion of the Kremlin is closed to the public. Sorry Kappa – no Putin photos to post.

Then we were cut loose. Kathie and I debated our next step. We had left our lunches on the bus and supposedly couldn’t go back out and get them, so we milled around for a while and took some more photos.

Then we walked back over to the Armory to enter the Diamond Fund, which was closed until 2 p.m. Hummph. We were not going to miss that Diamond Fund. Sitting on a rail next to the wall, we amused ourselves until 2:00 by peoplewatching. I especially liked the officious looking young man wearing all black and shoes with long, curled-up pointy toes. If those shoes hadn’t been black, I would have bet my paycheck that he rolled an elf or maybe even Rumpelstiltskin for them. I made a mental note to see if GUM carried them when we visited there later.

This is all making me hungry. Think I’ll go get some lunch and come back to write about the Diamond Fund. Later.


Kappa no He said...

I'm smiling very big right now! Okay, we'll all have to make another trip. Everytime I read a post I want to go more and more...and with the added bonus of possibly seeing Putin (and maybe shirtless??) I am so there.

Pat said...

I'm in, Kappa!