Click on images to enlarge.
The riverboat terminal where our ship is docked is a 40-minute drive from the center of Moscow, Europe’s largest city (10.5 million). We board our tour buses for the ride in, looking for the gray Soviet-era apartment towers we’ve seen pictures of. Not on this route. Apartment buildings to be sure, but modern and attractive (and illuminated at night to show off architectural details). Mark begins to notice something else unexpected as we near the city center – Bentleys keep popping up amid the fleets of Mercedes. Not a Lada in sight.
The bus puts us down in Revolution Square in front of the the Four Seasons Hotel.
Just across the way is the entrance to Red Square.We walk through the archway and into the center of Moscow, into Russia’s heart. The square is 1000′ long
and 230′ wide, the sight of every major national celebration, including the annual May Day Parade. Lenin still reposes in his mausoleum. On one side of the square is the 75′ high east wall of the Kremlin.
Facing it on the opposite side of the square is the wedding cake facade of the famous GUM department store, outlined in fairy lights. We step inside and halt – trying to take it all in. Its three levels are topped by arched glass roofs covering hundreds of stores, mostly with designer names.
A shoppers paradise – if you bring the family fortune.
We head back out into the autumn dusk, snowflakes falling. There, at the end of the square, is its jewel – St. Basil’s cathedral, a fantasy of colors and shapes. Breathtaking.
Built in the 1500s, its onion domes and tent roofs rise above nine churches. We enter and can hardly believe our eyes. Every surface is painted and/or gold-leafed and we are surrounded by glorious icons as we make our way from one chapel to the next. We hear music. A male quartet is singing Russian sacred music in one of the chapels, adding to the heavenly atmosphere that surrounds us.
We would like to stay much longer, but we have another appointment – tickets to hear the Moscow Philharmonic at the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall. We find a taxi outside the Four Seasons and show the driver our tickets. He nods and off we go. Well, sort of. It’s rush hour and traffic barely moves. We drive and drive. I’m beginning to have very negative thoughts about the honesty of our driver – and looking at my watch doesn’t help. How far can it be? Still we drive on. Finally he stops outside what appears to be a movie theater.
No! No! No! But then he indicates the building ahead of us, and yes, concert-clad people are climbing steps, and we are on time! The music – a Tchaikovsky program which includes a fantasy for orchestra and piano – is all we’d hoped for. We relax and let ourselves believe it – we are actually here. Magic!