Moscow is big. 20,000,000 people big. So big that we got lost in a park that was just a sliver of green on our map and while lost discovered a sports complex compete with football pitch, running track and two ski jump ramps. The buildings are huge, most over 10 floors and the streets are incredibly broad. Getting around seems straightforward at first because Moscow has a comprehensive metro network however the metro is not easily navigated. Perhaps we are spoiled by the simple elegance of navigating the Tube, but the few travellers I spoke to about this topic had similar complaints. For example when changing lines you typically have to change stations. If you get off the metro at Arbatskaya wanting to change to the red Skolnicheskaya line (which the map says runs through Arbatskaya) you actually have to walk to Biblioteka Imeni Lenina via an underground walkway. You either follow signs to Biblioteka Imeni Lenina or if you can only remember the line you are wanting then this is signposted too but the signs are on the floor. It’s often hard to see the floor because of all the people. But the architecture of the metro is stunning. Vaulted ceilings that are high enough to accommodate bridges from one platform to another, stained glass windows and many statues of Soviet heroes. It was planned to house people during bombing raids in WW2 and I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of the city could fit inside this palatial public transit system.
The Kremlin is also very large, although once inside the imposing red walls there are relatively few buildings. I was expecting the cramped buildings found inside most fortresses where peacetime transforms their walls from defences into restrictions on expansion. From what I read it seems that the buildings inside the Kremlin were destroyed several times and so reconstructing them took precedence over adding new structures. The art and architecture that exists is impressive and the decorated churches are beautiful inside and out. One of these churches housed the tomb of Ivan the Terrible which I didn’t expect; people had stuffed money inside the protective perspex screen however whether it was an offering or maybe a bribe to stay dead I’m not sure.
The day after seeing the tomb of Ivan the Terrible we decided that we hadn’t had enough of tombs and chose to view Lenin in his mausoleum. For those who don’t know, Lenin’s body has been preserved and is on display to anyone who wishes to see it, free of charge. It is housed in a mausoleum just outside the eastern wall of the Kremlin alongside the Red Square. It’s hard to miss because it has ЛЕНИН (Lenin) written in large letters on the side. After a significant queue and thorough security check we walked along the eastern wall, past tombs and memorials to some of the greatest heroes of the Soviet Republic before descending into the mausoleum. It’s dark in there, and you aren’t allowed to stop at any point. Multiple guards at every turn hustle you along, one sternly reminded me that putting your hands in your pockets is strictly prohibited. I don’t really know what to say about Lenin himself, he looked very human, but I guess I am comparing him to his statues and giant stone heads which is something even the greatest person would struggle to live up to.
I think it’s very fitting that you can see him like this though, given his ideology. It reminded me of a passage from a book I’m reading at the moment. They are talking about Martin Luther King but I think it applies here as well:
He was a great man. But if people think of him as superhuman or a saint, then when something needs to be changed they are tempted to say ‘I wish we had a leader like Martin Luther King today.’ People need to know that it was just people like themselves who thought up the strategies and managed the movement. Charismatic leadership has not freed us and it never will, because freedom is, by definition, people realising that they are their own leaders.
There’s one other highlight of our time in Moscow that deserves a mention and that is the restaurant chain My My ( pronounced “Mu Mu”). They serve traditional Russian food (and Pizza) at incredible prices, especially for central Moscow. The best part is you are served the food like in a canteen so even if you speak no Russian you can just point at what you want and they’ll serve you plenty of it! their signage could do with some work though, typically a My My is indicated by a distressed looking cow. I mean, that cow has seen some things:
Full pictures for Moscow are here: