With a Tony Soprano meets Boris Yeltsin reputation, we were not sure what to expect after arriving in this legendary capital. With six-dollar big Macs, midnight sunsets, a hundred brands of vodka in your local convenience store, muscled pistol packing bodyguards, pin striped businessmen, all night dance clubs, and beautiful women right off the set of a 007 movie, Moscow is an intoxicating affront to your senses.
Love it or hate it, this city is a digestible history lesson. Prolonging the paranoia practices of the old regime, it tentatively reaches out to tourists while bureaucratically imposing strict visa requirements. Reeking in history, intimidating, intriguing, and impressive, this eroded super power is high on our list of traveler’s destinations, and certainly worth a visit.
Ground zero for the Cold War, essential Red Square is the epicenter of Moscow . Passing through the red bricked Voskressensky Gates and crossing over the cobble stoned entry, you cannot help but reflect on how this country was our sworn enemy for so many years. Here in Red Square, the military extravagantly paraded the military might of this nation while smugly proclaiming the virtues of Communism.
Ironically, Gucci, Armani and other designer stores line one side and face Lenin’s mausoleum across the square. Surely, he must be rolling over in his grave I thought, as we queued up one morning to file past his body, reverently swathed in red velvet. At the far reaches of the square sits the majestic St. Basil’s Cathedral (built 1561) with its fabled onion domes. Living up to his name, Ivan the Terrible blinded the architects and designers after construction to insure its uniqueness.
Bordering Red Square is the infamous and somewhat disappointing Kremlin (from the 1150’s), the once secretive and vital nexus of Russian policy. Here you can visit a half dozen Russian Orthodox churches, while other official government buildings are regrettably off limits and heavily guarded by gloomy military personnel. While it is shortsighted to come to Moscow and not go to the Kremlin, prepare to be under-whelmed after paying your admission.
While visiting the monastery Novodevichy Convent, the cemetery next door attracted our attention. The final resting place for war heroes, politicians, literary figures and other people of importance, the gravesites are unique in their artistic design. Blocks of marble and granite are chiseled into images of the deceased, some life-sized, others just a bust of their head.
To appreciate Moscow , wander the streets, as there are many classical churches and buildings on every block, many free and open to the public. Fortunately, Moscow is compact, with most tourist sites within walking distance of Red Square.
Search out the feared and mysterious KGB headquarters, clearly marked on our tourist map, with darkened windows and imposing metal bars in a timid and innocent brick structure. Discover the impressive Church of Christ the Savior, elegant and reverent, but pass on the Pushkin Museum across the street. Not worth the entrance fee, it contains rooms of fake statues and little worthwhile art. Instead, spend your time at the Tretyakov Gallery, offering authentic Russian art.
With so much history and notable architecture, Moscow is a wonderful destination. Paired with St. Petersburg – accessible by overnight train – it beckons those travelers searching for a unique experience.