(This post follows ‘Moscow memories – Part 1’ posted on 20 Apr 2017)
It was day 2 of our Moscow tour. It was going to be special because we were scheduled to visit the main attraction of Moscow – the Red Square. Situated in the heart of Moscow, the Red Square has historical, economic, political and religious importance. Over the years, it has served as a market, a ground for public executions and a site for parades and demonstrations.
On one side of the Red Square is the Kremlin (a walled city) which used to be the official residence of the prince and is now home to several cathedrals; and on the other side is Gum, a historic shopping arcade. The Red Square is where the magical St. Basil’s Cathedral with its colourful onion domes stands. Incidentally, the Red Square and the Kremlin are on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Even that day, Katya was guiding us. First, she took us to the Luzhkov Bridge where we saw the ‘love tree’. Newly-weds place locks with their names engraved on them on the trees as a symbol of their eternal love. We crossed the bridge to the Bolotnaya Square, another historic site and location of the group of iconic sculptures titled, ‘Children are the Victims of Adult Vices’.
Then, we stopped at the Red Square. Apparently, a car rally was going on to protest the closure of silk route or something like that. Hence, it was very crowded mostly with Chinese people who seemed to have added tourism to their ‘original’ agenda. We took pictures of St. Basil’s cathedral. By that time, we were hungry and looking to rest. We went to Gum.
Pronounced goom, it used to be the State Department Store during the Soviet times. Now, it is privatised and is called the Main Department Store. It is huge and popular with tourists and residents. It is decorated on special occasions and looks particularly attractive and festive at night.
We ate the famous ice-cream and headed to Gastronom N 1, a big departmental store with a great variety of food stuff. We saw a wide range of chocolates, biscuits, tea, fruits etc. All of them seemed to locally made or produced; we had never seen these brands before in our travels through western Europe or in the Middle East. As we were exploring Gum, we passed by the historic toilet.
Then, we walked to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier where the Eternal Flame burns in the memory of the Soviet soldiers killed during World War II. There, we saw the ceremonial changing of the guards. We first saw the guards changing custom in Athens.
Next, we visited the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. This too has its importance in the religious and political history of Russia spiced with funny controversies. I had worn shorts and was denied entry. That reminded me that many years ago, I was denied entry to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat for wearing half-sleeved blouse. However, this time I was in luck. I wrapped Maged’s windcheater around my waist and gained entry to the cathedral.
It was almost lunch time. Katya suggested going to Arbat Street as there were many nice options. We took a bus to Arbat Street – our first and only public bus ride in Moscow. We walked along Arbat Street. It was colourful and lively. There were many souvenir shops, street shops, performers and restaurants. It had a Turkish/Greek character.
By now, we were trained to look for a ‘pectopah’ (restaurant in Russian). We settled in an Italian restaurant and ate quickly. We came back to the Red Square as we had yet to discover the Kremlin. There was a long queue to get in. It started to pour; it poured briefly, but heavily. While others ran for shelter, we continued to stand in the queue; for, we had carried our umbrella. Katya left us at this point.
The spires of the Kremlin look like a court jester’s colourful cap. Inside the Kremlin are three important cathedrals – Cathedral of Annunciation, Cathedral of Archangel and Dormition Cathedral. The other is the Church of the Deposition of the Robe. They are all typical representations of the Byzantine architecture. The Kremlin was very crowded; mostly with Chinese protestors or tourists. Even the queue for the toilet was long. That was the first time I used an automatic toilet ever.
The following part of the day was the most awaited and exciting. We had booked a ‘Russian dinner and Russian national ballet’. Dinner was to be served at Suvorov restaurant and the show was to take place at the Folk Theatre a few hundred metres from it. We took a taxi to the restaurant. It was closed. So we spent some time in the small garden opposite. We went back to the restaurant just a few minutes before dinner was set to begin; it had opened.
There was no one on the ground floor; we went upstairs. We were welcomed by the Russian-speaking staff. It looked as though the staff was expecting us. We were among the only few guests there. Then again, who eats dinner at 5.30pm?! Maybe even the few guests were part of the ‘dinner + ballet’ group.
We were seated on the other end; far from the other guests. The dishes started coming in; one course after the other. We informed them that I am a vegetarian; they took care to serve me only vegetable dishes. We started with borscht. We wanted to know the names and ingredients of the other dishes we were having. However, the staff could not speak English. It felt as if the answer to most of our questions relating to food was that – borscht! 🙂
It was funny when we asked for tea. The staff was not able to understand. After a lot of attempts, they exclaimed, “Chai? Sure!”. Was it that easy? Chai as it is in Hindi, close to Shai as it is in Arabic? How were we to guess that?!
The food was great; much better than that at My My. The staff was agile and there was almost zero-waiting time between our courses. But what was outstanding was their hospitality; it was the most genuine service we had ever received. I have a reason for that.
For dessert, Maged, Berta and Vinod were served ice cream; I was served fruits. The staff probably thought that I am a vegan. I too wanted to eat ice cream. We requested for one more. Not only did they bring it immediately and willingly, but also refused to take the untouched fruit platter back. We left them a handsome tip.
We headed to the Folk Theatre to see the Russian National Ballet Kostroma. According to Wikipedia, Kostroma is a city in Russia. It may also refer to:
- a Slavic goddess
- a cattle breed
- a thoroughbred racehorse
- Kostroma Oblast, a federal subject of Russia
- a river in Kostroma and Yaroslavl Oblasts, Russia
- a list of inhabited localities in Russia
- an airport in Kostroma, Russia
- a Sierra-class submarine.
The hall was full of tourists. We were lucky to have been assigned centre seats in the front row. Kostroma chronicles the history of Russia. It was extraordinarily splendid. It had amazing music, choreography and synchronisation. The horse was the star!
Kostroma is the second cultural show we have seen in a foreign country; the first one was the Simon Cabaret show in Phuket, Thailand. Enjoy the highlights of Kostroma: