St. Basil’s Cathedral is the common name of one of Moscow’s icons, but its proper name is Intercession Church.  The original building, containing eight side churches arranged around the ninth, central church of Intercession, was erected on Red Square between 1555-61 on orders from Ivan the Terrible to commemorate the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan. The tenth church was erected in 1588 over the grave of venerated local saint Vasily (Basil). The building is shaped as a flame of bonfire rising into the sky, with no similarities to anything else in Russian and/or Byzantine architecture.  It stands in the geometric center of Moscow.

Geographical center of Moscow, and kilometers measured from this square in the Kremlin to other cities in Russia.

Our FANTASTIC guide Kira Salimova

Green statue above is to Duke Dmitry Pozharsky and a peasant Kuzma Minin, who led the national rebellion against Polish invasion in the so-called Trouble Times after Ivan the Terrible (1598-1613).

Gosudarstvennyi Universalnyi Magazin = GUM, the State Department Store, started during Soviet times.

The Tsar Bell, 200 tons, broken while cast, never rung. Commissioned by Empress Anna, niece of Peter the Great.

    Our EARLY morning flight from Paris to Berlin to Moscow was blessed with surprises.  We knew that the airport was about an hour’s drive - in no traffic - so we followed the advice of our hotel and bought an Orly Bus Pass for 10 Euro.  That bus stop was just a few steps away from the Montparnasse Train Station; in fact, there were 2 stops side by side.  I read and deciphered what I could.  It appeared that one stop (a) was only for Orly and the other (b) was for both transfer busses.  When a bus pulled in the (b) stop, we moved over there to try to get the driver’s attention, but she just kept shooing me away.  I just wanted to show her the Orly pass to confirm that we were waiting in the correct stop.  Meanwhile, the Orly bus, seeing no one in its stop, drove by.  Moments later, the driver indicated that she would “speak” with me; upon seeing the Orly pass, she irritatedly pointed to the other stop.  *#@!

    The next scheduled bus would get us too close to our departure time at the airport.  After what seemed like forever (the streets were empty on a Sat. morning), Carol flagged down a taxi, who got us to the airport in @ 25 minutes - incredible - but then, it WAS 6:00 AM.  He only charged 25 Euro and we gave him a 5-6 Euro tip of all our leftover change that we wouldn’t be using in Russia.  We ended up @ 45 minutes than originally planned, but also @ 30 Euro poorer.  Oh well, it’s only money.

    In Berlin, we needed an extra screening process and a little green smiley circle on our boarding pass in order to get in our gate for Moskau.  I also needed that green smiley circle to buy some Peanut M&Ms that I had seen someone else with.  AMERICAN CHOCOLATE!  You don’t know what you miss till you don’t have it.

    Our guide Kira and driver Andre met us at the airport and drove us to our hotel, pointing out sights on the way.  She gave us the rest of the evening to get settled and rested.  She’d meet us in our hotel lobby at 9:30 on Sunday.

    Sunday she took us to the State Tretyakov Gallery of Russian art, the park of the Victims of their Parents’ Vices, the Wedding Lock bridge, several of the famous Metro stations, drove by several of the Seven Sisters of Moscow buildings, the inspiration for Swan Lake, a gift from Barbara Bush to Moscow, Novodevichy cemetery of famous politicians, military, science, arts, music, and Victory Park.  And back to our hotel by @4:30.    I then tried walking to the Bolshoy Theater that we had passed earlier in the day, since we were going there tomorrow evening.  Well, I missed a turn somewhere and wandered for 45 minutes before giving up and dragging myself back to the hotel.  Yep, all that in one day. Got directions clarified first thing the next morning.

    Monday she picked us up at 9:45 and we walked to Red Square and the Kremlin, which was about 3 blocks away from the main street near our hotel.  We spent some time in the Kremlin’s Armory Museum (no photos allowed), then the Cathedral Square of the Kremlin before lunch on the third floor of GUM department store.  The afternoon she guided us through Intercession Church, commonly and erroneously referred to as St. Basil’s.  Back again by 4:00.  We walked to the Ballet that evening.

    Tuesday she let us sleep in!  Picked us up at 10:00.  We tried going to a scenic outlook but it was really raining.  We did go shopping on the most touristy pedestrian street and she helped Carol get his Mocba ball cap.  Went for a leisurely trip down the Moscow River, not narrated like in Paris.  But she did quiz us on the buildings and their names; I passed, Carol didn’t even come close.  She said he just might have to stay in Mocba until he learned them all.  When we still had time left, she asked if we wanted to see the largest Matrioshka dolls in the world, “even bigger than the two Tsar things” (the cannon and the bell).  She had Andre drive us to a really new mall in a tall building; Andre even came in as he didn’t know about the dolls. While there, she got a phone call saying that a tree had fallen on her car in the bad storms we had been in.  She was quite distraught.  From later emails, we found it that it was luckily minor damage. Then we actually went back to the scenic outlook, which had improved.

    Kira was absolutely the perfect guide.  She is a walking encyclopedia of Russian knowledge, had just finished translating part of Clinton’s book on economics for 3rd world countries....and she never flinched once at Carol’s humor; very often got him back.  We quickly picked up on using “I’ll get back to you with a detailed report” when you don’t want to answer the question...and Carol would ask her some pretty personal and/or religious questions.

We’re flying from brown city to brown city.

    Victory Park, located on the hill where Napoleon hoped to receive the key to the city in 1812, is where Russia celebrates their victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941-45; they have little interest in the roles of the other countries. Five terraces symbolize the five years, and 1418 fountains represent each day. May 9 is Victory Day.

    Architect Ceredelli, a friend of the former mayor of Moscow Yurij Luzhkov, designed the park’s Holocaust Memorial, which ripped open my heart the moment I saw it from a distance. The similarity to the statue in the Dachau Museum cannot be coincidental.  I told Kira about our visit to Dachau, commenting on how this memorial shows the fall of the Jewish prisoners, to which she replied, “It can also be viewed as them rising back to life.”  Ceredelli also designed the huge ship monument to Peter the Great.

    Architect Mihail Chemiakin designed the Victims of their Parents’ Vices in Bolotnaya Square, also referred to as Swamp Park, as it used to be a swamp.

Kira explained that Russians POSE for their photographs. We saw numerous examples.

Above and to the left, Victims of Parents’ Vices, from left to right: Drug Addiction, Prostitution, Theft, Alcohol, Ignorance, Irresponsibility, INDIFFERENCE (in the center) Intolerance (bigotry/hatred), Sadism, and (not shown in photo above: Child Labor, Poverty, and War).

    The Cathedral of Christ the Savior is the tallest Orthodox church in the world.

   When Napoleon Bonaparte retreated from Moscow in 1812, Emperor Alexander declared that a cathedral should be built in honor of Christ to “signify our gratitude to Divine Providence for saving Russia from the doom that overshadowed her, and as a memorial to the Russian pople.” 

    Differences of opinion of design and changes in leadership delayed the building of the church until 1839-1883.

    After the Revolution and the death of Lenin, Stalin chose the site of the church as a monument to socialism, to be named the Palace of the Soviets.  On Dec. 5, 1931, the church was dynamited.  Funds, flooding and war interrupted the construction of the Palace. 

    Nikita Khrushchev transformed the flooded foundation hole into the world’s largest open air swimming pool.

    In Feb. 1990, the Russian Orthodox Church was granted permission to rebuild the Cathedral, which was consecrated on Aug. 19, 2000.

    Icons adorn Moscow buildings and churches.  They only last about 70 years, as they are made with fish glue and egg yolk, before being painted.  Their creators are rarely known, as it is considered a sin to sign your name to the icon you painted.  Older ones that are no longer in churches are now housed in protected casings in museums. 

    To the left is the inspiration for Swan Lake.  But it holds another important relevance to Russian history. When Peter the Great’s father died, he was only @ 6 yrs. old, too young to assume the throne, so his older sister Sophie made decisions until Peter came of age.  But Sophie created a rebellion against him when he was old enough to rule.  He exiled her to the convent where female nobility were sent if no one wanted to marry them, put her in the round tower seen on the far right, and hung criminals from each of the windows and left them hanging indeterminately.  Originally built as a fortress and monastery, now it’s only for very cloistered nuns.

    Early in our tour, Carol wanted to know how to say “your dress is pretty” and Kira said it would be too long and complicated, so just say “pretty lady”  KRASOTKA.  Well, Carol’s language skills are not his forte, so one time walking back to our hotel, as we passed two young ladies, he said KRASOSKA and got a very nasty reaction from one of them.  As we were recounting this to Kira, Carol said KAZALKA, which made Kira burst out laughing.  Kazalka means fish, which is bad enough, but Carol’s Krasoska means “whore/slut,” which thoroughly explains the lady’s reaction. 

    We saw many examples of hair that was not a natural shade.  Kira explained that the cheapest hair dye is this red one.

    The subway started in 1938 under Stalin’s rule, who wanted the stations to be underground palaces.  During WWII, women and children worked in the subway; it was also used as bomb shelters.

    Between 1949-53, Stalin had “The Seven Sisters” built, as a view of what the future held.  They are @ 300 meters tall. One is the Red Gate Administration Building, one is a dormitory at Moscow State University, one is the Ukraine Hotel and Conference Center, one houses the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and of Trade, another is the Hotel Leningradskaya & Conference Center, the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building (to the right) sprawls where the Mocva and Yauza Rivers meet, and finally, the Kudrinskaya Square Building is residential and commercial.

    Below in the middle is a painting indicating the arrival of Jesus, and symbolizing the very long process of adapting to a new religion.  John the Baptist is the one with the outstretched arms, and behind him are four Apostles.  Well hidden in the bushes is the figure of Mary, turned sideways, praying and crying, and also a crowd of people.  The redheaded nude man with a white cloak is a landlord, and the father and son to his left are his slaves.  The other sitting nude is also a landlord.  The green-faced man between them might be Judah or represent greed, but no one is certain as the artist died of hunger after spending 20 years painting this.


    Also in the Trettorav Gallery, in the room with the sculpture of Ivan the Terrible, are the works of 14 Maving artists, who refused to paint biblical or greek myths to graduate from art school.  They still graduated.

    One gallery contains only classical 18-19th century paintings, when symbolism began to enter into art.  Roads were common, meaning the road of life, reflecting the philosophy of the time.  In one painting, someone is pointing to plants (children), meaning we must take care of them, attend to them, or they will die.  The Romantic period introduced beauty and nature into the backgrounds of portraits.

    Trettorav was born in 1830 into a rich family who home-schooled him.  He bought the mansion, lived there, created the gallery of the collection of Russian art, and then signed it over to the city of Moscow.

    Peter the Great had brought portrait painters to Russia, not just painters of icons of saints.  He praised the artists for their talent, not their money or social status.

One of The Seven Sisters of Stalin

The inspiration for Swan Lake.