Saturday, January 13, 2007

Red Square

On my first weekend in Moscow, I visited Red Square. It was cold and there was snow then. It was exciting to see this notorious place in person. Only a few blocks from our admin office in the city centre, it has become my main focal point for finding my way in the centre.

Red Square separates the kremlin from the President's official residence called 'Kitay-Gorad' (which means 'China Town' in Russian, although I've yet to see a Chinese person here). The city closes the streets in Moscow for Putin and his bodyguards to pass through every working day.

I used to think that the colorful St Basil's Cathedral pictured here was the famous kremlin; but, nope - its a 16th century church inside red square. Legend has it that Ivan the Terrible ordered blindness for the architect, Postnik Yakovlev, so he wouldn't be able to create anything else that could rival its beauty. Each of the nine onion domes are on top of a chapel. I haven't gone inside yet - I hear its rather disappointing.

Lenins tomb is in the centre - off to the side and in front of the red brick walls and towers which surround the Kremlin.
Check out the red star on the tower.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Moscow Kremlin

Spent a lovely, but brisk brrrrr, afternoon at Moscow's Kremlin last week. The old fortress has two palaces, an armoury chamber, churches, towers, and museums. It's
too big to explore in one day. You can buy tickets in packages - we got the one for museums only which are old churches in Cathedral Square. Tickets for foreigners are 300 rubles but locals pay 100 rubles. I bumped into a guy from Edmonton there.

There happened to be a big crowd to a Children's New Year's so lots of waiting around in the cold. Our friends, Vera, Vera, and 'little' Lisa (guess who is called 'big' Lisa) gave us a customized tour. My friend and I know them from a figure skating event we attended a couple months ago. They offered to help us with directions and, since then, they've hosted us a their home and took us skating. They love practising their English with us and we love learning about their culture and traditions.

The Tsar Bell (1733-1735) is 6.14 metres high and weighs 200 tons. It was never used as it was damaged in a fire prior to completion.

We also toured the Archangel's Cathedral (1505) which is filled with coffins of the Princes and Tsars. We didn't spend too much time there but enjoyed the Annunciation Cathedral (1475) which held icons from 12th - 18th Century.

I most enjoyed the exhibition hall of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower as it show-cased gifts from other countries including jewels, swords, gold, and unique snuff boxes (what exactly were those things used for?). The purpose of the 266' bell tower was built with two belfries because none of the Cathedrals had their own.

I'll check out more of the Kremlin on a more picturesque day - white snow or green grasss. Is that too much to ask for?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Happy Pig Year!

On Tuesday and Thursday mornings I have a 20-minute walk to school from the Babushkinskaya metro station. I like it because it requires me to go along the path of local vendors in a quiet residential area. There are butchers, liquor merchants, produce kiosks, flowers, gifts, home-canned veggies, linens, etc. It seems to be a pleasant, tight-knit community. What has intrigued me the most are the tables full of toy pigs. The Russians can be somewhat crude with their marketing so you can imagine how some of those stuffed pigs are displayed. Seeing the little Babushkas sitting on their stools, showcasing their 'pig' merchandise always gives me a chuckle.

The same 'pig' displays are at every commercial area so I had been wondering about the pig fascination for a while. Low and behold I received one as a gift from our school administrator who explained that 2007 is the Chinese year of the pig and it's a New Year's tradition to give them as gifts. I received a few more last week and I'm thankful that I wasn't here for the start of 2006 - the 'year of the rat'.

For New Year's eve, I had some friends over for dinner. We planned on meeting some other teachers to see a big fireworks display in a park; but, after drinking a few bottles of wine (including Asian wine from Bulgaria??) and a few samples of another student's gift, vodka, we decided to keep sampling. One of my guests, a local Russian girl, put us all to shame. This girl can really knock 'em back.

We didn't want to lose our buzz on during the comute and, besides, we had our very own fireworks display right out the window. Actually, a little closer than comfortable.

I had been hearing the loud cracks since I got here in November. At first I thought it was gun fire so was relieved to discover that the Russians just love celebrating with firecrackers. The closer to New Year's, the more frequent the cracks. In fact, the last few days, I've found myself ducking for cover. Last night there was a constant stream outside of my apartment building and beyond. Spectacular display!

After a midnight toast and taste of champagne we went outside to set off our sparklers and got caught, literally, in the line of fire. We cowered together, low to the ground, and watched the guys, standing a mere 10 feet away, set them off over our heads. I've never been so close to all the action. We laughed hysterically and then watched and listened, from 'inside', to them for the rest of the night. In fact, its now the wee hours of January 2nd and I can still hear some going off.

Of course, it was all fun and games until someone's apartment burned down. A student, sending a New Year's congratulations text message, said she was without electricity since the neighbors building went up in flames due to fireworks. Shocking!

Wishing you all a happy and fire-free 2007! Moscow for New Year's... Ilsa recommends!