Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The Kremlin

An earlier start today, as Irena has pre-booked tickets for The Kremlin Armoury and our entry time is at 10am. Julia has been very reluctant for me to travel independently, but Irena is more relaxed about it and I have arranged to meet her at the Metro station to save her the trip to pick me up. We have a kerfuffle picking up Irena’s guide pass from the ticket office and she bemoans the way processes are constantly changed and always increasing in complexity. It’s another sunny day but bitterly cold again so it’s not comfortable hanging around while the issue is resolved.

The Armoury is more of a treasury, containing historic costumes, carriages and gifts presented to the Tsars by foreign rulers. There are a few weapons but we spend more time on the other exhibits. Some of the women’s dresses have ridiculously small waists and Irena tells me that one of them fainted 3 times during her coronation because she just couldn’t breathe. There is an astonishing amount of precious metals and jewels on display, much of it belonging to the church – the priests’ robes used to encrusted with pearls and embroidered with gold and silver thread, and even their bibles were bound in gold and gemstones. Irena is very knowledgeable and her stories bring the exhibits to life. I’m amused by the story of the two brothers who were made joint rulers while still very young and had a double throne constructed for them with a hidden opening in the back so that their elder sister – literally the power behind the throne – could whisper instructions to them when dealing with affairs of state. I also learn that Ivan the Terrible should properly be translated as Ivan the Awesome, although he beat his son to death in a fury after arriving unannounced at his home and discovering his son’s wife with her head uncovered – which I feel merits the “terrible” label.
After the armoury we explore the churches of Cathedral Square and the giant bell and cannon, neither of which were ever used except as displays of wealth and power. The Kremlin is an architectural treasure-trove, with curvaceous churches, ornate domes and elegant palaces. And plonked in the middle is a hideous 1960s monstrosity in concrete and glass, built as a convention hall for the soviets and now a concert hall with, according to Irina, rather poor acoustics.
The Kremlin tour over, it’s time to set out alone. Irina has kindly written me instructions explaining how to reach the Tretyakov Gallery by Metro. She suggests I eat lunch at the food hall in the underground mall that runs along the side of Alexander Gardens. I choose some sausages and mash, for which I am charged by weight. My journey to the gallery is uneventful, apart from being asked for directions, but it’s quite a speedy visit as Julia has invited me to the office and she’s expecting a call about 4pm to let her know I’m ready to be picked up and walked there. I get back about 4.10 but when I try to call her the number won’t work. When I’ve exhausted all the options I can think of I google the address and copy it in to Nokia maps. It says it’s 7 minutes away so I set off, finding it quite easily. Julia is so surprised to see me, and slightly horrified that I attempted it. I decide not to mention that I took myself off to the gallery, or that I’m planning to return to Red Square to see it after dark.
From the office I go straight to Alexander Park to buy the obligatory snow globe and fridge magnet at the kiosks I had noticed earlier, as well as some snacks and sweets to bring home, from the nearby supermarket. The evening sun casts a golden glow over the buildings and I wander round the park and take photos, then move on to Red Square to find Gum is illuminated in the style of Harrods. It’s dusk now and I want to stay until it’s really dark, but I’m aware that I still have to get back to the hotel, eat dinner and pack and tomorrow will be a long day. With my sensible head on I head back and treat myself to the first vodka of my visit while uploading my photos to the netbook. It costs 500 Rubles – about £12.
After dinner and a quick Skype home I go to bed, but the room’s too hot, the air conditioning won’t stop humming and I don’t get much sleep.

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