Friday, July 25, 2014

DAY 36 – 21 July 2014; In Moscow

I was ready after breakfast with the blog posts updated and rest of clothes washed. Dattan had requested a couple of his friends to assist us with a guide so that we would be able to get by without wasting time for interpretation and asking for directions to the various places of interest. Finally Rajhu agreed to provide one of his staff who was conversant in English. Unfortunately, Lena could not be contacted as she was at her driving lessons. Instead, Rajhu asked Jana to accompany me to a visit of the Moscow Metro stations, which are called “underground palaces of Moscow” for its architecture. They have become popular sights for visitors to the city. The old, pre-war stations symbolise the industrialisation of Russia whereas the post-war ones were made to symbolise victory and pride of the nation. The first metro line was the Sokolnicheskaya, built in 1935. Most of them have a theme and are grand. The escalators in some of them are so vertical that a small jerk can knock one horizontal, as it almost happened to me during the visit. The 12 lines crisscrossing from south to north and east to west, along with the circular line, provide seamless connectivity for commuters and tourists. Work is on to further increase the network of the Metro.

Prior to leaving for the Metro visit I gave Jana a list of stations I wanted to go to. I had picked them up from readings before the journey. Though Jana was not conversant with English she understood what I wanted to do, with inputs from Rajhu. She made an itinerary almost instantaneously and we went on our way. One by one we visited "Majakovskaya", which is considered one of the most beautiful stations, the "Revolution Square", "Kropotkinskaya", "Komsomolskaya", "Novoslobodskaya", etc that are considered the most interesting architectural monuments of 1930-1950. Some of them are also protected by the state as valuable cultural objects. The underground complexes are decorated by statues, monuments and art such as paintings, mosaics, and stained-glass windows. The idea was to give every station an individual shape and appearance.
In between the Metro station visits Lena joined us and communication became more two way in nature. They   provided valuable insights into modern day Russian life, their outlook to various aspects of Russian polity, economy and culture. I considered it important to understand Russia from their standpoint for they stand for what Russia will be in the future. Both of them took good care of me and ensured that I did not miss out on any of the important places of interest. It is they who decided on visiting the Old Arbatskaya, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, the VDNKh, the Moscow River embankment, etc. The fact that they face harsh winter conditions for nearly 7 months of the year the Muscovites enjoy a great deal of the sun. They do whatever they need to do to soak in every bit of the sun they can. I found it amusing to see people of all ages, in many stages of dress and undress, exposing themselves to catch every sun ray the day threw at them.

The Old Arbatskaya is a kilometre long pedestrian walkway in the historical part of Moscow. It is arguably one of the oldest surviving streets of Russia since it existed from the 15th century. It was home to craftsmen in the early days. By the 18th century it was regarded as prime residential property for the nobles.  Today the street and its surroundings a considered a desirable place to live. Because of the many historic buildings, and the numerous artists who have lived and worked in the street, the Arbat is also an important tourist attraction. Walking the long road one encounters history, be it the Pushkin monument, the Theatre or the Artisans Home. The long winding road is also home to the Foreign Office located in one of the Seven Sisters, the identical buildings built to confuse potential political desecrators. It was steaming hot while negotiating the many sights of the Old Arbatskaya. Ice creams were one solution. I followed that up with Strawberry filled Crepes for lunch in the company of Jana and Lena.
The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was meant in concept to be gratitude for the divine intervention in saving Russia from the onslaught of Napoleon in 1812.  The design concept and site changed many times till it emerged from the covers in 1860. It is considered the tallest Orthodox Christian Church in the world. The original church, built in the 19th century, was destroyed during the Communist rule. It was reconstructed in the last decade of the 20th century. The gilded giant domes can be seen from miles away. From the footbridge across the Moscow River, called the Patriarshy Bridge, one can enjoy lovely views of the Kremlin, the giant memorial to Peter the Great, the Red October chocolate factory and the Central House of Artisans. After a worshipful walk in the Cathedral and the crypt I enjoyed a glass of Kvass, a local drink made of dried grapes, bread and sugar.
VDNKH is a Russian acronym which translates to Exhibition of Achievements of the People’s Economy. The Exhibition is said to have been established in 1935 to showcase the developments of the Soviet Union. The statues and themes represent these. Each region of the Union is represented in Pavilions and so are the developments. Over a period of time the centre expanded with added themes and development of elaborate parks and fountains. For instance, the Space Pavilion, the Atomic Pavilion, Engineering Pavilion, etc were added between 1954 and 1980. The centre hosted many professional and international gatherings during the Soviet times. The most memorable feature of the exhibition is the giant statue of the Worker and His Woman featuring a couple holding the Hammer and Sickle, which exemplified the Communist movement. The huge exhibition centre is bigger than Monaco and houses more than 400 buildings.

The fountains are luxurious and mostly gilded in gold. Particularly eye catching are the “Friendship of Nations” and “Golden Spike” fountains. Brilliantly clear rainbows add lustre to the fountains. The exhibition now also houses a giant Ferris Wheel, which gives a panoramic view of Moscow, and a roller coaster.

Rajhu had invited us to dinner along with Dattan Nair. By the time I got back I was told that Lal and Baiju were in the company of Sunny Chacko and were unlikely to be with us for dinner. Since I had to drive the next morning I regretfully limited intake of the excellent Kremlin Vodka. Thereafter it was dinner in the Japanese dinner. Dattan and Rajhu Nair ordered and I got ready to experience my first Shushi meal. I was apprehensive about tasting raw fish. And I was in for a most pleasant experience. The chef produced salmon, shrimps and fish portions. The wasabi paste and vinegar laced sauce were perfect ‘partners’ to the Sushi rolls. Rajhu made me savour rare caviar too. A generous helping of Tiramisu was the perfect foil to the meal.

In consultation with Dattan and Rajhu it was decided that we would leave for St. Petersburg only by 10 am so as to beat the traffic.

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