Spectacular Saint Basil

Saint Basil view from the Moscva River

Except the nice breakfast my hotel served that day, this was the first photo I ever snapped in Moscow. Pity I forgot to instruct my photographer to take a shot of this icon without me. Knowing I had very limited time, I attempted to take it all in at once. Those multi-colored onion domes!

Saint Basil’s Cathedral. The ultimate edifice of Russia.

A few fast facts –
* Address: Red Square, Moskva, 109012
* Opening Hours: 11:00 – 17:00. Close on Tuesdays
* Height: 65 m
* Built by Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century (1561)
* Saint Basil’s Cathedral became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990

As the cold curdled my blood, my heart rested warm and easy among thoughts on this iconic piece of architecture.

i.    Thank you, Pyotr Baranovsky – people’s travel experiences are enriched further by the spectacle that Saint Basil is. An architect and restoration artist, Baranovsky defied Stalin’s orders to demolish Saint Basil, and spent five years in the gulag for that.

ii.    What luck! For lack of time the French troops were unable to blow it up

iii.   Humans. At least those who are keen on destroying beautiful things, have they no thought for posterity?

iv.    Vasily from which Saint Basil is now known for, beside predicting the 1547 fire that burned nearly a third of Moscow, was probably called holy fool for his suffering for Christ.

v.     That Ivan the Terrible blinded the architects Barma and Posnik so they could not replicate Saint Basil is a legend that may not be very hard to believe considering Ivan’s nickname.

vi.    Then some claim that at Basil’s funeral, Ivan the Terrible himself acted as pallbearer.  Would Basil have minded if he knew before his body gave out from all that suffering?

vii.   Specify! The anthem of my lecture to a bunch of undergrads working on a business presentation which will serve as their final exam. We meet again soon. If I see no improvement, I will start using Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokus on the Moat (Saint Basil official name) as example on how to make a descriptive title.

viii.  Like Order of the Rose, of the Garter, of the Spandex, so on. Just specify.

ix.    Saint Basil would probably not appeal as much or set anyone in childlike awe if it had retained its original white and gold colors

x.     According to one theory, Saint Basil symbolizes Jerusalem, the Kingdom of God which I have always thought as such until a friend told me stories of his years in Israel working for the UN.

xii.   Jerusalem as a heavenly city has walls decorated with precious stones. So that is where the colors come in. I cast a searching glance at one of my drawers. Someone has not worn those turquoise, rose quartz, onyx, jasper necklaces in awhile.

xii.    A theory that makes me want to play The Holy City on the piano. Alas, this apartment I am in right now has none of that instrument so I’ll make do with some lyrics – A dream so fair / Jerusalem, Jerusalem lift up your gates and sing / Hosanna in the highest…

xiii.  ‘The sun grew dark with mystery, the morn was cold and chill…’ I finally found the line that perfectly describes the way Saint Basil looked and felt when I first saw it.

ABC Wednesday / Thursday Thirteen

 

Red Square

It was around 11 a.m. when I arrived, but it felt like 6 a.m.  The temperature improved – about nine degrees. It was zero only twelve hours back. The sun seemed undecided whether it would come out already or not.  I was too excited to mind.

“Snow fell two days ago,” Julia, my guide remarked.  “Do you think I might be lucky today?” I responded, “the last time I saw snow was nine years ago in England.”

The weather remained predictably unpredictable.  No snow. Red Square soon became bright as the sun finally shone. Probably the same way it did in 1941…

i.    The name Red Square has nothing to do with the color of surrounding buildings, eg. the State History Museum is very red, all red; nor does the name have to do with communism
ii.    At one time Red Square was called ‘krasniya’ which means beautiful
iii.   Red Square became an official name in the 17th century
iv.   In the 1400s it was a site for rabble rousing
v.    Red Square began as a slum, and a place where the low lives, i.e. drunks and criminals, dwelt.
vi.   Red Square was once called “Fire Square” after a number of times medieval Moscow burned.
vii.  Red Square had a brutal past being the site of fierce fighting and public executions
viii. By the 20th century it became the site of military parades displaying Soviet armed forces might
ix    1941 – cadets marched through the square and straight to the front line less than 50 kilometers from Moscow
x.    1945 – Nazi standards were thrown in front of the mausoleum and trampled on by mounted Soviet commanders
xi.   2000 – celebrations to mark the end of World War II were done in the square.  Imagine the fireworks here when the world welcomed the new millennium
xii.  Around Perestroika, Red Square became the site for large musical performances, fashion shows, festivals, etc.
xiii. I thought the sound of your footsteps on Red Square sounded similar with those you make on The Shambles in York, UK.

Source: mosco.info (#1-12)
ABC Wednesday / Thursday Thirteen

Novodevichy

Novodevichy: necropolis of the famous Russian dead, and where interments are second only to those in the Kremlin in prominence. Inaugurated in 1898, it rose in significance in the 1930s when important Russians who were buried in medieval monasteries around Moscow were reburied in Novodevichiy during the Joseph Stalin era. After the fall of the Soviet Union, when the Kremlin Wall Necropolis was no longer used, Novodevichy became the place of rest for Russian notables in the arts and sciences, and of course, politics.

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Note: This is Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow. It should not be confused with Novodevichy Cemetery in Saint Petersburg.

Novodevichy Convent. Right behind is the Novodevichy Cemetery

One thing that draws me to graveyards is the quiet. It is calming while the world outside goes on and on with its drama. Reading epithets wondering what those people were like in life is a fun mental exercise, if not spiritual or emotional. You do not know them, they do not know you, you are visiting, nobody is complaining. There is something mystical in a non-verbal, one-way acquaintance. And then there are the well-known names. You know them, or not, they still do not know you, no problem. They are free from signing autographs or giving interviews; you are free to stare at or take silly selfies with them all you want.

As a fan of literature I went to Novodevichiy for Anton Chekhov. Since Boris Yeltsin is right in front so conspicuous, it was nice taking a shot at his tombstone too.  Heck, I wouldn’t have minded dropping by Rasputin’s spot if he was there. With so limited time though and Novodevichiy rather massive with a guide who was not familiar with graveyard interiors, not that I blame her, I missed the following

Names in Novodevichiy

1   Nikita Khruschev (1894-1971) head of Soviet Union
2   Nadezhda Alliluyeva (1901-1932) wife of Joseph Stalin
and the Notable Nikolais
3   Nikolai Podgorny (1903 -1983) statesman during the Cold War
4   Nikolai Burdenko (1876-1946) neurosurgeon
5   Nikolai Gogol (1809 – 1852) dramatist, satirist
6   Nikolai Rubinstein (1835-1881) pianist and composer
7   Nikolai Zabolotsky (1903 -1958) poet
8   Nikolai Zelinskiy (1861 – 1953) chemist
9   Nikolai Ostrovsky (1904 -1936) writer
10 Nikolai Tikhonov (1905 – 1997) politician
11 Nikolai Bulganin (1895 – 1975) Minister of Defense
12 Nikolai Semashko (1874 – 1949) Soviet sports administrator
13 Nikolai Tomsky (1900 – 1984) sculptor

I would spend proper time with them if I visited Russia again.

Thursday 13  /  ABC Wednesday  /  Our World Tuesday

Moscow Moments

My moments in Moscow began when I inadvertently followed an interaction among members of an FB expat group regarding Russia’s national carrier.  The desire to see the place though began back in childhood. Like other parents, mine spent considerable time telling me stories. Later I was no longer content just being told of heroes from faraway lands. By adulthood I had to see evidence or at least come close to traces of their existence.

Curiosity + A love of History + Wanderlust = Moments of

~ excitement when a plane lands bringing you to a place for the first time

~ adrenaline for traveling alone, just you and your wits wondering about safety and whether your guide would show up, making sure Plan B is intact in case Plan A runs into problems

~ tongues. You hear yourself speaking a few words of the local language and the locals smile at you. Either your attempt is passable or they are just amused to hear you try

~ cold horror. A Dementor engulfs you at airport exit. The zero temperature.

~ mounting worry when the hotel does not accept any mode of payment except the one in your wallet that does not match, and it’s midnight!

~ relief at finding an ATM that spits out currency which determines whether you spend the night on a warm bed or an airport bench

~ joy in beholding a riot of colors; your favorite season happens to be trending while you are visiting

~ awe in finding yourself on the same spot where history-making events took place and historical figures once trod

~ contrast: on the very same ground stood the first man in space, marched a battalion oozing power and there you are taking a silly selfie

~ faux pas looking for the grave of a famous person and the news is he is still alive (I will be brave in a later post and tell it)

~ pride in having survived traveling solo without breaking a limb

~ regret that you could not stay longer to immerse in details. Note to self: next time apply for a longer visa

~ gratitude for childhood wishes that come true, for learning experiences, and this adventure we call Life.

ABC Wednesday / Thursday 13

Layover

Layover is defined briefly as a period of rest and waiting before a further stage in a journey. In air travel, it is a stop or transfer, from one airplane to another, or connection up to a certain maximum allowed time (Wikipedia).

Some or most travelers find layovers stressful. Who tolerates lethargic hours in an airport when a proper sun shines brightly in your paradise destination? Layovers are cheaper than nonstop flights, but people are willing to pay more to avoid extra waiting. Not me in this case. I deliberately chose a flight schedule with enough time for a layover when I booked a trip to the UAE in 2015.

If you googled layovers, results might show people asking advice and specifying the number of hours they would be in a certain place.  Some say four. Others six. Yet others eleven.

I had twenty-three hours.

With a 48-hour visa I exited the airport, checked in to a hotel for the night, then toured the city the whole day before returning to the airport in time for the last leg of my journey back to Bangkok.

My tour guide Julia was wonderful. Prior to meeting her I acquainted myself with her native tongue by addressing her Yulia in our chat the way she signed it on email, and started practising spasibo and zdravsvuyte to the cats in the parking lot that I pass by on my way to work.

This kind of layover worked perfectly according to my purpose of maximizing the number of places I can see in one go. Thus, saving money, effort and time.

In a single week I was in two different countries and three major cities: the United Arab Emirates and Russia; Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Moscow.

The only drawback was getting sick after being baked and curdled almost simultaneously between two opposite temperatures.  Small sacrifice to fulfilling another sweet little dream.

As a child I was fascinated by Papa’s stories of powerful leaders and historical events (Mama covered the Bible, as well as the routine Snow White, Rapunzel, Brothers Grimm stuff). I would later skim through pages on the Soviet Union in particular – Yuri Gagarin, Stalin, the Romanovs … and while twirling my Barbie’s golden locks, I promised myself this – “when I grow up I would find them all.”

This layover experience was enough for me to not mind having no new international trip for two years after that.

I am planning another trip with, you guess it, a layover again. What do you think of Istanbul (I do like calling it Constantinople), Beijing (which the Thais call Peking you would think of Peking Duck), Cairo, Lisbon or Helsinki?  I am eyeing them all.

Let us raise our glasses to more adventures!

ABC Wednesday / Thursday 13