Moscow 04 p3

Around Christ the Savior

Nikouline's grave
Friday September 3

The plan was for me to go to Druzhba at 11 to pick up the guys and take them around. That left me with a couple of hours to visit the Novodievichi cemetery and monastery, which are just on the other side of Sportivnaya, so I left early. I only managed to see a small part of the cemetery before the weather decided to rain on me. I managed to see the tombs of Anton Chekhov, Gogol, Shtshussev, Tretiatov, Tolstoi, the clown Nikouline and the dancer Ulanovna, each a work of art, before I had to run to the monastery to take cover. There I found that there was very little point in trying to visit it under the rain, and I doubled back to the station in the hopes of finding nylon bags at the supermarket to cover myself with. As luck had it, it is a thrift shop I found, and I got myself a rain coat for 200p ($6). Woot!

So I walked in the rain to Druzhba where I caught the end of the female Chanquan and Nanquan, and returned with one of my friends. We got off at Bibliotek imeni Lenina (above) with no specific goal in mind. There were golden domes shining in the distance; we followed them. Thus we ended up at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

The cathedral, a mixture of traditional, Byzantine, and Orthodox architecture, was built in 1837 to commemorate the victory of Russia over Napoleon the 1st, and became the centre point of Christian faith for all Russians. As such, you can imagine how anxious Stalin was to vaporise it, which was done – literally – in 1931. The plan was to build a huge palace of the Soviets in its place, but that never happened due to the marshy ground and World War 2. Instead, it became… a public swimming pool. I was speechless with shock when I found out. Fortunately, at the end of the 80's there was a strong motion to have it rebuilt exactly the way it was. The city gave the authorisation provided the funds were gathered independently. It is a mark of the symbolic importance of the cathedral that not only were the funds gathered, but construction was completed in a mere 4 years, frescoes included. That was less than a decade ago, so the paint has barely dried, and the interior is just glowing with the beautiful shades of pink, baby blue and gold – not a colour combination that would have come to my mind, but stunningly used.

We were famished when we came out, especially V: the food at the hotel was not all that, it seems. There was a blinni stand and my pocket dictionary was no help to help me figure out what the fillings on the menu were. So I ordered two of the easiest to pronounce in the lot, БЛИННЬ  С МЁДОМ. "Oh. Honey. Heh."

We spent a while walking around in Arbat, but it was still raining and eventually we just sought refuge in a café where we let the waitress decide what to serve us. Wandering along we ended up walking up the Kremlin wall, where there is a small park bounded by water with bronze statues depicting folk tales. I was surprised to find one that was clearly La Fontaine's Le Renard et la Cigogne!

Back at the hostel, there were lots of newcomers of various origins, Philippino, Scottish, Kazakh, Kiwi, Dane, so it was another interesting and fun evening.

Dane: "I know a Scottish guy who paid 130 euros to come from the airport. "
Scot: "I paid 30 roubles…"
All: "WHAT??"
Scot: "I took the bus and the metro… I got a lot of practice in Russian!"

"Listen to this", said someone who was studying his Lonely Planet in preparation for a Transsiberian trip: "It is forbidden to bring in more than 20 pieces of underwear in to China (we are not kidding)."

I also found I had two new roommates, an Australian and a Californian, Quintana, with whom I bonded during the trip.

As would be my habit every evening, I sat coloring my sketches in my travel diary while chatting with whoever was there. I was about to paint a Russian flag and wanted to make sure I got the color order right, so I asked. My question sent everyone digging through their guidebooks with no luck, until someone went to ask the receptionist – who wasn't sure!! It turned out I was right in the end, but I know some people kept an eye out for flags the next day…