Sorry . . . got distracted. Queen Mary's term has started, so I've been kind of busy getting the administration end of the course I teach sorted.
The cruising bit of the trip was fine. I'm not much of a cruiser. I'm more of a hiker/swimmer/doer, if you know what I mean. However, I've been fighting this horrible sinus infection since June, so just sleeping most of the day was kind of nice. The touring bits of the day were, except for the first day, pretty much the same. Get off, go see a church. Go see another church. Go see another church. Go back to the boat. Yep. Loads of churches. And I have to admit, by the end of it, I was pretty churched out. I liked seeing all the spires all over the country side, but every single church had the same story: This church was built 800 (900, 600 pick a year) years ago. The frescos were damaged in a fire 200 years ago, but were restored. The Soviets wanted to knock it down, but turned it into a museum (storage space, office . . . pick the new use) instead. It's been returned to the Russian Orthodox church (or will be within the next 2 years). There's only so many times I want to hear the story, if you know what I mean. But, like I said, I really enjoyed seeing all the onion domes all over the country side. The whole country is peppered with them! And I can only imagine what it would have looked like before the Soviets. They tore down hundreds of churches! It's really quite amazing to think about! (Actually, there is a colour photographic record of Pre-Revolution Russia! See this link to the Library of Congress.)
Moscow was very different from what I imagined. When I think of Soviet architecture, I think of square, cement, austere, grey . . . very much what we saw in St Petersburg. Moscow, though, was nothing like that! And not because the Russian Federation has done anything about it. In fact, most of the coolest buildings were done in Stalin's time! He even had an architectural style named after him: Stalin Gothic. Yep. Crazy, eh? There are these 7 tower buildings (called the 7 sisters) -- originally meant to be 8, and an 8th has been built recently, but is not considered one of the sisters -- with spires and turrets and all sorts. They're gorgeous. They'd fit right in next to the Chrysler building in New York. Stalin commissioned them for the 800th Anniversary of something or other. And even the normal apartment buildings built during that time are pillared and statued and carved. Not at all what I had expected.
Obviously Moscow's St Basil's Cathedral was the most important thing for Grandma and me to see. We'd only been talking about it for 18 years, after all! So, when we (finally! You've never seen traffic like in Moscow!!) got to Red Square ('red', by the way, is a slang term for 'pretty' or 'beautiful'. So the Soviets being 'Red' wasn't because of the colour, but because of the idea that it's a beautiful or cool idea.) we walked across the car park, behind the cathedral, and were crushed to discover that we couldn't get into the Square! Our guide took us around the side, up to the GUM (think Harrods in London or Watertower Place in Chicago. Major, expensive shopping centre.) where there was another entrance to the Square. And it was closed too! So Grandma and I sat down in the shopping centre and enjoyed a piece of cheese cake and a Diet Coke (well, a Coke Light). Eventually our guide took us back out of the GUM, and somehow managed to sweet talk one of the guards on the Square into letting us into the Square. See, this was the confusing thing: the Square itself wasn't closed. Just the 3 entrances we'd tried. However, there was one on the far side of the Square that was open. So, there were loads of people inside. So this guard let us cross the closed bit into the open bit. This meant, Grandma and I got our photo in front of St Basil's Cathedral! Hooray! We found out later that the President of the Russian Federation, Dmitriy Medvedev, had decided he needed to do a bit of shopping in the GUM, so he walked across Red Square from the Kremlin to the GUM. Umm . . . why, then, were we allowed into the GUM, but not Red Square? I'm so confused!
Well, that's most of it. Except . . . if you make it to Russia, I highly recommend seeing the National Russian Folk Dance Show at the Kosmos Hotel. It's about 2 hours of some of the worlds best dancers ever. It was gorgeous, well choreographed, exquisite costumes and some of the most amazingly executed dancing you've ever seen. Anywhere. Brilliant.