Although Moscow is known as the less beautiful compared to St Petersberg, still it’s oldest buildings seem to have been built for no other reason than decadence. They are extravagant buildings, built from beautiful stone with spires and golden roofs. I got off the metro and, not knowing where I was stumbled across Red Square. What a sight for a tired traveller’s mind! St Basil’s cathedral at one end is an extraordinary building, entirely, a collection of mismatched columns and domes painted in an eclectic mix of colours and styles. A truly wonderful sight to behold.
A little further from Red Square is another cathedral, the most important one in the city. From the outside this cathedral is built of white stone, so dazzling in today’s bright sunshine it is impossible to look at without squinting. It too had golden domes atop is towers and even from the outside it is a magnificent work of art. Inside the cathedral is an explosion of colour,and regardless of your beliefs, it is difficult not to be impressed by such an incredible place. Everywhere I look there are beautiful paintings, apparently centuries old, complete with extravagant, and perhaps excessive amounts of gold leaf. There are statues and ancient sacred paintings locked behind walls of glass, onto which faithful Christian women rest their foreheads, utter silent prayers and kiss the glass, before signing the cross across their body and moving onto the next. Such is the dedication to orthodox religion. I see an old woman, she is dressed in black with a thin white cotton scarf draped about her head. She is bent almost double, making her half my height, and she slowly walks around collecting up the stumps of candles visitors have left as prayers and that have now burnt out, on a silver tray.
On the surface it is hard to see how such a place fit into everything I thought I knew and heard about Soviet Russia, but here it was, this magnificent building in praise of a God that the communists claimed did not exist. It was only later that evening, that I found out this cathedral was in fact a mere 20 years old. It had been destroyed by the communists, I can’t remember exactly who, with the plan to build in its place a skyscraper. They began by digging a massive hole in the ground, just to find that the ground itself was too unstable for such a big building. Without knowing what else to do, they turned the giant hole into a massive outdoor swimming pool. When the USSR collapsed they decided to rebuild it, exactly as it had been. The result is phenomenal.
On the bus journey here I chatted to a couple of girls, also in their twenties, from Belarus, who now lived and studied in Moscow. They told me that I stuck out like a sore thumb because I smiled, something Russians just don’t do. But despite this reputation, I have found Russians I have met so far to be more friendly than their reputation suggests. Though there seems to be plenty of drama within the Russians that live, stay and work at the hostel, even to the point where the police were called out last night.
Despite staying in a hostel I also managed to meet with a couple of locals through couchsurfing. Neither could host me but both kindly offered to do meet up. Alex took me for a tour round the city at night, which was beautiful, and to try some traditional Russian food (followed by less traditional pancakes made Russian by covering them in sour cream – the Russians love it!). It was interesting to hear how he felt about Russia’s past, present, and future. He knew incredible amounts of history and I learnt a lot! 🙂
In contrast, Konstantin did not want to talk about Russia so much, much preferring the topic of Thailand where he spends much of his time. He took me on a bike ride through a huge park on the edge of the city and halfway round, we speed at an outdoor Russian gym, buried deep in the forest and hard to find if you did not already know it was there. It was an incredible set up, apparently all made by local people. A vast collection of old tyres, bits of scaffolding, trees sawn down into shapes and gaffa tape had been remade into an extensive gym playground. There were tyres half buried in the ground that you had to hit with varying lengths of scaffolding (depending how strong you are) in a wood chop type motion. There were a lot of boxing punchbags, built from something heavy then covered in tape to make them soft. There was a rope suspended 30ft above the ground that you had to shimmy up, a pull up bar made of old scaffolding and various weight tables made of wood and metal and tape. It was impressive to see how so many things could be made for free, and how popular it was. Konstantin told me that even in the coldest winter months people used it. Of course I got stuck in punching and hitting and trying (and failing) to lift the ridiculously heavy weights. It was great fun!
Today I get on the trans siberian for three whole days. I week cross 6 time zones and arrive in Irkutsk at 9pm on Sunday evening. Earlier in the week I felt nervous at the prospect of such a long journey, after these last few days I feel excited. There is unlimited free hot water but much else so I have armed myself with instant noodles, tinned peas and carrots, fresh fruit and of course, tea! Hopefully this will sustain my body whilst my books sustain my mind. I’ll let you know what it’s like to travel non stop on a train for three days when I get off at the other end! 🙂