MOSCOW — They say that in Russia, all trains lead to Moscow. In Moscow, all roads lead to Red Square. The huge cobblestoned square is the heart of the city, and many of Moscow’s most famous sites are concentrated around the square. Today, we managed to visit most of them. Here’s my quick-and-dirty guide:
The Kremlin: American history books make the Kremlin sound like a forbidding and scary place. But once you broach the walls, it’s actually very pleasant. Many of the government buildings are painted a sunny yellow, with parks tucked in between them. Tourists can’t visit the government offices, so the main attractions here are the four major cathedrals surrounding Cathedral Square. Your ticket (300/100 rubles) gets you into all of them, plus the former Patriarch’s Palace. Once you’re done, you’ll definitely have a sense of Russian church architecture — and maybe a case of church fatigue to boot.
The Armory: It’s technically inside the Kremlin, but admission to the Armory Museum is separate from the cathedrals. The collection is vast and wide-ranging, including heaps of valuable silver, gold and bejeweled objects belonging to the state, as well as relics of the czars. Highlights include the crown of the first Romanov czar, the carriage used at Nicholas II’s coronation, and Catherine the Great’s wedding dress. The exhibits were fascinating, but your ticket only gets you into the museum for a maximum of 90 minutes, which is only enough for a cursory visit. I’m not sure it would have been worth the hefty 700-ruble ($23) full admission price. (We paid the student price of 200 rubles.)
Lenin’s Mausoleum: After Lenin died in 1924, Stalin ordered that his body be preserved and put on display as a tribute to the man responsible for Russia’s revolution. Soviet scientists invented the necessary technology in a hurry, and ever since, Lenin has lain in state in Red Square. For a 140-year-old, he looks pretty good.
GUM: If Lenin’s Mausoleum left you a little uncertain about the fate of the USSR, GUM is a useful reminder of its passing. It sits across from the Kremlin on the opposite side of Red Square. The faux-medieval building was designed in 1890 to house the “Upper Trading Rows;” now, it has been refurbished to hold designer shops like Moschino and Hermes. Locals call it a “window-shopping mall,” and from what we saw, most of the shoppers were tourists slurping overpriced gourmet ice cream cones.
St. Basil’s Cathedral: Yesterday, I called this Russia’s most famous church, and wondered what the inside would be like. I still don’t know — after seeing four cathedrals inside the Kremlin, we didn’t have steam for a fourth church, so we’re saving it for tomorrow.