Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Le-Le-Le-Lenin and the rest

The eternal flame outside the Kremlin walls

Memorial to Stalingrad - there's a whole row of these by the Kremlin, commemorating various WWII battles




Today I got up super early (8.10!) on a mission to visit Lenin's Mausoleum and the Armoury Museum at the Kremlin. The cunning plan was to buy a ticket for an afternoon 'session' at the armoury (they only let you in in shifts), skedaddle to Lenin's tomb, run off to lunch with Melani and then back to the Kremlin. This didn't quite work out as planned, but never mind. Hot tip: it turns out that tickets to each session at the Armoury only go on sale 45 mins beforehand - of course the sign telling you about this was only in Russian, and when I went yesterday 1 1/4 hours early to try & make sure I got a ticket to the last session of the day, the woman didn't say anything other than "Nyet". But anyway, I discovered this, so if any of my faithful readers ever make their way to Moscow, you may profit from my fruitless queueing.

So, since I couldn't get tickets for 10 am and I couldn't buy them in advance, it was off to the Mausoleum with me. There was a bit of a queue, but it wasn't too bad. More tips - I got in with my normal shoulder bag, which is at least double handbag size, but if you take any cameras with you, you'll definitely have to leave them in the check room. The mausoleum was very quiet, with a faint incensey-smell. You just walk around the coffin on three sides and then it's out with you. One person tried stopping for a gander, but they got yelled at. I tried walking at a very slow pace to try and get a decent look, but when the woman behind me stood on my heels for about the third time, I turned around to give her a dirty look and she goes "Walk!" in Russian, which I thought was kind of unecessarily rude, but then, this is Russia. So, the big question - is it the man himself, or an elaborate wax doll? 'Fraid this is one I'm unqualified to answer. Possibly this is the reason they don't actually let you stand still long enough to take a good look. I must say he looked less waxy than I've seen him in the occasional photo that's made it through the Kremlin's camera ban - his skin looked kind of papery actually, definitely a few wrinkles around the eyes - but I couldn't swear to it that it's an actual human corpse, being somewhat deficient in this area of experience. One comment I do have though - does anyone else think it's pretty tacky to take children to see the embalmed body of an historical figure?

After you get outside, you get to walk past the graves of the Soviet leaders, buried between the Mausoleum and the Kremlin walls. And that, of course, does include Stalin, who was beside Lenin for some time, until Lenin allegedly appeared to his (Lenin's) wife in a dream and told her that he really didn't fancy spending eternity next to his pleasant successor, so he was booted to behind the tomb itself. And there's a pretty unconvincing likeness of him on the grave - sure, he'd been dead for some time by the time it was presumably carved, but surely there were plenty of examples for the sculptor to take a peek at?

All this only took half an hour, so I had a fun-filled 45 minutes to kill standing outside the ticket office at the Kremlin. Stupid me kept letting people go in front of me, on the theory that they were there to buy tickets to the Kremlin churches, until I eventually realised that all these people were in fact doing the same thing I was doing, and getting in early for Armoury tickets. One such punter was a small boy who was licking the door of the box office - revolting! When it got to about 11.05 (tickets to be sold from 11.15) I weasled into the box office itself and managed to be the second to be sold a ticket. I know in the view of everyone who had been standing inside the box office for half an hour (being successively pushed further back by newcomers) I looked like I was pushing in but a) it's Russia, everyone does it! and b) I'm pretty sure I was there before everyone else, just too dim to realise what they were all queueing for. By the way, all this queueing for Armoury tickets meant that anyone who did just want normal tickets was effectively blocked from buying them for at least half an hour, while the box office lay idle. Most of them were probably tourists who didn't know what was going on. Surely there would be a more sensible way to arrange things - different queues, say, or selling the tickets all day? At any rate, only a fool would go to buy Kremlin tickets when the Armoury tickets are about to be sold...
Well, enough blah, blah, blah. I finally made it into the Kremlin and I had to ask about half a dozen people where the fricking Armoury was, as they didn't give me a map this time. I was convinced that after all that, I was going to miss the 12 pm start of the session (I had wandered off into a shopping centre for half an hour or so after buying my ticket), but I managed to find the way eventually. You only have 1 1/2 hours to view the exhibition, and dumbass here spent 1 hour on the top floor before the "hold on, aren't the crown jewels etc. meant to be in here somewhere?" lightbulb went on and I realised I only had 15 minutes to see the lower floor (the first 15 minutes being occupied with getting into the building, checking my coat etc.) so that was rather stupid. So don't do what Donny don't did, kiddies...

Anyway, on the upper floor there's many gold and silver decorative art pieces - icon shields, bibles, tableware, vases, etc. etc., dating back to maybe the 11th century (?) and some of the arms and armour that give the whole shebang its name. Lots of pretty things - I'm amazed that so much has survived the ups and downs of Russian history. You'd think things like icons and Bibles would be the first to go. A lot of it is, of course, ridiculously over-the-top. The theory that bigger is better didn't begin with the New Russians, or, indeed, with Stalin. Most things are jewel-encrusted and then some. My favourite pieces were French Empire style silverware - much simpler, and very beautiful. There weren't as many Faberge items as I'd imagined - just one case. Seeing these things really makes you think, "No wonder there was a revolution". Unimaginable wealth in the hands of a tiny, tiny percentage of people...

On the other floor, there's clothing from the 18th and 19th century, including a dress of Catherine the Great's (much thinner than I imagined, maybe it was from her youth?) and a dress of one Empress whose waist you could just about have encircled with your hands, it was ridiculous. Jewellery, fans, shoes, snuff boxes etc. also down here. Then there were various crowns, most with fur at the bottom, and thrones. Then a room filled with decorative reins and bridles etc. - ridiculous really, to have horses dripping with gold and diamonds! Lastly there was a room full of Cinderella-style coaches, which said fancy horses probably pulled. All incredibly opulent & definitely worth a look.

Then Melani & I had lunch at a Russian place - pelmenni for me - Russian-style tortellini, which were nice. I have frozen pelmenni at home, which I boil (these were deep-fried) - the restaurant version was better though. And I tried kvass, which is a low-alcohol beverage of 'interesting' smell and taste... Not awful, but different.

And that's all I have to say about that!

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