Our last full day in Moscow.
Our only priorities for sightseeing today were the Diamond Fund and Red Square. The Diamond Fund houses the royal jewels of the Tsars and is located in its own area within the Kremlin compound and in the same building as The Armoury. We anticipated a long line, so we decided to head into the city early to be in line when they opened at 9:00. The only problem with this plan was that it put us in the Metro subway right at rush hour. Rush hour in Moscow is an experience in controlled insanity. The stations and the trains were packed to the gills, but somehow everything moved along smoothly. After navigating the crowded Metro, we reached the ticket office for the Fund just before opening and we were able to walk right in with very little line to hassle with.
The fund itself is fairly small with only two small rooms for displaying the jewels as well as the largest hunks of gold you’ve ever seen. Highlights of the collection include Catherine the Great’s stunningly lavish coronation crown (also called the Great Imperial Crown), the world’s largest sapphire, and the famous Orlov Diamond. The Diamond Fund is one of the top 3 jewel collections in the world – the other two are the Crown Jewels housed at The Tower of London and the Jewels of the Shaw of Iran. Valerie thought this collection was more dazzling than the Crown Jewels. It really was stunning.
After our tour of the Diamond Fund, we wandered over to the nearby Cathedral of Christ the Saviour Church. Unfortunately, it was closed which was a disappointment because the inside is supposed to be quite spectacular. The tantalizing smell of a bakery kiosk called to us and we enjoyed a warm raspberry bun just out of the oven. Then we wandered around the huge cathedral and over a pedestrian bridge that crosses the Moscow River. From the bridge, we enjoyed a great view of the city as well as the massive statue of Peter the Great.
From the bridge, we wandered back toward the city center and to Red Square. After passing the tomb of the unknown soldier we entered the Red Square through the main gate where we were immediately disappointed by a huge stack of bleachers that had been set up for a concert the night before. The tacky bleachers eyesore took up a better part of Red Square, limiting our photography and video possibilities. We walked along the length of Red Square to the entrance of the iconic St. Basils Cathedral. The architecture of St. Basils is different from most churches. Instead of being one large cathedral, it’s actually a series of small churches arranged around a central church, with a series of catacomb-like passage ways that wind around the complex. We enjoyed listening to some beautiful chanting in the main church by a male choir.
After our wanderings of St. Basils, we headed over to the GUM, Moscow’s state department store. Not being much into shopping in a large department store similar to high-end shopping malls in the US, we opted instead for a well-deserved coffee break. The coffee was quite expensive, but it was worth it just for the chance to sit down for a while and take a load off our tired feet. The break also gave us a chance to decide how to spend the last few hours of our time in Moscow. After reviewing the city map, we decided to hop back on the Metro for a visit to Victory Park.
Getting to the park turned out to be a bit more of an adventure that we had anticipated. We started off in the Metro station closest to Red Square and immediately got lost. At first, we inadvertently ended up in the humongous underground shopping center that connects with the Metro station. After some wandering, we found our way back into the Metro where we were able to locate two of three train lines that stopped there, but not the one we needed. As we wandered back-and-forth trying to find the missing train line, a very helpful local who spoke excellent English offered to help us find where we needed to go. He walked with us around the station trying to find the mysterious missing subway; even he couldn’t figure it out at first. After several inquiries to station personnel, he finally got us set straight and we boarded the train to Victory Park. Thank you to the young man who helped us – he spent probably 15 minutes with us and missed several of the trains he had intended on catching!
Victory Park is dedicated to the Russian victory in World War II. The highlight of the park is the 1,418 fountains which represent each day the country was at war. In the center of the park is a magnificent obelisk towering several hundred feet high with inscriptions depicting heroic battles of the war. At the far end we viewed the solumn Holocaust Memorial. It was a moving memorial to all lost during that horrific time in history.
We worked up quite an appetite by this time, so we searched the neighborhood around Victory Park for a suitable restaurant. There weren’t many restaurants in the vicinity and our tired feet dictated that we not wander far. We opted to find out what Italian food in Moscow would be like – it was good but not great. At least it was close to the Metro station. After dinner, we hopped back on the Metro and headed back to the hotel. After relaxing in the room for awhile, Valerie and I got a major sweet tooth, so we went down the hotel restaurant for a final dessert in Moscow. The dessert was quite good, but was also very expensive (about $25 for two…ouch!).
The next morning we all took it easy before catching a taxi to the train station and then the train on to the airport. We had an uneventful flight to JFK but a tight connection, long lines at customs, and another long line at security in the domestic terminal made for a bit of a harried experience before we finally boarded the flight home. It will feel good to sleep in our own beds again. We sure hope all of our luggage makes it!