Russia - Moscow


             2015 - It is my first time to Russia. My main purpose was to handle a personal issue here in Moscow. While the Russia Rouble had dropped half in value compared to USD/HKD in the last 6 months and while I am fortunately in between a career advancement, I shall reward myself with a 11 days visit to Russia. Thinking of Russia, there are only two cities I know - Moscow and St. Petersburg; this time I am visiting them both. The utmost recognizing landmarks representing Russia are the Kremlin, the Red Square and the St. Basil's Cathedral. So here I am visiting all three on the first day.
St. Basil's Cathedral was built in 1555 under the orders from Ivan the Terrible and is now an UNESCO historical site. According to legend, Ivan had ordered the eyes of the architect be removed so he could not re-crate the masterpiece elsewhere.
Every of the 20 towers of the Kremlin Wall has name. This one is the Savior's Tower. On the set is preparation of the 70th anniversary of victory of WWII.

It is April 25, 2015. Weather is unstable with storm, rain and sun shine appear within an hour. Temperature is around 5-10C.

Fortress of Kremlin, Red Square and St. Basil's Cathedral all in one sight. Btw, Red Square is actually paved with black stones.

The north end of the Red Square is the Historical Museum.
Monument to Minin and Pozharsky
- commemorate Prince Pozharsky and Minin expelled Polish-Lithuanian force and saved Moscow back in 1612
Inside the cathedral is a museum. RR350 to get in. Inside the 9 domes of the cathedral are religious wall paintings and golden panels. Of course it also houses the casket bearing the body of St. Basil.
Amongst the treasures on display are the hand made gold plate bible cover and religious ornaments
Original wall of St. Basil Cathedral

Passage to upper floor
Entering the Kremlin from its official entrance on the bridge over the Kutafiya Tower and the Trinity Tower. The Kremlin represetns the political power of the Russia Federation (or previous Russia sovereignity). The complex is a UNESCO site and now serves as the official residence of the President of Russia, though Putin lives a distance west of Kremlin. RR500 for the entrance to tour the architect. There are of course some building restricted for visit, such as the Senate building and Grand Kremlin Palace. The first building in sight after entrance is the State Kremlin Palace (as in the right). It was constructed in Soviet style. Inside the palace is Soviet style hall:
The Dormition Cathedral - linked with the most important events like crowning of grand princes and Tsars. This southern gate is for the Tsars.

The Ivan the Great Bell-Tower, the Assumption Belfry
Inside are tall pillars with 5-tier iconostasis on the wall, the design only reserved for top cathedral.

Inside the Kremlin at the Secret Garden with St. Basil's Cathedral behind me.
Two pictures on right of the door is the main icon of the Dormition of the Virgin 

Beautiful top of the Church of Laying Our Lady's Holy Robe
Another view of the Dormition Cathedral while I am located on the main Cathedral Square. Some churches are now hosting exhibition of royal collection like below:
Peter the Great

Honor for knight

Bought myself a Faberge
The Tsar's Cannon

Kremlin looking over the Moskva River
At the Moskva River looking back to the Grand Kremlin Palace inside the Kremlin.
My reflection - Life has been very good at this moment I am in Moscow beside the Moscow River looking back to the Kremlin and palace. I'm in between a career advancement, so I'm technically carefree. I am still single without a child yet, so no burden at all. I have good health. Really just want to thank life. X

Another view of the Kremlin over the Moskva River from the South. 
Lock of hearts at the Moskva River bank

Peter the Great statue

I stay between the second and third ring of Moscow, approximately 25 minutes walk to the Kremlin city center. I stay beside a church and it is considered good luck to hear the church bell rings in the morning.

My single bed

Breakfast in the morning

24 corner shop for my daily snacks and supplies

Clubbing on a Saturday night

Black taxi back to hotel at 3. We chat from hand gesture and he is so kind sharing his cell phone charger when seeing my battery is low

Where I club is a secret. I also experience a deny of entry by another club. ;-(
Safety - initially I had a perception that Russia was unsafe. But once I submerge to the city (within the third ring of Moscow), I realize it is very safe. Better than New York for sure! Also after a metro bombing in 201X, the central stations has 2~3 police patrolling. I feel really safe. I take black taxi; shop at local local market; everything is fine. I am just blissful. 

Moscow State University is one of the prime university in Russia and is also the tallest education institute in the world. This building is one of the seven tall buildings in Moscow. In 1946, Stalin put on an idea to construct a chain of skyscrapers to establish Moscow as a world class city comparable to other capitalist cities in the world, so seven tall building were completed in 1953 with no original primary purpose but for the sake of having signatures buildings in Moscow. They were build in elaborate combination of Russian Baroque and Gothic styles. The other signature tall buildings are now Hotel Ukraina (Radisson), Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hilton Hotel.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Hotel Ukraina (Radisson)
Students in soccer match. @_@

Sketching the tall building
Indoor track and field competition

The first humanities building
WWII monument

Tower top

Concert hall ornament
Tourist can't enter the university, but on the ground level of Vorobyovy Gory, beside the university, looking up north can catch a glimpse from left to right (i) the City of Moscow with glass exterior business buildings; (ii) the Olympic stadium, which will be also the FIFA 2018 World Cup prime stadium; and (iii) the Kremlin. 

The Great Moscow State Circus

Quite a good 2 hours show for a Sunday afternoon
Bear, horses, goats, acrobats, flying men, ballet, more and more

I bought a RR600 ticket then upgrade myself for better view. ;-)

Bolshoy Theatre - the prime theatre house of Moscow, with recently US$1bn renovation

The restored statue of Apollo has been covered up with a fig leaf, which prior to the renovation (as shown on a RR100 bill) exhibit his natural body state
  Watched "Spartacus" by Khachaturian. It is eyes opening to watch this Russia ballet about gladiators. 70% of the dancers are male in tights and bare chest involving in fight in an elegant way. There is no conversation, but with pure dances and orchestra. Amongst the plots are orgies and rapes. It is in contrary of those Nut Cracker type ballet. To me, it is what it means my learn and grow and see the difference in the world. Thanks life.  

Christ the Saviour Cathedral - the tallest Orthodox church in the world. The original church was blown up in 1931 to build a Lenin statue, but due to difficulties, it became a year-round open-air swimming pool with hot water circulating despite it is freezing in -30C in winter. My friend told me his grandma used to come here for a swim. After the fall of Soviet Union, it has become a church again. However, my friend suggests it should be kept as a swimming pool for the benefit of the people.
Inside the cathedral are some exquisite exhibition. All these wall painting are adorn by beads. The detail has me in awe.

Now, lets go for a train station tour! About 10 stations have beautiful motifs. 

Wall ornaments from Smolenskaya on the dark blue line. A police checks my passport in this station while I am taking this picture. I am clearly a tourist! The police can get money from me if I fail to show passport; which I have it with me, so I am ok. But perhaps it is really for security reason as Chinese President Xi will visit in Moscow on May 9. A kind lady of Mongolia like descendant also stands in 3 metres beside me to ensure I am ok. I am thankful.
It is ok manageable for me to navigate. Male voice is for clock wise direction and into-the-city; female for the reverse. @_@

I stay at 5 minutes walk from 3 interchange stations. Despite they are connected, each line has a different name for the same station.

Stations are deep with an escalator ride to concourse about 1 minute and more. Partly they were designed as bomb shelters.
Metro is the only public transport I take in Moscow as no English speaking is required.

RR50 each ride no matter the distance. 10 tickets for RR300 or so.
Some stations are museum itself. This Mayakovskaya on the green line has mosaics on the ceiling. The theme is likely about freedom. 

This Kropotkinskaya on the red line has mosaic about the history of Moscow. The famous St Basil's Cathedral and Christ the Saviour Cathedral mosaics are at sight.
Kievskaya on the ring line tells the history of Russia with reference of the Tsars, world wars, Soviet Union.

Novoslobodskaya on the ring line tells more Soviet prides.
Metro stations are always good place to wait for friends. Perhaps I am always within the central third ring of Moscow

Waiting and people watching @_@
         Motifs from Komsomolskaya on the ring line. It is amongst the important stations as it connects to 3 train stations including Leningradsky Vokzal directing to St. Petersburg (previously known as Leningrad during Soviet era).
The platform is in grand style and

the connecting passage is also in great decor!

Ploschad' Revolyutsii on the dark blue line

filled with scriptures like "father and son"
Pride Union

Komsomolskaya on the ring line

Arbatskaya on the dark blue line
Kievskaya on the ring line. Usually there are arts at the dead end corner of each station

On April 27, 2015, I venture myself to Konkovo Passage, a local shopping market, looking for Moscow made clothes. Chat 30 minutes with this kind shop man of with his limited English and point me to go wholesale market instead.

Then I take metro again for 30 minutes to this Lublino station area. It's a residential area! I think it is a mistake, but then why not ask a local again. With some pointing and pointing, I walk 10 minute to the...   
Lublino Market - It is only two floors but it's OMG it's so huge! A big square complex in the middle of residential area! What's inside in an eye opener. It's a big complex of wholesales of clothes, jeans, fur, shoes, etc. However, it is operated by mostly (80%) Chinese! OMG. I realize the scope of MADE IN CHINA!!! There are Turks selling leathers and Indians selling silks. It's a big import wholesaler!

I intend to buy fur, but I end up talking to some fur shop owners in Mandarin. Their furs are from Guangdong manufacturer... so what the point for me to come all the way to Moscow!!! Then I do find a Russian shop selling Russia fur, and, with the help of a Chinese translator from adjacent shop, I buy my first fur vest with the shop owner emphasizes it's made of Russian fox and sewed in Moscow. Haha.

  April 27, 2015 - I just had my first ever Russian Banya experience at Rzhevskie Banya, a local banya dated back to 1888. I took a night session for RR1000. It's literally human going into a sauna oven and get baked. Haha. Unknown to me initially, each banya session is about 15 minutes. I joined in the middle of a session. It was too hot for me so I left the saima to the resting area. Slowly I picked up the routine and understood the flow of an session. The beginning, yet an end, starts as a staff opening the door and all ventilations inside to exhume the old steam for fresh air. Patrons from the previous session help to water out the sweats and bloom off the leaves from the session. Once the room is clean, new patrons enter and a staff would pour water into a stove and fill the room with excruciating heat. The patrons would sit or lay down on the wooden panel in nude and let the steam to open the pores of the skin. I couldn't endure heat burn so I wrapped my head and body with towels. The staff would fan the hot steam with branches of leaves to ensure your body to feel the heat. The patrons were indeed thankful for the fanning as it heats up their bodies. For me, those moments were priceless as I was counting down the time to leave the room. During all these fanning session, the patrons were talking aloud to each other. Likely strangers socializing to each other. They talked to me, but realized I don't speak Russia, so halted. I just sat and stared while savoring my first banya experience. There were around 10 patrons in my session and ranged from 25 to 70. @_@. Once the staff stopped fanning, the temperature cooled little and the environment became a regular sauna I used to experience. Some patrons would beat his body with various branch and leaves to air the skin pores. For 5 minutes or so, patrons would gradually leave the sauna room and soaked themselves into a freezing water pool to improve blood circulation. The staff would again going back to the sauna room for cleaning and air freshening and that's how a whole cycle will begin again. Outside the sauna and bath area is cabins for patrons to socialize, eat and drink (beer). I didn't bother, so it concluded my one hour journey in Russian banya. To me, it's an experience. Glad I did it!  
May 9, 2015 is the 70th university of victory against Nazi, so I visit the Victory Park. I am very blessed to talk to a local, whom brings me to this WWII memorial.
         He suggests me to go inside, but I reject saying I've seen too many already. He tells me the world wars had touched the heart of every Russians as one must have relatives or him/herself involved in the wars. I can feel the sentiment when talking to him. In hindsight, I should respect his feeling and take a brief visit inside. Nowadays the veterans are still respected as hero with youngsters taking pictures with them on the Victory Day.
The statue inscribed name of cities of Russia related to the WWII

This is the coat of arms of Moscow (St. George with a spear in his hand slaying the dragon). St. George is the patron saint of Moscow. "Yury" in Russia is "George".
WWI Triumphal Arch Memorial beside the Victory Park.

Famous Old Arbat Street. A pedestrian street.

full of artists, tourist cafe, souvenir shops
They claim the area is full of ...

"Old Russian Spirit" per se. 
Famous Nikolskaya Street. Another pedestrian street. 

It connects to the Kremlin, so full of international high fashion brands, like D&G
Pushkinskaya Square. Pushkin is a famous poet in Russia; the square is a famous meeting point for the locals. I rest here for 30 minutes as I wait for the ballet in the evening. Have to say, air pollution here is bad.

This square is full of batches of policemen. Likely it is where they change of guard duty. Perhaps they are briefing on the coming Victory Day patrol. It's a good place for people and police watching.
Fashion - as was influenced by communism, individualism was not encouraged. So most people wear attire of grey tone. Bright or colorful attire was seldom seen. Even some hot hot hot dudes or chicks whom are already wearing stylish clothes, to me are in old fashion. With their gorgeous look, they would have been praised as model icon in Hong Kong. ;-)

There are churches within little community in Moscow. So every 5 to 10 minutes walk you will see one.

All the churches are decorated with colorful dome on the top. Simply beautiful!


Chinese theme building. The fusion is beautiful.

I am at the beginning of Leningradsky Prospekt (highway) diagonal to the Kremlin.

The Leningradsky Prospekt begins from the Kremlin and connects to the city center of St. Petersburg (a.k.a. Leningrad)

It is amongst the most glamorous road in Moscow full of delicately constructed block buildings.
      With Olga
Here me and my friend Olga are at Yeliseev Grocery Store. There hangs a painting of the founder. It is oldest store in Moscow. The interior decoration has me thought I am in a palace!

Despite the glamorous decoration, goods and produces sold here are at regular merchant price. Souvenirs are even cheaper than at tourist spots.

The main purpose for me visiting Russia is for Project Santino. It's with tremendous pleasure to meet with Olga.
She gives me this signature doll gift from Kiev.

We do look quite a match

We chat for three hours and our thinking are quite common.
Talking to Olga has touched my soul. Despite the difference in outlook and cultures, deep down, our hearts are just the same. We have goals and dreams, challenges to resolve. Yet, in the end, we simply want to live our lives, have an enjoyable and happy one. =)

Here I am at the Leningradsky train station ready to start my journey in St. Petersburg by night train boarding at 11:55pm. The station was linked to metro, so navigation was easy.
I am taking this signature Red Arrow train. Booked ticket online and they only check my passport for boarding. Journey is only 8 hours, so will wake up at 7:55am. 

My sleep is very well. Bed is clean. Breakfast included, but taste weird to me. I share cabin with a 22~23 newly weds from Palm, Russia. Enjoy the chat and journey. Thanks!
          Overall thought
If I never come here, there are things I would never know...
I always thought that Russia is a posh country, due to the imagery of posh Russian models occupying the New York and London fashion scene. I really thought Moscow would be like New York. ;-) But it is not. Moscow was under the iron curtain for decades; modernization process was then slow. The environment really resembles its surrounding countries like Latvia and Ukraine which I visited before.
Seeing Russia has me realize again that I am living a good life. I can't have everything and I will not have everything I want. There is definitely some aspects of life I couldn't experience; but I am so far very good. Hope Tino can enjoy the greatest gift of all - Life.