Read part one of Husam’s travelogue here.
The second day in Russia started out gloomy too, yet it was significantly brightened up by my friend Dzera, who works in the fashion industry. Together we scouted Tverskaya, another fashionable location in downtown Moscow, walking past famous locations such as Café Pushkin and past neighborhoods with beautiful Arte Moderne houses. There we saw the Gorky House Museum that was built about a hundred years ago.
We also saw the world famous Bolshoi Theater (still closed for restoration then) and the Moscow conservatory. We did some shopping for chocolates in the elegant Yeliseev food hall. After this lengthy walk we opted to visit one of the most important artistic landmarks in Moscow: the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum.
I was overwhelmed with the variety of exhibits spanning thousands of years of human civilization in art, sculpture, and painting. The Greeks, Romans, even ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians were represented. Large life-size reproductions of famous classical sculpture or temples were done faithfully. Slowly, from room to room, I was taken through different epochs and generations of painters and paintings: Dutch, Italian, Russian and more. Seeking rest from all the exuberance, we walked out of the museum to find a café near the river, but as soon as we were out I was distracted by the huge cathedral nearby and couldn’t resist dragging my tired body towards it.
This was the visit’s recurring theme: Whenever I decided to have a rest I found something else to feast my eyes on and struggled to reach it, like travelers in the desert struggling to reach that mirage of water. Yet in my case, there were no mirages, just more and more hidden treasures.
Anyway, the massive Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer has an interesting history as it was built in celebration of Moscow’s deliverance from the occupation of Napoleon. Yet it was blown up on orders from Stalin to make a space for an outdoor swimming pool. God then redeemed it in 1995 when the Orthodox Church and ordinary people gathered a huge amount of money to rebuild it back to its original magnificence.
Beyond the cathedral, across the river, was another huge statue of Peter the Great and more sites that I decided to explore on my own later. I was tired and hungry and desperate for some respite but had to raise enough energy to head back towards the Kremlin and choose my Iftar (Iftar is the evening meal that breaks the daily fast during Ramadan, if you aren’t in the know) restaurant. Surprises, however, kept popping up out of nowhere.
Just as I stepped out of the underground I heard the faint noise of the bagpipe, and in a few moments I was face to face with a Scottish Highlander troupe, next to them were were Russian Cossacks. The military parade that had kept the Red Square closed on my arrival was not a Soviet-era bonanza of tanks and missiles, but a parade of international traditional army groups. Instead of finding a restaurant to eat I struggled on to inquire about the tickets and times for the parade to start. People directed Dzera and me to a booth in the street with the word “Kacca” (in Cyrillic), i.e., “Kassa” – just as in Arabic. These are small offices with catalogues listing what is on offer culturally around town: theaters, plays, classical music concert, ballet, opera etc. People young and old are always queuing around these booths leafing through the catalogues.
It was amazing to be somewhere where both young and old race each other for the last seats left in the Bolshoi Theater or the Tolstoy Orchestra, instead of just standing in long lines at the cinema, the latter being a rare in Russia.
Around Iftar time, just like the day before, I found myself in a place outside of the busy downtown. I was not hunting for fallen apples this time, but stood on a hilltop overlooking the Olympic stadium and the river and just in front of the magnificent Moscow State University, watching the young ones speed on their bikes and cars, just as the lights of Moscow sparkled to life.