Russia, My Russia: Part IV

The previous parts of Husam’s travelogue are as follows: part I, II, and III. Enjoy.

The sun graced Moscow with its presence on my fourth day in town, and so I therefore decided to stay outdoors and visit the open-air memorial known as Park Pobedy (“pobeda” means “victory” in Russian).

This place commemorates what the Russians refer to as the Great Fatherland War, or what we call the Second World War.

The vast open passage to the memorial park is absolutely breathtaking:

There are rows and rows of water fountains gushing dramatically upward and a giant obelisque piercing the air, topped with sculptures of angels of peace.

There is the sense of beauty here, and violence; violence that remains in Russian memory.

Inside the park are various exhibitions showcasing tanks, fighter airplanes and jets, battleships, cannons and all types of heavy and light weaponry of the war. The exhibits are scattered beside ponds and forest groves. Here, fountains bristle with golden sunrays and falling leaves. Attached to all this are places of worship representing all three Abrahamic religions as a way to pay respect to the millions of different soldiers, those who joined hands during the defense of their shared Homeland.

Following this dramatic excursion, I went to the Kievsky Train Station and proceeded towards the house of Leo Tolstoy, a place not to be missed by literary buffs arriving in Moscow. I then crossed the river on a magnificent glass bridge and walked towards the famous Gorky Park (listen for a mention of it in the Scorpions’ “Wind of Change”).

Close by, there is another peculiar park, this one dedicated to fallen monuments. Some call it the “statue cemetery” as it also now home to many sculptures that were neglected or removed from their podiums after the fall of communism. This is a haunting (if not haunted) place.

There I was able to get a very close look at the modern statue of Peter the Great commemorating one of his many feats (this one, I believe, is dedicated to his establishment of the Russian navy). Walking along the river, I reached a pedestrian-only area that leads to the prestigious Zamoskvoreche neighborhood and the famous Triyatkov Gallery. To reach the gallery I had to cross the river again over a small bridge, this one planted with metal trees bearing fruits that looked, to my eyes, like locks. I was initially bewildered by this.

There, brides and grooms were making champagne toasts, and taking pictures with the lovely backdrop of tens of dancing water fountains embedded in the river itself. I quickly realized that, on the metal trees, thousands of locks were inscribed with the initials and dates of the lovers and couples who put them there, as a means of symbolizing their union and unbreakable bond. Well, that finally made sense.

As for the Tretiakov Gallery, it proved to be even bigger than the others I have seen so far. And entire history of Russian art is contained within its walls. Once again, I was amazed at just how much art, in all its forms, Moscow has to offer. It’s a continuous visual onslaught, and one surprise after another, relentless and vivid.

On my fifth day and last day in Moscow, I went back to the Red Square, now that it was open again. I stood and marveled at the beauty of the architecture and its historical significance.

Who doesn’t know the colorfully domed St Basil’s Cathedral? And yet, who knows what price was paid for its beauty?

St. Basils’ cost the architect his life. Ivan the Terrible, who commissioned the church to celebrate his annexation of Kazan (the Tatar capital), ordered him dead after seeing his work. This was done to make sure that the architect would not create anything like it again, that St. Basil’s would remain unique and unsurpassed. Amazing, the sort of logic the ancient tyrants had.

One of the Red Square’s less known attractions, is the podium where the Czar used to speak. Yet the Lenin mausoleum, opposite the GUM Mall, is nearly as famous as St. Basil’s, I believe (although it doesn’t show up as much on postcards).

I then visited more of the main metro stations, that were, and still are, the pride of communist architecture, built to impress the world with the mighty new Russian order. It was convenient and cheap to utilize the metro to get to the railway station, where I caught the afternoon train headed to the the ex-capital St Petersburg (or Leningrad, as it was called during Soviet Times). This city was awarded the status of Heroic City following WWII and the horrifying Nazi blockade. Its legacy of perseverance lives on to this day.

The great distance to St. Petersburg was covered swiftly by the Aurora Train that zipped directly from the capital to the former capital. I spent five hours enjoying the endless and deep forests, glittering, rivers and vast expanses of green landscapes studded with elegant wooden summer houses (better known in Russian as “datchas”).

I reached St Petersburg around ten at night and took the underground to my strategically located hotel on the famous Nevsky Prospect street. Right across the street was the stroganoff palace where the original beef stroganoff was developed. And yet, what excited me more was the fact that I was now only five minutes away from the Hermitage, one of the greatest museums in the world.

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  1. By ArabComment » Russia, My Russia: Part V on February 17, 2008 at 9:08 am

    […] The previous installment of Husam’s travelogue can be found here. […]