by Lauren on October 2, 2012

We saved the best for last. Moscow, that is. It was our last stop on a whirlwind tour through Russia, on a climbing trip with Alpine Ascents International. Moscow pulsed with grandeur, and I was continually amazed by the enormity of the city’s monuments and squares.

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior (above) was ordered destroyed by Stalin in 1931, in order to make room for a palace that was never built. Boris Yeltsin lay here in state following his death in 2007, prior to being buried.

Our guide for the day was a portly brunette with an cherubic face and a fierce command of English. She prided herself in showing us the traditional sights from a non-traditional point of view. One such place was the willow-treed park from which we spotted the Kremlin.

I felt badly that she was trailed by 15 rugged mountaineers, all of us with varying degrees of sunburn or chapped something or other. We had just summited Mount Elbrus, Europe’s tallest mountain, prior to our final tour in Moscow.

She showed us where to buy the best nesting (Matryoshka) dolls, which were oddly like her: colorful and angelic, yet stern.

On the subject of stern, we next visited the Kremlin, where we were surprised to see a group of becoming soldiers making their rounds.

Seemingly jumping out of the distance was the Cathedral of the Anunciation, with fresco-dotted walls reminding me of those in Italy, whose brilliance took my breath away. Inside the cathedral’s walls, princes were crowned and Tsars were inaugurated; it was very much the cultural center of Russia for several centuries.

Multiple onlookers stopped at the South Portal, decorated with frescoes from the 17th century. I lingered here a few extra moments, drawn in by the warmth of the ornate detail.

Earlier I mentioned seeing a lot of big things in Russia: mountains, buildings, people, etc. And so our next sight fit right in. Our guide explained that the Tsar Bell is the largest in the world at more than 20 feet tall and 25,000 pounds.

The first one fell from its tower in a fire. When it shattered into bits, the pieces were collected to form the a second, larger bell. However, it was again destroyed by fire.

At this point Empress Anna stepped up and ordered a larger one to be built. When a third fire broke out in 1737, understandably anxious guards threw cold water on the still cooling bell, causing a large chunk of it to break away.

Near the bell we discovered its bronze brother, the Tsar Cannon. While the bell has never been rung, the cannon is thought to have been fired once, though its proportions make it technically not a cannon, and used only for ceremonial purposes.

Adjacent to the Kremlin was Red Square, first built as a market. At one point the wooden stalls of the market were burning down regularly, at which point it was dubbed “Fire Square.”

Similar to other prominent squares of the world, Red Square was central to Russian commerce in the 15th and 16th centuries. It was home to royal processions, and less kind things, like executions.

We turned next to the sight every visitor to Russia longs to photograph, St. Basil’s Cathedral. The cathedral was completed in 1561. Surprisingly, its vibrant domes were painted as such approximately one hundred years after it was built.

The cathedral is thought to have been white, originally, and with golden domes. I must have spent an hour gazing upwards at the twisted “onion” domes, trying to capture this memory that I had only seen in travel books.

By the end of our tour, I accidentally became separated from my group. Well, that’s actually a lie, as I try to capture at least a little solo time on every adventure. Needing a little breather, I trekked over to Gogol Boulevard, a tree-lined walkway where you could find lovers out for a stroll and artists selling their wares.

It was along this boulevard that I saw the most striking sculpture art in memory: a group of horses’ heads coming up from the earth, with water running swiftly by them. They were erected as a tribute to Nobel prize-winning writer Mikhail Sholokhov, and represent the red and white facets of the Russian Civil war.

The sculpture was mesmerizing, and while seamlessly incorporated into Gogol Boulevard, it was a stand-out sight not to be missed.

The end of our tour was colored with a twinge of sadness. I had grown accustomed to the quirks and stories of 14 athletic and fun climbing companions. Together we had achieved a lot, and it was coming to a close. And so I did in Russia what I do in America, when I am emotional… I eat ice cream.

Our parting shot was at Baskin Robbins, which was entirely fancy and not the more casual kind of digs you would find in the states. Surrounded by young women dressed to the nines, my roommate Kathryn and I felt slightly out of place.

But we didn’t care. Those gals with heels probably hadn’t just summited Europe’s tallest mountain.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Siân October 2, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Another great post on your trip to Russia! The story of
Christ the Saviour is really interesting. I first went to Russia in 1990 when
it was still the Soviet Union (!) and there was a huge swimming pool on the
site where the Cathedral now stands. The original cathedral had been blown up
in the 1930s to make way for a huge monument to socialism that Stalin wanted to
build. I can clearly remember driving past the site and seeing all the steam
rising from the most ginormous swimming pool. Later when I worked in Moscow, I lived
a few streets away from there and saw the construction of the cathedral. It’s a very
impressive building, despite it being built so recently.

Also, did your guide tell you the (gruesome) story of St
Basil’s cathedral? When it was built, Ivan the Terrible decided it was the most
beautiful building he’d ever seen. He – apparently – had the eyes of the
architects gouged out so that they could never recreate it anywhere else. Truly,

Glad that you managed to get some solo time to see the fanatic
sculpture on Gogolevsky Boulevard. And especially to get ice cream!


Siân October 2, 2012 at 9:40 pm

Ummm…that should say ‘fantastic’ not ‘fanatic’…!


Lauren Schaad October 6, 2012 at 2:23 am



Lauren Schaad October 6, 2012 at 2:22 am

Siân your comments are wonderful, thank you! I did indeed hear that “terrible” story, and should not have left it out. I’m envious of the time you spent there, sounds like it was a truly enriching experience for you.


Nancy Schaad October 5, 2012 at 3:49 am

Wow — these photos are wonderful — such color and drama. And I love your time alone story. The sculpture of the horses is amazing. Nancy


Lauren Schaad October 6, 2012 at 2:23 am

Thanks for reading, Nancy!


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