This past Friday, my AIFS group and I hopped on an express train to make the trip to Moscow! Moscow is very, very different from Saint Petersburg. While it has a more serious setting, it is also a bigger tourist center than SPB, so it’s more accepting of Americans. That little difference really helped to make the trip so exciting.
On Saturday, we started off our morning by going to some of the most famous sites in Russia: Saint Basil’s Cathedral and the Red Square (Кра́сная пло́щадь)! Saint Basil’s is soooo beautiful!! While not as big as I had imagined, it is still fantastically painted and designed. It was commissioned by my second favorite tsar, Ivan the Terrible, to commemorate Russia’s capture of Kazan and Astrakhan. Originally a church, it was changed into a museum in 1928 due to anti-theist campaigns under the Soviet Union. I’m really happy we went in the morning because I was able to capture the most stunning picture of the morning light hitting it juuuuust right ✨
After you walk past Saint Basil’s you’re directly on the Red Square. For me, it felt a little surreal, because the square holds so much of Russia’s history. It is the epicenter of Moscow, not only the resting place of Saint Basil’s but also for the Kremlin, the eternal flame, the historic merchant street quarters, and Lenin’s Mausoleum. Different tsars have been coronated on the square – Napoleon walked on the stone streets of the square as he invaded – the most significant military parades happened on the square. It felt crazy to think about all the souls that have walked there and to add my own to that list.
We also spent the morning exploring a cemetery in Moscow, home to many famous Russians. Because it wouldn’t be Russia without at least one cemetery tour. I found it very fascinating. All the headstones were very large and intricately carved. It was clear that the people who were laid to rest there were very loved, important, and were an integral part of Russia’s story. One of my favorite graves was Nikita Khrushchev’s. It’s a small statue done in black & white, which was on purpose, to show his dual leadership. One side is black, inspired by his dedication to Stalinism, and the other side white, to show his humanity. What was most interesting, was that it was in that graveyard, not in the cemetery by Lenin’s Mausoleum, where Stalin and other politicians lie. Also in the cemetery was Stalin’s wife, who killed herself while married to him.
For our second day here, we woke up early again and went back to the Red Square, but this time to see Lenin’s Mausoleum and the Kremlin! I was very excited about it, because as I’ve said before, Lenin is very interesting to me, along with Trotsky. Now, in order to convey my reaction to you, you will need some background information. I’ve never been to a mausoleum. I didn’t know what a mausoleum included. I just expected to see a coffin, take a picture, think about it for a little bit, and move on. Nope. NOPE. We had to go through security (as usual), cameras and phones were strictly prohibited, hands were not allowed in pockets, and then we were told to file into the red marble building. It was pitch black. With a lot of Russian soldiers as security. When I went down the stairs and turned the corner, I didn’t know what to expect.
But there he was. In a glass and black marble, coffin lied Lenin’s perfectly preserved body. My jaw hit the floor. I had read that Lenin wished to be buried when he died, but what I didn’t know, was that those wishes were ignored and he had been embalmed and preserved for those who visited to see. He died in the mid-1920’s. And he looked like he was in his 50’s! That moment has to be hands-down my favorite moment of my entire time in Russia, thus far. Doesn’t matter if you’re a history or a political science buff, to see Vladimir Lenin perfectly preserved in front of you’re very own eyes, is surreal! As I exited, I had to pick my jaw off the ground and recompose myself, before I went to go see Stalin’s grave.
Outside of Lenin’s Mausoleum are buried many influential people from Russian history. Stalin, Brezhnev, Yuri Gagarin, etc. Again, a very surreal experience to be at the graves of such influential people. Thankfully, I was allowed to take pictures in their cemetery and managed to snap one.
After that, we went to go tour the Kremlin. Russia has many different Kremlins because they’re technically ancient fortresses, but Moscow’s Kremlin is especially historic and is also the residence of President Putin. It was FREEZING and we had to walk around the fortress for a few hours, but it was worth it. Parts of the Kremlin on the inside are used as a museum, but the outside it where it is at. It has several churches, where famous tsars such as Nicholas II would play and go to church. My favorite part was our tour guide telling us about mass there. Russian people didn’t use pews and their mass could go as long as 6 hours, but it didn’t matter because “straight posture is the physical gift; the salvation of the soul is the real one”. The morning sun also did me another huge favor and hit the cathedrals just right. I captured some beautiful pictures of them and I think they really did them justice.