When I was in 7th or 8th grade I had a civics teacher who was a right-wing, Reagan loving, Joseph McCarthy apologist. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was a card carrying member of the John Birch society to boot.
When she wasn’t maintaining her undying love of Ronald Reagan and explaining how he was going to single-handedly defeat those ruskie commie bastards by the sheer strength of his patriotic mind bullets, she would occasionally show us “educational” films about the “Real Soviet Union.”
I have no idea where these films came from but I wouldn’t be surprised if they had been produced by the Jack Van Impe Ministries or some similar cockamamie enterprise. The Russia depicted in these films was universally bleak, poor, depressing, and full of drunk and/or incompetent communists. The subtext was that Russia and its people were wrong and immoral. To be sure, life in the Soviet Union wasn’t a joy ride for 90% of the population but even at that young age, I knew that 99% of what was in those films was pure unadulterated bullshit.
While those films portrayed no known reality, information from and about the Soviet Union was so scarce and distorted during the Cold War that that is literally all the exposure that many people, myself included, had about the everyday life of millions of people. What’s most frustrating is that I still remember those films from nearly 30 years ago and somewhere in the recesses of my brain they in some small way informed my expectations of Russia in general and Moscow specifically.
My middle school teacher’s attempts at brainwashing notwithstanding, nothing really prepared me for the sheer delight I had in visiting Moscow. It is a huge cosmopolitan city; and the three days I spent there hardly scratched the surface of all it has to offer. It was clean, easy to navigate, most people were helpful (despite my complete lack of Russian), and the restaurants I ate in were all good.
I was staying near the Kremlin and I woke up early to check out Red Square and the surrounding neighborhood. As the Kremlin itself is closed on Thursdays, I then headed over to the Novodevichy Convent via subway.
The convent grounds were nice and some of the buildings were open but a lot of renovation was going on so the main cathedral was closed.
There is a cemetery next to the convent where many famous Russians are buried, including Chekhov, Bulgakov, Krushchev, and Gogol. Unfortunately, the little map of graveyards was only in Russian and the graves were not well marked so I only found Chekhov and then gave up on the rest.
Afterwards I wandered around the neighborhood and then walked next to the river to Gorky Park. It was late October when I visited and they were already setting up the ice rink that probably stays open until early May.
Tickets to the Kremlin include access to Cathedral square which consists of three cathedrals, a palace and two other churches. The palace is inaccessible as it’s President Putin’s residence but you can go into all the churches.
The Kremlin itself is huge but visitors are only allowed access to Cathedral Square and the Armoury Chamber and wandering around aimlessly is strictly forbidden. The Armoury is now a large museum dedicated to the treasures of the Russian state going back to the early Tsarist era. Imperial Russian regalia remains surprisingly intact despite the Revolution of 1917, the ensuing Civil War, and nearly 70 years of Soviet rule.
After the Kremlin, I walked around Red Square and, despite Amanda’s prompting, decided to skip Lenin’s tomb. I’m pretty sure Lenin’s body was replaced with a wax replica long ago.
In the morning I went to Patriarch’s Ponds, a park in a well-to-do neighborhood just north of the Kremlin. Despite the name, there’s only one pond in the park but it’s the setting of the beginning of one of my new favorite books, The Master and Margarita by Mikail Bulgakov.
Afterwards I walked past the newly rebuilt Cathedral of Christ the Savior and then down to yet another park that contains some old Soviet era statues and an excellent Modern Russian art museum.