Red Square photos and Moscow fun facts

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I had a bit of a predicament when it came to a post about Moscow, since not a whole lot really happened. I had good times, certainly, but not bloggably good times. Sure, the doorbell causing a power failure every time it was rung was funny, and the burst water pipe raining into my dorm room at 2am was amusing, and then they shut off the water to the whole building for a few days, so we had to find bathrooms elsewhere (thanks, McDonald’s!), but is that the sort of glorious adventure narrative thou hast come to expect from a magnificent author such as myself?


But anyway, I thought I’d just share the best of the best of my Moscow photos, with fun facts about the city for might-be visitors that always like hearing yet more reasons to visit cool places someday.

Let’s begin, shall we?

St Fucking Basil’s Cathedral

Also known as the world’s most flawless snow globe subject matter, this may well be the most recognizable non-communist Russian thing in the universe. Except maybe for snow. And vodka.

St. Basil's Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow. Russia, duh.
“Try to make it as disorienting as possible. I want visitors to get dizzy and fall down when they look at it.”

Officially titled the Cathedral of the Protection of Most Holy Theotokos of the Moat (yes, really), under orders from Ivan the Terrible in 1555, this is one of the world’s great architectural monuments, and with maybe a few exceptions, deliberately designed to look like nothing else before or since. It’s the kind of thing you can stare at all day. And people do.

St. Basil's, Moscow, Russia
St. Basil’s from the back…or is the front? Who knows!?!?!

Since the square is sort of sloped and no tall buildings stand nearby, St. Basil’s rises from the Earth like a spiky bonfire, which, apparently, was a design inspiration. Good thing Stalin didn’t get a chance to blow it up. He apparently wanted to. Close call!

And if you think the outside is random, the inside is even weirder. It’s like a maze.

Check out St. Basil’s at night, too.

More Red Square Monuments

The square is surrounded by picturesque architectural monuments, though many are quite modern, such as the State Historical Museum and the GUM department store. Yes, there’s a shopping mall right on Red Square.

State Historical Museum, Red Square, Moscow.
State Historical Museum. Looks particularly cool when snowed upon.

At first it would seem weird that a communist empire would place a shopping mall at its cultural nexus (although the same goes for the cathedral), but the GUM shopping center actually dates back to the 1890s, and Stalin converted it to office space anyway. They had to wait until he was dead to switch it back.

GUM department store, Moscow, Russia
GUM department store. Pretty fancy!

The inside is pretty snazzy too:

GUM department store interior, Moscow, Russia
Artsy or crooked? You decide!

On display right smack in the center of town is also Lenin’s Tomb, which, though plenty of controversy has been made of whether or not the body is real, is still pretty interesting to see. Particularly since Lenin didn’t like this idea at all.

Red Square, Moscow, Russia
St. Basil’s, Lenin’s Tomb, and a Kremlin clock tower.

Red Square is huge, by the way:

Red Square, Moscow, Russia
Kremlin, State Historical Museum, and GUM department store.

It’s weird to think about how different it might have been had history unfolded somewhat differently. The cathedral would be gone, Lenin’s Tomb would never have been built, and so on. But such is life.

The Kremlin

Getting a ticket to visit the Kremlin is like asking a canary to use a typewriter. It can be done, but it’s going to be incredibly annoying.

Looking toward the Kremlin, Moscow.
“Yes, I’ll hold. For the rest of my life.”

Once inside, it’s museums, churches, and velvet rope guidelines. The museum collection is rather spectacular (but photo permission costs money) and I think the exterior of the Kremlin is where the coolest shots can be found anyway:

Kremlin, Moscow, Russia
A once-secular, now church-filled Kremlin.

The word kremlin just means fortress, so technically this is just a kremlin, rather than the kremlin. But on the other hand…this is the Kremlin.

The site itself has been a fortress since the 2nd century BC, though the current walls date to the late 1400s, and over the years, palaces and churches have been built and destroyed, over and over again. If things had gone a little differently, there might be an entirely different Kremlin right in the same spot.

Oh, and they’ve got the biggest bell in the world:

Tsar Bell, Moscow, Russia
Ding dong.

If there’s any metaphor most appropriate to describe Russia, it’s the Tsar Bell. Bigger than anyone else’s, beautiful, and massively magnificent. And broken.

Alexander Gardens

You can’t lounge around the White House lawn, but you can hang out with your girlfriend by the Kremlin. Parks, fountains, restaurants, and lots of people make this a great place to wander around. And to me, it didn’t feel touristy. I think it’s because the tourists were probably all Russians, and I couldn’t tell the difference anyway.

Alexander Gardens, Moscow, Russia
It’s not all Soviet-style concrete apartment blocks in Russia.

Properly called Alexander Gardens, you’ll also find a few war monuments. It wouldn’t be a Russian public space without some!

Alexander Gardens, Moscow, Russia
And you thought Russia was all grey.

Luckily for me and my ridiculous ticket fiasco, it’s a nice place to hang out while you’re waiting for your turn to be let into the Kremlin.

The Metro

The Moscow subway system is 50ish years old and cooler than anything the United States is going to come up with for another 50 years. Probably.

Moscow Metro
Technically this photo is contraband.

Fun facts!

  • You can’t take pictures of the stations (but I did!)
  • The metro carries 7 to 9 million passengers per day
  • Station announcements are gender-coded. A male voice calls out the stations as you approach the city; a female voice calls them out as you move away. Because men enter. Obviously.
  • Stray dogs have learned to ride the metro. Yes, really.
  • There are 188 stations.
  • Many stations, particularly along the ring line, are gorgeous. See photo. Oh, and they’re all different, too. You can ride the ring line and just hang out and see neat stuff.

Should you visit Moscow?

Um, yes, you should. While some people visit St. Petersburg and call it a day, Moscow has plenty of great sites as well, and it’s home to 10 million Russians instead of St. Petersburg’s 5. You might not enjoy it as much (as St. Petersburg is spectacular), but for those who think Moscow is ugly, um, no. Parts, maybe.

Oh, plus they have a one-stop-shop rich people mall!

Fancy rich people mall, Moscow, Russia.
Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini and Bentley, together at last!

Because if you’re going to get a fancy car, you might as well get all of them.

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