This is the view from my hotel window in Moscow
Just part of the Kremlin Walls
The statue commemorates Kuzma Minin and Dmitry Pozharsky who drove a Polish and Lithuanian army out of Moscow in the early 17th century.
Palaces and Cathedrals, the Moscow Kremlin.
The Guards outside Lenin's Mausoleum
One of the cathedrals in the Kremlin.
My daughte, who had been on a similar trip a year earlier, and had had been studying Russian as one of her A levels taught me the sort of phrases that are useful to a man abroad like "Two beers please: I have lost my suitcase: How do I get to Red Square and How Much?" the last been spoken in a Yorkshire accent and with much incredulity.
She had also acquired a Russian pen friend and had made up a smallparcel of gifts for him, which I was to post. Recognising a почта or post office I entered with my well rehearsed phrase. The lady behind the counter was screaming at somebody down the phone. Finished she slammed the instrument down, turned to me shouted something and my well rehearsed phrases vanished. I gave her the parcel and offered money in silence. She took it, stamped the parcel and I left with a muttered thanks.
We travelled between the museums by the Moscow Underground, the best way to move around the city and always busy. The stations in the city centre are like art galleries themselves, beautifully decorated , mostly with scenes extolling the vitrues of the political system and glorifying the hard work of the people.
Komsomolskya Underground hall. The lines are through the arches. On the right is one of the decorations, St. George, who is patron saint of Russia.
On the following morning we were back on the culture trail and visited the Puchkin Museum of Fine Arts with its great selection of European treasures and the Tretykov Gallery. Given a little free time I visited the ДОМ Книги , or "House of Books". Well stocked though it was I must say that it did not compare favourably with the Waterstone's in Newcastle or Foyle's in London. I spotted a book about the city in English and took it to the counter, offering it with a mutter to the girl. She gave took the book, gave me a slip of paper and pointed to the cash desk across the room. I walked over and handed in my slip and money. I was given a receipt which I then took back to the counter and exchanged it for my book. This is where ARGOS got their ideas!
A subset of our group of students were the Northumberland Guitar group and in the afternoon we visited a school of arts. Our guitarists gave a short recital and in return the school's balalaika players gave a short but wonderful concert.
We had been advised to take gifts on the trip, mainly blank tape cassettes, ball point pens, coloured pencils and the like. They were gratefully received and in return we were given badges, usually with the standard USSR symbols on them.
The Russian "Unknown Soldier " Memorial outside the Kremlin. Following their wedding couples came to lay flowers on it, something that touched us all.
Back to the hotel to pack and collect passports. At this point the hotel admitted that one student's papers were missing, presumed stolen but he would be permitted to continue with us...........for now.
That evening we were bussed to the railway station to transfer to Leningrad. The good thing about Moscow Stations is that the name tells you where the line goes so we were taken to the huge
Ленинград воксал to board the overnight train. If you look in an atlas you will see the line between the two cities is pretty straight. Legend has it that the Tsar drew a line with a ruler between the two cities and said that was where the railway should go but his thumb was over the edge so there is a bump in the line.
The train had compartments with bunks for four people and about midnight we set off on the next stage of our journey.
Me and Vladimir.
At the end of each carriage was a coal fired samovar supplying hot tea, a little different from PG tips but very nice. There was also a toilet,you could see the track through the floor!
We rattled along through the night arriving about 9 am in the Moscow Station. Buses transferred us to our hotel which was, to be honest, a little worse than the one in Moscow, I was given a sinle room with a single bed but at least it was warm.
I think Leningrad, now back to its original name of St. Petersburg, is the most beautiful city I have ever visited and I have managed to get to most European capitals.
Peter the Great's "window on the west", founded early in the 18th century became the capital of Russia and remained so until the revolution when the communist leadership returned to Moscow. The world can be grateful that the new regime did not destroy Peter's city but preserved its historic buildings and rebuilt them after the long and bitter siege of World War 2.
We were first given a tour of the city by bus, still with the same Russian guide who pointed out the Winter Palace and Hermitage to us, plus the great Cathedrals. Most of the buildings are western in style, the exceptions being some of the churches which were constructed along the traditional orthodox lines with "onion domes"
There is so much to see and do in this city that I can't possibly do it justice on my blog.
Naturally we went to the Winter Palace and the Hermitage. The
Palace was built between 1754 and 1762 to the design of an Italian architect. Today it is one of the world's great museums and galleries and needs more than the morning we had to visit it.
The Winter Palace, home of the Tsars, now a museum and art gallery.
Behind the palace is Palace Square, complete with column to Alexander I. It was built in1830 and stands 25.6 metres high.
We also visited the cruiser Aurora, moored in the river Neva and reputed to be the vessel that fired the opening shot of the revolution.
On another day we visited a school for the arts and were given another concert in exchange for our remaining badges and cassettes. As in Moscow the musical quality was high, the students friendly and curious.
Leningrad is an industrial city and the school we visited was in a residential area.
Leningrad flats, shops on the ground floor.
When Peter the Great founded his city he first built, not unnaturally a fortress, the Peter Paul fortress across the river from what is now the main part of the city.
SS Peter and Paul Cathedral in the original fort.
The fort was started in 1703 to protect Russia from the Swedes, how things have changed. The last Tsar and his family were laid to rest in the cathedral a few years ago.
Another magnificent monument in the city is The Bronze Horseman erected in 1782 on the order of Catherine II. Unusually, I think, it is inscribed in Latin and Russian.
Monument to Peter the Great, the man who worked in Chatham Docks, came home and built a navy.
The unusual cathedral in the city is The Cathedral of the Resurrection (Our Saviour of the Spilled Blood), built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was mortally wounded by a terrorist bomb in 1881. More like the traditional Moscow cathedrals than the rest of the classic buildings in Leningrad.
The Cathedral of the Resurrection
Not St. Pauls, St Isaacs
Eventually are short stay came to an end and trouble for one student started. The boy who had had his passport stolen was permitted to travel as far as the airport but no further. Although we had a full list of passengers and passport numbers he was not allowed to leave the country but forced to have a few days extra holiday, with a member of staff. They returned to Moscow and stayed at the British Embassy until a replacement document arrived.
For the rest of us it was goodbye to the USSR after an amazing week.
As far as I was concerned it was a revelation and I have returned several times since. At the time the political system was beginning to crack. Products of the decadent west were much in demand but in extremely short supply.
One of the noticeable things was clothes. We were stared at more for our clothes than our good looks and on reflection it was not surprising. Most people wore clothes that were poorly made and drab looking.
I visited one mens clothing stores to see what bwas on offer and an assistant told me, in good English, that I could have any item in the shop in exchange for the anorak I was wearing. I declined.
Another thing we noticed was the cleanliness of the streets, there was nothing to throw away. The food shops were not overstocked like Sainsbury's and there certainly wasn't the choice.
On the plus side there was no advertising! Posters extolling the system but apart from пепси* on the sides of the buses there was nothing. The same on the TV station I tried to understand.
However the people were wonderful and friendly, curious to know about life in Britain, did we have a car, how much did we earn and so on. I am aware of how things have changed, the city has reverted to its original name too but it remains a fantastic place.
Watch out for CHOBA B РОССИЯ coming to a blog near you.