Friday, May 10— Despite having been in Moscow for three days, my parents still hadn’t been to Red Square or the Kremlin. The holiday had made that impossible. So that was Priority #1 on Friday.
Daniel came to the apartment and we took a quick car ride to the Kremlin’s entrance, speeding along the embankment and zipping past the Lenin library. Daniel left us in the Alexander Garden for a few minutes while he went to “exchange one piece of paper for another,” in order to have the proper credentials to escort us into the Kremlin.
We took the steps up and went through the metal detectors before crossing the bridge into the Kremlin proper. It was a bit cloudy, but overall a lovely day for this outing. What follows is a never-ending series of photos of us standing in front of things. I’ve tried to cut out a lot of it, but it would be an inaccurate depiction of the day to completely leave out the constant stopping and posing I (we?) was subjected to:
We made it into the Kremlin’s main square and looked at the Cathedrals. There’s Uspensky cathedral and the Cathedral of the Assumption and, actually, those might be two different names for the same cathedral. I can’t remember and I can never keep them straight. They’re not all that different from one another. Mom kept up with Daniel while I made sure we didn’t lose Dad.
I’ve never really appreciated the Kremlin cathedrals since the first time I went there in 1990. Back then we happened to be lucky enough to be the only ones touring them and it was cold outside and very dark. Stepping in from the drizzle, the cathedrals glowed with warmth and contrasted with the black sky in the windows. The lamplight reflected in the gold in the icons and made you feel like you were in a holy refuge, saved from the darkness of the world. You can kind of get that idea in a photo snatched from someone else’s Internet post:
But, with the exception of that first visit, the cathedrals are packed with loud tourists and there’s always been at least some sunlight peeking in through the windows, dulling the icons’ glow. So it’s always been kind of a letdown since that spectacular first experience.
We spent some time walking through the gardens and marveling at the particularly Russian ambition of creating the world’s largest bell. They very nearly succeeded, but casting that much bronze is a tricky business. A fire broke out while the bell was cooling and workers threw water on the fire, which caused the bell to crack.
Oops. Reminds me of the time I poured cold water into a glass pitcher that had just held hot tea. The gardens were lovely and Putin’s new helipad is surrounded by lilac bushes.
We made our way out of the Kremlin and back down into the Alexander Garden, which was still festooned for the day before’s Victory Day. The Garden has monuments to each of the “Hero Cities” of WWII, with soil from each city enclosed beneath the marble slabs. Twelve cities were awarded the status of “Hero Cities” for valor during the war.
This year’s decoration of the Hero-Cities memorials reflected recent events in Ukraine. On May 2, just one week earlier, over 30 people had burned to death as a result of fighting in Odessa. The memorial to Odessa was piled particularly high with flowers:
We then took a walk through Red Square, since my parents had only been able to view it from the periphery earlier. As you can see, this resulted in more photos in the series “Wilsons Standing In Front Of Things.”
Then we popped over into GUM for a snack again. This time we had an assortment of sweet blinchiki: apricot jam, forest berry jam, and nutella.
We hopped on the metro and Daniel helped me get my parents through the transfer station. Thank heaven for Daniel. We said our goodbyes and began our long journey to my friend Sasha’s house. Once on the train I knew I could relax: we were going to the very end of the line….no need to worry about fast and tricky entrances or exits.
Sasha came to pick us up at the metro, apologizing profusely for being late (which he was not). His new apartment is gorgeous; last year he was still living in his old apartment but he brought me over to this one so I could see how it was undergoing renovations. The results are phenomenal: the space is warm, inviting, comfortable and light. I am jealous of the kitchen, which has pull-put pantry doors and a convection oven. But the highlight of the apartment, of course, was little Nastya, Sasha’s 7-month old daughter.
We were joined by old friends Seryozha and Yana.
You can really tell that they’re in a very new place: this was the first time they had to put an extra leaf in the Ikea dining room table. The boys undertook a long discussion of how to best do it, carefully examining the underside of the table. Sasha’s wife Ira waved the instructions and she and Yana just pulled the table apart, easy peasy. Then began the eating….
In true Russian fashion, guests are always overfed. Ira treated us to her delicious borscht, notable because the beets don’t lose their beety color. Then we ate “French-style” meat, which is a sort of casserole, and finished up the meal with genuine Russian ice cream. Russian ice cream, as opposed to say, Nestle products, is made with real cream, is very high in fat, and doesn’t have preservatives.
We had a little bit of vodka and Seryozha taught my parents to breathe out before doing a shot and to eat a pickle afterwards.
It was such a huge joy to see Sasha with his baby. I thought I was going to explode with happiness for him.
We were all so exhausted that we called a cab to take us home; it took an hour to arrive, and I fell asleep in the car on the way home. I had hoped to see Anya that night but physical exhaustion won the day.
It was such a joy to be with Rachel’s Russian friends in their home. One of the things I like best about visiting in a Russian home is that you remove your shoes as soon as you enter the house and are given some slippers or house shoes to wear while you’re there. Imagine how much cleaner my floors would be if we did that! Sasha is just so friendly! All four of them seemed to be happy to meet Rachel’s parents, but Sasha appeared to be really excited to meet us. It was such a welcoming atmosphere, that we were not uncomfortable at meeting these new friends at all.
We had quite an agricultural discussion. Seryozha had requested some seeds from the US. We took watermelon, pumpkin, tomato, various peppers, cantaloupe, but were not able to bring the requested peanut or sweet potato seeds. He works in the agricultural field and was genuinely interested in the seeds we had brought him. Rachel also took a baby gift for the newest member of Sasha’s family.
The hold-your-breath trick to drinking the vodka was helpful. The dill pickle afterwards was my favorite part of that experience.
It was such a good day! Rachel has made some amazing friends on her many travels to Russia. They seem to love her and are excited to see her again; that makes any Mama happy!