Monday, December 16, 2013
A few weeks ago we went to buy ice skates since we had been hearing about the great places to ice skate. Snow was late this year, so last Friday we decided there was finally enough snow to go. Elena brought along a friend, and we took a bus several stops over to Gorky Park.
The first thing we saw was a huge Christmas tree made of draping white lights in the middle of a square. Just when we were about to take a picture in front of it, two Russisan guys came over and hopped in our picture! It was very funny, but we were disappointed because the picture didn't come out well.
Past the Christmas tree were arches of lights that formed tunnels. It was so pretty to walk through the colorful tunnels of light. Once again we wanted a picture. We stood in a tunnel and got ready for our picture, and to our surprise, more Russians hopped in our picture, this time holding a baby over our heads!
We payed the entrance fee and put our skates on. I walked over to the ice thinking "This shouldn't be hard!" but when I stepped on, I was surprised at how slippery it was! My skating was simple and rusty, but at least I didn't fall. It was Elena's friend's first time, so Mom and I left them pretty quickly. There were large paths of ice through trees. A few benches, lights, and restaurants were sprinkled around. The paths were a lot of fun to skate down...much better than going in circles! There were many Russians who whipped by us, and definitely knew what they were doing.
I was tempted to try some tricks from my few years of skating lessons, but I didn't do any except turning 180º because I knew I would fall! After an hour or two, we stopped at a little coffee shop and ordered some hot chocolate. We had to sit outside, but the hot chocolate kept us warm and the snow was very prettily falling around us—we actually had a layer of snow covering us when we got up. After one more lap we took the bus back home.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Beautiful white flakes of snow were falling outside my window. I knew I couldn't stay in on such a fabulous winter day so I bundled up and grabbed my camera and the "Moscow Walks" book ready for an adventure. My destination was the Krutitskoye Ecclesiastical Residence a short distance from Proletarskaya metro.
A small monastery was built on this hill (kruta, from which the name is derived) in the 13th century to protect against the Tartar-Mongo invaders. The monastery was rebuilt in the 16th century when the residence for the Moscow metropolitan (Orthodox bishop) moved here. The history of this property becomes very interesting at this point. Catherine the Great closed the monastery in 1788 in her move to secularize many church buildings. It then began to be used as army barracks and it's even believed that the Russians who began the Moscow fire of 1812 were tortured here by Napoleon's army. More recently in the 20th century the Soviets turned the barracks into a military prison which is still on the grounds. Today it is back in the hands of the Russian Orthodox church.
Tucked away in a neighborhood I approached the large iron gates surrounding the monastery, carefully watching a few wild dogs mingle in the courtyard. Not interested in me, they turned and ran out a gate at the far end. Walking through the door the place looked deserted. Some colorfully painted clapboard houses looked deserted, yet the steps were shoveled. A few people cut through the yard from one street to the next. I walked on in silence gazing up at the red brick domes of the Uspensky Sobor (Assumption Cathedral). This monastery has a completely different feel than any of the other monasteries and cathedrals I have experienced in Moscow so far. Built in the Moscow Baroque style that was popular at the time, the Russian architecture began pulling in Baroque elements that were popular in Central Europe. I think the red brick gives the monastery a heavy Russian feel.
I turned to the left and walked around the cathedral. A small orchard and pine trees greeted me in the back. Ironwork patterns protected the windows. Continuing around, a heavy lattice gate led back into the courtyard. This section where the gate tower is surprised me. It was built in a different style than the heavy brick architecture. Fresco paintings on exterior walls had survived the weather of hundreds of years.
I circled around to where I had begun and made my way up a flight of stairs for a better view. At the top the door knocker was wrapped in old strips of fabric that were tucked into the door. I pushed, it creaked open. I stepped into the dim room. As with all cathedrals an old woman was sitting at a counter selling long, thin, beeswax candles. A couple stood together as they lit some candles. I looked around in awe at the gilded art around me. I never would have guessed this abandoned place was still used for worship.
Monday, December 9, 2013
Claiming to be the oldest monastery in Moscow the NovospasskyMonastery, or New Savior, dates back to the early 14th century. Of course none of the original buildings remain and it is actually in a different location, which is slightly disappointing when you read "oldest" in a book, but the buildings there today date back to 1645 so in my mind it still carries a place of distinction in history. Ivan the Great had the monastery moved to its current location. The Sheremetev and Romanov boyars took over patronage, then when Mikhail Romanov became Tsar in 1612 the buildings went through a complete overhaul. Many early Romanovs are buried in a building here. Today the monastery appears as it did in that period.
Thick stone walls fortify the monastery containing an array of buildings. A massive yellow neoclassical bell tower (1750-1785) is easy to spot from across the Moskva River. There are several buildings on the property including the Pokrovsky (Intercession) church and the House Of Loaf-Fiving hospital and monks' living quarters. During the Soviet years it was used as a prison camp then as a police drunk tank with cells to hold arrested intoxicated citizens.
I wandered around the compound with the snow gently falling, dotting my hair with a soft, downy layer. I gazed up at the pale blue onion domes with brilliant gold stars shimmering in the grey sky. The central gold dome stood out on this bleak day. I stopped to take a picture of some red berries hanging from a tree, then quietly watched a monk walk by. This is a working monastery/convent. I'm actually a bit confused as to which it is because I found it called both in my books and online. An aura of stillness hung in the air created by more than the weather. This is a place of quiet meditation, worship and respect.
Feeling the coldness of the air begin to permeate my body I wandered into the main cathedral. As I stepped through the door I pulled my scarf over my head as the Russian women do. My breath caught as I gazed at the frescoed walls of the long hallway. With soft footsteps I slowly followed the women, bent over with age and laden with heavy coats as they traveled down the hallway, pausing to stop at golden icons and kiss them. I followed up some steps and around a corner until we ended in the main room.
I had to pause and collect myself. I did not expect the brilliant blue walls and frescos to be in such good condition. These walls were created in the mid 1600's. Thousands of fingers have traced a profile and lips have kissed a saint. I stood unable to move, there was so much to take in. The room was lit by a few windows and stands of thin beeswax candles where visitors were quietly igniting the wicks in symbolism of forgiveness of sins and to glorify God. I found a seat by a window and sat down. A row of monks sat opposite me defined by their long black robes and beards. Nuns huddled together as a gypsy woman entered with her baby tightly bound in a pile of blankets. She approached the monks, begging for a blessing.
My attention was pulled to the center of the room where a monk, surrounded by a group, stood chanting. I could smell the incense coming from the gold ball he was swinging. I heard a tinkling sound like money dropping in a bowl. I never figured out what it was, but the metallic sound reverberated throughout the room creating an eerie song with the priest's monotone voice. A woman stood alone in the corner weeping. A feeling of aloneness swept over me. The people in the center crowded in to look at something. They bent and kissed and cried. A woman passed me kissing the wall as I rose to understand what attracted the group of people. I could see a body covered in lace laying on a short table. I would not have known it was a body except for the two hands outside the lace, crossed on the woman's chest.
I've asked around trying to figure out what was going on. Did I stumble upon an Orthodox funeral or did I witness the worship of a dead person? I was ready to leave the atmosphere of complete desperation behind.
Heading out of the compound I noticed a cute looking restaurant located in the courtyard that looked like a cozy place to stop in for lunch. I will return when the sun is warm and life springs from the ground to this quiet Orthodox church.
Monday, December 2, 2013
Several people, Russian and American alike, commented that they preferred the Russian Museum over the Hermitage. Considering that I was looking for inside activities while in St. Petersburg, this sounded like a good option.
The Mikhailovsky Palace was originally built in 1819-182117 by Alexander I for his fourth son, Mikhail. In 1898 Alexander III bought the palace and converted it into a public museum. Sadly, most of the interior looks rather institutionalized with plain plaster walls covering what I would guess were ornate crumbling ones. But when you go up the main staircase to the first floor exhibits, the interior has been beautifully restored. Frescoed ceilings and gilded plasterwork took my attention away from the art. I really have no idea what was displayed in those rooms because the setting was so beautiful.
Over 300,000 items ranging from thirteenth century icons to textiles, to folk art are on display throughout the palace. What I discovered here was that I love Russian art. Russians are considered a non-expressive people, but in their art depth and feeling comes through. Faces radiate joy, pain and sorrow. Exquisite detail is depicted in costume and dress. The embroidery on peasant dresses and head scarves looked realistic. Bold color made even the dreariest winter scene enticing. Russia truly has her art masters.