Tuesday, January 14
Today was our first day visiting the city's hallowed Kremlin. They say that when in Moscow you should visit the Kremlin, but really what they should say is that you should visit Kremlin with Alex, our tour guide, because he was a wellspring of information and lovely droll humor. Among the stories he relayed to us was that of a singularly unfortunate building just inside the entrance to the grounds - it has undergone calamity after calamity, culminating in Napoleon's attempt to burn it to the ground during his defeat and retreat from Moscow. The same cannons stand outside it now.
We also saw the Tsar Bell, the largest bell in the world, at a whopping 202 metric tons! Due to a large chunk of it having cracked and come off, though, it has never been rung.
Farther inside the grounds is a complex of cathedrals, including the Cathedral of Assumption, the oldest and the place where tsars were crowned, the Cathedral of the Archangel, in which forty-six Russian rulers are buried, and the Cathedral of the Annunciation, attached to the quarters of the royal family for their use. Here Alex's commentary on the richly detailed frescoes and engravings was invaluable; without it I would probably not have paid attention to the very interesting depictions of faithful Orthodox Russians going to paradise and the heathen Catholic Europeans being devoured by many-headed fiery monsters.
We also saw a display of royal jewelry and other treasures in the Ivan the Great bell tower. There were flocks of schoolchildren led by guides, and I must admit I tried to (as unobtrusively as possible) listen in on these guides' explanations. It was humbling to realize, however, that although my Russian had undoubtedly improved a lot on the trip - enough that I picked up good information from the guides - my Russian is still light-years behind the average Russian five-year-old's. It's good to have things to reach for though!
Satisfied with our day's trip and looking forward to the visit to the Kremlin's Armory the next day, we went our separate ways after the tour to explore Moscow at the best time of day - dinnertime.