Guest Writer Carol Santora Reports on her trip to Moscow.

Over the years, we have enjoyed many novels that included history and intrigue about the Kremlin, Red Square, KGB/Lubyanka, Vladimir Putin and recently the Hotel Metropol. This summer we had the opportunity to visit Moscow and explore these sights with our 12-year old granddaughter, her mom and her Russian Fencing Coach as our tour guide. What an adventure! It was more beautiful and more fun than we had imagined.

Our granddaughter prepared for the trip by reading some novels about Russian history including Anastasia and The Family Romanov. We planned what was most important for her to see and do. Her coach met us at the airport, and we took the train and subway to our hotel, an experience in itself seeing the true Russian population. Our hotel, The Four Seasons, is located in a convenient spot overlooking the Kremlin and park where the underground mall globe was visible. It afforded great daytime and nighttime photographs from the roof.

                                                                         St. Basil Cathedral
                            GUM Department Store entrance
                             GUM Department Store

We enjoyed strolling the streets, seeing the Red Square and the gorgeous St. Basil Cathedral with its colorful onion domes. We toured the famous GUM Department store with multiple stations of food, its famous ice cream, caviar, chocolates, high-end clothes stores, etc. It covers half a block.

                       painted wooden Matryoshka stacking dolls

                               flower hair wreathes

The outside stalls around Red Square were fascinating, with displays of the famous painted wooden Matryoshka stacking dolls (a must!), furs, food and colorful flower hair wreathes. The Matryoshka dolls represent motherhood. They have a “secret” inside in that there are descending sizes to the last tiny baby doll at the end. Originally the dolls were of traditional dress styles and color but now you can find all colors, styles and sizes. We were surprised to find ones representing all the soccer teams from the World Cup held here in July! In addition, there was a history festival while we were in Moscow that had displays all over the city covering different historical periods.

                                    Kremlin night view
                           View of Kremlin from the water

We needed tickets to visit the Kremlin itself. Kremlin means “fortress inside a city” and it is surrounded by walls and towers. The security is sound; many guards and metal detectors in this city.

                                           Double-Headed Eagle
                                                       Cathedral Square

We crossed through the lines with Coach’s help (he is a big guy!) thru the Kremlin Towers, passing the striking double-headed golden eagle (now the emblem of Russia) and then enjoyed the Cathedral Square inside the walls. In particular, we liked the Ivan the Great Bell Tower which marks the exact center of Moscow, and the Dormition Cathedral, where the Tsars were all crowned. We also noted the Grand Kremlin Palace where the President resides. The next highlight was visiting the Armoury building to see costumes, weapons (epees) and coaches of the royal past. We were extremely lucky in that the weather was perfect, and our 12 year old had plenty of energy and curiosity

                                                   Hotel Metropol
                                                                   Children’s Mall

Our next priority was completing the Mall run! After GUM there is the Underground Mall that is visible with a beautiful globe sphere above ground and descends several floors not far from the Kremlin walls. Traversing down the street we passed the Bolshoi Ballet and the Art Nouveau style Hotel Metropol, of the famed “A Gentleman in Moscow”. The next mall of great interest was the Children’s Mall. This was an incredible structure that had numerous floors dedicated solely to children, from clothes, to toys, to food stores, barber shop, movies and entertainers. We had not seen a mall like this before. The city of Moscow did seem very child friendly. There were parks everywhere and many young people. That night we strolled the streets adjacent to the Red Square that were strung with beautiful twinkling lights. People were watching and enjoying the moment. We would never get to see everything….

                                                                               Peter the Great
                              Floating Bridge

Our last day we visited the famous and beautiful Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. This has been the sight of interesting events: the canonization of the Romanovs, the site of the First Russian President Boris Yeltsin as he lay in state, and where the rock band Pussy Riot was arrested for political opposition. Nearby, we boarded a boat on the Moskva River which offered an excellent viewpoint for a number of landmarks. We viewed the statue of Peter the Great, a monument to commemorate 300 years of the Russian Navy which Peter the Great established. We breezed past Gorky Park and had a lovely view of the entire Kremlin Fortress from the water. Lastly, we had a great exposure to the new public park Zaryadye and its Floating Bridge. This is the first major green space in Moscow in 50 years and was conceived by an American-led design team.

                                                                             Sunset at White Rabbit

Last, but certainly not least were the fine restaurants where we dined. First, we experienced the gift of eating traditional Russian Georgian food at a local restaurant with Coach and his friends. What a feast with numerous continual toasts!! Lots of eggplant, beets, lamb and pastries. The second and third nights we went high…skyscraper high to “Sixty” and the “White Rabbit”. Both were just exceptional in food and ambiance, not to be missed. We did not stay to experience the Russian night life but were told it is quite boisterous – energetic and cheerful and a bit rowdy. Maybe next time…..

Addendum: After Moscow we traveled to Milan and then on to Lake Maggiore. We stayed at the lovely Palazzo Aminta with beautiful vistas near the charming little town of Stresa. The primary highlight here is taking a boat to visit the three main islands: Isola Madre, Isola Pescatori and Isola Bella. There are gorgeous gardens, white peacocks, restored historical palazzos and fun trattorias. Not a bad ending!

Note:  All photographs in this article were taken by the author, Carol Santora, at http://cmsantora.com/cmsantora/Welcome.html.