I was impatient to go through the main gates into Red Square but Galina held us all up with some unnecessary commentary and so I wandered off ahead of the group and towards the Resurrection Gate (demolished by Stalin in 1931 and rebuilt in 1995) and into a cobbled area next to which on one side was the green and ochre Kazan Cathedral (demolished by Stalin in 1936 and rebuilt in 1995) and the red brick Russian historical museum (which for some reason Stalin didn’t demolish) and in front of me Red Square, a place that I had never dared to imagine that I would ever visit.
Etched in my mind are grainy images from the 1960s of Russia’s annual May Day Parade when a cheerless looking Politburo would sit close to Lenin’s tomb and watch an endless procession of goose stepping troops and weapons of mass destruction that were going to wipe us off the face of the earth troop by in what seemed to be a provocative display deliberately choreographed to create paranoia and fear in the west.
The pictures were always dull, grainy and grey and my image of Moscow was always that it was a lacklustre, soulless and dreary place so what a surprise it was now to find a vibrant and colourful scene, a square brimming with activity and effervescent energy, a vibrant place with happy smiling people, exciting and lively and crowned by the iconic brightly painted onion domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral at the opposite end.
Like a child on Christmas Day finding a pile of presents at the bottom of the bed I wanted to dive in straight away, the sun was shining and I was at last released from the confines of the tour bus and I just wanted to soak it up but Kim was tired and hungry so for the time being I had to concede to the lure of the shopping mall and the promise of a restaurant within.
Not just any shopping mall however but ‘Glavnyi Universalnyi Magazin’ or GUM, the most famous department store in Moscow. The once grim and dingy store filled with the endless queues that epitomised the Soviet era is now a fashionable, airy building full of fountains, flowers, bars and restaurants that stretches along one side of Red Square.
This mall was built in the late nineteenth century to replace a covered market and originally contained over a thousand stores. It is built on three levels with a vaulted glass roof and even today resembles a modern cathedral. On this first visit, thirsty and hungry we ignored the rows of designer shops and made for No. 57 CTOΛOBAЯ, the recommended restaurant on the third floor with a noble history of providing good quality, reasonably priced food for the proletariat. We picked up a tray, waited in line, selected our food and took it to our chosen table and it turned out to be really, really good, probably the best meal we had had so far in Russia.
After the meal we left the mall and went back into Red Square where the sun was still shining and we made our way though the security lines which were there on account of a youth sporting event and made our way towards St. Basil’s Cathedral with its complex architectural design and nine iconic domes rising like the flames of a bonfire into the sky.
There wasn’t enough time to go in today so we thought we’d leave that until later but we walked around the exterior, gazing with amazement at the riot of tiered gables, tented roofs and twisted onion domes, each of which contains an individual chapel, and enjoying being in this very special place.
By now it was approaching two o’clock and the appointed rendezvous time with Galina and the coach so we swept through Red Square in the knowledge that we would be back tomorrow to spend more time there, through a street market where once again Kim suffered from indecision about Matryoshka doll selection so we purchased none and back to Resurrection Gate where Galina gathered everyone up in a mother hen sort of way and escorted us back to the coach.