Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sunday in Moscow

After touring the honey festival - and sampling an insane amount of honey - on Sunday, the four of us - Rhea, Polly, Dima and I - meandered around Tsaritsyno park, where the festival had been set up. Despite the chilly weather, the park was full of people out enjoying the gorgeous grounds. Tsaritsyno first belonged to Tsarina Irina, the sister of Boris Godunov, before it ended up in the hands of Catherine the Great two centuries later, in 1775.

The entrance to the park

And those were some very capable hands. Catherine liked to have her fingers in all the pies at the time, so to speak, and when it came to renovating Tsaritsyno, she insisted on total control. Which probably drove her first architect, Vasilii Bazhenkov, nuts. The estate combined elements of traditional Russian, Gothic, Classical, and Arabic styles...before Catherine decided everything was unacceptable and had the whole place gutted. Her second architect attempted to cater to her (man, I'm really making Catherine sound like a "b with an itch" as my mother will sometimes say!) but the Empress' death at the end of the 18th century put an end to any renovations and the grounds and buildings gradually fell into a state of dilapidation.

Walking into Tsaritsyno Park

There's an abandoned fairy-tale atmosphere to the park that still lingers, I think. The old ruins of the palace and buildings are still there, although everything has been rebuilt in a massive reconstruction project, completed in 2006-2007. The original pathways, fountains, gardens, bridges, palace, church and lake are all beautifully restored and it seemed to me (although I've unfortunately never been) to mimic what I imagine Versailles to be like. You can take a virtual tour of the grounds here!

The fountain: water sprays up in time to classical music! Beautiful!

The lake - a huge expanse with several old fashioned bridges spanning it

The fall colours were absolutely stunning, and we saw a lot of young families taking impromptu photo shoots with the leaves.

Here you can see the old ruins (in the foreground) and the newly reconstructed palace in the background

In addition to the many young families, tourists, and couples strolling the grounds, I also glimpsed some art students working on their sketches (how I wish I was actually talented and could do the same, it looks so poetic!):

How beautiful is this palace? I should have taken more close-up pictures of the detailing, but it honestly reminded me of the royal icing trimming on a gingerbread house. Which just added to the whole "abandoned fairy-tale/Hansel and Gretl" vibe I was getting.

The Church of Our Lady Life-Giving Spring

While the four of us were walking around the grounds, two young twenty-somethings approached us, one of them armed with a very state-of-the-art looking camera. It turned out they worked for Moscow's official tourism magazine and were doing a piece on tourists to Tsaritsyno. They interviewed us for a few minutes, then snapped some pictures of us - it was very cool! Afterwards, we were all freezing so we piled into Dima's car and headed to Old Arbat for Starbucks.

Back in Canada, I'm not the biggest Starbucks person. Its nice for the odd treat, especially when you're at Chapters, but I am far from one of the Starbucks afficiondos who rattle off grande caramel macchiatos like its nobody's business. Still, how happy was I to walk into the Starbucks here?! Price-wise, it was about the same as back home - my tall green tea was 110 roubles, which is about $3.25. But when it comes to Starbucks, its also about the atmosphere I think - that cozy, chill feel where you can just sit back, warm your hands on a hot drink, and people-watch. Which is exactly what we did.

One couple next to us were getting their engagement photos done. Yes, at Starbucks. According to Dima, in Russia this is a way to show off how wealthy you are (actually, I remember reading somewhere how, when the first McDonalds started appearing in Russia, people were lining up to get married there!! So maybe this is along the same lines) It was very awkward to watch, yet fascinating at the same time. The photographer was getting them to arrange their hands, showing off the engagement rings, against the white Starbucks cups. Then the photographer ran outside and started taking more photos of them through the window as they ate cupcakes. Coming from one of the most beautiful parks I have ever walked through, I had to wonder: why wouldn't they get their engagement photos done somewhere like Tsaritsyno? Like, c'mon - Starbucks? Seriously?

We finally managed to draw our eyes away from this happy couple in the throes of romance. Since we were in the Old Arbat, a very trendy, expensive, and historical district in the heart of Moscow, we walked around for a bit just taking everything in. Arbat boasts one of the oldest surviving streets in Moscow, mentioned in a document from 1493! The name for the district comes from the Arabic word arbad, or suburb/outskirts, and was an important trading area of the city (hence the Arabic etymology: there are lots of Turkic loan words in the Russian language thanks to the Crimean Tatars and the Golden Horde's domination of Russia for a few hundred years). It is now a complete pedestrian-only zone, and an absolutely delightful place to stroll around. Rhea described it best, remarking that the colours of the buildings were like "walking through an Easter basket."

Ok, here's a Cyrillic Word of the Day: (if you guess correctly, I'll buy you one of these when I'm back in Canada! :) Actually, I'll probably buy you one anyways if you've gotten this far down my massive post!)

Old Arbat was beautiful, but also, readers be warned, very touristy. And thus, expensive. There were a lot of "souveniri" shops to be found, but a quick scan at the prices made me realize that I've still got nine more months to buy people gifts, and that maybe coming here to find them isn't the wisest choice!

Oh, a note for all you car lovers out there: Arbat is also THE place to go to spot some nice cars. Audis and Mercedes? Pfffff...they're nothing. Think Jaguars, Bentleys, Aston Martins (!)... WOW!

After we left Arbat, Dima took us to one final sight-seeing must - Moscow State University (MGU) and Sparrow Hills. But, seeing as it is getting pretty late here and this post is reaching epic proportions, I'm going to save that for another post and say good night :)


  1. xD ahahahaha hmmm I wonder what that delicious cinnabonny word could be...You know what, I have no idea what that cyrillic word means, gonna go and have a cinnabon and think about, try to decipher this mysterious Russian language.

    If I bring you peanut butter from Canada can you buy me a cinnabon there? Please!? If it makes you feel better you can buy one in Canada too :D

    As for the 'people getting engaged in a Starbucks' Just think of it as a grass is greener on the other side sort of thing. For the people that live there its nothing big or exciting as they have always lived there (the park) and so Starbucks would actually seem like a bigger deal to them. So while it may seem completely weird to you, to them its not. But either way, gotta agree with you lol

    Jaguar is not a good car fyi, Bentley and Aston Martin yes, but the Astons aren't that expensive. Look out for pimped out Ferraris and Veyron.

  2. hey, I'm not sure if my e-mail got through, let me know if you got it. Thanks.

  3. It's true. Jaguar is owned by Ford now. I think they used to be nice. Me? I'd like a Lada.