Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Happy 450th Birthday, St. Basil's!

This is the Google header for today - the 450th birthday of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, which is the most breathtaking piece of architecture I've ever seen.

Red Square from inside St. Basil's, looking out

My parents and I inside St. Basil's

One of the several iconostasis (iconostasi for plural?) inside

St. Basil's

Looking up one of the onion domes from inside

In May, my parents and I toured the interior of the church. Its actually a collection of ten separate churches all clustered together, with those distinctive onion domes that a Russian Orthodox priest I knew referred to as "Dairy Queen swirls"! It is much easier to realize that there are ten individual churches once you are inside, as you make your way up twisting stairs and through arches to the different churches, all named after separate saints. The full name of the cathedral is the Cathedral of the Protection of Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat, but it has always collectively been known as St. Basil's, named after Saint Basil (Vasily in Russian) whose remains can be found in the tenth church.

Who was St. Basil, anyway? Well, according to this information inside the church, he was a a "Fool for Christ and a nude walker." Wow. So this stunning historical artifact was named after a guy who was basically a streaker? Nice.

Anyways, if you go to Moscow, St. Basil's is an obvious must-see, but I also really encourage you to tour the inside of the church as well. Ticket prices are very reasonable (I think its around 150-250 roubles per person, about $5-7 CDN) and it offers a totally different visual perspective on Red Square, not to mention there are English-language pamphlets that explain some interesting history of the cathedral.

It is one of those sights that people just automatically associate with Russia, like the Eiffel Tower and Paris, but I promise you that as trite and touristy as it may seem from a jaded traveler perspective, IT IS TOTALLY WORTH IT. No words can truly describe how beautiful and other-worldly St. Basil's is. It is unlike anything in the world - magical and mystical, somehow encompassing the ancient power of Holy Rus and the might of a country that is simultaneously beautiful and barbaric. And it will be the sight that acts like a punch in the stomach to you, the sight that makes you fully realize, "Wow. I'm actually in Russia!"

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Missing the Wild East

Katie the Canadian girl

Katya the Russian girl

I've been back in Canada for a little more than a week, and I'm just getting used to being able to go running without looking over my shoulder for packs of stray dogs.

I'm getting used to sleeping in my big double bed and putting my clothes in the dryer after washing them.

I'm getting used to breathing clean, smoke-free, smog-free air.

I'm getting used to eating my daily jar of peanut butter again (slight exaggeration, but not really...I love that stuff).

I'm getting used to having conversations with random strangers in the street or in the shops that go beyond a simple "zdravs-voo-tye" (hello).

I'm getting used to the Toronto version of traffic jams and rush hour which, in comparison to Moscow's legendary chas pik, is almost laughable. Don't even get me started on the Toronto subway.

I'm getting used to having my "personal space bubble" back again, although I almost MISS having sweaty strangers rubbing up against me in the metro as we all cling wildly onto poles/each other. Almost.

I'm getting used to hugging my mum and dad, going for long walks around our neighbourhood, hanging out with friends, and seeing my sister in her usual semi-prone position on the couch.

I'm (slowly) getting used to not seeing rows and rows of vodka at the grocery store, although I still look around for the produce guy with the gold teeth to weigh my veggies. And where are all the street vendors selling everything from cabbages to knives to bras on the corners??

I'm getting used to walking past "old" buildings that are 100 years old, instead of buildings that are over 800 years old.

What I'm NOT getting used to is the fact that my time in Russia is all too quickly becoming almost an ephemeral dream in my head, as if I can't even believe I was actually there, that I called Moscow home, that I used to walk past the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and stop by the Kroshka Kartoshka there for a quick snack. Last night there was a news programme in Russian on TV and I almost cried when I heard the reporter say, "Skolka?" (how much?)

So yes, I'm getting used to being back in Canada, and although it has been wonderful catching up with my family and friends, I miss Moscow and all her history, her food, her winding, circular streets, her higgedly-piggedly array of architectural styles, from Stalin's neo-Gothic Seven Sisters to turn of the century cotton-candy coloured palaces, her babushkas and smoggy streets and romantic bridges and even the stray dogs and the old men who growl "tvoyu mat'!" at delinquent young men in Adidas tracksuits and mullets.

I've fallen in love, and I have a feeling this is going to be for life.