Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Coolest House in Moscow

Today's family death march took us to the Gorky House Museum, just a 20-minute walk from the Embassy.

The house was built for the Ryabushinsky family back in 1900. They fled the country after the Russian revolution; in 1931, the house was given to Maksim Gorky by Stalin himself. Gorky, for those of you who didn't study Russian literature in college, is one of Russia's most famous authors. For awhile, the Soviets were his biggest fans. But only for awhile. He died in 1936 - rumor has it that Stalin sent him a box of poisoned chocolates.

Designed by Fyodor Shechtel, the art-nouveau house looks a bit like an underwater mansion, with wave patterns on the windows and balconies, green and blue-hued stained glass, and a jellyfish lamp on the central stone-carved staircase. It's really quite amazing. Even more amazing is that the kids all liked it.

Looking up at the jellyfish lamp and the staircase.

Looking down from above at the jellyfish lamp.

One of the many stained glass windows.

I think this column of snakes would give me nightmares if I lived here.

That jellyfish lamp again...

After our tour we continued on to the Arbat, where the kids were rewarded for their good behavior with lunch at Shake Shack. But first: we had to make snow angels.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Varvarka Street

I hereby proclaim that there is no way to see all of Moscow in a 2-year tour. This is our second tour with State, and we were both here (separately) in our pre-State lives. Yet somehow, neither of us had ever been to Varvarka Street before Monday.

Named for St. Barbara, Varvarka Street is said to be the oldest street in all of Moscow. It starts in Kitai Gorod (itself home to the one of the only remaining sections of the ancient city wall), running a short way down to St. Basil's Cathedral and Red Square.

About every 3 steps there is another church on the side of the road: the Church of St. George, the Monastery of the Sign, the Church of St. Barbara, etc., etc. You'll also see the Old English Court if you know where to look - for a short street, it's awfully confusing trying to figure out what's what. We brought our guidebook and read all of the signs along the way, but I'll confess I'm still not sure which church is which.

We did find the house of the Boyar Romanovs. It was built, I believe, around the turn of the 16th century, and the Romanovs lived in it before eventually becoming the rulers of the Russian Empire. It's a cool little museum now, one I had no idea existed until we stumbled across it this week. We were the only visitors in the place.

The ancient wall of Kitai Gorod.

House of the Boyar Romanovs

The Cathedral of the Sign (Znamenskii Monastery)? I think? Different guidebooks call it different things, and I was too busy admiring the mermaid-tail-colored onion domes to look for a sign on the church itself. Beautiful outside - these pictures don't do justice to the colors on the domes. The inside is a bland whitewashed white.

Inside the home. Basement level weapons room. That's the personal flag of the Romanovs.

Stairwell. I mean, obviously.

Detail of the ceiling in the main hall.

The main hall itself.

Not your typical Drexel Heritage.

People must've been shorter back in the day. These doorways were dangerous.

The museum housed a small exhibit to give you a sense of what life was like back then. Hence the shoes.

...and an itty-bitty iron.

Up on the women's floor.

A dowry chest.

A loom.

The finished product.

On the way home we walked through Red Square and back home, stopping on the Old Arbat for coffee. We took this  just inside the main entrance to Red Square.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Where Tolstoi Lived

We took advantage of a short break in single-digit temperatures to visit the Tolstoi House Museum here in Moscow, not far from home. Tolstoi, whom you likely know from such novels as Anna Karenina and War and Peace, lived here with his family in the late 1800s (1882-1901, according to the sign above) and worshipped at a church just down the road.

The house was well preserved, and the descriptions of each room were surprisingly detailed (in Russian and English). The babushka-docents were also very friendly and quite eager to tell us more about what we were looking at in each room.  All in all, a very cool place to visit if you're in Moscow, especially if you're a fan of the writer - which you really ought to be.

The entrance to the main house.
The kids were semi-interested and relatively well-behaved. A good thing, because our friend B tagged along. He was remarkably patient with our kids, especially Ainsley, who told him every single knock-knock joke she could think of. And trust me when I say she has quite an extensive repertoire of knock-knock jokes. (Example: "Knock knock." "Who's there?" "Knock knock." "Who's there?" "Knock knock." "Who's there?" "Don't you know my name is Knock knock?"). It probably helps that he has kids of his own, all of whom are past the knock knock phase.
Kyra n me.

Tolstoi apparently called this drawing room "dull." Presumably he was referring to the conversation and not the decor?

The girls, of course, loved it. Just their style.

Ainsley suggested I wear a dress like this to next year's Marine Ball.

Tolstoi's office. He was nearsighted, so he sawed down the legs on his chair, thereby bringing his face closer to his manuscripts. There weren't any ghosts in this room, not exactly, but it was so strange to see the place where he churned out some of his masterpieces. I loved this room.

He learned to ride a bike in his 60s. There's his bicycle.

Apparently he also made shoes as a hobby. See them there under his coats?

And, according to the signage, he lifted weights with these very dumbbells. He may have been a better writer than I, but I'll bet I could have beaten him in a deadlift competition.


...and Ainsley, goofing off.

Ainsley n me. Note the dog house behind us.
After the tour, our friend B offered to take a family photo in front of the house. Ainsley refused to cooperate, but B kept snapping photos while we tried to line up properly. The resulting family photos might be some of our funniest yet. Here's the series:

The end result.
We stopped by Tolstoi's church on the way back home. Called the Church of St. Nicholas of the Weavers, it was built some time in the 17th century and is still in operation today. We stood in line to buy some candles to light in front of the icons inside.

They had a nativity scene set up in the yard in front of the church. Pretty from a distance - but up close you could see that the figures were all Barbie dolls dressed up in nativity-apropriate clothing and given beards. Kind of freaky to see Barbie's eye makeup on a bearded wise man.

And that's it. By now we were frozen solid, so we headed home for cocoa, popcorn and a movie. All in all, a good day.
Please. Write your own stuff.