Poetry by Photography: Serenity

A golden light

Caressing stately, gilded domes.

They reached towards the sky;

the symbols of Christ the Saviour pointing heavenwards.

Victorious, a promise made – a light even in the darkness slowly falling.

A moment – just, standing still.

A moment, of unexplainable serenity and comfort in the knowledge of the time to come.

October 2014, Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow, Russia

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Serenity.”

Travel Diary: A day in Moscow City, Moscow, Russia

It was a cold day in Moscow. Overcast and cloudy, there was a distinct grey over the city which reminded me a little of London. After breakfast at кофемания (Kofemaniya), I set out to explore the city on foot, and began to head down the street. Retracing my footsteps to the St. Regis, I continued straight on and took a left round the back of the hotel down a street called Никольская ул. (Nikolskaya ul.).

The street was straight and long. Large grey tiles lay underfoot, arranged neatly in a diagonal manner, and low-rise buildings lined the path on either side. People in long coats walked up and down purposefully, veering off into specific shops, often the cafes. On the right, I saw a neon “Subway” sign and took note of that, given that we’d established that Russian food wasn’t really to our fancy. As I continued walking, the row of shops on my left were replaced by a taller upmarket-looking building with display windows set in gilded frames and brass handled doors; the GUM mall – an upmarket mall which was started as a mall in the early 1900s, but was converted to office space for Stalin’s committee in 1928, and was now a high-end mall housing international luxury brands.

The street led right into the Red square, and suddenly, I found myself standing right smack in the centre of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, flanked on all sides by the iconic buildings I’d seen only in photographs – straight ahead, stood the high walls of the Моско́вский Кремль (Kremlin), the red bricks reaching upwards with hardly any semblance of windows, looking very much like an impregnable fortress (which, I suppose, was the point). To my right, the Государственный исторический музей (State Historical Museum) stood tall – Its façade was a mosaic of shapes – triangles, keyhole shapes, square shapes – in a complex dissonance which I now thought to be rather characteristic of Russian architecture. It looked like giant lego pieces had been joined together. I could see the different blocks and towers, each topped with a conical-shaped roof of light grey and a gilded ornament at its tip. And on my left, there it stood at the far end of the Red Square – a work of art, indeed – the Собор Василия Блаженного (St. Basil’s cathedral).

Domes of St. Basil's Cathedral Moscow Russia

I hate to say this, but my first introduction to this building was through playing Forza Motorsport on the xbox 360. The game had a track set in Moscow which required drivers to do a circle around St. Basil’s, and I remember thinking cool building. I’d love to say that I was so mesmerized by it that I crashed the car, but really I didn’t – I was just having a lot of fun drifting and using the inner straight on the circle to overtake opponents.

Nonetheless, seeing the Cathedral in person felt rather unreal. It was the building I most closely associated with Russia, and there it was. It seemed to be a fabric of multiple inspirations – corbel arches of Byzantine architecture, while the domes reminded me strongly of the mosques I’d seen in the UAE. It was fascinating to look at, to say the least. From where I stood, I could make out 5 of the 8 smaller churches which surrounded the core. The inside was a labyrinth of narrow and winding staircases opening up into small (or on occasion, tall) rooms. One could easily get lost in the narrow corridors which joined together like interlocking loops. While I was visiting, a choir started singing in one of the chapels, their harmonies echoing throughout the halls, resonating off the bare stone walls.

Kremlin Moscow Russia

I decided to navigate around the Kremlin on the side of the river so that I could get to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. On this side of the Krem, the red brick walls were uninterrupted, leading on for a good distance, embroidered with notches and punctuated with towers.

Russian sweets and drinks Moscow Russia

In the late afternoon, our Russian friend Galya brought us to the top floor of GUM to try some Russian sweets and drinks at a cafe. On the table, there was a little standing paper sign which read Пomorи, тoваpищ, нaм – yбepи пocyдy caм! I had no idea what it said, until I turned to the reverse which read Comrade, let us have a deal – clean your table after meal! I guess the Russians have a good sense of humour too.

We got a few traditional items to share including something called a Ptasie Mleczko (also known as Bird’s milk cake) and some colourful traditional drinks. The cake tasted like a giant less-springy marshmallow coated in a thin film of chocolate. The drinks tasted like the syrup with the jellies which we used to buy at the supermarket when I was still in elementary school, and came in the same bold colours. I thought the similarity was uncanny. Afterwards, we picked up our coats and headed back out into the streets, beginning our walk towards our dinner destination, Turandot.

Moscow Russia

Travel Diary: The Golden Hour in Moscow, Russia

Russia, a colossal country in the North, relatively undiscovered and labelled “exotic” by many, has always remained, in my mind, a place full of mystery. It is vast – so broad that it takes up almost half the width of the world map, with its borders reaching all the way to Asia and Europe. Of course, we’ve had some sort of exposure to Russia, however limited and whether accurate or otherwise, be it from reading about its history of Tsars and Tsarinas, or gazing in awe at the beauty and intricacy of Fabergé eggs.

In October, I made a rather spontaneous trip up into this somewhat mysterious region, prompted by an invitation to attend the inaugural formula one grand prix in Sochi. I’ve always wanted to see Moscow. I had a friend who did her exchange at a University in Moscow three years before, and she’d told me about how lovely it was. But even before that I’d always wanted to go because I thought of it as an exciting country full of secrecy and spies, and of course, those of you who know me personally would know that I’m fascinated to no end by that sort of stuff.

We’d all thought she was pretty brave because it was rare for anyone to choose Russia. It was also because of the ideas we’d come to have about Russia from all the things we’d seen in the movies – I mean, Quantum of Solace and Die Another Day were both set in Russia, and Jason Bourne went to Moscow in the Bourne Supremacy as well – and sometimes in the news, but of course we made no mention of any of that. And then there was the language barrier, although I did just as well by going to Barcelona on exchange without knowing any Spanish besides Hola and Adios.

We got to Moscow late on a Monday, around 4pm, were picked up by car for the St. Regis Hotel in central Moscow, and for the next two hours were stuck, bumper-to-bumper, in a massive jam all the way in. My travel companion was sound asleep within minutes of the start of the jam, but I stayed awake to observe this new city. It was about 5pm now and we were still inching along. This far out from the Moscow city centre, there wasn’t a whole lot to see besides the buildings in the distance on the left, and the tall coniferous trees to the right, but at this time of day, the setting sun swathed everything in a beautiful golden glow so I kept awake.

I guess I’m weird like that – even the tour guide in Dubai laughed at how curious I seemed to be all the time, and kept making faces at me through the rear view mirror, grinning as I remained wedged in the rear seat of the vehicle between my friends who were fast asleep to both my left and right. I suppose it’s because I like to capture every moment into a distinct memory – all the sights, the sounds, sometimes even smells, and maybe how I might be feeling there and then. Perhaps it’s also because I don’t want to miss a single moment – a moment, which, in a flash, might pass me by and be lost forever.

I knew the moment we were approaching the city centre. The greenery made fewer and yet fewer appearances, and what were previously wide open spaces transformed into buildings on both sides. It was quite a sight. I sat up. Beside me, my companion was still sound asleep, his head resting on the camera bag on the seat between the both of us.

A building shifted past, and in the next moment, I realised we were on a bridge above the река Москва (Moskva river). To my left, a magnificent white dome stood in the distance, with a gilded cross at its summit. Ah, I thought, that’s the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. It was glorious, even from this distance. The sun was setting behind and to the right of it, caressing the sides of the Cathedral in such way that highlighted its design. I sat up straighter and looked on for, perhaps, a hint at the things to come.