Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Church with the onions on top

St. Basil's Cathedral. For centuries it has been one of the most iconic churches known to man, and is very likely the first thing one thinks of upon hearing the word "Russia". No one purposefully goes to Moscow without taking a moment to stop by the Red Square to view the incredible structure, right? After all, not stopping to see St. Basil's Cathedral would be as absurd as going to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower, to Beijing without stopping to see the nearby Great Wall, to Egypt without seeing a pyramid, or to Amsterdam without seeing Claire.

Every person I've met who has gone to Moscow has their picture in front of the church. It's an unwritten rule. You can't return from your trip without it, and there really is no better way to prove to the world that you've been to Russia than that one single picture.

So it's easy to understand how I felt when the entire Red Square was closed to the public the week we were there. Guards were posted at every entrance and sneaking through was not an option. All we wanted was the traditional I've-been-to-Moscow,- see-here-I-am-in-front-of-St.-Basil's picture. So we asked if we could, but the guards wouldn't budge. We begged, they responded "no, closed". We pleaded, they responded "no, closed". We nearly tried bribery, but then came to our senses.

Try as we might, they wouldn't let us on the square to see the front of St. Basil's... until a moment of divine inspiration. My friend Jana who had served a mission in Russia, been to the cathedral a number of times, and of course spoke the language, tried a different approach. She asked, "is the museum open and can we go in?" "Yes," the guard responded, "just wait here for the tour guide to escort you up". We couldn't go on the Red Square, we couldn't go to the church, but we were granted access to the museum --- which is INSIDE the cathedral! As I sit here typing this, I still can't understand the logic. We stared at Jana with quizzical looks of shock, to which she simply replied, "well, that's Russia for you."

We couldn't take pictures from the square, but we could take as many as we wanted from the cathedral grounds, inside and out. The church is as remarkable in person as it looks in photo, if not more-so. Time passed as we took advantage of our opportunity to be 'on the Square, but not really.' When we were ready to leave there were 3 guides at the gates of the cathedral. One looked at us and started yelling at the 2 others so quickly that I was surprised that Jana even knew what she was saying. One of the two others nodded during her reprimand and escorted us off the square. We weren't supposed to be left alone on the grounds, gratefully we were.

And my gratitude only increased when I had a few hours to spend in the city the following week before my flight home when the Red Square was open to the public. I was able to go home happy and prove to the world that I have been to Russia!

1 comment:

DannyRK said...

is it just me or is that pretty much the perfect shot of st. basil's? the sun behind that tallest spire could not have been planned more perfectly. and another thing: i'm jealous of you. severely.