Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Princesses at the Palace...

And even a lucky globe-trotting Webkinz monkey...

We spent Saturday at Tsaritsyno, a park in southern Moscow that dates back to the 16th century. It first belonged to Tsarina Irina, the sister of Tsar Boris Godunov, and eventually ended up in the hands of Empress Catherine the Great in 1775. Catherine's extravagant tastes extended to her visions for the land, and she embarked upon a very ambitious plan to redesign and rebuild the palace. 

Her first architect, Vasili Bazhenkov, must have rued the day he agreed to work for such a difficult woman. Involved in every aspect of the plans, she personally approved of his original design combining old Russian, Gothic, classical and Arabic styles for the estate. Construction of the luxurious palaces and other buildings continued from 1776 until 1785, when Catherine fired Bazhenkov and decided that the palace was so unacceptable that she had it torn down. Matvey Kazakov then took over as architect, continuing the construction until Catherine died ten years later and funding for the project was exhausted. 

The palaces became very dilapidated over the years, creating a fairy-tale atmosphere that hung (and actually still does) over the lake, ponds, gates, bridges, church, woods and winding paths... I remember horseback riding there in 1991; I felt transported back in time, as if I'd unknowingly entered some parallel universe. Before the estate's renovation (it was just completed last year), rock climbers used to practice their skills on the crumbling brick walls!

Tsartisyno is a wonderful destination if you want to stroll around the grounds, perhaps even stopping to picnic. You can also enter the various museums, featuring the history of Catherine the Great and the estate. Since at any given time, only a small fraction of the museum's collection is on display, each new trip is an opportunity to see something new. You can view some of the palace's interior, and there's a cafe in the basement.

Click here to see the museum's official website in English. Click here to go on a virtual tour of the grounds (very cool)!

The Musical Fountain
Water sprays up in time to classical music; it's quite beautiful!

If you get too close, you get quite wet! We're lucky that Katya's coat dried out rather quickly...

You'll notice throughout this post all the pictures of various newlyweds! Tsaritsyno is a very popular spot for photographs after one's wedding ceremony; I counted seventeen different couples; on a warmer -- and less rainy -- day, there would be many, many more!

Katya and Natalia stopped -- on their own -- to give all of the coins in their pockets to an old woman who was begging. Katya has been saving for a quite a while, but she gave this woman all she had with her (about two dollars). We were so proud!

The Large Bridge over the Ravine. 
If we had let her, Natalia would have played on these hills all afternoon... I think we'll come back here to go sledding this winter.

The Third Cavalier Building
I love all the white details; they're like royal icing on a gingerbread house!

The Figure Bridge and the Grand Palace 
On the lawn you can see the ruins from the palaces that were torn down. 

The Figure Bridge

Natalia had a really hard day on Saturday... I kept thinking of Daniel Powter's song "Bad Day" as if it were the soundtrack for her (and us, as a result)... It's so easy for one to look at the pictures of our day at the estate and to think, "Oh, how incredibly lovely... How I wish we could be there!!!" Yet, for us it's our reality; this is where we live and the ups (and downs) of life play out with these beautiful spots as the backdrop... 

Given a choice, I'd have loved to just open the non-existent backdoor to our non-existent house  and to have sent the kids out to play in our non-existent backyard while we had a simple day at home! 

If we just stay home all weekend, everyone starts to go stir-crazy; the only way the kids get to run around outside is if we actually go somewhere. Chris was actually off work on Saturday, too -- so I wanted to take advantage of having him around to go somewhere I wouldn't want to on my own with the girls. (I could, of course, go there on my own --but given the ups and downs of their recent behavior, I didn't want to venture that far from home by myself)

This bridge is stunning...

In these next two pictures, look at the contrast between the truly old (ruins of the destroyed palace), the restored bridge, and the Krushchev-era ugly block apartment building in the background! That's Moscow, in a nutshell, for you... Constant contrast of the old and new, of the ugly and beautiful, of all extremes...

Here's a close-up of the apartment building in the background. I lived in a building like that in 1991; they're all over the city and they're all pretty much falling apart. 

Here are some views of the church, Bread House (straight ahead, it housed the kitchens) and the Grand Palace.

Church of Our Lady Life-Giving Spring

The color of the roof makes this seem like Cinderella's castle to me... How appropriate to see the bride beneath... 

The Gallery with the Gate

At this point in our walk, Katya made a comment that will warm many of your hearts (those of you who know me in real life). When I asked her if she thought it was absolutely beautiful on these grounds, she thought a minute, shrugged her shoulders, and then said, "You know... Not so much... It's not nearly as beautiful as ****" (a school I attended as a kid that she and Natalia adore, too... Sorry I can't give any more information without compromising our identity). OK, OK... As if I'd needed a reminder to send in my annual Alumni Fund donation... ! You, too, Meese! 

We then walked along the wide paths, stopping to check out even more brides, and to eat some ice cream. You know you're used to living here when you join the crowds and eat ice cream even when you're freezing.


Annie said... many comments. I'll probably come back as I'm supposed to be working. But the first thing that comes to my mind is that any building there (including the Soviet apartment block) looks better than the school I attended as a child! Well, OK, maybe not the apartment and my elementary school would tie for "most architecturally delightful".

Rachael said...

Very stunning architecture! I notice the girls have really grown and changed since we saw you last. Also noticed that Chris was able to get away from work and came along on the outing -- which, I'm sure delighted the girls (and you!) Sounds like a great day.

Katya said...

When I was in Russia I fell in love with jars of walnuts soaking in honey. I bought one to bring home to Ian... and ate it... I ended up eating 5 jars and Ian never got one. :-)

Anonymous said...

The place is so romantic!
But I see what you mean - it is not easy to entertain children all the time, it would be nice for you to just be able to let them play outside for a while.

Tina in CT said...

Spectacular! Please take me there the next time I come to visit. But, I loved Katya's comment about_______.

Anonymous said...

lots of smiles and warmth in those photos, and seeing you all 4 together...s'wonderful!merci pour les souhaits d'anniversaire :>)
love from the other side of the globe, near our favorite pirate ship!