Started off with the Bolshoi Theater tour. Interesting and got to watch a bit of the technical and musical rehearsal for an upcoming Verdi opera – Un Ballo in Maschera. Getting in for the tour is somewhat of a hassle. Tours are given three times weekly – Monday, Wednesday, and Friday – at 11:10 in Russian and 11:15 in English. Tickets are limited to 20 for each tour and only available on the day of the tour. If you want to get in you need to queue up at door #12 by around 10:00 at the latest. We got there at 9:30 and there were two Russian women ahead of us. However there are separate lines for the Russian and English tours so we were actually first for English. Door #12 has instructions in English on the right and Russian on the left. I assumed the line for the English tour would be on the right so we parked ourselves there. While waiting we met a Dutch family who were touring Russia with their sons (the trip was a graduation present for their youngest son). It was pretty cold standing on the Bolshoi portico (around 40 degrees F) so the conversation with Fritz, Caroline, Robert, and Bas was most welcome to pass the time. After a few minutes a man came through the door and informed us that we were lined up on the wrong side (go figure) so we switched with the Russian crowd. As more people showed up, the queues started to get a bit disorderly with Russian merging into English and vice versa (be prepared to guard your place if you try this). We got our wrist bands and were allowed entrance to buy our tickets (1300 rubles each) at 11:00 (after the Russian crowd). It was worth the wait and cost (some folks didn’t make the cut). Our guide, Martina, was very knowledgeable and had lots of anecdotes to share with us, like the fact the white room had been hit by a bomb in 1941 (the front was only 20 miles from Moscow), hastily repaired, and the walls quickly whitewashed hence the name. However she seemed to get a little upset when a woman from Israel on our tour asked about Rudolf Nureyev. I’m not sure if Martina thought the question was about Nureyev himself or the controversial ballet about his life but didn’t really answer.
We were a bit rushed between the Bolshoi and our scheduled Kremlin tour so we opted for lunch at GUM – salad, pizza, and lasagna. Nothing special but not bad. We wanted to get something to eat at Stolovaya No 57 (the Soviet style workers’ cafeteria in GUM) but there was a line and we couldn’t wait.
After lunch we had reservations for the Kremlin Armory at 14:30 (there are 4 entry times daily that allow visitors around 1-1/2 hours inside). On the way to the Kremlin we caught the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Entry to the Kremlin was also challenging. The security guard wouldn’t let me in with my backpack so I had to hike back to the cloak room (about 5 minutes walk) to check it. It was after 14:30 when I got back and everyone else in our cohort was already in but the guard still let us in. Once inside I wasn’t allowed to enter the actual museum until I checked my jacket (fortunately that cloakroom was right there). The armory is amazing but overwhelming. Our initial impression was awe but that quickly glazed over with the sheer amount of priceless stuff – gold plates, silver table pieces, jewel-encrusted crowns and icon frames, coronation robes, imperial carriages, etc. The actual weapons and arms in the armory were a bit more digestible. We probably should have done more homework to focus on a few things but it was impressive.
We headed over to St Basil’s afterwards but it was too late to enter for the day. We’ll try tomorrow.
We were tired so we visited a supermarket for a picnic dinner of charcuterie, bread, and beer and settled in for a quiet and relaxing evening.