Travel in Moscow – The 1812 Museum

I did not get nearly enough time in Moscow, but did manage to see parts of Red Square and The Kremlin.

Red Square - The Changing of the Guard

Red Square – The Changing of the Guard

Lenin is looking a little worse for wear. Wax museum displays look a lot more real than  he does. And don’t expect to spend more than a minute or two in his tomb.

It’s underground, Lenin’s glass coffin providing the only light. You can’t dawdle, and you can’t take pictures, plus you’ll have to check in your backpacks and purses before going in. Security guards hustle everyone in and out, lickety-split — basically you can expect to walk in, walk around and get out. So in some respects, that was a little disappointing.

Moscow’s 1812 Museum

One of my favorite places though, is the 1812 Museum.  Read “War and Peace” if you want an in-depth look at the War of 1812. It was long and preachy, but the novel gave me a good base for understanding what happened without having to delve into a history book, which is the 5th layer of hell for me.

When I asked my tour guide (hired through Tours by Locals, which I highly recommend by the way) about Tolstoy’s rather cynical views of the war, he adamantly stated, “Oh we can trust Tolstoy.” He went into an explanation of why, exactly, but it was just his very sure tone that struck me as interesting. Russian cultural pride is still running strong — more on that in a moment.

Here are some highlights from the museum, no signs in English, so I was happy to have someone to translate:

Depiction of 1807 Treaty of Tilsit.

Depiction of 1807 Treaty of Tilsit.

Napoleon and Tsar Alexander decide to team up, signing a treaty in the middle of a river at Tilsit– France agreeing to help Russia in their fight against the Ottoman Empire, and Russia agreeing to assist the French in their war against the Brits. Russia couldn’t realistically oppose Britain though, so relations with Napoleon gradually deteriorated.

Napoleon begins his campaign against Russia in June of 1812, and reaches Moscow that September. And now there’s a museum to commemorate the war, which the Russians call the Patriotic War of 1812 (don’t confuse it with the Great Patriotic War, which is how the Russians refer to WWII.)

RussianUniform1812museum

Russian army uniforms of 1812.

Russian Uniforms of 1812

Look for double-headed eagles adorning all things Russian.

Want Bonaparte’s autograph? Try stealing this specimen. And if anyone ever invents time travel, I’m making a stop to steal these seals…with these rings come great power.

NapoleonLetter1812

NapoleonSeals1812

Russian Cossacks were something like a cross between a pirate and a soldier for hire, though they had to supply their own horses, arms, etc. The army didn’t have a lot of control over them.

Nonetheless, they were given orders to slash and burn, leaving very little in the way of food and supplies for Napoleon’s Grand Army on their way to Moscow.

The peasants helped too, using what tools they had available, willingly burning the lands they worked, supplies they stored, and the homes they lived in. This is where we get into that wonderful cultural pride again!

The Russians didn’t call it the Patriotic War for nothing.

Handy weapon of the Russian Peasant

Handy weapon of the Russian peasant

Compare the above photo to French weaponry:

GenBerthierPistols1812

General Berthier’s Pistols

GenBerthier1812

General Berthier’s Ceremonial Sword

NapoleonsCannon

Napoleonic cannon. The man put his mark on everything.

You’ll see abandoned cannon everywhere around the Kremlin. They’re all neatly lined up of course, but you’ll be amazed at how much Napoleon left behind.

Watch Tower Cathedral of Christ the Savior

I found this interesting:

Behind this watchtower in the Kremlin wall, you’ll see Christ the Savior Cathedral.

This cathedral was planned in 1812 by Tsar Alexander, in thanksgiving of mother Russia’s divine rescue from the evil French.

The first version was completed in 1817, but the foundation was unstable.

A second version was consecrated in 1883.

Josef Stalin had the second cathedral dynamited in 1931, partly to use the site for a political monument, but also to recoup the gold in the dome.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church obtained permission to rebuild, but it wasn’t completed until 2000.

You’ll see lots of marble and other materials from destroyed cathedrals in metro stations throughout Moscow. What a country!

Tips for touring the 1812 Museum in Moscow:

1. Most museums, and many other public places in Russia, require you to check your coat — there are cloak rooms everywhere. The 1812 museum is no different.

2. The 1812 Museum was also exhibiting Portraits of the Tsars, if you want to attach faces to all of the interesting historical stories. Portraits can get boring, but I found it was helpful to have some visuals to keep everyone straight.

Empress Alexandra, 1852.

Empress Alexandra, 1852.

If you want to be my friend for life, I suggest you buy me this dress. Don’t forget the head piece.

Advertisements

Cornwall & Tintagel Castle – Living Legends

Modern Cornwall is beautiful with its ancient beginnings.

Lanyon Quoit Henge in Cornwall, and an old tin mine in the background.

Before I get into how much I loved Cornwall and all there is to see there, let me first explain why I was absolutely driven to go: Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy, which begins with The Crystal Cave. I re-read this every couple of years –just because it’s a damn good piece of fiction.

For those of you not familiar with this series, it’s the story of Myrrdn Emrys (Merlin) growing from socially awkward boy to powerful man-magician. And a key part of the saga occurs when Merlin orchestrates the conception of King Arthur, at Tintagel Castle.

I should probably note, this series is actually a quintet, but the magic of the story dwindles and ends in the third book…many people refer to the series as a trilogy.

But back to Cornwall, as it exists today…

Magic Rediscovered in Modern Cornwall

Lamorna Cove, Cornwall

Lamorna Cove in Cornwall

Driving southwest from Somerset and Devon, you’ll feel like you’re entering a different world. The Cornish roads are so narrow there’s only room for one vehicle at a time. If you encounter any oncoming traffic, one of the drivers will have to back up until s/he reaches a turn out to let the other car pass. (Usually, it’s the smaller vehicle that does this…)

Not only are the roads narrow though, they’re also lined with very high hedges. You’ll feel like you’re traveling through a maze sometimes.

But once you get into the more settled areas along the coast, the hedgerows disappear and the terrain becomes a lot more open. You’ll see old tin mines dotting the landscaping, and run across a henge or two.

The coastline itself is dramatic (thus the poetic “Land’s End”), with it’s bluer than blue water. Apparently there’s a high copper content in the sediment, which gives the coastal waters the blue-green hue.

Tintagel Castle Ruins: Not-so-easy Access

Expect to go for a bit of a hike to get to Tintagel Castle in Cornwall. This is the view of the mainland from Tintagel’s ruins.

And finally, there’s Tintagel Castle, where Merlin supposedly orchestrated the conception of King Arthur.

Tintagel Revisited

Now according to legend, Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall, hid his wife Ygraine in Tintagel castle, to keep her safe from King Uther. Tintagel Castle is right on the coast, by the way. Merlin disguised Uther and led him up a narrow, treacherous path along the cliff face to gain entrance to the fortress. According to Mary Stewart, it was a dark and stormy night. Of course.

In real life, Tintagel Castle ruins lie on a small island-like land mass jutting out from the mainland and you’ll have to walk a narrow path and cross a bridge of stairs to get to them. Thankfully, the bridge is in good order and it’s a much safer trek than the one Uther supposedly made in the fifth or sixth century.

Challenging Stairs at Tintagel

It’s a rough climb up to Tintagel. But the handrails are sturdy!

Still, this is not a hike for the faint of heart. It’s a long walk, and the stairs from the bridge up to the top of the peninsular mountain where the ruins lie, are fairly steep.

Of course, the stairs aren’t comfortable to climb either, because the originals weren’t cut in ergonomic times. The newer ones are fine, but some of the older ones really challenge your sense of balance. They’re roughly hewn and dangerous.

Bridging the mainland to Tintagel Castle.

Why does this bridge remind me of a Monty Python movie?

Most people in average condition won’t have a problem, but if long walks and steep stairs really aren’t your thing, you might want to wait in the car. Go explore Tintagel Parish instead – it’s very picturesque.

Once you arrive though, the views of the Cornish coastline are well worth it. And what’s left of the castle is worth the walk too, with interesting stone structures and a few walls still standing.

The castle courtyard is probably the most interesting with its arched entryways and tiny peephole windows. You’ll also get to see a tunnel leading to a food storage area, a well, medieval graffiti, and gun fort for the latter days, among other things.

Tintagel Castle Courtyard Wall - Cornwall

Few walls still stand at Tintagel Castle. This archway is the main entrance into the courtyard.

Archaeologists date the site to 3rd or 4th century AD, and they believe the land belonged to a Celtic monastery or prince of the region. However, they’re still digging up buildings, and learning that the site was used as an ancient Mediterranean trading post as well.

TIP #1: Restrooms and snacks are available on the mainland. Be sure to take care of your bodily needs before you cross the bridge to the ruins.

TIP #2: Please DO be careful on those treacherous stairs!

Coastline around Tintagel in Cornwall.

View of Cornwall coast line from the ruins at Tintagel.

Ossuary at Sedlec in Kutná Hora | Keeping Up With the Bones-es

Ok, it was time to venture out of Prague, one of the most perfect cities I’ve ever seen. Prague is gorgeous in its proper lines and uptight architecture. And the natives work hard to keep it clean and everything running smoothly.

View from Charles Bridge Tower in Prague

View of the orderly buildings and Vltava River, from the Charles Bridge.

Seriously, if you have a chance to stop in Prague, make sure you do so. The impressive Charles Bridge itself will be worth the trip.

Anyway…

We were in the Czech Republic belatedly celebrating my birthday and the boyfriend and I decided it was time for a little tour into the Bohemian countryside. I was dying to see the Bone Church (pun half-heartedly intended)…and since this happens to be Halloween weekend, I thought it’d be the perfect time to tell you about the bone collection.

The ossuary is located in Sedlec, a small town in the Kutná Hora district about an hour’s drive east of Prague, at a rather tiny Roman Catholic church called the Church of All Saints. To get a look at the bones, you’ll have to descend a flight of stairs into the lower chapel.

Don’t be afraid. Once you get down there, you will be positively amazed.

Why? Because there are bones EVERYWHERE. Piled up in pyramids, dangling from light fixtures…actually, they ARE the light fixtures. They’re used to hold up candles, decorate the altar and adorn the walls.

And why is there such a massive collection of skulls, femurs and tibias all in one place? Because the Bohemians and many of their European neighbors decided little, old Sedlec is a holy place for burial.

Sedlec Church of All Saints' Towers of Bones

There were four of these pyramidical constructions at the Sedlec ossuary.

Crusading Times

It all started with a local abbot who was sent to Palestine in the 13th century. He brought back some soil from the Holy Land – Golgotha, actually – which he devoutly sprinkled around the abbey cemetery. Apparently European Christians thought this was just great, and so they all wanted to be buried in this particular cemetery, covered in holy dirt, if possible.

Shouldn’t be a problem, should it? Well, enter stage left, the Black Death — and all of a sudden it became a huge problem, as the monastery’s cemetery quickly ran out of burial space. And so the good brothers buried bodies wherever they could.

Which still didn’t stop the dying from wanting to be buried there. No one knows exactly how many skeletons rest in the Church of all Saints, but the current estimate is approximately 40,000.

The Bone Church in Sedlec sports macabre decorations.

Garlands of skulls stream throughout the chapel.

Rumor has it that the initial church was built in the 15th century, and that a semi-blind monk was assigned the task of stacking the bones in an orderly fashion. But it wasn’t until the 19th century when someone decided to get creative with the pieces.

If you’d like to read more about the ossuary at Sedlec in Kutna Hora, go here: http://www.kostnice.cz/. Choose your language: Czech, English or German?

Definitely visit the site before you get to Sedlec though. We missed the fact that the bone-arranging artist (a wood carver named František Rint) signed his work – in bones of course – on one of the chapel walls.

Bone Chandelier at Sedlec Ossuary in Czech Republic.

I would expect a chandelier like this at Vlad the Impaler’s castle…not in a small church in the Czech countryside.