Thursday, January 28, 2021

Red Square, Moscow - 2006


The Kremlin

As COVID numbers continue to be high, I am spending time revisiting old trips. For the next few weeks, I will be looking back at a 2006 trip I took to Russia. This week it is Moscow’s Red Square.

In 2006, The Amazin’ Ms D participated in a month long writers workshop in Saint Petersburg, Russia. I decided to take the opportunity to visit some places that I have always wanted to see, the sites of the three battles that, in my opinion, changed the course of World War II. My first stop was Moscow. The Battle of Moscow took place from October 1941 through January 1942, although fighting continued in the area until 1943.
Russian Troops during WWII via wikicommons

Stopping the German army in Russia forced the Nazis to maintain a second front, at a huge cost in materials and lives. It stopped the Germans from expanding their takeover of Europe, saved England from a Nazi invasion, but there were over one million Russian casualties during the six months of this battle.


T-26 Russian Tanks during the battle of Moscow vis wikicommons

I spent my first day in Moscow paying tribute to those who died in this fight, with a visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, located in the Alexander Garden, along the wall of the Kremlin. I arrived in time to see the changing of the guard at the tomb.

Moscow's Tomb of the Unknown via wikicommons

 Being at the Kremlin, I decided to take in all of the sights. So I joined the line to enter Lenin’s Tomb. There was a weird mix of Russians and tourists see or pay respects to the body of Vladimir Lenin. The line snaked through the burial sites of the past leaders of the Soviet Union. When I entered the tomb, there were multiple warnings to not take pictures, not talk, and keep moving. And guards were posted to insure that visitors followed exactly that. 

Lenin's Tomb

Changing of the guard, inside the Kremiln

Tomb of Mikhail Kalinin

Leaving Lenin behind, there were two more places to visit in Red Square. First was Saint Basil’s Cathedral. It’s colorful onion domes are one of Moscow’s iconic sights. The other was the former G U M department store. In Soviet Times, G U M was the largest single store in the world. By the time I visited, it had been converted into a large shopping mall, with dozens of, mainly European, stores operating within.

St. Basil's Cathedral

G U M via wikicommons

Inside G U M

My general impression, walking around downtown Moscow in 2006, was that it was a city aspiring to be a modern European capital. There was construction taking place everywhere I turned. Modern apartment buildings and office towers were being built. There was a great push to move the city from its Soviet past and to be taken seriously as a financial and cultural center, similar to London, Paris or Berlin.

Me with Karl Marx in Theater Square

Tsar's Canon

The Grand Kremlin Palace

Armory Building

Next week I will explore some of the cultural changes that were taking place in Moscow fifteen years ago.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Barcelona, home to wonderful architecture


Statue by Joan Miró outside MNAC

The winter spike of COVID has prevented me from getting out and traveling. Even trips into my wonderful New York City have been on hold for over a month. So, I have dug into my archives. Today, I take a trip back in time to last trip to my favorite European city, Barcelona. 

Communication Tower at Tibidabo

Barcelona is a city that speaks to my heart. It was the base of the Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War. Today it offers a home to lively discussions and struggles around progressive issues. Most of all, Barcelona is a beautiful city, and one that is fun to walk around.

Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor at Tibidabo

St. Antoni Market

Much of Barcelona was developed in the middle of the 19th century, planned by Ildafons Cerdà. Cerdà’s idea was to provide modern places for people to live and work. Newly constructed buildings were designed with open courtyards to provide fresh air to all rooms, and limited those buildings in height, to allow light to reach the sidewalk. He also created a new design for streets. Cerdà’s plan opened up intersections by flattening the corners, making each on a small square.

Flattened Corner

Street design by Cerdà

When talking about Barcelona and design, we must include Antoni Gaudí. Catalan born and bred, Gaudí’s modernist style became the one of Barcelona’s identifying features. Two of his most famous buildings are on Passeig de Gràcia. Casa Mila, also know as La Pedrera (The Stone), is an apartment building, whose exterior looks like a stone cliff, with carved caves.

La Pedrera


Two blocks away is Casa Batlló. Originally built as an apartment building in 1877, it was bought by the Batlló family in 1903. They decided to redesign it for their family use, and turned the commission over to Gaudì. He created building that was literally fantastic, designing it to invoke the body of a dragon. Exterior portions are covered with mosaics that simulate the  scales of the dragon. Inside, Gaudì developed a style that used natural shapes as inspiration. From the doors, to the furniture, even the heating registers, he used lines and curves that mimic living things.

Air column in Casa Batlló. The blue tiles helped disperse light

Barcelona is a great city to visit. It is walkable, and there are beautiful buildings almost everywhere you look.    


Thursday, January 14, 2021

Moynihan Train Hall at Penn Station


Many years ago, New York City had two beautiful train stations. Grand Central Terminal, which is still with us, and received a major renovation a few years ago, was the terminal station for the New York Central Railroad. The other was Pennsylvania Station, which served the Pennsylvania Railroad. Both were grand architectural celebrations of train travel.

Old Pennsylvania Station via Wikicommons

Then, fifty-five years ago, the greed of the real-estate industry wiped out one of them ( almost the other). Pennsylvania station was subsumed under the rationale of using the space above the station to make a profit. So the old building was torn down, and replaced with the latest Madison Square Garden and a large office tower. Travelers and commuters were relegated to a warren of tunnels running underneath the buildings. 

Interior of the Old Pennsylvania Station

For fifty years many people have decried the destruction of Pennsylvania Station. The outcry led to development of “landmark preservation” laws. But, the condition of Penn Station continued to deteriorate for many years. Then, about thirty years ago, a call went up to convert the Farley Post Office Building, which sits across 8th Ave. from the station, to a replacement. The Farley building is the main post office for New York City, but has been mostly empty since USPS opened a large transfer center a few blocks away. In 2006, New York State purchased the Farley Building in preparation for starting construction of the new station. Between 2010 and 2017 work was done to expand the concourses and platforms below ground level. Then in 2017, construction on the new hall began, and on Ja. 1st, 2021 the Moynihan Train Hall opened to the public.

Entrance under Madison Square Garden

The Moynihan Train Hall, named for the late senator from New York, who fought for funding for the project, occupies what had been the cavernous mail sorting room inside the Farley Building. This allowed the architects to maintain the buildings Neo-classical structures, while creating a modern space for travelers. This is not a “throw-back” to the old days. The hall is sleek, with polished metal everywhere. The open space is covered by iron beams and a glass roof. It reminds me of some of the modern stations that have been built in Berlin, Germany.


The main entrances to the Moynihan Hall are on 31st and 33rd streets. The 31st street entrance offers direct access to the main floor of the hall. Over the lobby is a beautiful art piece, entitled The Hive. It is a three-dimensional representation of the office towers of New York. It was created by the Scandinavian art duo - Elmgreen & Dragset.

The Hive, by Elmgreen & Dragset

The 33rd street entrance brings travelers to the upper level of the hall. The lobby here hosts three stained glass pieces designed by artist Kahinde Wiley. Titled “Go”, it represents the freedom of travel through the view of African-American youth break dancing in the sky. The upper level, is where there is a balcony overlooking the main hall, and the Metropolitan Club, New York’s Acela club. This is also where there will be a food court opening in the Fall of 2021.

33rd Street Entrance

Detail from GO by Kahinde Wiley
Detail from GO by Kahinde Wiley
The Moynihan Train Hall will not invoke travel memories from the past. However, it is a wonderful, modern, and much needed upgrade. It provides relief to the overcrowded Penn Station. Most importantly, it gives train travel back the respect it deserves, and makes coming through New York City an enjoyable experience once again. 

Nuts and Bolts:
Moynihan Train Hall is located in the Farley Post Office Building, at 8th Ave between 31st and 33rd Streets.