Monday, May 17, 2010


Before I left home, I set my rucksack down by my front door and sat on it for a few minutes. My guidebooks say that Russians do this before a journey to bring good luck, and I figured when going to Russia...

Today is Tuesday, May 18th, and we've been running around non-stop since arriving. No time for proper writing! Here's a distillation of what's been happening.

We almost lost our luggage upon arrival in Russia, and got a first hand look into the remnants of a lingering bureaucracy that still requires everything to be in duplicate and stamped. Thankfully the wayward bags were merely tardy, and showed up on the subsequent Lufthansa flight.

The taxi ride from Domodedovo Airport to central Moscow took two hours. And our driver was cranking though, except when he was caught in traffic. We all managed to sneak in a nap to the lullaby of Moscow gridlock. Since it was a fixed rate ride, it wasn't as outrageous as it seems.

My first dinner in Russia was an entire chicken. I knew I had ordered "pressed chicken", but didn't realize it was really "a pressed chicken." More on the language barrier later; it deserves its own post.

Yeliseevsky's Gastronom - the fanciest grocery store I have ever been in. They have super high ceilings bedecked with chandeliers.

Gorky House Museum - gorgeous Art Nouveau interior.

dinner at Stolovaya No. 57 - a retro Soviet cafeteria in GUM. More chicken (a reasonable portion this time) in sour cream and tomato sauce. For side dishes I grabbed a beet salad, and picked up something fluffy looking that turned out to be somewhat of a savory cheesecake.

GUM - to be admired more for architecture, inside and out, than the range of designer stores within selling overpriced items. We checked out apparel at Bosco Sport, which is hawking Russian Olympic team gear, and almost nothing was under $100. Most items were well over.

Russian fast food in the form of bliny, which were really quite tasty. Cheese, mushroom, and yogurt.

The Kremlin - cathedrals, enormous cannons and bells, and displays of goose-stepping and rifle-flipping during the Presidential Regiment procession. Despite being born and raised without a shred of religiousness, I quite like the Orthodox churches, with their iconostasi and how every inch of the interiors have been painted. And I finally saw a Fabergé egg in all of its eggness at the Armoury. I remember being shown some pictures of them when I was a kid, and I couldn't really fathom why someone would want to decorate an egg quite that much. They didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. It makes more sense now, that I understand the importance of Easter in the Russian Orthodox church, but was disappointed by the eggs on view. I expected them to be...more Fabergé than they were.

dinner at Cafe Mu-Mu. I had to go because it's cow-themed, with chairs, bowls, and cups patterned like Holsteins. Also, it's two blocks away from our hostel.

breakfast at Cafe Mu-Mu. Kasha, apricot bliny, eggs on toast, and a little container of a yogurt drink that seems to get handed out with every breakfast.

Walking around Moscow at midnight on a Saturday. The atmosphere was almost exactly the same as it had been twelve hours earlier, except it was dark out. Crowds of people were clogging Red Square, lolling about the lawns in the Alexander Gardens that border the Kremlin, snapping photos on the bridges of the Moscow River, making out along the embankment of the same, riding bikes through the plazas, and in general milling about the streets. Traffic was just as nuts as it had been during the day. Saturday night was an event called Museum Night, where the museums are free and stay open late, past midnight. Lines were still spilling from the doors of some, and on a whim I hopped into a line that was moving quickly, and saw a photo exhibit from the Moscow Biennale.

Lenin - I suppose this is what you look like after you've been mummified and maintained for over 80 years by a secret (not-so-secret anymore recipe). Kinda waxy. The interior of the mausoleum is all black marble and the lights are low, which can be hard to navigate after you've entered from sunlight outside. Not to worry, there are guards posted at every turn and corridor whose only movement is to raise an arm to indicate the direction to go. There's no stopping to gawk once inside the room; if the sight of the guards posted at each corner isn't enough to keep you going, I've read they will physically prod you forward, should you come to a halt. Lenin's tomb shines like a beacon in an otherwise black room. I was concentrating so hard on him during my walk through the room, I took in no other details. Once inside the mausoleum, you're out again with just a couple of minutes.

Communist kiddies singing anthems on Red Square - I don't actually know if they are some Communist Youth League, but as we were waiting around to view Lenin, we saw groups of children sporting red caps and white shirts, waving red flags with depictions of Lenin and the hammer and sickle starting to gather. As we left the mausoleum, we saw that the entirety of Red Square (and it's pretty big) had been closed to everyone else, and hundreds of kids were gathered in the middle singing anthems.

Saint Basil's Cathedral - if you've seen a picture of Moscow, you've seen a picture of Saint Basil's. The interior is a number of small chapels, rather than one large space. Wandering through the corridors and navigating the staircase within a wall made me feel like I was in The Name of the Rose. Inexplicably, there was a couple on the verge of making out in one of the chapels. Public displays of affection are pretty common here, and don't tend to raise any eyebrows that I can see, but I sort of assumed there was some rule that applied when inside a church. Apparently not.

Moscow River Cruise - not terribly stimulating, and the boat really poked along, but I was happy to be off my feet for a few hours. I have at least four blisters from pounding the pavement.

Novodevichiy Convent and Cemetery - nice for a wander, and a fun scavenger hunt for graves of famous people. I sought out Russian composers. The cemetery is very green with lots of trees, birds making a nice-sounding rackets, and extra large bumble bees drifting around the flowers.

Romanov Boyar House - a glimpse into how the boyars lived. I was pleased to see some of the textiles on view looked exactly like those illustration in The Firebird.

Getting lost wandering around the streets. I like to wander cities I've never been to, and just get lost in the streets, including going to neighborhoods the average tourist may not venture into. As stimulating as places like Red Square can be, I want to see the places that Ivan Average spends his days.

In two days I'll be on a train to Saint Petersburg. There's still so much to see here.

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