The DougBlog
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Monday, July 14, 2008

To Russia With Doug, Part 2: Moscow Days 2-5

Moscow Part 2

So believe it or not, everything in that first entry was only from our first day! One thing that definitely helps is the fact that it’s fully light out until after 10, and not really dark until after midnight. In fact it never gets 100% dark: there’s still a little light in the Southern sky and starts to get light out again by 4AM. Very weird, and I can tell you that even after two weeks of it I’m not used to it. Anyhow, the next day I again got up before anyone else (!) and went to see Lenin. Yes, he is still on display in his mausoleum on Red Square:


And people still line up to see him:


And while you do see a few weeping old ladies in line who are there to pay their respects, it’s really just a tourist attraction now. The authorities take it very seriously…guards at every turn as you descend into the crypt; no cameras allowed; no talking; you’re not even allowed to stand still for more than a few seconds. He looks rather green and uncomfortable and mouldy. And since no photos are allowed (you can Google some of you want) I’ll post this one from The Simpsons where Zombie Lenin comes to life grunting “Must crush capitalism!”:


Shh! Lenin is sleeping!:


Many people don’t realize that behind the mausoleum (which doubles as a podium during parades…really!) is the Kremlin Necropolis, where all of the Soviet leaders (except Khrushchev) are buried under busts of themselves. I was happy to see Yuri Andropov. Remember him? Also, the ashes of Russian heroes are buried in the Kremlin wall itself, including Yuri Gagarin:


A few random scenes on Red Square…this Czar had trouble with the police (my how the mighty have fallen):


These ladies matched their hair to their outfits:


You could have your photo taken with either a large bird or a monkey in gold lame. No, really:


And here I’d thought that when the communists fell they’d gotten the monkey off their backs. HAHAHAHA! Anyhoo…I met up with Susan and Christine and we went to Lubyanskaya, former KGB headquarters <shudder!>:


Then we went into GUM, the ornate store along one side of Red Square. It used to be filled with vendors selling their root crops; now it’s an upscale department store. From inside I think you could hear Lenin spinning in his mausoleum across the way:


I found it funny that old babushkas still seem to shop there:


From here we walked to the Christ the Savior Cathedral, which has an interesting history. The original building was the largest and most important church in Moscow—it’s where Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture premiered! Then it was razed by the Soviets in their efforts to quash religion and replaced with a public pool. In the 1990s, this exact replica of the original was built on the spot. And after all that they didn’t let me inside because I wasn’t wearing pants:



From there we went to the Pushkin Museum, Moscow’s main general art museum:


Here one thing became clear: Russia has a lot of mean old ladies. At first I thought it was just the coat check lady at the Kremlin who hated me. But it turns out that Russia has a lot of mean old ladies who seem to yell at you for no apparent reason. The Russians in general are not the most outwardly warm people; I guess 1000 years of oppression will do that. Even little Sasha, a very cute and flirtatious child, noticed that no one smiled or waved back at her. That’s not to impugn them by any means—I met some very kind and helpful people while I was there, above all Katya and Anatoli's wonderful parents. Many people just don’t often come off that way at first. Although the clear exception is the mean old ladies who are just mean. But I digress…something else became clear at this museum: those ingenious Egyptians had even invented the world’s first googly eyes!:


Christine, former PENN track star and goddess in her own right, imitating Nike:


Not part of the museum’s “official” collection, I guess, but the lamps in the snack bar looked like a butt:


That night we had dinner at a Georgian restaurant (the republic, not the state). Regarding this particular restaurant, Genatsvale, Frommer’s actually warns you “live entertainment is available starting at 9:00, but if you get there early enough you can avoid it.” Menu mistakes are a dime a dozen but always good:


Dinner!:


That evening we had a rooftop nightcap again, this time at the Ritz Carlton:



One note on prices. You may have heard that Moscow is now the most expensive city in the world. Well, it’s true! Here’s the drink list: the average cocktail was $36!!:


Yes, this was the Ritz Carlton, but in many other places cocktails were still $20 or $30. Hotels rooms in the city center are $400/night (when you get a good deal). It’s a little outrageous. Prices for many things are cheaper for Russians than non-Russians. Cabs have no meters, they charge you whatever they want (unless you speak Russian and can barter with them). So needless to say, this hasn’t been the cheapest trip of my life…but a great experience all the same.

The next day we headed out to Novodevichy Convent and Cemetery. We got caught in a torrential downpour there:


This seemed to be the rule. The weather was uncommon for Russia and more reminiscent of the tropics: sudden downpours between sunny hours. We waited it out, and soon it was sunny again and we explored the beautiful convent grounds:





The convent also feature Moscow’s most prestigious cemetery. I see (more) dead people…like first President of the Russian Federation Boris Yeltsin:


Former first lady Raisa Gorbachev (and presumably future home of Mikhail):


Cellist Mitslav Rostropovich (fresh!):


Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev (he wasn’t buried in the Kremlin Necropolis because he “left office in shame”):


Chekhov (the playwright, not the Starship lieutenant):


Each tomb is unique, somehow showcasing the person’s accomplishments, and often elaborate. I don’t know who this guy is, but 10 to 1 he died of lung cancer:


The “Seven Sisters” are 7 skyscrapers built on the outskirts of Moscow by Stalin. They are very ornate and replete with Soviet symbols:


Remember TASS?:


We kept thinking this place was called “Crapdogs”:


That evening the Christening festivities were to begin with dinner. First we had a drink at the Metropol Hotel, where the drink menu seemed to be from 1954: Pink Ladies, Manhattans, Whisky Sours…and I myself enjoyed a Grasshopper:


Then it was off to dinner at Tiflis, another Georgian joint where meals were apparently prepared in a bra:


Now, is the cup included, or does it cost extra?:


The other guests included Liz and Jay (a couple):


Susan and Beate (not a couple):


And me and Christine (decide for yourself):


Somehow our hosts, Katya and Anatoli, evaded my lens that evening; but of course they were there. In fact, it was then that they shared the news: there would be no Christening! Sasha’s godmother was in the hospital! (Last I heard she is doing fine, thankfully.) So instead the planned to spend the day taking us to the Tretyakov Gallery followed by dinner at Anatoli’s mom’s house. The Tretyakov is the premiere gallery of Russian art. We had a private tour and it was outstanding (photo courtesy of Anatoli):


But first, Sasha had lunch:


Anatoli’s mom had prepared a feast! She was a kind, warm, gregarious woman who was clearly so overjoyed to finally meet her granddaughter and so excited to serve us a traditional Russian meal. She had prepared her famous fish pie, along with every fixing imaginable—even caviar! And it never stopped…course after course after course…even homemade liqueurs! And like any good babushka she fed us until we were about to explode and still worried that we did not eat enough. Grandmas seem to be the same everywhere you go…


Christine eyeing the fish pie:


Bubbly babushka:


Me and Katya:


Homemade slivovitz (plum liqueur):


The paparazzi:


Then we went to a vodka bar called, creatively enough, Vodka Bar. By the way, the Moscow metro is outstanding. Trains are NEVER more than 2 minutes apart, the stations are clean and beautiful, and the entire system is wired for cell service. Plus all stations are deep enough to double as bomb shelters! If more people used deodorant it would be perfect. Here is the group emerging on our way to our nightcap:


Entrance to Vodka Bar:


Our first bottle:


Beate and our second bottle:


Fun bathrooms:


The next day—our last in Moscow—we actually spent outside the city. This time we were to be the guests of Katya’s parents at their dacha (summer house). It took several forms of public transportation to get there, include a smooth ride in a genuine Soviet Lada:



The dacha:


The kitchen (of course overflowing with food for us):


The yard. Katya’s parents have used every inch of space to grow everything from plums to potatoes! And most of what we ate came from there, fresh as can be:


The outhouse (the price you pay for getting away from it all):


Sasha, exited to see her papa (and always at the center of attention):


Katya’s mom preparing shashlik on the grill:




Katya’s dad takes over:


Fresh tomato (=big mess):


As had been the case with the weather, we dealt once again all in one day with driving rains and beating sun—for which Katya’s parents were prepared with hats:


…a tent (another photo courtesy of Anatoli):


…and an incongruous Madonna umbrella:


As with Anatoli’s mom, Katya’s parents were warm and welcoming and could not give us enough goodies fresh from their garden—and enough affection for their granddaughter:


Fresh, homemade apple juice (yes, Jay, it’s apple juice):


Booze!:



Finally, a Turkish dessert of nuts and honey. Not homemade, but the jar was most memorable and entertaining. Who came up with this idea? “How can we get people to buy more nuts? I know, let’s pretend they’re illegal substances!” And what is the support for their claims of making you young again? And who designed this stunning package? Is that dude really small or are the jars he's holding really big? And look at the size of that bee! As Katya said, “I guess this is how they market their nuts in Turkey.” (this one is definitely worth clicking to enlarge!):


And so ended our time in Moscow. We said goodbye to Katya and Anatoli and Sasha and Jay and Liz, because the next day Christine and Susan and I were continuing on to St. Petersburg. Before heading back to our respective hotels we bought some souvenirs and took one last look at Red Square—where we each tried out my new hat:



Susan looked like a drunken Cossack:

I went with a more traditional pose:

Dos vedanya, Moscow:


Here’s one last photo from Anatoli: Sasha on Red Square. Clearly they have no “open container” laws:


Coming up…we find out that St. Petersburg is a very different city from Moscow!

2 Comments:

  • why weren't you wearing any pants??

    PS: fllrq - a rude noise

    By Blogger Colleen, at 7:44 PM  

  • Doug, that was an exclusive summary! Now I pretend that I didn't miss shashlyk from Katya's mum cause at least I've seen it. Sorry for spoiling the baptizing event, hope you'll come back to try and get it next year :)
    The might-have-been Sasha's godmother Alla

    By Anonymous Alla, at 3:31 AM  

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