Our trip to Moscow got going with an exciting start–dashing through the rain to our train car and trying to convince the woman to let us on board even though we didn’t have the correct documentation. We were waved through, and then we spent an hour or so playing cards with a woman named Ekaterina. She and I tried to teach Daniel how to play Durak (“fool”), but he didn’t catch on, and she kept laughing and saying to me that he was a, “Durak, durak!”
We joined the pushing mass of humanity to get on the metro and made the hour and a half journey to Fitz’s apartment. It had been almost a year since Fitz and I last saw each other in China, so we were eager to share our experiences since then and make comparisons between living in these two countries.
Daniel and I set off for Red Square. At first glance, the view of St. Basil’s cathedral was obstructed by some horrifically tacky building, but when it turned out to be an ice skating rink I was elated. The very first thing we did was go to Lenin’s mausoleum. It would close in a couple of hours, and the line to get in was small. We were standing right in front of it, and we wanted to just go in, but that would have been too easy. Instead, we had to make a circuitous route around the Historical Museum. We couldn’t just walk to the left of it (there were guards). So, that’s makes two on my growing list of “Embalmed Communist Dictators I Have Seen.”
We met up with Fitz and had lunch in гум (goom): a huge department store that made me gasp aloud in childish delight at the beautiful Christmas decorations. After warming up, drying off, and dodging all of the brides and grooms having their pictures taken we went back into the Square to go inside St. Basil’s. The interior is like nothing I’ve ever seen before, which is refreshing after a long line of European cathedral visits where one starts looking just like any other. I felt like I was stepping back into the middle ages, which was heightened by the presence of a mens’ group singing Gregorian chants.
We did some more exploring and walked around the outside of the Kremlin to a big cathedral I don’t remember the name of. We slipped inside and watched in hushed interest as the the faithful burned their candles to gilded saints and prostrated themselves on the floor. I pulled my scarf over my head to act as a shawl, as somehow my owl hat didn’t seem appropriate. Daniel and I went to the Historical Museum before heading back to Fitz’s apartment.
The next day we tried to go back to Red Square and the Kremlin. The Kremlin was our priority for the day, but due to the elections, every entrance was blocked by a hostile-looking yet bored-of turning-away-tourists-with-their-cameras-and-bewildered-expressions policemen. We were disappointed, but moved on to plan B–a market in the north of the city with hundreds of wooden and fur souvenirs to choose from. I loved being in the market. It made me think of China with the vendors calling at us to come have a look at the things in their shop. One man didn’t accept that we might not be interested, so he ushered us into the shop where we spent some time politely looking at the tacky souvenirs and then left. Our next stop was the Vodka Museum, which gives the complete history of vodka, has a bottle of every kind of vodka in existence, and the ticket includes a free shot of vodka. Vodka makes me silly, as it turns out. We then met up with co-teachers of Fitz for dinner.
On the last day we were again disappointed to find that access to Red Square and the Kremlin was denied, even though the election was over. Daniel and I started off with some goal-oriented/mindless wandering. We saw the Bolshoi theater and the KGB building. We were a discouraged that Daniel wouldn’t get to see the Armoury–his number one priority. While eating blini in a restaurant, he found out from other tourists that you COULD get in to those places, you just had to walk around the entire thing to the ONE entrance that was open. We dashed over and got tickets for the last tour of the day, which started in a mere half hour. The tour was great, and we walked back to Red Square to find a group of people waving flags to ‘celebrate’ the election results. We wanted flags of our own, so asked a girl where we could buy them, and she and her friend gave us their flags and spent some time talking to us. Daniel was interviewed by a local reporter to get the foreigner angle. We then went ice skating at the rink in Red Square, which was my personal highlight of the trip. We went to dinner (MuMus) with great satisfaction. On the way, we encountered groups protesting the election, and at one point we were passed by at least 50 policemen running with their clubs drawn. Daniel was all set to follow them and see the excitement, but I pointed out that the last thing we wanted was a run-in with the Russian police. On the way back from the restaurant they had formed a human chain to block the street, and we had to go through a department building to get around them so we could catch the metro and get to our train on time.