Moscow - part 1

Moscow Travel Blog

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My travel companions on the Trans-Siberian train, just arrived in Moscow

I can’t believe I’m in the capital of the “evil empire” that I grew up taught to loathe and fear.  The bunch of us have been told to look for people at the train station offering up their apartments (for a nominal cost) for us to stay in.  It sounds far more interesting than a hotel.  I’m dying to see how the “other side” lives.  We split up into several apartments but end up staying in the same general neighborhood on the East side of town.  The flat is spartan with gaudy wallpaper and old-fashioned but effective radiators by the lace-curtained windows.   There are guitars and Central Asian rugs hanging on the walls.  A faint oder of stale unfiltered tobacco (and which I will forever associate with all things Russian) hangs in the air.  It’s not as thick as I experienced on the train at least.

Novospassky Monastery
  We immediately take off to the city to see the sights.  On my second night, I get lost navigating my way back to our apartment and end up sleeping under a tree.  The next morning, still unwashed, I run into members of my party downtown and all is well. 

The exchange rate is 10 rubles to the dollar.  Everything is priced in single digits and even kopecs.  That means that with a few US dollars in my pocket, I can afford to buy nearly anything. 

I’m most impressed with the underground Metro system.  Each station is uniquely designed and almost museum-like.  Some have themes, like the battle of Borodino.

Wall of the Kremlin
  Nearly all are politically charged and communist flavored.  Some have bronze statues, some have marble murals, some have painted plaster.  The trains are numerous and I never have to wait more than a minute for an arriving train.  The cars aren’t heated though and air vents in the ceiling are open to the skies.  At times, snow even blows in.  Many of the stations are extremely deep underground and their super speedy escalators (about twice the speed of ones back home) whisk riders down in no time.  One of these, either here or in St P., is claimed to be the longest in the world.  I believe it.  Hammers and sickles are ubiquitous.  For some reason, I imagined they’ll all be removed and destroyed by now, but the political changes of the last few years have not manifested themselves in the infrastructure.  In fact, many people are remorseful for the disintegration of their empire and wish its return.
Wedding
  Judging by the state of things, I can’t blame them.   There are literally bread lines snaking down sidewalks.  I’m astonished to learn that they only sell two items:  white bread and black bread.  Period.  The price:  a few kopecs, which is about a few US pennies.  I go to a Moloko (milk) store and am shocked to see that they too sell only two items:  Milk (in generic looking boxes) and kefir (sour milk).  Occasionally, I see butter too.  Very long lines outside these places as well.  To get your milk (or bread), patrons have to queue up in long lines at the cashier to purchase an exhange coupon.  Then they have to queue up AGAIN to exchange the coupon for whatever is left on the shelf.  If they run out of product, which they DO often do, you have queue up once more at the cashier for a refund.
This was the only McD's in Russia at the time
  The whole process can take two hours.  And that’s just to get your milk.  Dittos for bread at the bread store.  Dittos for meat at the meat store.  And dittos for beets or potatoes at a produce store.  This process takes all day for a single days’s groceries, provided supplies last.  Don’t they have any supermarkets? 

For a tourist, the one bright star was that a McDonald’s has opened in town - the first in the country.  Although the line snakes outside the building and all the way around an adjacent park, it moves relatively fast because there is a bank of 15 cashiers inside.  Big Macs, tasting much like back home, cost about a quarter each.  Despite the exorbitant prices for a Russian, it’s the best gig in town for me.

  I’m told that Russian families will sometimes even sneak inside with their OWN food just for the status of eating there. 

We also saw a few ballets at the world famous Bolshoi.  Tickets cost the equivalent of a dollar and cavier on bread only a quarter a piece.  I truly feel rich here.  The Russians really get into their ballet performances and at the end, they stand up and shout “Bravo!” throwing big bunches of red roses at the performers’ feet. 

Also enjoyed the circuses.  They are big family attractions and the performers are astounding.  Bear tricks, acrobatics, magic tricks… Half of the fun is watching the enjoyment of the audiences.  Also saw the amazing Fabrige collection at the Kremlin.  And as with Mao, I paid a visit to the tomb of Lenin to see his embalmed body and the clockwork precision of the changing of the guards.  Everything is on a grandiose scale. 

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My travel companions on the Trans-…
My travel companions on the Trans…
Novospassky Monastery
Novospassky Monastery
Wall of the Kremlin
Wall of the Kremlin
Wedding
Wedding
This was the only McDs in Russia …
This was the only McD's in Russia…
KGB headquarters
KGB headquarters
The Bolshoi
The Bolshoi
Graffiti (previously unheard of)
Graffiti (previously unheard of)
A Lada
A Lada
One of Stalins Seven Sisters
One of Stalin's "Seven Sisters"
Moscow
photo by: eefab