There and Back Again

Friday, October 17, 2008

I’m back from Moscow and finally sitting down to write about it. I would like to say I’ve been to busy to do so, but I think I’ve just spent a lot of time sleeping.

Friday we sat around for what seems like forever, waiting for 10:30 to come around so we could leave for the train station. When my parents had trouble putting me to sleep as a baby they would just drive me around in the car and I would pass out right away. That still happens today in any moving vehicle. The combination of a moving vehicle and a bed with comfortable blankets is probably the greatest invention ever. The night train was actually really fun (for the hour we were awake) and amazingly comfortable for the 7 hours we slept. We arrived in Moscow at 8 am and stopped at a café for breakfast. After that we took a tour around the city, stopping way to many times. Our first stop was Red Square, where St. Basil’s, Lenin Mausoleum, the Kremlin, and the GUM are located. After that we went to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. After the revolution and the death of Lenin the Soviets decided to demolish the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and turn it into the “Palace of Soviets”. Their original design called for an insanely huge statue of Lenin with a library in is head and a movie theater in his arm. Luckily they got into WWII and were never able to finish the project. The foundation acted as a swimming pool until 1994 when they finally decided to rebuild the church that once sat there. We visit a monastery that I can’t remember the name of and we also visited a cemetery that hold the remains of Yeltsin, Gogol, Khrushchev, and Chekhov. We ended the tour at a high point in the city where were could look out and see the ice skating rink and the ski jump used in the 1980 Olympics.

After the tour we spent forever in traffic and finally got to check into our hotel. We had to wait a few hours for the hotel to register us but once we got our passports back we hopped on the metro (way harder than Petersburg’s metro) and went to the Arbat. The Arbat is supposed to be the fancy shopping district of Moscow. When we played Moscow monopoly the Arbat was Park Place. If Moscow is the most expensive city in the world, and the Arbat is the Park Place of Moscow, does that make the Arbat the most expensive shopping area in the world? I don’t really know. We went to the Hard Rock Café where I spent way too much money but thoroughly enjoyed my meal. Then we found Starbucks! There are only 4 in Russia and they are all in Moscow I believe, two of which were on the Arbat. After that we headed back to our hotel.

Sunday we had to get up early to get to Lenin’s Mausoleum. There was more security to get in there than any airport or embassy I’ve ever been to. No bags whatsoever were allowed. No camera’s were allowed. You were not allowed to put your hands in your pockets, talk, or stop moving. You had to wait in a line 200 yards away from the mausoleum itself, pass through security and then weave in and out of roped off areas. Once you enter it gets very dark. There are guards standing in every corner of the room and on every few steps in and out of the room. They were hidden in the shadows and it was actually very creepy. Lenin himself looked pretty plastic-y. I was just waiting for something to jump out at me like in a haunted house. After Lenin we got to enter the Kremlin. We visited the Armory which actually holds all the old carriages, clothes, jewels, and other artifacts from all the rulers of Russia. There was so much there to look at but we spent a little too much time there and learned about almost everything we saw. We got to walk into a few cathedrals in the Kremlin walls and see where the president hangs out (of course behind armed gates). We had a quick lunch in Sbarro’s and then walked around a bit more. From there we took the train to the Circus. It was actually an amazing show. I was like a little kid watching everything with my mouth wide open and eye bulging. It made me want to check out the circus in Petersburg. That ran almost three hours so after that we just went back to the room, listened to some Russian music videos and went to bed.

Monday we had the entire day to ourselves. We had to check out at 12 but we weren’t meeting again until 10:30. It was a long day. We walked through a market near our hotel and worked on our haggling skills. We visited Red Square several more times, walked along the Arbat, and got Starbucks. It is insane how expensive it is there. A tall (small) coffee is $8. I was too afraid to even look at the larger sizes. We had lunch in the GYM (GUM) which is a huge shopping mall filled with Cartier, Gucci, Coach, Louis Vuitton, etc. I definitely felt out of place but it was fun walking around pretending to belong there. We got into St. Basil’s Cathedral right before it closed. It was very different from the other churches we saw. There is actually something like 7 smaller churches inside and it is full of windy hallways and very awkward staircases. It was very beautiful. From that point on we were just trying to kill time so we went to a few cafes and then ate at a restaurant near our hotel.

On the train ride back we had some older man in our car so it was a little awkward but I, again, have no trouble sleeping in a moving vehicle. I did realize today that I left a pair of sweatpants on the first train when I changed on it. When we got back here Tuesday morning we just went back to bed and slept for most of the day. Wednesday we visited a monument and went out to eat again. Yesterday I was on a quest to find reasonably priced boots. I looked everywhere. I didn’t find boot but we did find this really cute street that was cut off from traffic and was decorated for Christmas. I can’t wait to go back there in the snow.

Today I spent some time in McDonald’s and then afterwards Betsy and I went with Casey to visit her homestay family. It was a great experience. The mother was very nice and spoke very slowly and clearly. The daughter had just turned 21 so we were the same age and she was talking about her friend that spoke a little English who was going to come over and hang out with us. We were talking in Casey’s room when there was a knock on the door and the grandmother told us to wash up and come eat. There was an insane amount of food. They started with soups, bread, cheese, and apples, then gave us potatoes, chicken, and cabbage, after that came ice cream, tea, champagne, and chocolate candies. I really wasn’t expecting any food there but it was amazing nonetheless. We invited the girl (Lena) to come to the dorm for Halloween although we really didn’t have anything planned at the time and she asked if she could invited her friend too. They were all so nice and, while it was a little difficult communicating, I had a great time there and would love to go back again.

Wow this is an insane post. I’m sorry. I’m going to an actual internet café tomorrow to do a lot of picture uploading.

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