Moscow is…peculiar. I feel the city in transition and it is this transition, from a closed communist-rule state to a consumption-frenzied western-influenced tourist attraction, which makes up most of the oddity. Just as Disneyland from above is both cozy and slick for its guests (happily lit castles, mice with white gloves to cover the gnarly clawed-paws) so too are the popular St. Basil’s cathedral, Red Square, and even the Metro (subway) stations. But underneath is that deeply entrenched bureaucracy that keeps the cotton candy fluffy and the streets clear of gum and homeless. The tourists’ cotton candy stays fluffy and unnaturally (though not for cotton candy) blue so as long as everything works as planned and those tourists don’t overstep the bounds of the red-velvet ropeways. It is at that point that curious adventures tend toward aggravating impossibilities.
I should add here, that this goes for all of those tourists who do not speak/read Russian. That language barrier closes nearly endless possibilities for the traveler to understand and take advantage of what is a beautiful city and I suspect a spectacular country. That being said, if you go to Russia, learn a bit of their language, it will expand your possibilities of outings…and it’s polite. I didn’t learn much of language, but I did try to be polite.
Oh, and I had a great time.
On their first day in the city I think everybody goes to the Kremlin. The Kremlin (for those of you who don’t know as I didn’t) was until recently (and for almost a thousand years before that) a functioning something-or-other hub of Russia. It’s one of those castle-ish types with high walls around its perimeter containing great cathedrals and important buildings where influential people sit to make very important sounding decisions. Basically a centralized (and seductively protected complex against those that want to force their way in) place in Russia from which to cause and attract trouble just so that it may be continually blown up and rebuilt. Now it is quite of warring superpowers. Tourist arrive in hordes and pray not to the gods in the cathedrals but to the rich men (mostly) at Kodak. And so did I. I shamelessly took pictures of the junk and many tall buildings. If you don’t believe me, just look:
Inside the walls is the Armory; an absolute mass of royal junk. Seemingly endless glass cases hold golden crowns, staffs, armour, weapons, plates, bowls, chairs, and about anything else that can be made eerily golden. Thrones are laden with diamonds, proper horses are stuffed and laden with exquisite (if exquisite can also imply tacky) harnesses, in an adjacent room are their carriages which once hauled the now long-deceased tyrants of the times, while another room is laden with their (the tyrant’s) frilly garments and underthings. Yes, the place could you a good clearing out, maybe all that stuff could have been put to better use if the various raiders throughout the times could have been left to keep the loot (Napoleon, fires etc.). Really though, it would have been best if the damn powers of the time forwent their greed and let the peasants of the day prosper in place of another golden place setting. Revolt! Revolt!
The Faberge eggs were cool, though:
Opposite the Kremlin sits the infamous Red Square, a 400m x 150m cobblestone courtyard littered throughout time by great celebrations and countless massacres. Red Square today has been made famous this century by Stalin’s use of it as a parkway for Soviet Union tanks during WWII, and later as an icon during the Cold War as a garden of fertile missiles hungry for BigMac flavoured American blood. Despite its history of horrors, today it characterizes the embracing shift away from communism to make way for the bulldozer of capitalism. The west side of the square is lined my the most elaborate three tiered shopping mall blanketed by100ft high advertisements while on the East is the Kremlin and the embalmed body of Vladimir Ilich Lenin (encased in glass, and if I can make a bad joke here: visibly rolling in his grave (groan)). During the day countless thousands of tourists trample the cobblestone where the tank tracks once rolled and at night the younger Muscovites congregate to embark on that ancient ritual of courtship and Luv (Russian folk are, by the way, totally hot).
I wanted to see a show: Tchaikovsky, a circus, Russian theatre. Anything culturally Russiany. As it turns out, everybody who would just love to sell me tickets speaks Russian. Not English. Very difficult to get what I am interested in. Determined I will keep trying.
What else? Eating. Yes, eating. Something very important. Something that is very difficult for a vegetarian that can’t read/speak Russian (a language operated by a people who absolutely love meat in everything they eat). Eating in restaurants (those that I could afford) usually proved impossible because I couldn’t read the menu (yeah, try and understand the Cyrillic alphabet) and my usual vicarious method of ordering “whatever” vegetable didn’t prove fruitful at all. However, speaking of fruit, it saved my grumbling stomach. Street vendors of fruit were everywhere and by way of peaches, pears, and bananas along with the complimentary breakfast at the hotel, I survived happily. What little classically Russian food I did have was very good, I wish only I knew what to order elsewhere.
The Metro system is amazing. Not only is it the savoir for getting around the city, the stations are fabulously beautiful [something you don’t notice until you plunge down into depths of a station (stations that were built to second as bunkers during wartime (a useful consideration though maybe a little irksome for those around before the massive escalators where installed to move the 9-million people up and down every day))].
After the Kremlin, walking though the beautiful streets of the city, and touring the Metro I ran out of the tourist’s things to do. I got bored and decided to try and take the Metro north and catch a trolley to meet up with the river before it has the opportunity to run through industrialized Moscow. Up there I was supposed to find some nice beaches along the waters edge besieged with happy Russians. I never even found the Trolley.
So it goes.
But I did, accidentally, find a park in the meantime and got quite a bit of reading done.
My last full day in Moscow, determined to wander and even more determined to see a show (classical Music Theatre runs as cheap as $2 a seat, wow!), I bandaged up the toes on my blisters and set off walking. Shortly after, I ran into a Swedish couple from the hotel who where very nice and just as nicely confused by Moscow as I was. With them, we set off to flounder around the city the rest of the day. One sight seeing excursion, virtual space rollercoaster, English speaking oriental-meets-Russian-meets-hippy restaurant later we found ourselves haggling around with ticket vendors and plain ol’ Russian passersbys for theatre tickets. And we got some. No, not to the Nutcracker (that was too expensive), no not to the acclaimed Russian circus (the acrobats rest Mondays and Tuesdays), but to…well…I don’t know what it was called. It was defiantly musical dance theatre. I don’t know what the production was called and I certainly have no idea what happened throughout by way of a plot, but it was fun, pretty to look at, and rightfully confusing.
Then I boarded a plane for Bombay, India.