Sunday, August 19, 2007

Friday Morning Turistikas

Kathie’s going to disown me if I don’t get this saga moving again. Sorry it’s taken so long, Kath. This ungodly heat has sucked all motivation right out of me.

OK, so where were we? Oh yeah, aboard the Maxim Litvinov on the Moskva River, recuperating from the Russian version of “The Out of Towners” the night before.

So here are Kathie and I, in cabin 341, trying to open our eyes and get our butts out of bed and moving. We’re pretty experienced at coordinating our morning shower and dressing routine in a closet-sized cabin with two beds, our luggage, our clothes, and Kathie’s books. (This year, we also had Kathie’s iPod and hoard of dark chocolate.) So maybe it was jetlag that caused me to sunscreen only my nose.

After a lovely little buffet breakfast in the Volga Restaurant at the back of the ship on our deck, we met up with our fellow cruisers on the pier for a morning tour of Moscow city. Two hundred Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, English, and Irish folk split up onto six tour buses and set out along Leningradski Prospekt to see the main tourist attractions. As we drove along, I nearly gave myself whiplash trying to read every sign on every building on both sides of the street. One thing in particular I noticed was the presence of so many flower kiosks (flowers are “tsveti” – from the Russian word for color), and all the people carrying flowers. Nice.

Here’s Novodevichy (New Maiden) Convent. Most of the compound was built in the late 1600s by Peter the Great’s half-sister, Regent Sophia. Well, actually, she didn’t build it herself. She had it built because Peter confined her to the convent for the rest of her life, even after she had spent seven years of her life acting as the stand-in for him until he got old enough to rule. Now that’s gratitude for you. She should have squashed the guy like a palmetto bug, except that he was seventeen years old and seven feet tall. Yikes.

We milled around in the park across the lake for a few minutes, snapping shots, then hopped back on the bus and drove off, passing the Novodevichy Cemetery along the way. Famous residents (ahem) include Checkhov, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Raisa Gorbachev, and Nikita Krushchev. Now, Kathie and I remember Krushchev pounding on his podium and roaring, “We will bury you!” Wonder if that’s what got him buried in the New Maiden Cemetery with the artsy guys, while other famous Communists, such as Stalin and Brezhnev - even John Reed, an American - were all buried in Red Square behind Lenin’s mausoleum. Tsk tsk.

Here’s Moscow University. Located in Sparrow Hills, it’s one of eight (or seven, depending on whom you ask) of Stalin’s Skyscrapers (or wedding cakes, also depending on whom you ask). Tuition is free. Woof. Kathie got this great shot by crossing the street so that the overhead lines running above the sidewalk wouldn’t show up in the final product. (I’m lazy – almost all of my building photos have overhead wires.)

While Kathie risked her life to get a quality shot, I chatted some with Inga (our savior from the evening before). Turns out she’s not as young as she looks! She has a son who was a civil defense (is that like our National Guard?) lieutenant in the Urals and is now into computer design, and a daughter who’s in high school studying English. During Perestroika, Inga’s husband lost his job in the printing industry and took a construction job. Now that the economy is stronger, he’s back operating a printing press. We found out toward the end of the cruise that she herself teaches Russian literature at the high school level (she just came along on this cruise with her friend, one of the cruise staff members, on a lark). In the next year or two, Inga and family plan to move to Toronto, Canada. Wow – such ambition!

Our tour guide pointed out lots of other landmarks as we drove along through Moscow, such as 19th century nobles’ houses and the state library – in front of which is a cool statue of Dostoyevsky. We stopped along the bank of the Moskva River and climbed down from our bus onto a broad sidewalk across the street from Christ the Redeemer (or Savior, depending on whom you ask) Cathedral.

Kathie's photo.

My photo. See the difference?

Interesting history. The cathedral was built between 1839 and 1883 to celebrate Moscow’s victory over Napoleon. In 1931, however, Stalin decided the site would be perfect for his Palace of Soviets, the ninth (or eighth, depending on – well, you know) of his gothic skyscrapers, so he had the cathedral blown up. For whatever reason – lack of funds, the intervening war, and/or too many other projects going on - the palace didn’t happen; the remaining foundation was therefore turned into an outdoor pool instead. In the 1990s the pool was filled in and the original structure was reproduced at a cost of $200 million, most of which came from the government. How’s that for irony?

Across the river are the Red October chocolate factory and this crazy tall Peter the Great monument. Good chocolate. (We picked up a bar of 80% dark chocolate at the corner produkti that evening, and it was purty yummy.) On the other side of the chocolate factory is a large apartment building where Stalin’s cronies lived. All the amenities were included – theater, shops, kindergarten, etc. Such a life. It must have been scary as hell.

Back on the bus and crawling along in Moscow traffic, we passed the Duma (parliament) on the way to Red Square. We next debussed (you know, like “deplaned”) onto the narrow sidewalk that forms the perimeter of the relatively small parking area behind St. Basil’s Cathedral, and I noticed a white limo crammed into what little space was left along the curb in front of our bus. A wedding party was milling around it, chatting and having a photo or two taken. How odd, I thought, and yet this was just the first of many wedding parties we would see in Red Square. It wasn’t until Saturday that we found out what they were up to. (Photos of brides and Red Square will be included in the next post or two, Kath. I promise.)

OK, so I couldn't...

resist just a couple of shots...

We spent a while milling with the crowds in Red Square, snapping shots of the Kremlin’s walls and towers, Lenin’s tomb (alas – we had no time to stand in the queue to go in and say “Hey” to old Vlady), St. Basil’s Cathedral, GUM (pronounced “goom”), etc. It was hard to believe we were actually here. It’s much, much better to see in person, trust me. It would be cool to see in the winter, I bet (no pun intended).

Knowing we would be back the following day, we reluctantly left and headed for lunch at the Durov Restaurant, passing Theater Square along the way (Kathie and I were well acquainted with this area already). The Durov is actually a dark little theater that belongs to a famous clown (Durov?), and during the day hosts lunches for tour groups. Many, many tour groups. It was hot and close, and the food was mediocre (what was that cheese sauce covered meatball thingy, anyway?), but we had our first borscht and it wasn’t too bad. I had expected it to be a cream soup, though, and have no meat in it. Maybe this was Durov’s personal recipe.

Well, this post is already getting to be overly long, so I’m going to save the afternoon’s adventure for tomorrow. Next up – Metro orientation and the Arbat.

1 comment:

Katharine said...

OMG, I'm saved from having to start up the mountain stories again. I thought it was hitting the 100th post that gave Patty writer's block.