Note From Jon


Friday, May 2, 2008

Russia Recap: Day 2

Sunday April 20th

Sunday was Kristin’s only full day (as a tourist) in Moscow. As such, we had a rigorous sight-seeing schedule to cover it all. Not that I’m a demanding travel partner or anything… :-p Thankfully, like the National Mall here in D.C., Moscow has all of their top attractions packaged in one convenient spot. In Moscow that’s The Kremlin and Red Square (which lives directly outside the Kremlin’s east wall).

After the President Hotel’s bountiful breakfast buffet, our first stop was Red Square, or as the language courses taught us Krasnaya Ploshad, which frankly was pronounced in the lectures as “Krasnaya bullshit” (I’m sorry, it sounded exactly like that to both of us). Needless to say we got some laughs out of standing in Red Square and telling each other Krasnaya Ploshad izdees (Red Square is here!). It’s here that Lenin lays embalmed waiting to greet us. He gets tired though so he’s only available between 10am and 1pm, and on Monday and Friday he’s out of the office altogether (it’s my understanding that’s when they wipe him down and touch him up). Apparently there is usually a horrendous line and we were nearly suckered into hiring a tour guide who supposedly could get us right to the front of the line. As it turned out the line was only about 10 minutes (on a rainy April day at least) and we actually were in line next to two guys who had been on the vodka tour with us the night before (perhaps they were actually hired to follow us… or we were hired to follow them). At any rate Lenin is looking pretty good; embalmed, but not as fake as some writings implied. There’s no talking (to him or anyone else) and they move you through pretty quickly so it’s only about a 15 second experience. He’s free so at least it’s a good value.

Next stop was the Armoury, which is essentially a history museum inside the Kremlin. You can’t enter or exit the Kremlin from the east side so we had to walk all the way around the Kremlin, past the tomb of the unknown soldier, an old looking section of wall, and the Alexandrovsky Gardens (which like most things in Moscow will probably look much better… and be much more crowded… next month). “April renovations bring May tourists” was a common theme throughout the trip, as you’ll see. But the Armoury was open and we made our noon timeslot (although Kristin was forced to forage for nourishment since I wouldn’t stop for lunch—she ended up with a ketchup-soaked hot dog that was none too appetizing). Like the rest of Russia, there was very little English in the museum, but you go through the gift shop on the way in (and out) and they sell an English book on the Armoury for about $8 (and they actually take credit cards!), so I recommend buying that as a guide and souvenir. Some of the more exciting items here were the actual throne where Peter and Ivan were anointed co-tsars, along with the crowns they wore (all of which was shown in the Peter the Great miniseries that planted the seed in high school for me to eventually take this trip). The Faberge eggs and Elizabeth’s 23 horse carriage also made this one of the highlights of the trip. When you go, explore the room of outfits worn by the clergy and look for the one which we swore was decorated with South Park-style people (sadly this one is missing from the Armoury guidebook). Maybe it really is from the South Park folks and they have it there like we have the Colbert painting at our National Portrait Gallery.

The rest of the time in The Kremlin was spent dodging the rain, ducking from one cathedral to another (half of which wound up being closed). Everytime we entered a building we hoped when we left the rain would have stopped... it was always raining harder. We did come across the impressive Tsar Bell (largest in the world), but failed to find a way to exit the Kremlin out onto Red Square (there were plenty of guards around to stymie each attempt down a new path we thought might get us out that way). So we did another half-lap around the outside of the Kremlin walls, where we worked up an expensive appetite.

After a $50 snack at GUM (the boutique mall that lines the whole east side of Red Square) we wound our way through St. Basil’s Cathedral. The outside is far more interesting than the inside where the highlight was probably realizing that there were multiple exits which meant they were forced to have multiple mini-gift shops to catch you on your way out. Each time we went a different way inside to be sure we had covered everything we wound up in a different gift shop.

Our last tourist destination was the State History Museum. Kristin and I were both uninspired by this museum and the highlight hands down was bumping into her co-worker Joe who had just bought train tickets to St. Petersburg… at the exact times we needed to buy ours for. I formulated a plan of getting a copy of them to take with me to the train ticket office on Monday. Kristin and I were so bored of the English-free second floor of the museum that we decided to skip out on the first floor (which we learned later from Joe actually had information in English!). Therefore it was all the more ironic to us when we exited the museum and heard a speaker enticing tourists inside… in English. In the museum’s defense it had been a long day and I’m sure had we hired a guide, or bought a guidebook, or started on the first floor(!) we’d have enjoyed it more.

Dinner was at the Lonely Planet’s second successful recommendation. This time it was the Uzbek restaurant “Eastern Quarter” just off Ulitsa Arbat. Their Plov was second only to Saturday’s Horcha on my list of top Russian meals. In addition to being delicious, dinner was cheaper than our afternoon snack! But I’ll admit that sitting at the cafĂ© in GUM was a nice break from the non-stop tourist-a-thon… and from the rain. Since I’d be outside all day on Monday I was really hoping for some sunshine…

Kristin on the other hand had to prepare for her conference on Monday. An $800 a night hotel in Russia may have a spectacular view and great breakfast, but there are some things it does not have. A clock. An iron. No worries. Kristin called to have an iron brought to the room to undo the wrinkle damage that a 9 hour flight will do. The response: "No". And then instructions to go down to some other room number, where there was an iron. It turns out it was the maid's room, so Kristin ironed away while we looked around at all of the random knick-knacks (a table-top tree with fake $100 bills as leaves) and potential freebies (extra hotel slippers—which we passed on because President Hotel was written in English—but sadly none of their $150 bathrobes).

<-- Day 1 ---- Day 3 Train Tickets -->


RW Apple Wannabe said...

Great posts on your trip to Russia. I just came back from my own 9-day trip to Moscow and St. Petersburg, and I wish I'd found your blog before we left for Russia. It's remarkable how similar our trips were.

I'm especially impressed you covered so much Moscow tourist-sight ground in a single day. My husband and I managed to miss Lenin's tomb and the State History Museum because Red Square was closed for the Inauguration during our visit.

Thanks for the entertaining and interesting posts!

Jon said...

Thanks! Glad to hear you enjoyed them. I'm a bit slow in posting or you might have found them before your trip :-) I imagine the Inauguartion Day festivities were more interesting than Lenin and the State History Museum anyway!

Emily said...

Why is Russia so expensive? Seriously, I don't get it.