Saturday, July 27, 2013

Farewell Russia

Today was our last full day in Russia. We depart Moscow tomorrow night. Honestly it is time to go. Traveling through Russian can have its challenges. Today was another example of this. My uncle is certainly ready to depart and I really do commend him for his patience during the trip. It is one thing to be a seasoned traveler and come to Russia it is another when your foreign travel is limited. I think today he had somewhat of a breaking point.

I actually got up early today. Mostly due to the fact that I couldn't sleep. I knew there were somethings I had to accomplish. I got to Red Square before 9 and it is a good thing I did. My purpose in getting there early was to Lenin's tomb. Well after a little problem solving I figured out where to stand. The mausoleum opens at 10 and I began to wait around 9:15. It is a good thing for I told my uncle that I would meet him around 11:15 at the ticket window for the inside of the Kremlin. The line for Lenin's tomb quickly began to fill and the line spread for a long way. Many people wait for an hour or two to see his decrepit body. Of course, this only applies to foreigners for Russians feel like they can just walk to the front of the line and not have to wait like everyone else. This is one of my major complaints of being here is there is no semblance of order or courtesy. Today, I was having none of it for I had a plan and needed to accomplish it. No one was getting in front of me today.

Lenin's tomb, how to describe. Creepy, strange, eerie are a few words that come to mind. You are led along the Kremlin wall until you reach the mausoleum where it seems like you are heading into the black hole or the abyss. It is very dark and hard to see, depth perception is lost. I got to the tomb and you are led quickly around the body. I took my good ol' time and checked out the actually well preserved body. He is encased in a glass case where special oxygen and who knows what else circulates to help preserve the Bolshevik leaders body. One thing I certainly noticed was his nasty yellow fingernails. Hey, I saw Lenin's body and it will make a good story for my students next year for that is what is constantly on my mind when traveling.

After seeing Lenin's antiquated figure I made my way down to the ticket office to meet my Uncle. I waited in line and was told to come back at 11:15 to get tickets. I was having none of that I stayed there to ensure I was getting in. Yesterday after waiting in line for an hour at a time we were told that the tickets were sold out. The procedure of gettting into the Kremlin is in dire need of an upgrade. There is very little room to stand without getting in the way of passerbys. Also as I mentioned you can wait in line for an hour only to finally get up to the front and be told sorry no more people. I will try to stay positive but this system is horrible. Well, I finally got the ticket for the armory and the Kremlin. I made it! Finally! There are no pictures allowed to be taken in the museums so that was a little disappointing but whatever I was in. Honestly, it wasn't what I was hoping. The armory is full of more Christian relics, old Russian clothing, carriages from back in the day and I forget what else. Oh now I remember, thrones. After traveling all through Europe I can clearly see why revolutions occurred. The royal families of Europe went to every expense to demonstrate their wealth and power by spending ridiculous amounts of money on jewelery, thrones, crowns, dishes, paintings, castles, palaces, you name it they spent money on it. After awhile it kind of sickened me. Of course my knowledge of history plays into this. While the serfs (landless peasants forced to work on a rich persons land) toiled away these royals were entertaining themselves to ridiculous proportions.

After going to the Armory I then saw the crown jewels. Certainly some amazing diamonds, gems, metals and sapphires but the same thought from above ran through my mind. I don't want to sound negative for I spent the money to see it so it obviously was something that I wanted to see but it became clear to me that these people lived the most lavish lives you can think of even in fairytales.

I then walked around the Kremlin and saw more churches. Quickly made my way through there. One church was of note for it was the burial place for the Tsar's before Peter the Great. Ivan the Terrible was buried here along with other important Tsar's that helped build the modern Russian state.

The inside of the Kremlin wasn't quite what I had in mind. But, of course,  I had to make the journey inside. I really enjoyed the sites outside the Kremlin wall as I mentioned in previous posts. Red Square unbelievable, St.Basils, the Gum and the State Museum equally unbelievable. I will remember these experiences more so than todays activities.

So you can probably tell by the tone of my post that I am ready to come home. A few days ago I felt a little different but such is life. I have really, really enjoyed my time here. The people have been fantastic for the most part. I will always remember several of the friends I met and the experiences with them. I am curious as the rest of the world is to see what happens in the future for Russia. I certainly am no expert and have a skewed view of the country for I was only in two cities and was surrounded by the better off people in Russia. What I saw, or from my personal experiences, capitalism is flourishing. I just kept thinking though: How are the rest of the people doing? I also am curious from some of the people I met. Are the people so tired of politics and history that the government is taking advantage of this lack of interest? For I read a lot while here about the autocratic direction of the government. Now let me make this clear as well. The United States in my opinion have many issues of our own. However, we still are free to speak our mind without fear!

Vladimir Lenin and Nicholas II evidently have mended their relationship. Time forgives all I guess. P

Stalin has really embraced capitalism for he wanted 1,000 rubles. Fat chance, take your 100 rubles and be happy.

This would be a museum dedicated to the War of 1812 when the Russians defeated Napoleon.

The Duma or the Russian legislature

Apartments right outside the Kremlin. They have to be ridiculously expensive. I read that Moscow is the second most expensive city for foreigners to live in the World!

My chaffeur getting my car all ready for me. Shine those tires will you're at please.

St.Basils again

The elevate concrete is where the Soviet officials and army big wigs would stand when inspecting the troops in Red Square.

Finally inside of the Kremlin!

I was on my best behavior in Russia, no international incidents.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

1,025 Year Anniversary!

So it has been a relatively low key few days.

Tuesday I decided to go to the Russian State Museum located near the Kremlin. It has been real rainy here this week so I waited until it cleared up a little. When I got to the museum I noticed that it is closed on Tuesdays. You think I would've noticed that the day before when we were looking around the gift shop. While walking around Red Square I noticed people going into Lenin's tomb. So I was wrong you can go to Lenin's tomb but they only allow it for a few hours in the morning. I am going to try to make it just to say I did it.

After striking out on the State Museum I noticed another museum that was of interest to me. The State Museum of Gulag History. A Gulag was a Soviet Work camp where "enemies of the state" were sent to perform hard labor. Essentially like a concentration camp. Not many people know this but it is believed that the Soviet leader Josef Stalin killed more people than Hitler. That is a ridiculous number of people. Many political opponents were sent to these Gulags along with many other innocent people. Well anyway I was hoping to learn more but after walking around in circles and finally finding it I found it was closed due to renovation. SWEET!

On my way back to the Kremlin I found an Irish restaurant and decided to stop in for lunch. I ended up talking to the bartender for awhile. She has traveled all over the world and had a lot of interesting stories to share. She mentioned that she was getting off work soon and offered to show me around. I, of course, took advantage of the opportunity and had a great time with her and her friend. We walked around for awhile checking out the posh streets and visiting the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. It was impossible to go into the church for the line was literally hours long. Evidently there is an icon, religious relic, that is on display. This icon is extremely rare and people were all about seeing this icon. Something to do with St.George I believe. I forget now : )

Anyhow, had a great time with the girls and really learned a lot about Russia from them. Many young people are not politically active. They are more interested in making money and enjoying life, rather refreshing really except for the fact that there is some messed up things happening here. If no one gets active than the problems persist. However I can understand there viewpoint because the same is true of young people in our country. She is interested in moving after she saves some money which wouldn't be the first person I talked to that has the same goal. Moscow is a very expensive city and she pays close to $900 for a small one room flat which she shares with her mother. Just like others I have talked to she works two jobs to make ends meet. She likes very similar to music, Red Hot Chili Peppers being one of her favorites. These experiences are the ones I will always remember, hanging out with my new Russian friends. We exchanged contact info and hopefully she will visit the US so I can repay the favor of showing her around. Fun Night!

Took it pretty easy yesterday. Read my book and spent time down at the pool and fitness center. Nothing big.

Made it to the State Museum today. I got an audio guide which was good for there were no signs in English. I won't bore you with the details but I was pretty pleased to learn more about Russian history. I do feel like I have learned a good deal while on this trip. This of course is always one of my goals. After the Museum I walked around Moscow and made it back to the church Christ the Savior. Once again the lines were ridiculous and I think at this point I have seen enough churches : )

In the evening I headed back to the Kremlin for I heard there was a concert tonight. It was really cool being in Red Square for a large celebration. The celebration was for the anniversary of Christianity being brought to Russia, 1,025 years to be exact. There were a large number of people there and I did a great job scooting all the way up to the front near the dignitaries. There were prolific members of the Eastern Orthodox Church there along with political and army leaders. Security was tight, in fact you had to go through a metal detector to get there. However it was well worth it. There were many performers, modern and traditional. I will try to post below. Glad I made it for it was a good immersion into Russian culture.

The more I am here the more I like it. I know Russia has its problems and to be honest there is no way I would want to live here with the represssion. But there are some really good things. One thing I want to note: I have had absolutely no problems with the police. Before I came here I read that I should expect to be looked at with scrutiny and also to expect to be stopped by a policemen who would then demand money. Today while in the metro I was a little confused wondering what side to take in the metro. I didn't even ask this policemen but he noticed I was confused and walked over to me and asked if I needed help. Of course this was very nice of him and he was not the first to provide help. The police do not look at me with skepticism or anything. I also feel very safe here. I have not felt a moment of insecurity since I have been here, none.

                               Just in time for the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier

                          I didn't notice at the time but Karl Marx is getting pooped on by a bird, hmmm.

 Read an article how Moscow is trying to improve the popularity of their streets and increasing traffic amongst pederstrain streets. Many people go from the metro to work back to metro then home.

                                           Cathedral of Christ the Savior. This church was destroyed by the Communists and then rebuilt.

 My new friends Anna and Olya. People smoke a lot here and it sucks, excuse my French, for when leaving places you smell like smoke. It is acceptable to smoke in public places and many do.

                                             Hard Rock Moscow: Anna and Olya used to work here. My favorite part of the collection was Jimi Hendrix's coat.

                                                  State Museum: Woolly Mammoth Tusks

           Map of the Mongol conquests, Russia was ruled by the Mongols for about 250 years.

                                       One of the first Printing Presses in Russia, thanks Gutenberg!

 1,025 year anniversary of Christianity. I hung near the big wigs. For some reason they didn't allow me to sit with them. Go figure.

                                                                   Moscow symphony

                                                Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church

                                                   Huge Crowd at the celebration

                                                                 The Gum all lit up

I was on my way out and then the fireworks began

Monday, July 22, 2013


Here we are! Safe and sound in Moscow. Our entrance, not the best due to weather and being ripped off, but we made it.

Honestly yesterday was a well needed day of R&R. I hate to wasted days but we honestly needed to chill out. We got to the hotel early in the morning and of course our room was not ready for it was way too early to check in. However they helped us out and we were able to get a room pretty quick. We had a great breakfast which was even better than the previous hotel. We are staying at the Hilton Leningradskaya. I don't know what I am going to do in the future as far as traveling is concerned. My uncle has spoiled me. The hotels have been first class all the way. In fact right now I am on a special floor in the hotel for Hilton Diamond club members. All of those years my uncle has travled for work has paid off. We have had dinner up here the last two nights for free. There is also complimentary drinks. First class all the way!

After our breakfast we got a room and both of us passed out for hours. I think I slept around four or five hours. My uncle was still sleeping so I decided to head to the exercise room, pool, jacuzzi and then the sauna. Talk about a refresher! Felt refreshed for sure and I certainly needed it. Afterwards we got a bite to eat up on the floor I mentioned and took it easy the rest of the night.

Today we headed to the Kremlin. We took the metro down and did a pretty good job navigating the subway system. We haven't seen the beautiful subway that you see pictures of. It is around just not the stops we were on today. We have all week so we will get there.

So let's see, the Kremlin is unbelievable. It is so much more than what I had in my mind. It is really hard to describe, just awesome. We were going to go to the museums but today we decided to walk around the Kremlin and check the scene out. Tomorrow we will be going to the Russian State Museum and the Armory. Today we went into St.Basils, the most famous church in Russia probably. St.Basils was built by Ivan the Terrible, you know that nice guy that punched his pregnant daughter in law and killed the future heir and then for good measure beat his son to death with a scepter. Good times. While walking around Red Square we noticed there was a stage being put together for some concerts in the next few days. Russia is celebrating 1,125 years of Christianity being brought to the area by I believe St.Cyril. I am gonna check the concerts out.

After our visit to St.Basils we sat down and had lunch in Red Square by the exculsive shopping mall called GUM. This mall was shut down for a period during the Communist Revolution. However now it is popping. All the high end stores you can imagine. Saw awesome clothes unfortunately my wallet is not up for such things. Obviously not everyone is flourishing in Russia however from what I see a lot of people are. This shopping mall was the nicest I have ever seen.

After our trip to the Kremlin (Red Fort) we came back to the hotel for another swim and trip to the Sauna. Our hotel was commisioned by Stalin in the 1950's to show the grandeur of the Soviet State. Pretty cool being in a hotel that was commissioned by Stalin even though he was a ruthless dictator. Great Purge, Gulags and Secret Police.

Moscow is no St.Petersburg, although not many places are. The weather has been rainy and gloomy. The Russian people have been pretty helpful to us.  People are people as I always say : )
We certainly stick out like a sore thumb but the people seem to enjoy having tourists and many are on holiday visiting their cities just as we are. I have learned from people that I have talked to that the Russian middle class is growing and more and more people are starting to enjoy the advantages. Capitalism is alive and well here!
                                                   Hotel Leningradskaya

                                                  Lobby is very Soviet

             Been getting my swim on, or at least floating in it like a big whale.

                                        The Kremlin and the Chinese mobs

                                          Flowers everywhere in Russia

                                           Tomb of the Unknown soldier

                                      That would be making a wish, or wishes. Not telling. Notice the old ladies in the background, they pick up everyones money and then go and by vodka.

Lenin's tomb, my students will be disappointed to hear you can't go in anymore.

                                           St.Basil's is awesome!

                             The inside of St.Basil's not so awesome in my opinion

                                      Uncle Ed enjoying lunch in Red Square

                                            GUM shopping Mall

                                           Heartwarming : )

                  Awww! I like Shrek, we are tight after he slapped five with me.

                                        Hammer and sickle

                         This porcelain vase was given to Stalin by Mao Zedong, or at least that is what the bellman told me during the tour of our hotel.