Arriving into the city, architecture is stunning but wow, what a big city, the largest in Europe. Having a bit of a cold and it being so cold, the first night was just a foray into the subway system, where I quickly learned it was acceptable for two people to use one ticket or jump over the turnstile entirely to avoid paying, all this within plain sight of scarily clad men in uniform
. I participated in this as well, except for the time the turnstile caught me in the leg as I went through the wrong stile, oops. In my defense, those men in uniform freaked me out. The subway stops themselves are worth visiting for their art. Oh and this is where it's apparent we are no longer in Kansas, Dorothy, there is no English anywhere. Had to match letters of the alphabet to where we were going. Also much less smiles going on. On one occasion, we boarded an extremely packed train, you know the kind reminiscent of sardines, where an otherwise crabby old lady was complaining of getting pushed. Well, our friendly little pinata pressed into her and what do you think happened? Yes, Pin E brought a smile to her face; and many strange looks from others.
First tourist destination: the Red Square. Mother Nature decided to make our visit extra special with a hailstorm. St Basil's was colorful as expected and the one place we visited inside. Lenin's mausoleum was closed but the blingy shopping center, the GUM, was a warm respite and likely where the Oligarchs shop if nothing else. McDonald's by the Kremlin in the Cyrillic alphabet was hyper capitalism at it's finest along with the usual tacky souvenirs. Who wouldn't love a girly pink ushanka with the soviet symbol anyway?
We searched for an Azerbeijini and Armenian restaurant without luck
. What we did find was a Ukrainian restaurant with Texas sized portions complete with a Ukranian babushka tending animals in the middle of the restaurant. I kind of wish I were kidding. Basically, everything was either meat or came with a side of meat. The usual borsch, or beet root soup, even had meat in it. I think the beer might have too. Another restaurant experience worth mentioning did not have an English menu so our waitress asked us if we wanted pork, beef or fish and brought out the corresponding meat meal, now that's service.
Other observations: there seem to be a lot of young, pretty women with older, larger men, money talks in this city. And contrary to what we were told about Moscow nightlife always going off, we did not go out as only Friday nights are happening. Too bad as the clubs are in factories, we saw one especially with massive bling on the outside.
Our last day in Moscow was spent visiting the site of the 1980 Olympics, the ones banned by Western countries due to the Afghan war. In true style, there was a random golf range which was obligingly used, though felt weird as it was so empty., I was under the impression we were going to the Novodevichy Cemetery. Eventually, we got there after a round of spoon tossing as witnessed by the most famous Olympic symbol, Misha, the mouse looking thing
. The cemetery itself was beautiful, actually. The tombstones were mostly of military men who died serving their country (most of which looked angry) although there were some surprisingly abstract tombstones as well as Boris Yeltsin, Mikhail Gorbachev's wife, and Nikolai Gogol. Just neighboring the cemetery, is the beautiful convent grounds, again, home to some pretty amazing church architecture. Walking along the street later that night in a cat mask certainly did jolt a few locals!
Onwards to the first leg of the Trans-Siberain railroad journey. First up: a 20 hour overnighter to Perm, a city that would not exist had it not been for the railroad, which Dr. Zhivago also calls home.
Cold and conformist Moscow, at least that was the first impression. 4 1/2 hours by train from St Petersburg and it feels like a different universe entirely. Gone are the brides everywhere, here men in uniforms reign. And they really are everywhere. Have I traded in kitschy beauty and hope for the future for post-Soviet blah? Thankfully, this was not to be the case, Moscow grew on me, a mere 48 hours allowed just enough time to get a feel for the city. And I'd go back. But only in summer.