Wednesday, September 8, 2010


I arrived in Moscow on the train about 2 p.m. on September 4th. My cabin mates pointed me to the metro and helped me make sense of the map before they ran off to catch their bus. Since Mongolian uses the Cyrillic alphabet like Russian does, I was able to fairly quickly read the metro map. I followed the directions and found my hostel with only one wrong turn. I had made an error and never changed my date of arrival at the hostel when I had to postpone my train ticket. For them, I was 4 days late, and they were nearly full. A nice man from New Hampshire with a passion for customer service runs the hostel. Even though it was my error, they fit me in. I was relieved to have a spot, and it had a great location. As I went through the next day in Moscow I realized how lucky I had been to get that kind of help.

I hit it off with an adventurous man named Ian from UK that had just spent 2 months motorcycling solo from UK to Mongolia and Russia. We shared stories and drank cheap Russian beer. The next day we toured around Moscow by boat, foot, and subway together. Fun to have a partner in crime for the day. We took a river boat for an hour and saw many of Moscow’s famous buildings from the water. Next we walked to see the largest cathedral, and an old ornately tiled apartment building that I really liked. We made our way to the Kremlin, but because of a holiday, Red Square was closed. I was able to get a picture with St. Basil’s (the crazy candy striped cathedral in everybody’s Moscow pictures), just not from the Square side. Alas, when you have one day only and that’s the day it is closed!

After the walking tour, we went underground and toured the amazing subway stations under the center of the city. The trains are clean, fast, and frequent. This means it is easy to hop off, take some pictures and enjoy, then hop on the next train. Some stations are quite extravagant, like cathedrals underground. They mostly have a nationalist theme, many mosaics of the hammer and sickle, Lenin, and Stalin. They were built huge to help house the population of the city in case of nuclear attack or cataclysm. Apparently there are several secret lines built for KGB and to run supplies during emergency. They have glitzy chandeliers, ornate and gaudy grates and sculpture. Many have huge mosaics on the walls and ceiling. Each station was designed by premier architects and artists of the time, mostly between 1930 and 1970. I had a lot of fun doing this, and loved that the 2 hour tour cost $1.50 (one ticket lasts the whole time, until you come above ground again.)

I was impressed with how grand Moscow is. In the city center, the buildings look very European. Colors are bright and varied. Not the cement square bunkers that Mongolia inherited from them--though these are also in the suburbs of the big cities. What I found difficult and surprising is that the people are very harsh and unwelcoming of visitors, as a rule. Every encounter in stores or restaurants was unfriendly. If I asked for help, or asked if anyone spoke English, they were very offended. If I had to ask a second time because I didn’t understand their reluctant Russian response to my initial question, they became irate. I found 2 metro workers that were neutral and helped me, 4 very sweet Russian girls at the hostel, and 2 random people on the street that helped me, but otherwise interactions with locals were cold or openly hostile. It was wild to arrive in a country of white people after so long in Asia and have them be more foreign to me than anywhere I have ever been. I didn’t mind having so little time there. The people in the Czech Republic as a people are wonderful, especially so in contrast. But I get ahead of myself. First, I have to share my gratitude for not being jailed or sent back to Russia in Belarus for a visa violation.

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