Monday, August 13, 2007

Russia I: Moscow

We arrived in Moscow at 10:30am. The flight brought us over green hills dotted with enormous and beautiful mansions - the summer homes of the new Russian super-upper-class. Because the ship, which was our floating hotel for the whole trip, was not open until 3pm, the completely unprepared "Intrav" tour guides brought us to a "MegaMall." For 3 hours. Its most interesting feature was a supermarket that was, quite literally, easily the size of the largest Walmart I have ever been in. Criminally, I did not photograph the beer aisle (actually, there were two beer aisles). It was not only as long as the eye can see, but beer was shelved to at least 30 feet above the floor. Capitalism has brought with it many choices for Russians in terms of food, but, unfortunately, they still have almost no selection of fresh fruit and vegetables.

For the next few days, we were led around by the hand by tourguides to see the various tourist attractions that Moscow has to offer. Some of the more infirm members of our group would go back to the ship after a busy morning of riding the bus. Here I am with my grandmother (both the oldest and most sprightly of all the passengers besides myself) in famous Red Square. St. Basil's Cathedral, built with all those colors back in the 16th century, is visible behind:

We saw a bunch of churches, none of which really piqued my interest more than St. Basil's. Lots of onion domes, lots of not-very-shiny gold on those domes, etc. They call all the churches "cathedrals," even though none is very large. I couldn't quite figure out how the hierarchy works in the Russian Orthodox Church, but I didn't try very hard.

The tour guides brought us to "Gym" (pronounced 'goom'), which used to be the only shopping center in all of Moscow. Now, it's the most expensive shopping center in Moscow, which, trust me, is saying a lot. I hear that Let's Go has declared Moscow to be the most expensive city in the world, and I believe it to be true. Our guides said that, in the center of the city, apartment space sells for as little as $30,000 per square meter. Check out this display in a store window in Gym (the speech bubble does NOT explain the dog...)

Evidence of capitalism's influence was available all along the main streets in Moscow, where in addition to McDonald's, we saw a TGI Friday's, with "TGI Friday's" spelled out phonetically in Cyrillic (I apologize for the blurriness)

"Pectopah" is pronounced "Restoran" - this will make sense to anyone who knows Greek, but it mystified most of the people on our tour. The most confused rectified the situation by falling asleep on the bus, and making as little attempt as possible to learn anything about the language.

By far the most notable thing about Moscow, and the note on which I will close this post, is the subway. It was built in the '20s and '30s as a testament to the awesomeness of the regime, and it is really something else. My pictures don't really capture how beautiful, clean, and elegant each station is - and each station is different in some interesting way. Lots of sculptures, original paintings, floor designs, etc. And between 6am and 8pm, the train on the main circle line comes at least every 40 seconds. Guaranteed.

Tomorrow you can look forward to "Russia II: Cruising on the Volga"!

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