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Two Easters in Russia - Part 1, Moscow

Pictures are at the bottom...

Kata came home for a month in the end of January, but with her tied up at school until summer, unless something was done, I wouldn't see her again until the summer. Something had to be done! Something WILL be done! With not many holidays left after christmas in Australia, I eyed off easter, where I could turn a 5 day weekend into quite a holiday. Flights booked, and this time NOT spending a night in an airport terminal in Riga, it just became a matter of counting down the days to see Kata again :)

And then it was time, and I was in Russia, with Kata again, and none of the rest of this photo stuff really matters :)

Still, I did take some photos, so I guess I might as well share them with you all.

I flew into Moscow, where I was going to meet Kata, who'd arrived by train during the day. We were going to have an actual holiday together, with four days in Moscow before going back to St Petersburg and the real world. Well, as real as the world can be for an Icelandic Australian loitering in Russia. Still, Kata had to be back at school, and instead of a hostel, we'd be back at her appartment, so St Petersburg really was, "back to the real world"

But this was MOSCOW! And Moscow most definitely is NOT the real world. Oh it's very physically real, to be sure, but there's more to reality than the five senses.

We stayed at the Nova Hostel in Kitai Gorod, which was quite nice, and had a very good host. It's a converted appartment, or multiple appartments in the buliding. The "hostelier" rents the whole appartments, and in turn rents beds, apparently losing out over winter, but doing well in the summer. It's only a small place, but it was neat. It has a very unusual bathtub. (It's the deepest bathtub I've ever been in)

But for Moscow, what were we going to do there? The one big thing on my agenda was to see dead Lenin. The idea of keeping a dead body in a glass viewing case for 50 years really appeals to me.

So for our first day, we set off for Red Square and the Kremlin, a short walk away. Depressingly, dead lenin is having some "plastic surgery" or is otherwise predisposed. The surly guards loitering around aren't forthcoming with whether he'll be available again anytime soon. Apparently this is the norm. Sometimes he's closed for years, sometimes he's only closed on fridays. So we went to church instead.

Whenever you think of "classic russion onion dome" churches, there's probably two that come to mind. St Basil's, on Red Square, is one of them. (The other one is "The Church on the Spilled Blood" in St Petersburg, which you shall see in a later story) It's like a fairy tale castle, only deeply religious, like russians. Forget all that communist atheism idea, russians are not just catholic, they are RUSSIAN ORTHODOX catholic. They love their churches. Even though they spent 70 odd years ripping them down and turning them into swiming pools and schools and warehouses and officespaces and so on, the minute communism "falls" and they started rebuilding some of them from photos, and immaculately restoring the insides of others. Churches everywhere.

So, St Basil's. It's a rabbit warren of alcoves and stairs and passages, leading up and around forever and ever. It's actually 7 or so separate chapels, all built together, hence the multi spired approach. It's very neat, though a lot of the inside is behind glass making it rather hard to see much of it. You'd get a great view, except that most of the time that's fenced off too) I didn't pay for a photography permit, but the insides were still well worth a tour. Kinda like the byzantine chapels in cappadocia in decoration style.

Amongst flurries of wet snow, we went for a tour of the Kremlin, which sounds wonderfully soviet and inner council, but is actually just all the area inside the original city walls. (though, yes, it was restricted access in soviet times) Now it's a multitude of church/museums, in one of which were were lucky enough to arrive in time to hear a small choir. Very beautiful.

After our fill of church interiors for the day, we went for a bit of a wander around the downtown area. One of the things that stands out a lot more here than in St Petersburg is the vast gulf between rich and poor, and old and new here. In St Petersburg, the core downtown is modern in styling, but all 19th century architecturally, and that's about that. In Moscow, you can have very old buildings swathed in enormours billboards, new ugly buildings on any corner, much much much more diverse, and not necessarily in a good way :) The size of the billboards leaves the jaw agape. I've never seen billboards even half as big as some of the ones I saw in Moscow. And I've LIVED in america! I've had to say NO to the mega double ultra gulp slurpee before.

And then, underneath any of these towering billboards, is a modernday russian entrepreneur. If you can possibly use that word to describe a matronly old woman, sitting in a portaloo, selling acess to the other 4-5 in her care. The loos themselves are amazing sights, they have made new doors for their "office" and sit inside with teapots, wall hangings, a table of change, icons, all manner of cruft, out in the weather all day. 15 Rubles to use the toilet. If you don't want to pay that, you have to pay a cafe for lunch.

Kata had brought some printouts of things to see and do in Moscow, and I really hadn't done as much preparation as I should have, so after dead lenin, I really didn't know what else I really wanted to do. (well, see the metros, and party like I was an extra in a Bond movie, but...) We'd read of a "statue graveyard" which was meant to be pretty cool, a place where lots of old soviet statues of lenin and stalin and co got dumped together, rather than destroying them. It was also right by the giant statue (can it be called a statue? more like a sculpture/abomination) of Peter the Great on the river. The sculpture is awe inspiring in it's sheer size and audacity, but at the same time, mirth inducing for it's outrageousness. It is completely out of palce, dwarfing everything in the neighbourhood, and really just being genuinely odd. But, it's not what you know, but who you know, and Tsereteli is fine proof of that.

Why no further mention of the statue graveyard I hear you say? Because it was worthless. Tripe. Worse than tripe. One Stalin, one Lenin, one of one other old revoltionary. This is fraud at it's best, but at least it was cheap fraud. And the sculpture park does have a bunch of other sculptures. We headed to the university to get a view of the city and some suburbia afterwards. It's probably very nice in summer. In that part of spring when the ground can't decide whether to be snow or mud, it leaves a lot to be desired. You're too far away from the city for a really good view, though you do have a very wide view, so you can count out all the "Seven Sisters". Later we roamed some streets a bit more, metrohopping, before ending up back on Red Square to see it lit up at night, which was very pretty.

Our final full day in moscow, and our list had only a few things left. There was a space museum which was meant to be very good, and right next door is VDNKh, The All Russian Exhibition Center. We headed off under the typicaly drab not really spring weather, north out of town. Our directions said that the space museum would be hard to miss, just look for the giant rocket.

Seemed easy enough, but we came out of the metro on a different side, and were rather curious where this enormous rocket was meant to be. Turn the corner of the metro however, and all of a sudden, head in the clouds, is the absolutely enormous rocket. You really can't miss it. A marvin the martian rocket ship, titanium all the way, soaring in the skies. Very very cool statue. Unfortunately, the space museum in the base had been closed for the last three years, and was due to reopen later that week, on April 12, for Yuri Day. Oh well :) So we went over to VDNKh, to have a look. It's meant to be very impressive, but the descriptions are all a little vague, other than "it's huge". Well, it IS huge! The place is a giant convention center, with hundreds of buildings, many of them themed after an old soviet state. They're all fantastically decorated, wonders of architecture, and all of them slowly crumbling. It's amazing what can be done if you don't care about providing for the rest of the population. This was all built as a permanent exhibition showcasing the glories and advancements of the USSR. The day we were there we saw a dog show, a butterfly show, and lots and lots of kiosks. I even found a tiny homebrew shop! (Selling imported british tins of malt extract no less!)

The grounds have their own busservice, and plenty of small cafes, and are covered in fountains, in addition to all the elaborate buildings. Unfortunately, the fountains were all still drained from winter, but I imagine that they'd look pretty cool :)

Final stop on the sights and sounds tour of daytime Moscow was the Novodevichy Cemetary, a large cemetary out of town a bit with lots of famous dead people, and allegedly some rather fantastic headstones. They weren't kidding! I'm not big on russian history, so the particular graves of individuals wasn't particularly interesting to me, but I wanted to see what it was all like. (I was hoping to find Molotov though, molotov cocktails have always interested me) Kata found Gogol, she's in a play of Dead Souls at the moment, and we later found some other playwrights and directors that Kata knew. They were actually filming a movie of some sort around Gogol's grave, it being the 200th anniversary of his birth. I didn't take any pictures inside the cemetary, but you can get some ideas by going to this russian site and just clicking on any of the russian links you like. They all go to pictures. It's a very interesting place, and some of the headstones really are absolutely amazing. There's bombs, planes, angels, spaceships, rocket launchers, you name it. In all manner of wild jagged styles in black stone, red brick, or anything in between. One very nice one that Kata noticed was the grave of a scientist at Chernobyl, who "by his actions, though sentencing himself to death, saved the lives of thousands" (something like that)

And that's that for the daytime sights. None of this attempts to even convey russian culture, or any of the little things, but hey, at least you get to see where I went. But what about the night time? What about partying like a bond movie? What about the metros? (Well, the metro stations we just kept seeing in bits and pieces as we travelled around. And yes. They are amazing. I'd love some good pictures of them, but though there's no _posted_ signs banning it, I certainly believe you'd want to be pretty sure of yourself before trying to take serious pictures of the stations. Go see them yourself sometime!)

Partying like an extra in a Bond movie? Tick! We didn't go to any of the €100 entry, €20 drinks types places, but we still went to a good and proper nightclub, complete with black lights, techno, and bottles of champagne. It was excellent! Highly recommended. Good music and a particularly good feeling from the crowd too.

But, eventually it was time to return to St Petersburg, where the drinks are 30% cheaper and the accomdation is free. We caught the night train, and played cards and drank beers in the dining carriage, before waking up just one metro station from home. Stay tuned for more from St Petersburg!

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