Friday, August 31, 2007

To Moscow!

So then, I took the train to Moscow. There was a woman and teenage-ish girl from Ярослав (Yaroslav) (maybe, if memory serves), and then another woman from St. Petersburg going to Moscow, as well as a family from the Caucases going home. We chatted, with the woman from St. Petersburg joking that I was a spy. Although from St. Petersburg, she had no particular love for it, and the older woman having lived, I think, in St. Petersburg and studied in Moscow (or the reverse) chided her lack of patriotism; she herself loved St. Petersburg far more than Moscow, saying that St. Petersburg was the cultural center, and Moscow was simply торгова [commercialized]. She was also fairly racist, not liking Armenians, Georgians, or Blacks. Вот.

I got to Moscow, took the metro to my stop, and then got fairly lost, since there was no way to know which way to go from the metro (left or right). I, of course, picked the wrong way, and this was further complicated by the fact that I expected to cross train tracks, and in fact I did (just not the right ones), even though it was the wrong way. Russia's oft lack of street signs didn't help either, nor did the fact that it was dark, and my map doesn't have all the streets on the overview-of-the-city side. I asked some other people who didn't know (though it was indeed close), and eventually two guys got me a cab for 200 rubles ($8) and had me buy them each a beer as well. Whatever. On the plus side, I'd seen an internet cafe, so I kept that in mind for later. So, much later, exhausted from walking around for maybe an hour with my suitcase and backpack, I reached the hotel, which was fairly annoying. The elevators are Russian-style, like the dorms - i.e. they are frustratingly dysfunctional. I can't take the stairs due to renovations, which, walking to my room from the elevator (from one end of a U to the other) I pass all sorts of construction. The room is frustratingly arranged; the outlets are behind a (small) desk, the bathroom is raised for some reason, so stepping out I pratically fell the first few times, plus there's a few-inch lip on which I stubbed my toes a few times. There's no soap dish in the shower, so I have to go back and forth to the sink. The map to and from the metro that they give is of little help, as half the streets are unmarked, and some are not streets, but you wouldn't know this because the thick red line denoting the routes occludes parts of it. The first few times I found my way back and forth completely by accident.

Anyway, the next day I went to the city center, and finally saw the Kremlin, right there! It was unbelievable to really be there. I walked around all day before meeting my friend Natasha at 5. We went to a traktir, called "rakes" (I've forgotten the Russian), and met up with a friend of hers, who also had apparently been at the New York Institute last year, but I didn't remember him. After dinner, he had to go, and so Natasha and I continued to walk around, but in circles, seemingly unable to escape Red Square. She admitted she didn't really know the city that well herself; her friend had chided her for living there for 23 years and still not knowing it.

The next day at breakfast (also mediocre), I heard my name and turned around, even as I realized how silly it was to respond to my name so far away from anyone who would know me. Well, much to my surprise, it was Lidia (from Italy)! She and her mom happened to be staying in the same hotel, and indeed, two doors down from me. How about that. I walked around the city center for a while, and saw the inside of St. Basil's cathedral (the famous one- the one that you probably think is the Kremlin). Anyway, it was old (15th century?) but wasn't terribly exciting. Shortly thereafter I left and some sort of military parade/demonstration began in Red Square! Neat. Later on I met up with Irina Kazanina, who was now also sporting a mullet. We went to the Tretyakov gallery, and then to ёлки палки (yolki palki), another traktir, with a funny name that, I guess, roughly would be the analog to "fudge" for another word that starts with "f". We then walked around a bit, and we agreed to change into bathingsuits and meet up at 12:15 (pm) with two of her friends (another Tanya and Katya, incidentally) to go to a "foam (soap suds) party." Well yeah, ok, why not. That was obviously interesting; it was basically a giant roller rink turned into a club (theme: 'fire', hence the soapsuds pretending to be fire-extinguisher foam), and indeed, there was a giant soap suds cannon as well as various apparati shooting it from the ceiling. My Москва для вас! (Moscow for you!) map didn't fare too well, especially since I forgot about it and left it in my pocket until the next morning.

The next day I hunted down the internet cafe I'd seen, which I found after a while. I walked around for a while, agreeing to meet with Natasha at 6:30 at Lubyanka (former KGB headquarters). There was a little street game at the Arbat with a bike whose wheel turned opposite the handle. For 100 rubles you could try it 3 times, to win 300 rubles for making it 3 meters, or 500 for 5. I watched for a while but no one succeeded (the attendant could, of course, ride it fine). I continued walking; later on I saw a Bentley/Lamborghini/Maserati/Ferrari dealership (earlier on I'd seen the Rolls-Royce one in passing). I'd seen several Ferraris in the city already. Новые рускии (new Russians).

So then to Lubyanka, outside the former KGB headquarters. I sat and wrote for a while outside the metro station, with a guard coming by every so often, then we walked a (long) while first through some boulevards, seeing a little history "exhibit" for Moscow's 860th (!) birthday, then walked down the embankment of the Moscow river, and got lost trying to find the metro, a trend that had been repeating itself throughout the trip. But eventually we found it, and went home.

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