Posted tagged ‘Moscow’

“Life is an adventure, it’s not a package tour.”

July 22, 2017

When I woke up, the day was bright and sunny, but it isn’t any more. Clouds have blanketed the sky. The weatherman claims those clouds will be intermittent, but I’m skeptical. A little rain would be welcomed, forecasted or not.

The spawns of Satan have mounted a new assault. They are chewing my outside lights. The gate had a trail of white lights coming from the giant star near the back door. Last night I noticed the trail had gone dark. I checked and found chewed wires. On the deck rail, two sets of colored lights have been chewed. I found bulbs from the newest set laying on the deck, chewed off the wire. The spawns seem to like the red bulbs, cementing their Satan connection. What perplexes me is those lights have been untouched for a couple of years. I’m guessing there’s a new spawn in the neighborhood. The next set of colored lights is here, but I haven’t put it on the deck rail yet. I’ve ordered a new white set. It’s crazy I guess. I’m beginning to feel like Sisyphus.

I went to Russia in the 1970’s. My friend and I took a train from Helsinki to Leningrad. We were in the last car. When it got to the border, the car was uncoupled and joined to a Russian train. A Russian train lady boarded our car. She brought us tea over and over throughout the trip. In Leningrad I learned there were two lines for taxis, one for women and children and the other for the rest of us. At the hotel they asked for our passports. Visions of the KGB jumped int my head. When I refused, I was told no hotel room so I gave in. Yup, I gave in that quickly. We had a tour guide. In those days everyone had a tour guide. We liked her. She brought us to the Hermitage Museum. Women sat in chairs in every room at the Hermitage, and it was the same in every museum. They also sat at the bottom of escalators in every metro station and on every floor in the hotels where we stayed. We saw the Winter Palace and Peterhof and the Peter and Paul Fortress. We saw a memorial commemorating the Siege of Leningrad. On buses, the honor system was in effect. At the hotel, the food was terrible. We went to a few Beryozka shops, which no longer exist, where you could buy Russian goods for hard cash. We bought snacks and some beautiful small wooden figures.

When it was time to move to our next stop, we got a new guide. We didn’t like her. She told us nothing and didn’t answer questions. We then got on the train which the Frenchman, a fellow tourist, likened to a cattle car in France. We were on to stop 2, a city on the Volga whose name I can’t remember for good reason. The tours in that city included a dental school and a publishing plant where they gave us all sorts of Lenin material. It was the worst.

We had more adventures, but I’ll save those for another day. I will say we had a spy who was uncovered in Moscow.

“In America you can always find a party. In Russia the party always finds you.”

April 30, 2013

Today is downright gorgeous. The warmest day so far. Sunlight fills everything and nothing moves in the still air. Gracie hasn’t come inside yet, not even for her morning nap. Our only errand for today is to go to the vets. I found a hot spot on her fur which needs checking. I also have to vote in the primary for senator to see who will run to replace Kerry. I’m choosing the democratic primary, no surprise there I suspect.

Last we talked, I was in Moscow jumping ship from the tour. My travel partner and I started using the metro. I have never seen more beautiful metro stations in my whole life. Some actually had chandeliers. There wasn’t a single piece of trash nor any graffiti. We had to figure out where we were by using a map which had English translations below the Russian names for the stops. That wasn’t easy. It was like figuring out a code. We shopped a few times in the foreign currency shops, and I bought gifts for my family and some mementos for me, mostly wooden figures. Pins were big back then, and I bought a few of those which I still have framed. To get across large streets in Moscow there are pedestrian tunnels. We didn’t know that at first and started across the street when we heard whistles coming from the police heading our way. They were indignant. We were led to the tunnels and crossed the street through them though I don’t think you can say cross when you’re underneath. I’m not so sure what you’d say. We wandered the city for the last few days stopping in small museums and churches. A few of us decided to buy vodka and have our own little going away from Russia party. The day’s quota had been sold, but one guy led us to the back of a store where they sold us a couple of bottles. When we got back to the hotel, we wanted ice. The woman assigned to sit in the chair on our floor knew no English so we mimed pouring something into a glass, adding ice, drinking it and being cold. She brought us ice.

That last night we had a conversation about famous murders deciding to give our listeners something new. The British guy told us about a severed head found in left luggage. The rest of the conversation ran along the same lines until the British guy mentioned his roommate, an America, and how strange he was. When he left the room, he’d put a magazine a certain way so he could check to see if his bags had been rifled. He only wore two different sets of clothing despite having a huge suitcase. I mentioned I had seen him in one of those tunnels talking to a Russian woman. He had ditched the tour even earlier than we. All of us decided he must be a spy.

The next day we were driven to the airport for our flight to Copenhagen. Customs went through our bags. It was and still is the first time I ever had my bags gone through leaving a country. All of a sudden two soldiers took that American and his suitcase away. We weren’t all that shocked. We had figured something was up with him, but we were worried. We were the only ones who knew what had happened so we decided to stand our ground and not go upstairs to the waiting area until he was with us. Bad guide came over and said get upstairs or we’ll take your tickets away. The Argentinian said we didn’t care. We were rich Americans. Next, two soldiers came, pointed their rifles at us and moved them back and forth from us to the stairs. We talked and decided to go upstairs but we would make another stand there. We did. We were promised that our spy, our word, not theirs, would be on the plane. We waited to see, and he was brought first to the plane accompanied by soldiers. We then boarded.

After we had arrived in Copenhagen, we stopped him for the story. He was a spy of sorts, for the Zionist underground. He was supposed to travel with a partner but the partner got sick. The powers that be decided to let this guy go on his own. That’s how he was caught: being seen talking to Jewish dissidents. His suitcase had contained pairs of jeans which could be used on the black market. He has also brought books in Hebrew. His job was to get the names of those working in the underground in Tbilisi and Moscow. The first part of the trip had been cancelled which was why he was so indignant. The reason he had been taken away was the soldiers found letters which were addressed to Israel and had been given to him to mail. The letters were seized. The guy told us that what was most important, the names of the underground leaders, had not been found. He had written them in tiny letters in some of those books and pamphlets we had been given in Kalinin. They didn’t check Lenin material. We told him he was the worst spy ever as we had figured him for one, but we told him it was kind of exciting to have a spy in our group and to have rifles pointed at us. It made for a great story, the sort you’d expect in Russia or at the start of John Le Carré novel.

Well, that’s my trip to Russia. Thanks for coming along. I haven’t told this story in a long time, and it was fun to remember.

“One does not go to Moscow to get fat.”

April 29, 2013

Today is making me believe that it might really be spring. The sun is out and it’s warm. The sky is a bit cloudy, but that’s a small complaint. I have to go out and about to do a couple of errands then I might just sit on the deck for a while and do nothing but watch the birds and grab a bit of sunlight.

Our last travelog had me arriving in Moscow, a city filled with smoke which our guide couldn’t see. Our bus wasn’t there. None of us were surprised. Since the evil guide had joined us, the tour had taken a turn for the worst. We waited over an hour before the bus arrived to take us to the hotel which was a bit out from the center of Moscow. The next morning the guide and a bus met us for our first day of touring. We went to a museum about the revolution. My favorite exhibit of all time was in that museum. In a small class case were two chunks of break: one tiny and one very much larger. The tiny bread was a portion from the time of the Tsar and the large chunk was from the time of Lenin. Oh the plenty the revolution brought! That day we also went to Lenin’s tomb on Red Square. No hand-holding the guide told the Italian married couple. The tomb was the coolest place in all of Moscow which was so hot that the Italians keep fanning themselves and saying caldo, caldo. We had found out the smoke came from the peat fields which had begun to smolder spontaneously from the heat. It was the hottest summer in a 100 years. I would have stayed in that tomb longer if I could have. Lenin looked waxed to me, a product of Madame Tussaud. One of our group started to whisper and was shushed immediately. Lenin’s tomb was a holy place. The next stop was the wonderful State Historical Museum facing Red Square. We got booties to put over our shoes. I figured it was a cheap way to keep the floors shiny. The museum housed many artifacts from the days of the Tsar including Fabergé eggs. There was a carriage that had belonged to Catherine the Great which was pulled by a large stuffed horse. The Frenchman wanted to know if that was the fateful horse (I’ll let you do the searching for this one). The guide ignored him, good move on her part. We also went to the church of the Assumption, a beautiful golden onion domed church. That’s where I scared the crowd of Muscovites. All over the city were Вода́ machines, pronounce vah-DAH, and meaning water. A small glass sat on one side, and you pushed down to wash it then inserted a couple of coins, köpeks, then moved the glass under the spout. You paid one for plain or two for colored water. I didn’t get either. The American in my tour who was standing next to me said to tap the glass front of the machine, like pounding a coffee machine that didn’t work. I did that. Nothing. I did it again. Nothing. The third time I did it I broke the glass with my hand. The crowd made such a sound of horror you’d think I kicked a grandmother a few times when she was down. The side of my hand was bleeding and had shards of glass stuck in the cut. The Argentina offered to help. He said he did cleaning of cuts and other wounds for himself when he was on the pampas. His arms were filled with scars. I politely declined. The American said he was a medical student and he’d do it. That man patiently took every piece of glass out of my hand using tweezers then took a band-aid and covered the wound. We did that a distance away from the broken machine. I kept looking for police. Later I thought about that machine and realized that the glass, a nice glass, just sat there not at all connected and was never stolen. By the reaction of the crowd to my mishap, I guessed why.

The tour continued. We visited St. Basil’s Cathedral and GUM Department Store, the largest in the world according to nasty guide. I bought a few scarves as souvenirs for people. We were done for the day and dropped off at our hotel. Dinner there was the worst so we took a streetcar into the city. The streetcars were on the honor system: put money in the slot and take a ticket. We put in dimes or quarters and I threw in some Finnish money and took my ticket. We took that streetcar often and never failed to put in money. Good thing too as a couple of times the streetcar was stopped, police got on and checked to see that everyone had a ticket.

One night we went into the city and had dinner in the Hotel Metropol, the grand dame of hotels. It was beautiful, majestic, ornate and one of my favorite stops in all of Moscow. We finished that evening by stopping at one of the foreign currency bars and having a nightcap before the trip back to our dismal hotel. At least the bed was comfortable and the bread with breakfast was fresh.

The last of my trip will be tomorrow, and I guarantee some excitement. That next day after dinner in the Metropol, we started, as did many of my travel mates, taking the tour bus into the city then ditching the tour and taking off on our own. That was the best part.

“[Leningrad] sits astride the Neva, frozen in time, a haunting mélange of pale hues, glorious façades and teeming ghosts.”

April 28, 2013

Today is another sunny but chilly day. Last night was downright cold. I would never guess we are so close to the beginning of May without a calendar in front of me. Fern has the right idea: stay inside nice and warm and stretch in the sun on the floor. My breakfast place filled quickly and many were golfers. Four men in polo shirts in a single booth were a dead giveaway. I guess I’ll take that as one sign of spring.

The saga continues.

We arrived in Leningrad and went to the hotel where we were to meet the rest of the tour group which had flown in from  Copenhagen. We went to the desk to check in. The woman at the counter wanted our passports. I was okay with that until she said she’d have to keep them while we stayed there. I panicked. Too many movies had me thinking I’d be stopped by the KGB who’d want identification, and I would have none. They’d haul me off to prison and I’d be gone for ever. My family would call the embassy, but the Russians would deny any knowledge of my whereabouts. I said no, an emphatic no. She then said I couldn’t check in at any hotel. I folded quickly. I wanted a bed.

The first guide we had was wonderful. She was friendly, knowledgeable and courteous. My tour group was multi-national: 4 Americans, a couple from Italy who didn’t speak English, some Argentinians, a couple of guys from France and a couple more from England. We dutifully followed Natasha (I know, really?) from sight to sight. We saw the winter palace of the Tsar, the Peter and Paul Fortress and cathedral, the Hermitage ( one of my favorite places), Peterhof and we also took a ride down the Neva River. We were told no one in Russia is ever unemployed. That made sense when you saw that each room in the Hermitage had its own woman sitting in a chair keeping an eye on everything while other women sat in other chairs at the bottom of escalators in the metro. I have no idea what they were supposed to do. We noticed no one ever smiled. Once we bought an ice cream and a woman smiled at us, and the guy from Argentina said she must be a foreigner.

My friend and I and one other American were supposed to go to Tbilisi, but we were told that trip had been cancelled, and we were going to Kalinin instead. We were furious but stuck. At the tour office, we complained and also wanted a refund as the other trip had been more expensive. We were told they knew about us in Moscow. I replied that the tsar knew about the Bolsheviks and look what happened anyway.

The good guide left us at the train station in Leningrad, and the worst guide ever took us over for the rest of the trip. We rode the train together to Kalinin. At one point I asked the guide what river we were passing, and she said she didn’t know. The Frenchman said there were trains in France like the one we were on but they were in museums. The tour group had become quite irreverent.

Kalinin was sheer misery. The two tour stops were a printing plant and a dentistry school. At the plant we watched machines print. That was it. We were given literature about Lenin as souvenirs when we were leaving: just what we all wanted. At the dentistry school we walked  through rooms filled with chairs which had people sitting in them with their mouths opened while their teeth were being fixed. It is number one as the worst tour stop ever, including every trip I’ve ever taken. The one good think about Kalinin was it is on the Volga River. We walked along it and hummed the Volga Boatman.

Next, we took the train to Moscow. When we got off the train, we saw that whole city was filled with thick smoke. We asked the guide why there was so much smoke. She said there was none.