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Home / Blog / RAMBLINGS OF A TRAVELER: RUSSIA – #1 Moscow Madness
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RAMBLINGS OF A TRAVELER: RUSSIA – #1 Moscow Madness

So going to Moscow Russia was at the very bottom of my international travel bucket list. To be honest, I never thought I would go there nor did I really care to go. However as most addicted travelers such as I will tell you, “We are the type of folks who will go anywhere, anytime, anyhow if at all possible”. A 5-night stay in Moscow, Russia was being auctioned off at a benefit dinner in my local town. And my faithful readers will never guess who won a 5-night stay at a very nice hotel at the edge of the Red Square overlooking all of Moscow’s hotspots. The winnings DID include an awesome daylong city tour with a drop-dead gorgeous Russian lady, but DID NOT include the bare essentials such as airfare, food, drinks/beers, vodka, or caviar, and believe me those essentials were way more expensive than what was won. But who cares, let’s go – and we’re off.

So let’s get a few things understood before we get into the really good stuff. Russia today is NOT Communist – I’m sure you knew that, but just in case. It looks like it is still fairly repressed by the government in a lot of ways. Also, the communist flag and communist symbols/statues remain and easy to see any where in Moscow you happen to go. But they tell me it is NOT communist anymore.

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Old Communist Flag

Russia’s flag today – just doesn’t seem to have the same authority as the old one, does it?

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The two flags are displayed together all over town.

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When Russia was communist from 1922 to 1991, it was known as the Soviet Union and run by such sweet people as Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin – you think you have it bad today just grab a book & read up on either one of these fine chaps. Not always the best and nicest of folks.

Lenin – there is a mausoleum with good old Lenin on public display and sorry to say I ran out of time for that one. The people really did seem to like Lenin.

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Stalin was a very nasty guy. Most common folks did NOT cry at his funeral let’s say. He was one bad actor.

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Moscow is one of the northern most and coldest metropolises on earth – luckily I got to visit in the summer, which is just a couple of weeks long. Population of Moscow is a little over 16.8 million good souls including the urban areas. Moscow is clean, modern, rebuilt, and sort of has the Internet and cell coverage.

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Moscow’s origin was around 1147, and the history of Moscow is heavy duty according to Wikipedia. As I hinted above, Moscow still feels repressed in some ways. One of the most evident is the housing and cost of everything.

Housing is extremely hard to get, very gray, mostly very old, small apartment, and very expressive. The apartment complex below is a good-looking one by Moscow standards, but had a very nasty history in the communist days. Political people lived here and according to our guide; sometimes at night the KGB would enter the building, knock on the door of an apartment, and take the political guy to prison if the KGB thought the guy was doing something that did not agree with the Soviet Union communist leaders. The captured person was rarely ever heard from again. That was back then, today it’s just an apartment house – no funny stuff. KGB was equivalent to our CIA – not really nice touchy-feely sort of spies. They were and probably still are very nasty hit men and/or so called brutal interrogators’. Not the sort of folks you would want to meet in a dark ally or an apartment building.

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Today Russia is known as Russia and is run mainly by a narcissistic, egotistical cat named Vladimir Putin. From my understanding, President Putin is not communist, but was a member of the KGB when he was younger. According to some, Putin likes to throw his weight around and is a bit (really quite a bit) of a ladies’ man. He also thinks ruling Russia today is his way or no way.

President Vladimir Putin – a good looking dude that likes to fly-fish with his shirt off apparently. Putin also seems to be in the US news a lot lately because he is usually on the opposite side of what ever side the USA is on. For instance just today on Yahoo, I read that Putin is siding with the bad guy leader in Syria and sending the bad guy weapons to fight. Also, Putin continues attacking the Ukraine for no good reason according to some USA politicians.

In this photo taken on Saturday, July 20, 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin fishes during a mini-break in the Siberian Tyva region (also referred to as Tuva), Russia. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service)
In this photo taken on Saturday, July 20, 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin fishes during a mini-break in the Siberian Tyva region (also referred to as Tuva), Russia. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service)

Putin and his gang hang out a place called the Kremlin during work hours. The Kremlin is a walled compound that is partially open to the public some of the time. The Kremlin is our equivalent to the US capital and Washington D.C. government square, mall, etc. Inside the walls of the Kremlin there are many museums, ballet halls, churches, and magnificent gardens. It’s humongous and on the top of every tourists’ list of things to visit when in Moscow. So who am I to go against popular belief? It was worth it and takes a couple of days to do it justice.

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Inside the Kremlin

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So what do you think of when you think of Moscow? What are the 1st, 2nd or 3rd things that come to mind? One of my fans responded to this questions by saying, “cold, repressive government, red, onion domes, and hot chicks. That’s a good list and some of the things that I also thought of, but there are a couple more thoughts to ramble on about.

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Do you think of the grand Russian Ballet? Probably not, but I do now. The Moscow based Bolshoi Ballet had its earliest origins in the development of a dance school for a Moscow orphanage in 1773. Not too many years later a building was built to house the orphanage ballet and also became entertainment for THE masses. Today the Bolshoi Ballet is one of the worlds foremost ballet companies, as well as being the largest, with approximately 220 dancers. The word “Bolshoi” means “big” or “grand” in Russian (Wikipedia). The Bolshoi Ballet takes the ballet to a whole new level.

The Dancers are intensively trained from a very early age and disciplined to perfection. Being a ballet dancer at the Bolshoi means you have to be very, very good. It is very competitive to get into and is extremely hard on the body and mental psyche from what I understand.

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I attended a ballet, and I really didn’t think the human body could fly, soar, and bend as I saw the ballerinas do their thing.

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The ballerinas glide across the floor like they are on invisible tip-toe roller skates in bright, bold costumes and are backed by an orchestra to rock the ages.

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Bolshi Ballet

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Or is your first thought of the Vodka and Caviar? Come on, I know my readers better than you think. I know you are looking for your first cocktail after a long or short day of site seeing in Moscow. You can’t have vodka without caviar in Russia, and you can’t have either unless you want to pay some serious big bucks. Russian vodka is at least ten times cheaper in the US, but the atmosphere in downtown Moscow makes vodka with very salty, fishy caviar worth every penny.

Turns out one of the only drinks we could afford more than once a day was ……..

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Yep, you guessed it! Starbucks coffee served up the Russian way. McDonald’s and Kentucky fried have a well established following in Moscow also, but then aren’t they everywhere in the world? But before I leave food and drink, I must say the Russian beer is fantastic, expensive but affordable. The bartender is kinda of cute also in a Russian dude-sort-of-way. Just an aside (I learned the hard way), if you ask for beer, it can be interpreted as soda pop, so beware of what you order – this is where pointing a finger works well.

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A not-to-be-missed Russian soup you will want to try, maybe even several times is borsch (beet soup in pork or beef broth with a dob of sour cream on top). Nummmmmy! And very filling. Looks kinda red, raw, bleeding, and not that appetizing but its good so O.K. to dive right in.

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A readily available food item & another not-to-be-missed is Russian dried fish. Boy does it smell bad. But once you get past the smell, it’s not really bad if you are super hungry and have had several beers. Be sure to eat the heads, dried eyeballs, bones and of course the fins and tails. The bartender won’t serve you another beer until you cleanup your plate completely.

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With that said about the food and drink, I can get good Russian vodka and caviar (not as salty, fishy, or expensive) in the good old USA.

Or do you think of military equipment and military persons, which never seem to be very far away in Moscow. It was a nice sunny day, which I am told is rare in Moscow, and a military parade just broke out. We didn’t know why. They paraded their World War II equipment all over town for what seemed like hours. I tell you what, this all looked pretty scary, so believe me when I say I was on my best behavior. I was also told the equipment in the parade was operational and extremely accurate at hitting its target.

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There were armed guards pretty much everywhere in the main part of town, especially around the major government builds.

And here are just a few of my favorite nose-picking Kremlin guards. They did not speak English or if they did they didn’t let me know when I asked them, but they did seem friendly in an unhelpful sort of way and broke out in laughter as I walked away.

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Do you think of the Red Square – It’s not the building in the picture below, but rather the paved parking lot. Red Square is the heart of Moscow and the first destination for most visitors to the city. St. Basil’s Cathedral, the State History Museum, Lenin’s Mausoleum and one of the Kremlin’s long brick walls, surrounds the Red Square. The cobbles that make up the square are black and not red; the name comes from another gloss of the Russian word “krasniy”, meaning “beautiful”. After all I heard about the famous Red Square, I expected more. But I guess the Red Square is where the citizens have congregated in the past for protests and also gotten in major trouble. Seems like almost everything a tourist wants to see in Moscow encircles the Red Square, which isn’t even that big of an area for a city the size of Moscow.

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And another

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As my fan said he thinks of “Onion type domes” when thinking of Moscow, and he would be correct. The below “Onions” were nowhere in particular, just cool looking.

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But my favorite is St. Basil’s Cathedral and is the most iconic image of Moscow. St. Basil’s cathedral was finished in 1556 and built by Ivan the Terrible – he was another fun leader in Russia. There was talk of demolishing St. Basil’s – mainly because it hindered Stalin’s plans for massed parades on Red Square. It was only saved thanks to the courage of the architect Pyotr Baranovsky. When ordered to prepare the building for demolition, he refused, and sent the Kremlin an extremely blunt telegram. The Cathedral remained standing, and Baranovsky’s conservation efforts earned him five years in prison. But guess what, St. Basil is still standing and Stalin is not. St. Basil’s Cathedral of course is located on the southern edge of the Red Square.

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Please, just one more of my favorites. Christ the Saviour Cathedral – This cathedral, the tallest Orthodox church in the world and was blown up on orders from Stalin in 1931. Stalin had this idea he was going to build the gargantuan Palace of the Soviets, to be crowned by a 100-meter high statue of Lenin. The project ran into engineering and geological difficulties (the area used to be a swamp), then the War intervened, and the whole in the ground was made into a year-round open-air swimming pool for the people. The pool was razed and the cathedral rebuilt after the fall of the Soviet Union, in the mid 1990’s. Care was taken to rebuild it exactly like the original cathedral, and I can tell you it is huge and beautiful. It’s completely marble and gold. To my amazement, it’s NOT on the Red Square or even near it either. There is an extensive museum underneath the cathedral documenting its history (the original cathedral was started in 1839 and finally finished in 1883).

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And do you give much thought about your average shopping mall? The main Moscow mall is absolutely breathtakingly gorgeous. The name of it is GUM and is located adjacent to Red Square, of course. Once upon a time it was filled with Soviet-era goods of mediocre quality, but it is now a mall with international labels and hyper-expensive boutiques. Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s highly recommended in all the tourists’ books to go inside and look at the architecture. I wonder who can actually shop there?

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The GUM and Red Square at night

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And last, but definitely not least do you think of Moscow’s metro system? Its like no metro in the world.

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Each terminal is artistically and architecturally different and from what I read there are 129 terminals. Stalin had the Metro built for THE people. When the Metro opened in 1935 it immediately became the centerpiece of the transportation system in the entire world. More than that it was a Stalinist device to awe and control the populace, and give THE people an appreciation of Soviet realist art. The Moscow Metro was one of the USSR’s most ambitious architectural projects. The metro’s artists and architects worked to design a structure that embodied svet (radiance or brilliance) and svetloe budushchee (a radiant future) Wikipedia. With marble walls, high ceilings and grand chandeliers, many Moscow Metro stations have been likened to an “artificial underground sun

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Moscow is a great place to visit. It’s beautiful and spotless/squeaky clean, new and modern. The people are as friendly as can be, very helpful when they see a lost tourist, and especially excited to see someone from the USA. Main problem is there is a major language gap. Sign language and a lot of finger pointing usually gets a tourist where he/she may need to go.

So very glad I got to go to Moscow after all. So for my fan: Moscow is cold about 10 months of the year, it is pretty much common knowledge the government is scary in a lot of ways, there are some red rock buildings, red soup, and lots of red with all the flags displayed everywhere. There are many, many cool gold, shiny onion domes. There are hot chicks – that’s not a lie – but I won’t get into that here. And as you guessed, there is so much more to Moscow, Russia that I haven’t even mentioned.

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Til Later,

PSiddy

P.S. Stay tuned for #2 St. Petersburg, Russia.

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2 comments

  1. I really like all of the photos and loss, but informative style of writing. Well done!

  2. I learned a lot from this article. I so want to go to Moscow. Looks amazing!

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