grey marble

September 16, 2008

A picture postcard walking tour of Moscow

In Moscow, partly sunny means cloudy. Last night I was buoyed by the weather forecast, calling for sun amongst the clouds, and a daytime high of 55 degrees F. This morning dawned grey, but I held out hope for the afternoon to no avail.

Today I hobbled around the city trying my best to act the role of a tourist (last night I had tied my shoes too tightly and managed to bruise my heel or something). In the morning, I went to the Kremlin. The woman behind the counter refused to sell me tickets to the Armory. "Come back 11:50," she said. It was around 10:30. I thanked her, took my ticket, and entered the complex. I followed various tour groups around as we walked amongst the cathedrals. Inside, they were stunning. Almost every surface was painted. As I looked at the arches and construction, my mind wandered to the structures carved out of the rock in Lalibella, Ethiopia. I was struck more by the similarities than the differences.

Outside, I braved the cold and took photos of the golden domes. The skies refused to clear, but the gold still gleamed in the diffuse light.

On my way out I passed the line for the armory. It was 11:50, but it would have taken too much time to buy tickets and come back. I thought about trying to sneak in with a tour group, but decided that had I waited in the cold and been turned away, the effort would not have been worth the disappointment. I went on my way.

Last night, Teresa took me to a hidden underground bar/restaurant. A friend of hers was joining us and she tried to give her directions over the phone. In the end she gave up. We agreed to meet at a Starbucks on Arbat street.

D— was sitting in the window when we arrived. We continued down Arbat to the end of the road and then walked up another street to the left. We doubled back through what appeared to be a residential area. Teresa led us through a gate that lead to another residential building. She walked up to a metal door that seemed to open up to a tool shed. Instead, it revealed a stairwell. Her friend told us she would never have been able to find the place.

Inside, caverns connected a few disparate rooms. We sat in a long brick room with a barrel vaulted ceiling. It reminded me of a place I had gone with Sophia in Budapest. That night, the evening went from dinner to dancing. On the weekends, I could see how the restaurant we were in could turn into the same.

D— ordered for me. Teresa told her to order me traditional Russian food. She ordered a herring salad and breaded pork medallions with mashed potatoes. We ordered drinks. Soon, the waitress reappeared. They were out of herring. D— substituted borscht. The waitress went to update our order. Shortly, she returned. They were out of pork. D— substituted beef. And then she had an idea. She had been to a Russian restaurant that felt as if it had never left the 80s. She said the food was fantastic. At night, it turned into a club and you needed membership, but she said we should go. I would have real Russian food then. We set a date for Saturday night.

When the check came I looked at the money on the table and asked D— where some of the monuments were. Teresa said she had never looked at the money before. D— said that she used to collect coins when she was travelling for tennis.

Outside the restaurant, we parted ways. Teresa had suggested we walk by Red Square at night. D— went home. I asked Teresa if D— played tennis professionally. She said she thought she was ranked number one as a junior in Ukraine.

We walked past the conservatory and Teresa pointed out a coffee shop with an outdoor terrace. She said that during the summer the terrace was always packed. She said during concert nights you could hear the music from the sidewalk. I could imagine the warm summer nights and the notes echoing off the buildings around us. Instead, the streets were slick with a passing shower, and the temperatures hovered not ten degrees above freezing.

We talked about Russian names, the formal and the familiar. Teresa told me that each name had it's own familiar form and she rattled off a few for me. She noted that D— had introduced herself using her formal name. She said only really friendly people introduced themselves with their familiar name. I asked her what my familiar name was and she told me. I said I was going to start introducing myself with that form of my name.

We walked towards the Kremlin and then into the Square. St. Basil's was lit up along with every other building lining the square. The effect was just this side of Disney. People scattered about the square knelt to take photos. Teresa had me leap for some of her own.

From the square we walked along the water. Teresa pointed out the Pushkin museum of art, and noted with some surprise that the main road had been blocked off. Groups of people were walking down the sidewalk, but she couldn't figure what was going on.

We walked to the Church of Christ the Redeemer and then crossed a beautiful pedestrian bridge to a small islet which once housed a chocolate factory. The buildings still remain; tomorrow Gagosian will open an art show there. I hope to be able to see the exhibit before i go.

On the other side of the islet, Teresa pointed out a popular club called Heaven housed in what appeared to be an outdoor gym. It was constructed like the white rounded tents I associate with indoor tennis courts. We crossed another bridge and found ourselves on the other side of the river. We walked towards the Megaphone building, passing a restaurant designed by Philippe Starck and the large statue of Peter the Great. Passing the Megaphone building, Teresa said her favorite museum was housed therein. She also pointed to some metal racks and said that artists sold their work there. She made me promise to go.

At the main road, we flagged down a passing car. He took us the long way home, but showed us places neither of us had ever seen. I told Teresa she had gotten her money's worth.

Leaving the Kremlin, I followed the same path we took last night. This time I stopped in the Pushkin museum and the Church of Christ the Redeemer. The museum was small but well stocked with a variety of art from various periods. I was impressed with its breadth. The church was impressive for its size and decoration. I stood within its vaulted halls and reveled in its glory.

Leaving the church, I crossed the bridge and looked for where I might buy chocolates down below. I couldn't see anyone entering any of the structures and so walked on, past Bon, and past the statue of Peter the Great. In front of the Megaphone building, artists had hung their work. By the time I reached the entrance to the building I was tired.

I bought a ticket and went in. When I tried to hand the ticket to a guard, he yelled at me to go to registration. I went and found someone who spoke English to help me fill it out. He gave me a card in return.

It turned out that the building had been given over to two expos: one of companies manufacturing and selling various goods, and the other of companies selling fake Christmas trees and ornaments. I asked about the museum and was told that almost all of the space was given to the expo. I was told there was some gallery space but no one seemed able to describe where it was. I walked around a bit and left.

When I reached the main road, I decided to take a trolleybus home. I waited for the next one to arrive and saw Smolenskyaya as one of the stops written on the side. I asked the driver anyway. He didn't understand me but the woman in front of me did and said, "Da." I boarded the bus.

Occasionally the lines that connected to the power grid above would drop off and the electric motor would stall. I'm not sure if it was always an accident or intentional so he could allow other buses to run ahead of him, or if he could change lines. At my stop I alighted. I hadn't eaten anything save for small bread buns and so I went to Moo Moo for a late lunch. I ordered salmon and vegetables. I hadn't realized how starved for vegetables I had been but I ate them first, scooping them up quickly into my mouth.

Sated, I walked home. I'm tired. I'm thinking of taking a nap. At 11pm, I board the overnight train to St. Petersburg, a warmup trip before the trans-Mongolian.
Posted by eku at September 16, 2008 8:22 AM

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