July 9, 2014
After the travel marathon yesterday, it was great to wake after a full nights sleep. Our ship is docked on the Moscow Canal some 9 subway stops from the Kremlin. Today would be a walking orientation to the downtown. It would not begin until the afternoon as us weary travelers need some time to adjust. Let me start with our arrival in Moscow.
We land and passed by quite a few jetliner relics parked in the grass next to the runway. We were glad to be on the plebeian Lufthansa Airbus. Clearing the border paperwork is always a little nerve wracking as you hand your documents to the unsmiling official behind the glass screen. After he did a number of mysterious operations we got the passports back with some new official stamps. We passed through customs with nothing to declare but saw a number of folks with their luggage disemboweled and being examined. We emerged from the secure areas with our bright red ID stickers proudly displayed and were greeted by our Viking people. We had time to follow the traveler’s first rule. You never pass up a bathroom. There was even TP. We started to meet up with fellow Viking passengers and boarded the bus for a 90 minute drive through Moscow traffic to the boat.
The ship is brand new and contracted to Viking by the owner, one of Putin’s close associates. We suddenly felt very comfortable. The stateroom is wonderful with a large, usable balcony. It looks perfect for a beer. But first we had our first Russian meal of stuffed cabbage and a bunch of other delights. We ate with some fascinating British ladies with backgrounds in the diplomatic corps. Sharp wits were required. Fortunately, everyone was a bit on the drowsy side so we were cut some slack.
On to the first day as it is actually the next day at the present time but I was far too gone last night to write.
We left the boat with our guide at 1:30 after attending safety sessions and tourist shopping orientations. Took care of lunch but while we felt fine our bodies were still in California. The Metro entrance was a ten minute walk past the atrocious Stalin era dock building. We would see plenty much more of his weird taste in neo-classical-Baroque-Renaissance gobbledygook buildings.
The Moscow subway system is huge with 180 miles of track. It is probably the best of the Stalin era infrastructure. It was started in the mid-1930s as a showcase of Soviet civilization. With a guide it was easy to get oriented and find our way around. The stations are worn and well used but as clean as you would expect with some two million riders a day. The cars seemed to also be Stalin era but they worked. The stations that were built in Stalin’s time feature marble and elaborate stonework. The use of Social Realism in the statuary was textbook. Muscular proletarians with machine guns and jack hammers glared down at us. I knew I was in the worker’s paradise.
We reached Red Square after entering through the Resurrection Gate that was rebuilt after Stalin had it destroyed to allow the easy passage for tanks onto the parade ground. He also had it in for the Kazan Cathedral which was demolished and then accurately rebuilt in the 1990’s. Red Square itself is tiny compared to Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
Lenin is still in his glass case but he wasn’t seeing visitors today. We instead wandered through the GUM Department store which is more accurately described as a Mall. Not many shoppers except for the ice cream stands. The ice cream was very passable. Gelato is safe. Great pictures of St. Basil and we will try to visit tomorrow.
We looked through some tacky souvenir stores but could not find a hat for Duke, the Pomeranian. They had a gas mask that might work but we resisted the temptation. We reassembled in front of The Marshall Zhukov statue and got back on the Metro. We went to the reconstructed Christ the Savior Cathedral which had been blown up by Stalin for a spot to locate the Soviet parliament with a 300 hundred foot tall statue of Lenin on top of the 700 foot “wedding Cake” megalomaniac Stalinist style. It was never built because of WWII. The cathedral was reproduced in the 1990’s after the collapse of the USSR. The people could ill afford the cost of 200 million but it was done anyway. Today the number of Orthodox churches in Moscow stands at over 700 from the less than the 50 that Stalin tolerated. The restored building stands as a monument to the Russian victory over Napoleon and Stalinist Atheism.
We it was now around 6:30 and we we walked to our bus which was parked near the Moscow River. We rode it to the delightful private performance of a Moscow based orchestra that performed using traditional Russian instruments. Despite our grogginess we enjoyed the spirited performance that used a variety of instruments including an assortment of percussion pieces. The old guy playing his saw and animated percussionists were a high light as well as the charming string performers.
We returned to the boat by 9:30. The sun was still bright and we enjoyed some delicious halibut prepared Norwegian style. Great conversation until 11:30 when we staggered off to bed. The plan is for us to be on our own tomorrow which is actually today.