18 Feb 2013

Moscow: Setting the scene

During our stay in Moscow, we visited many different places, instead of naming them all, I'll share a few photos!


RUSSIA!!
GUM Shopping Centre

Being artistic in GUM Shopping Centre

The Eternal Flame
St Basil's Cathedral

Red Square
Cheers!  Our first true Russian Vodka
Our hosts: Maria & Mitya
Door into Parliament in the Kremlin -
Putin must be really big!

The Kremlin
Detail on Church in The Kremlin
This coat was a GREAT purchase!
Bolshoi Theatre
Slava's Snow Show
Skyline from East to West towards Kremlin,
Red Square & St Basil's Cathedral
Night view of The Kremlin
Maria & Josi
Cathedral of Christ Our Saviour
Lenin Statue
Lunch of Beer & Borscht (traditional beetroot soup)
- one of our favourites!
"We're Building Communism" - a hang over from the old USSR

Day No.
Day
Date
Countries travelled
Country
City
City
Trans-port
Kilometres travelled
Kilometres total
Hours travelled
Night accommodation
2
Thur
14/02/2013
1
Russia
1
Moscow
Train
1768
3608
13
Maria & Mitya
3
Fri
15/02/2013
0
Russia
0
Moscow
-
0
0
0
Maria & Mitya
4
Sat
16/02/2013
0
Russia
0
Moscow
-
0
0
0
Maria & Mitya
5
Sun
17/02/2013
0
Russia
0
Moscow
-
0
0
0
Maria & Mitya


The suburbs of Moscow recede as after five days we continue east towards Nizhny Novgorod.  Moscow is well described by the host couple we stayed with “a country within a country”.  Prices of property and basic commodities have risen beyond the means of the average Russian, and while the job market is currently buoyant, there is a growing air of apprehension about what Putin’s third term as President will bring.

Allegations of corruption abound – public officials from the police to the fire service and even health and safety officials demand back-handers for such basic tasks as investigating crimes or issuing restaurant licenses.  So not surprisingly the visible scores of police in every district of town are of no comfort to the majority of Russian citizens.  Most seem to be of the view that to pay a fine or a bribe is far preferable than to “enter the system” – a phrase that we hear frequently from people we speak to.  Anonymity and conformity seem to be the order of the day for survival in modern day Russia – characteristics which are exemplified by the grey and black hats & overcoats which dominate the boulevards and subways.  So much so, that even 20 years on after the arrival of the host of western brands that invaded Russia, we still feel conspicuous with our “European” style jackets and backpacks.

But we are not alone in standing out in Moscow.  The winter monochrome of the city makes the brash opulence of the oligarchs all the more noticeable – luxury cars abound, and seem to have carte blanche to park wherever they wish, their owners perhaps among the winners of the post-soviet privatisation free-for-all.

After just five days, we become aware of a clear sense of paranoia among educated Muscovites.  This is perhaps not surprising when viewed against Russia’s historical backdrop.  Authority is rightly viewed with a resigned cynicism.  Transitional moderates like Gorbachev and Yeltsin have given way to a hard line administration - one which under Putin remains free of any real third party opposition.  Too many political analysts and journalists have already found themselves too far “into the system”, and worse.

For us, as the mere holders of 30 day tourist visas, Moscow holds none of the ominous uncertainty that seems to plague many of its residents.  Rather it presents itself as a huge sprawling city, not especially densely populated, but heavy and grey and still with a distinctly soviet feel to much of its architecture.  As our hosts are at pains to point out, the season does it no favours, but even they don’t feel that the city is overly picturesque even at the best of times.  

St Basil's Cathedral
Cathedral of Christ Our Saviour
Landmarks, such as St Basils Cathedral are stunning, and even the much criticised Church of Christ Our Saviour, in our minds strikes an attractive silhouette on the north side of the Moskva River.  Rebuilt in 1997, after being demolished by the soviets, it was intended to be a symbol of the new Russian era and greater religious tolerance.  Unfortunately, for the majority of Muscovites, it is yet another manifestation of state intervention – which the Russian Orthodox Church has not escaped. People rightly question the independence of the Church and the State.  Sadly, the one thing that most people seem to agree on is that the Soviet era Swimming Pool that occupied the site after the original church was destroyed, was more popular than the Church that replaced it.

Monument to Peter 1
Another controversial monument is the Momument to Peter I.  Originally bestowed with a figure of Columbus and presented as a gift to the United States, it was rejected and had to be adopted by its native Moscow.  In an attempt to render it a less incongruous addition to the Moscow skyline, the head of Columbus was removed and replaced with that of Peter the Great. Ironically the great Westerniser now faces forever east down the river, and away from his beloved St. Petersburg - the capital of Russia during his rule. So all-in-all a very odd monument!                                                                                                                                                        

Gulag Museum - well worth the visit
In addition to the obvious attractions, such as the Kremlin & Pushkin Fine Arts Museum, one of the most interesting museums we visited was the small and seemingly under-appreciated Gulag Museum.  There is generally a sense that Russia is still uncomfortable acknowledging the persecution of many of its own people throughout much of the 20th Century.  The Gulag Museum and the excellent accompanying exhibition of soviet propaganda is an admirable effort to address this.


Above all else, Moscow represents for us a gateway - a gateway to the unimaginably vast expanse of Russia that lies ahead of us.  As we sit in the train carriage watching endless miles of snow fields and forlorn looking towns unfold, we start to get an impression of both the immensity of the journey that lies ahead of us and the feat of human endeavor which made this great trans-continental link possible.

The 0 km point from which the distance of the
Trans Siberian Train is worked out.

Our 2nd Class Seated carriage from
Moscow to Nizhny Novogrod
Looking at the map, Nizhny Novgorod lies 6 hours east of Moscow, but barely registers on the scale of distance that we have to cover to reach the Mongolian border.  Between here and there lie nearly 6,000 km of railroad and openness, punctuated by some of the formative towns in Russia’s history.  A quick calculation reveals that we will spend 110 hours on the train before reaching our onward destination of Beijing, and we look forward to seeing what experiences and stories will unfold along the way.


J&J


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