Saturday, June 12, 2010

A date with Moscow - an impressive city of grandeur.

Today is a national day holiday. Russia became a separate entity from USSR. No banks are open and we are in fix to get our Roubles. We met yesterday's gal at b'fast. She helped us with the map to locate Bolshoi Theater, Kremlin and Moscow river. Luckily multiple currency dispensing ATM at the hotel lobby solved the problem of getting rouble. B'fast was sumptuous and the day was sunny. Looks like we would have a great day, but we must get out, Room is getting stuffy. This is the problem with hotels equipped with heater but no ac. In peak summer months, there is no ventilation.

We left hotel in search of a nearest metro station ' Leninsky Prospekt. We saw five Indian ladies walking hand in hand . They and another English person directed us to the Metro. Later another Russian woman with a kid little older than Akshta came at our rescue at the ticket counter and took us to Tatranaya and made sure that we take correct exit for Red Square.

Reached out of the metro, we are at sprawling square covering Kremlin, St Basil church, mall and few churches. Today, being the independence day, there seems a public function and main area is cordoned off with barricades. Young policemen in gray and white uniforms were being prepared for the task ahead of them. while string of all black Mercedes, BMW and Audi stood in mute silence. The poster image of Russia with St Basil and Kremlin gives an impression of the enormity of structure and I was hoping to see these by protruding neck upwards. But in reality, they are like any other monuments in Europe. The color and pattern of the domes have same visual appeal as in case of poster. The garden patch along red square had red ribbon marked for no intrusion. However seeing couple of people already on th
e grass, we too crossed the divider and sat on the grass. Would we have done this during USSR days ?

Boat ride @ 800 Roubles per adult is good way to move around inner circle of Moscow. It's ' Hop in and Hop out' deal for whole day. It has an upper deck but not air conditioned but is pleasant when breeze flows in. I wish it had a taped commentary about the history of different landmark buildings along the river. Even after 9pm, throng of crowds immaculately dressed were descending, some carrying Russian flag. Couples either moving around together hand in hand or lazing garden patches along the road. Some like Germans often would get into sudden act of impulsive, passionate kissing.

Visit to two malls - one at Kremlin and second along the river was an experience to feel nuevo rich society of Russia. Both are stunning malls with every global brand present, shops crowded and woman dressed to kill. Moscow in this part matches the spirit of Paris, Milan and Vienna. Just a day before , we were sauntering at Galleria mall and Saks Sixth Avenue stores. in Houston Enchanting products were on display but with hardly any customers. Here in the second mall, in Moscow, ladies vied with each other in the outfit and were devouring goods as if there was no tomorrow. At food court, we settled for Italian but had a choice of a Burger King, TGIF , Kebab, Japanese and host of other brands. All brands are in Russian language except symbols and brand colour.

We decide to head back by 9pm and go towards Kremlin but now the road was closed. We took a detour past the red square. Crowd was gathering for an open concert. Security was omnipresent with young boys and gal policeman standing along the road. It take us almost an hour to reach subway but atmosphere is great and festive and we soak in this festive spirit as we walk back while Akshtawas merrily sleeping in her stroller oblivious if everything around her.

It's now 11 pm and still tinge of orange and yellow at the horizon is evident from the 16th floor of Darbar Indian restaurant of Hotel Sputnik . Food is not so great but Hindi speaking, salwar kameez attired Afghan hostess is charming and also the skyline of Moscow, Soccer stadium, Moscow university and pearls of light across office tall buildings make now Moscow as pretty in the night as it was daunting during the day.

Subway trains in Moscow are impressive. They are the busiest in the world next to Japan. The technology is outdated. Trains are not fully ac and they rattle. But they run deep with just an escalator connecting between road and subway. When this was built, it must have been technical marvel. Very little display technology is now at work, there are no vending machines . Neither is there a space for restaurants nor facility for wheelchair . Most of the space along the platform is used for impressive bronze statues depicting socialist lifestyle. Ceiling covers staccato depicts various labourers or soldiers. sickle and hammer is evident in most of them. One can get a feel an aura of USSR socialism in 60's and 70's through Moscow roads, buildings and metro. The roads are massive. Four lane express ways, with dedicated lane for walking flanked on either side by trees, then a service lane and another one for parking and taxi. Architecture is exquisite, artistic and ornate. Most sites particularly that of Moscow University are difficult to get in one frame. There are many churches along the river and most of them have dome shaped with cross on the top. Dome is often coloured in Gold. Poster image of St Basil though is not as large as I had envisaged and so is the building of Kremlin.

We were in Moscow just 48 hours and this must have been our most expensive sojourn. But it was worth every rubble. We were extremely lucky to have had great sunny day when we spent a day gallivanting Moscow. When we arrived, it was rainy foggy and chilly and so was when we got into the aircraft to head back.

This was my first visit to any country in erstwhile communist block and I am glad that Russia happens to be the first. A visit to any country become joyous with the people you meet and the interaction we have. Most Russian don't smile, don't interact with strangers but we met some great people who went out of the way to help us. Those who sat tight lipped made to smile and cheer by Akshta by her boisterous outgoing personality and uninhibited approach in reaching For Russians. I do not know if I would get a chance to visit Russia again or not but if I do , I know exactly what I want to see. Visit to St Peters berg Inside of Lenin Mausoleum to see his mummified body, watch a dance performance at Bolshoi theater, roam around Moscow university and visit to sleazy bars in the night town and peep into naked hair dressing saloons ! I also do want Know about Vladimir, Ivan, Peter, Nicholas and Stalin. On my return flight, a documentary ' The Art of Russia' has increased my appetite to know more about Russia's art , churches in Kiev( Now Ukraine) and St Peter berg

Till then ' spacibo'( thank you) to Marina - without her this trip wouldn't have been possible, Mahmoud, lady and her sweet daughter in the train and our taxi driver on return - who gave us a Russia flag as a souvenir.

Dusvidaniya Russia with Love.

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