A Trip to Moscow

Posted: October 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

I have just returned from an amazing handful of days in Moscow. Don’t worry, though, I still prefer St. Petersburg. Fulbright hosted an in-country orientation for us; thus they paid for our transit and accommodations. As I fear flying within Russia, I took the overnight train. The two women and man in my compartment were very nice. About fifteen hours after departing, I arrived in Moscow’s Kazan Station. I hopped on the metro and got off for the hotel’s stop. Eventually, I arrived at the hotel. When I walked in, there was another Fulbright ETA attempting to check in. I knew I was way too early to check in, but we were able to check our bags and wander around the area near the hotel. We grabbed some food at a little café and then returned to the hotel, where we ran into a handful of other ETAs and a few research scholars.

The standard photo with St. Basil's. The camera didn't freeze this time, we'll see how it goes in January.

Some people ran off to do other things, but the majority of the group headed off to Red Square. Everyone wanted to see dead Lenin, which I really wasn’t too keen on doing (gasp, I’m now using British expressions). You see, dear reader, when I was seven years old, I was traumatized in a Danish Viking Museum with an exhibit on bog mummies. I’m cool with seeing violence and dead people on tv, so long as it’s fictional — there’s nothing like a good zombie movie to make me happy — but I still get the creeps when there are real dead things near me. Really, ask anyone with whom I went to the Metropolitan Museum for art trips at Lafayette. We had to avoid the mummy exhibits there.

Somewhat grudgingly, I headed off to see dead Lenin, as opposed to any statue of Lenin. The word “dead” is necessary to signify the difference. I was more interested in seeing the plaque signifying the burial place of Yuri Gagarin as well as the graves of Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko. Sadly, to see those, I had to pass Lenin. The mausoleum is absolutely creepy. You enter and it’s immediately hard to see in the difference between the brightness of the outside world and the dark interior, which is great because you have to descend several staircases. As if it weren’t creepy enough that I was going to see a dead guy, I had to seemingly descend to the depths of hell to do so. Additionally, there are honor guards in the mausoleum. They stand perfectly still and say nothing. Occasionally, they slowly gesture to indicate in which direction you should head or to take your hands out of your pockets so as to show respect to Lenin. Whether or not he’s real, he’s still unpleasant to look at. I suppose it’s good that I saw him, as I’m stationed in his birth city. What I was more excited to see at Red Square was an UAZ 469.

Some people get excited to have their picture taken with St. Basil's while at Red Square, I get excited when I see an UAZ. Ulyanovsk pride!

After our group paid our respects to dead Lenin, we headed off to the Fulbright Office, which is about a fifteen minute walk from Red Square. As I was the only person who had been there, I was charged with leading the group. We mobbed the office, but the staff was happy to see us. We had tea and coffee while chatting with Oksana, the woman who seems to oversee everything for the program. She was checking up on us and we exchanged tales of teaching and our adventures.

The next day, we ventured off to the American Embassy. There, were listed to a few speakers including the theatre critic for “The Moscow Times,” an English language newspaper. On the way to the metro, we walked past one of Stalin’s Seven Sisters, the Kudrinskaya Square Building, which was built as an apartment building for the Soviet elite. Interestingly, in front of the building I saw two old Volga sedans, one from the 1950s and one from the 1960s. This was extraordinarily fitting, as in Soviet times only people who lived in a building such as that would be able to own a Volga sedan.

A 1960s Volga.

After lunch, we headed off to the Carnegie Center for a lecture on Russian politics by a Russian research scholar. We finished pretty late that day, so we headed off to a café before venturing back to the hotel. I was happy to just wander the streets of Moscow and stare at all of the Mercedes. I saw a series of my favorites. Also, like back home, I tended to see more of my era of Mercedes than the model that followed after it. I’m guessing the cars of the later series, the W210, all self destructed or rusted to pieces while the last of the over-engineered Mercedes, the W124, continue to dutifully serve their owners.

The next two days, Saturday and Sunday, the ETAs had special training by our RELO (Regional English Language Officer). He was amazing, and I picked up a series of wonderful techniques and ideas for lessons. Unlike the ETA workshop in Washington, his advice was actually practical and interesting. Saturday afternoon/early evening, I headed off with three other girls to the Izmailovsky Market. I knew how to get there because our hotel was right next to it when I went to Moscow on the Lafayette interim trip. I found a few souvenirs that I was looking for. I also had a great time because I successfully haggled with a vendor. I got him to reduce his price by 150 rubles, roughly $5. After our transaction was made, he asked me how long I had lived in Moscow. For once someone felt that I could speak Russian properly!

Kari and I love souvenirs and street food.

Sunday was a very special day as it was my birthday. Word quickly spread amongst the Fulbrighters. Just when we were about to start the session for the day, everyone started to sing Happy Birthday. They then sang the first verse and the chorus, because no one knew the rest of the verses, of the Russian version of Happy Birthday, which comes from a Soviet children’s cartoon. The real surprise came after lunch. Once again, just as we were starting, Oksana and a few others came in carrying a cake with candles on it. They also presented me with a sweet card signed by everyone. Unfortunately, the candles were of the trick variety, so they refused to go out without a fight. Cake was served and then we discussed culture shock. On that exciting note, we finished our sessions.

I really do love the UAZ.

And, as a bit of a birthday present, I saw a Mercedes of my favorite series, the W124, parked in front of the hotel. It had had a hard life, as evidenced by the rust, but it was still running. Also, it seems that someone broke the windshield wiper and fixed it themselves as it now went in a fixed position and no longer oscillated as designed. You know I know my Mercedes when I can recognize the correct pattern of windshield wiper travel.

A 1992-1994 E200.

Sunday night, I met up with my friend Heather, with whom I studied and lived in St. Petersburg. She’s currently teaching English in Moscow. She led me and a handful of other Fulbrighters to a restaurant called Taras Bulba, which is basically the Ukrainian equivalent of Yolki Polki. The food was good and the prices were pretty reasonable. The menu was hilarious, though. The waitress gave the group a few menus in Russian and a few with English translations. The translations were absolutely hilarious. My favorite was “rabbit extinguishing sour cream.” My fellow Fulbrighters also bought me a series of shots of vodka. After two shots of plain vodka, they ordered a bottle of pepper and honey vodka. Eventually, the night drew to a close and we headed off to the hotel to sleep.

Rabbit Extinguishing Sour Cream - I'm not sure what that is, and I'm not sure I want to know.

The next morning, I had a bit of time before my train departed. I headed off to the Izmailovsky Market for a second time because someone else wanted to head there. Then, I had to return to the hotel to collect my things before heading to the train station. The train ride back to Ulyanovsk was great. I shared the compartment with an older man, who was also going to Ulyanovsk, no to the other side of the city. The train was a Moscow to Chelyabinsk one, which was much older than the Moscow to Ulyanovsk train; however, the train was nicer in the sense that for whatever reason the staff were nicer. Maybe they took more notice to the fact that I wan a lone American girl riding off to Ulyanovsk. They would not allow me to carry my bag through the train. The attendant also looked askance that I was not being met by anyone at the station. It’s okay, the marshrutka ride back to the university was fairly pleasant and without any issues.

Today was fun in that I returned to the university and shared my tales with my Russian professor and the people in the technology transfer center. The people in the technology center made a wonderful card for me in the shape of a birthday cake. They also gifted me a set of traditional Russian wool socks, so I won’t lose my toes in the winter!

Take that Halmark!

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