Archive for June, 2014

Vladimir

Posted: June 30, 2014 in Uncategorized
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The last few days have included a series of adventures both in and outside of Moscow. Friday was my day to be pretentious. I went to my Dutch neighbor’s presentation on her work in the Russian State Socio-Political Archive (RGASPI). Her presentation to some department in RGGU was entirely in French. She was nice enough to invite me and I had fun listening to the discrepancies between what she said in French and how it was translated into Russian by one of the department members. The documents she had been looking at were in French that somehow magically wound their way to the Russian archive. Many of them happened to be letters declining invitations to dinners or balls or theatre programs.

After her presentation a few of the department members were confused by my presence and were surprised when I started to speak to them in Russian. At least I made one of them laugh when I responded with some extremely colloquial Russian. I did not say anything inappropriate. It was mostly how I said “dorm” instead of “dormitory” that made the woman laugh.

Leaving RGGU’s building off of Red Square, we headed to the Arbat to get a few souvenirs. The Arbat is the complete pedestrian tourist street. In addition to tons of souvenir stores, practically every restaurant on the street is an American chain. I counted two Dunkin Donuts, a Starbucks, a McDonald’s, a Wendy’s, and a Shake Shack. There were probably others that I tuned out.

I was completely surprised to see a Shake Shack on the Arbat.

I was completely surprised to see a Shake Shack on the Arbat.

Saturday’s adventure was going to the Kursk Train Station in an attempt to buy train tickets to the ancient Russian city of Vladimir, which is about 120 miles east of Moscow. I headed off to the train station to buy my ticket in person because the RZhD (the Russian railway) website refuses to accept foreign credit or debit cards. Matanja was nice enough to accompany me on my frustrating trip. On the main hall I asked where to buy tickets to Vladimir as different windows only service certain locations and types of trains (long distance or regional electric trains). The lady at the desk told me to go to the far part of the second floor. At the far part of the second floor I went to the window that said it sold tickets for express trains, but the woman at that window sent me to a different window. When I went to the next window the woman told me to go back to where I had started. Seeing no sense so this I quit and returned home. I texted my friend Emily who told me that the tickets for the express train that I wanted are sold in the main hall of the second floor. Why one of the women at the ticket windows couldn’t have told me that I will never understand.

Sunday morning I got up earlier than I would normally do on the weekend so that I could make it to the train station to buy my ticket in time for the 11AM express to Vladimir. Thankfully I managed to buy the ticket and had a comfortable ride. An hour and 45 minutes later I found myself in one of the former medieval capitals of Russia. The city has a few beautiful churches from the 12th century.

The Golden Gate. It has a golden dome at the top, but this is what you get when strangers take photos of you with landmarks.

The Golden Gate. It has a golden dome at the top, but this is what you get when strangers take photos of you with landmarks.

Unfortunately, that’s all that’s really in the city. My friend Emily showed me all of the main sights in the city pretty quickly. After that, we hopped on a bus for about twenty minutes to see a church on the outskirts of the city. We got off of the bus, crossed the railroad tracks, and then walked across a field for about ten or fifteen minutes. The walk through the field was pleasant and it was great to find the small old church located on a picturesque little pond.

The real Russia.

The real Russia.

While there may not have been a lot to do in Vladimir, I’m really happy that I got a chance to see the city. The train ride there and back was interesting and only cost about $25 roundtrip. It was very nice to leave Moscow, which really isn’t like the rest of Russia at all. I enjoy spending time in the extremely beautiful Russian countryside. Plus, the Russian historian in me enjoys exploring other sites important to Russian history even if I’m more interested in Soviet history than imperial.

Does your city have a 12th century church? Probably not.

Does your city have a 12th century church? Probably not.

The past week and a half has been filled with a nice balance of work and having fun. Due to how long it takes to process document requests, I spend about three days a week in the archives. In my free time, I’ve been exploring Moscow, making new friends, and catching up with old ones. Last Tuesday I grabbed a drink with a former member of my Fulbright cohort on Red Square. He’s also a graduate student of Soviet history. We traded stories about our programs and the perils of GARF.

I found an UAZ 469 at Red Square. Ulyanovsk for the win!

I found an UAZ 469 at Red Square. Ulyanovsk for the win!

Saturday was a pretty busy day for me. My neighbor and I met up with my friend Emily from Alaska. Emily and I did a German language immersion program together in Bonn in 2010. We bonded over our mutual love of Russia and watched a ton of Germany World Cup games. She’s been spending her summer in Vladimir on a Russian language program. We decided to meet up and explore a few places in Moscow together. We got our obligatory tourist photos on Red Square. To Emily’s dismay, Lenin’s Mausoleum was closed, despite the sign saying that it should have been open when we were there. I was rather happy that it was closed. Due to a traumatizing childhood experience with bog mummies in a Danish Viking museum, I have a huge dislike of viewing any sort of dead bodies/remains (ask my friends about how I get really unnerved around the Egyptian exhibit at the Met).

Doing the tourist thing at Red Square.

Doing the tourist thing at Red Square.

From Red Square, we headed off to the World War II museum at Victory Park. The museum was filled with all sorts of great exhibits, dioramas, and art relating to WWII.

The inside of the Great Patriotic War Museum at Victory Park.

The inside of the Great Patriotic War Museum at Victory Park.

It also contained a slightly uncomfortable amount of Stalin souvenirs. Being the Soviet history buff, I excitedly poured over all of the exhibits and gave mini lectures about various battles, weapons, and vehicles. Matanja and Emily said they truly appreciated some of the info that I gave them. I told them they should email my adviser and tell her that I have some actual knowledge of Soviet history.

You too could own a Stalin action figure for only 6,500 rubles.

You too could own a Stalin action figure for only 6,500 rubles.

After the war museum we headed to one of my favorite places in Moscow, the Izmailovo tourist market. The market is still as packed and exciting as I remembered. My friends found souvenirs that they needed for their family members. While they left in good moods, I left with my spirit crushed. I had excitedly been talking about the shawarma stand near the entrance of the market only to find that it had recently been demolished. After the market, Emily had to head back to the train station and my neighbor and I returned to our humble dormitory.

The look of pure sadness upon discovering the demolished remains of my favorite shawarma place.

The look of pure sadness upon discovering the demolished remains of my favorite shawarma place.

This week itself has been relatively uneventful. On Monday, I registered at the military archive (RGVA) without much hassle. The people there are all very nice. I ordered my documents and was told that they would be ready on Thursday. I also learned that the military archive is closed for a summer holiday from July 1-14. This will present a slight issue as I have discovered through further research here that the information I’m looking for is probably contained within the military archive. Oh well, there’s always future research trips. The military archive has an interesting calendar at the front of the reading room. For the month of June there’s a quote that says “A future without terrorism, terrorism without a future.” I wish I could take a photo, but it’s forbidden in the archive.

I wound up inside a very old metro car. Dear Metro-North, the Russians keeps their old train cars in running order, why can't you?

I wound up inside a very old metro car. Dear Metro-North, the Russians keeps their old train cars in running order, why can’t you?

Outside of the archives I’ve spent the week watching a lot of World Cup games with my neighbor either on my computer or at a café. On Monday night we met up with my Jordanian friend Anas who goes to RUDN (Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia).

RUDN.

RUDN.

One of the cafés at RUDN has great falafel and hummus, so we grabbed dinner there. After eating, Anas gave us a campus tour, which I enjoyed due to the Cold War history of the university. It was formerly known as the Patrice Lamumba University and gave free education, or highly subsidized education, to people coming from the Third World in an attempt to cultivate Soviet values around the world. Today it’s one of Russia’s best universities, though the makeup of the student body has changed. After our tour we watched the Netherlands beat Chile at the outdoor café.

The Netherlands beating Chile.

The Netherlands beating Chile.

Things have been pretty slow lately as Thursday was Russia Day. The archives closed early on Wednesday and they didn’t reopen until 12PM on Monday. Mostly I’ve been adjusting to the time change and exploring Moscow. On Friday morning I joined one of my friends from Ulyanovsk and her friend for a boat tour of Moscow. We got our tickets and waited to board the boat, but it left early and had to wait about half an hour in line for the next one to show up. The guy behind us in line talked to us a little and then joined us at our table on the boat. We got cold so we headed inside the boat and the guy joined us. He insisted on giving me a map of Moscow that he wrote a note, as well as his name, phone number, email, and address on. He was from another, smaller city in Russia and invited us to visit him, especially in 2018 when Russia hosts the World Cup.

The guy who joined us as he was writing all of his contact info onto a map for me.

The guy who joined us as he was writing all of his contact info onto a map for me.

When the boat tour was over, he invited us to a café with him. My friends said that they had a full schedule and needed to go to the planetarium. He said he had never been there, had a free schedule, and would join us. Thankfully we dissuaded him from following us when my friends said they were just going to buy tickets for something else before heading back to the hotel to change. My plan was to go back to my dorm anyway to prepare a little before Saturday’s excursion to the Memorial Museum of German Anti-Fascists.

The Memorial Museum of German Anti-Fascists is a former POW camp located in a suburb of Moscow called Krasnogorsk. I found out about the museum through a book that they had published. The museum actually covers a wide variety of topics ranging from Soviet anti-fascist movements, German concentration camps, and Soviet treatment of German prisoners of war. The exhibits were interesting, but my real interest in the museum is that it houses its own archive. I was the only person in the museum on Saturday and the woman who worked there was very nice and spoke with me for about 20 or 30 minutes after I looked at all of the exhibits. We discussed which books I had read on the topic and she showed me a few more that I had not previously discovered. She then also gave me the name of the director of the archives to call on Monday to see if I can set up seeing what’s in their collections. I have the feeling that I’ll try to stick working in the archives in Moscow, though, as the museum takes almost 90 minutes to get to. I have to go to almost the last stop on one of the metro lines and then take a bus for about 40 minutes. The bus ride was pretty interesting in that I now know Moscow has an indoor ski area, apparently the largest in Europe.

Memorial Museum of German Anti-Fascists

Memorial Museum of German Anti-Fascists

Not too much else happened over the weekend. I did notice that the kiosk across the street from the dormitory sells Dr. Pepper, which I previously could not find in Russia, except in a specialty store for about $20 for a six pack of airplane sized cans. The other fun thing was listening to the accordionist in the underground crossing playing Linkin Park’s Numb. Lastly, while in the checkout line at the grocery store, the cashier asked where my neighbor and I were from. She then told me that she collects foreign currency, especially coins, and said that she would buy money from us.

The glorious kiosk that sells multiple flavors of Dr. Pepper in standard 12 oz cans.

The glorious kiosk that sells multiple flavors of Dr. Pepper in standard 12 oz cans.

I finally made it to GARF (The State Archive of the Russian Federation) today, thought I took a slight detour on the way in to the the Museum of Retro Automobiles.

It's me. I can't see a sign like that an ignore it.

It’s me. I can’t see a sign like that an ignore it.

This is a satellite location that houses a private collection of cars. The much larger collection is housed somewhere else in the city. The private collection featured only foreign cars. I got really excited walked up to the museum when I noticed a few 1930s Mercedes through the window. The collection of Benzes was actually quite spectacular. The only place that compares is the Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart, but this one was a tiny bit better because I could walk right up to a Gullwing. The Gullwing in Stuttgart is behind a barrier. My only issue with this particular Gullwing was that it was missing the special luggage set. Oh well, not everything is perfect.

A Gullwing in all of its glory.

A Gullwing in all of its glory.

The collection also included a fabulous 190SL, though for the life of me I can’t figure out why anyone would put it next to something so pedestrian as a Corvette.

A Corvette does not belong in the same exhibition as a 190SL or some old Porsches.

A Corvette does not belong in the same exhibition as a 190SL or some old Porsches.

There were also two nice old Porsches on the upper level. The lower level housed yet another of my favorite Mercedes, the 540K. I think I really need to reevaluate my career choice given my automotive preferences.

The ever impressive 540K.

The ever impressive 540K.

After the automotive museum, I finally managed to get into the archive where I had fun dealing with paperwork. The archive where I’ll be doing most of my work actually contains the reading rooms for both the State Archive (GARF) and the Economics Archive (RGAE), so I had to register for each portion separately. The woman at the GARF desk was unfriendly, but the one for RGAE was a sweet lady who was patient and nice. Having registered I attempted to get documents that had been ordered for me in advance of my arrival, but that didn’t work out and I was sent off to the fifth floor of a far away building to read through an archive guide to select some documents. I spent about two hours reading through a guide and taking notes on the folders that I need to order. Unfortunately this will be a very slow process as I can order a maximum of five folders at a time, and it takes three days to receive the folders. I may or may not have had the Archives theme from GoldenEye stuck in my head all day.

The archive was also interesting today in that I recognized someone from my Fulbright cohort who is also currently a graduate student of Russian history. Sadly he’s leaving in a few days, but we managed to grab a quick drink and catch up at Red Square tonight. I also recognized another graduate student from a program that I was accepted into. He left before I could speak with him, but hopefully we’ll hang out in the future and commiserate over the fun that is the archives.

I have arrived safely and without hassle in Moscow. The traveling itself went well. I made it to JFK in record time. I was driving quite conservatively but managed to go from our place in Connecticut to having parked outside the terminal in one hour and 3 minutes.

The fancy car computer doesn't lie.

The fancy car computer doesn’t lie.

Aside from a brief slowdown on the Whitestone and the usual mess that’s Jamaica, the ride was a breeze. My new rule for life is to only drive to the airport on Sundays. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they had finally fixed the baggage drop off at Terminal 1. When the conveyors were broken, you used to have to put your bag on the scale at the check-in counter. They would apply the luggage tag and then you would take your bag to a central screening and drop off point in the middle of the terminal. The security line was also practically non-existent. Also, either Aeroflot or Air France have changed their flight schedules. I have always left New York on the same flight, SU101, to be surrounded by hundreds of French people headed to DeGaul. This time around there were no flights to France on the board around the time that I checked in and the security line was almost non-existent. Duty free was fun as always as I found my entire flight crew stocking up on cigarettes and alcohol along with a few Lufthansa pilots. As usual, we were late to board and late to depart from JFK.

Our majestic A330 named after the engineer Kulibin.

Our majestic A330 named after the engineer Kulibin.

I love Aeroflot, but they’re becoming increasingly unfriendly to passengers who don’t speak Russian. Thankfully they finally found one Russian speaker to make announcements at the gate concerning boarding, but this meant that all of the important information about boarding was conducted in Russian. Similar information also happened with the in flight safety video, which had English subtitles, and certain announcements.

Very interesting review of the UAZ Patriot in the Aeroflot magazine. Good to see that a bit of Ulyanovsk already made it into my trip. My only gripe is that the license plate should say 73.

Very interesting review of the UAZ Patriot in the Aeroflot magazine. Good to see that a bit of Ulyanovsk already made it into my trip. My only gripe is that the license plate should say 73.

Can we please discuss the photo of the CEO of Aeroflot in the inflight magazine?

Can we please discuss the photo of the CEO of Aeroflot in the inflight magazine?

After the usual fun that is passport control and waiting for luggage, I crossed into the terminal where someone from the university was waiting for me. I expected that we would take Aeroexpress, the train that goes from Sheremetyevo to the center of Moscow, but I was pleasantly surprised by a car and driver. Riding around Moscow is always fun. As we were leaving the airport, the driver had a brief freak out when he saw a police checkpoint in the distance doing seatbelt checks. He quickly buckled up before we passed the cops, but as soon as we hit the road he took off his seatbelt. I’m hoping that the speedometer in his car was faulty because it showed that we were doing around 90 mph while weaving around cars until we hit the notorious Moscow traffic jams. We eventually wound our way through the city and I was deposited at the dormitory. I was given a university pass, keys to my room, and vague directions for where to find the visa department and international office to take care of additional bureaucracy.

I have a nice single room on the 8th floor of a building on campus. Life in this dormitory is pretty exciting because we have a fridge in the kitchen and curfew is 1AM, which is conveniently the time that the metro stops running.

View from the dorm. I doubt I'll see babushki herding goats from this window.

View from the dorm. I doubt I’ll see babushki herding goats from this window.

It’s been a fun-filled past few days. On Tuesday I met up with some old friends from RUDN and we had dinner together. Yesterday I had fun with my awesome neighbor from Holland. She’s here doing archival research in a different archive. We decided to head out at see the statue park across from Gorky Park. The last time I went to the park was on my Lafayette College interim trip in January. Everything was covered in snow and it was brutally cold. This time around we had a pleasant walk through the park.

I wonder how many Lenin statues I can take my photo with this time around?

I wonder how many Lenin statues I can take my photo with this time around?

After the park we got hungry and headed off to Yeolki Palki, a Russian theme restaurant of sorts. My best analogy is that it is to Russian food and culture as Applebee’s is to American. Most of the staple traditional dishes are there and there’s a Russian peasant theme. We enjoyed our dinners and as we were about to leave the two men sitting at the table next to us invited us to have a drink with them. What was supposed to be one quick toast turned into a few hours of conversation and drinking. All in all we had a good time.

This morning my neighbor and I met up with two first year university students that she knows through one of her university contacts. We had a fund morning wandering around the Moscow Zoo. They had a pretty impressive collection of animals, but my favorites were the two polar bears.

Mr. Polar Bear's Russian relatives.

Mr. Polar Bear’s Russian relatives.

Around 2:45 I left my neighbor and her two Russian friends to meet my friend Inna from Ulyanovsk. She’s in Moscow for the weekend because of the holiday. It was fabulous to see Inna after almost two years. We went to a restaurant, relaxed, and talked. We have plans to hang out again tomorrow.

 

It’s that time again, I’m heading back to Russia tomorrow. I’ll be spending six weeks in Moscow doing archival research on my new research topic: German prisoners of war and the postwar reconstruction of the Soviet Union. Basically, I’m looking into German POWs in the Gulag system and their contribution to recovery of the Soviet Union’s economy. Sadly this topic does not incorporate Soviet cars or Mercedes (believe me, I would find a connection were there one), but I’m enjoying it nonetheless. As I’m sure most people aren’t interested in my current research (though I doubt there were that many who were into Soviet cars either), the blog will stay focused on my adventures living in the Motherland. Stay tuned for reports of shenanigans in Moscow. I’ll cover such riveting topics as will my dorm room have a fridge, how strict is dormitory curfew, and will the babushki in the archives mercilessly mock me?

 

2014-06-03 13.21.23

At least my packing is 99.9% done. I’ll add a pair of pants and a toothbrush and call it a success.