Jason Goes to Moscow

Posted: July 20, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday started out as a good day and kept getting progressively better. I got up and got on the Metro to head off to the RGVA (the military archive) and was pleasantly surprised to immediately notice someone watching the tv show Chuck on their iPad. Sadly I could not creep on them for very long as I had to get off at the next stop to switch lines.

"Short skirt and a long jacket."

“Short skirt and a long jacket.”

I had planned my trip to Ulyanovsk around when my documents would be ready at the military archive. Their summer holiday ran from July 1st through 14th. They said that my documents would be ready on the 17th. I arrived, handed them my pass, and told them that I was expecting documents. The woman at the reading room window could not immediately find my documents so she told me to take a seat. I waited for about 15 minutes before she came back to me. She said that she had found the request form, but for some reason someone had incorrectly written that the documents would be ready on the 25th, which is great because I leave on the 24th. The woman apologized for the mistake and told me that the documents will be ready on Monday.

Not having the documents ready worked in my favor, though, because a new friend was going to be spending the day in Moscow. As I mentioned in the previous post, Jason teaches English in Ulyanovsk at the school run by my friends. He had told me that he read my blog before going to Ulyanovsk. Now he’s got a post almost completely dedicated to his day in Moscow. Congrats, Jason, you’re slightly famous now. I had planned to meet Jason in the evening after a day of reading documents, but I ended up being free as of 11AM. Jason was staying at the Izmailovo hotel complex and was wandering around the souvenir market there, so I said I would meet him there. Due to the location of the archive, it took me almost an hour to meet him there. The market was fun as always, though many of the vendors were not there on Thursday. We walked around the market on a quest to get souvenirs for his relatives. At one stall, the woman thought that I was Jason’s girlfriend. He was looking at nesting dolls and I veered towards a nearby stall to look at propaganda posters. I heard her ask “Oh, where’s your girlfriend?” I wandered back over, Jason bought the nesting dolls, and she wished us happiness. Another vendor was also quite funny. Jason was looking at cartoon and comic themed nesting dolls for his 10 year old nephew. He told that to the vendor, who replied that the nephew is too old for those. Instead, Jason needed to buy him something manly like a flask.

I don't have a good recent photo of the market. You'll have to settle for this one from October of 2011. Nothing has changed there except for the demolition of my beloved shawarma stand.

I don’t have a good recent photo of the market. You’ll have to settle for this one from October of 2011. Nothing has changed there except for the demolition of my beloved shawarma stand.

We left the market after an hour or so and went into the hotel to see if Jason’s room was ready. It finally was, and we went to drop off his luggage and newly acquired souvenirs before heading to the center of the city. At first we went towards the wrong elevators. The security guard gave Jason a hard time and then demanded that we get a visitor pass for me to go up to his room. I told Jason that we should just go to the correct elevator to see if that guard would say the same thing before we wasted time trying to get a visitor pass. The other guarded didn’t even so much as blink at as when we walked to the elevator.

Another photo from October 2011. The complex hasn't changed at all as far as I can tell. These were built for the 1980 Olympics.

Another photo from October 2011. The complex hasn’t changed at all as far as I can tell. These were built for the 1980 Olympics.

Unencumbered, Jason and I grabbed a quick lunch in the food court of the mini-mall across the street from the hotel before taking the Metro to Red Square. We got off of the Metro and decided to go into Krispy Kreme, where we each got a coffee and donut. The donut was a nice treat. While snacking, a random Russian guy came up to us and asked us where we were from. We had a quick conversation with him. He said that he was from a closed city next to Krasnoyarsk, in Siberia. I have the feeling that he might be from the city that contains one of Russia’s maximum security prisons that had been featured on the National Geographic Special “Russia’s Toughest Prisons.” That is an interesting documentary, but one that I do not recommend watching before going to Russia. Or do, because you’ll certainly be on your best behavior after seeing it.

We strolled onto Red Square to take a series of obligatory touristy photos. It took us three tries to get a semi-decent photo of the two of us in front of St. Basil’s. For some reason, the people we asked to take photos of us didn’t think to actually get the cathedral in the background of the photos.

Third time's the charm, ish. We're still missing the very top of the cathedral, but it'll do.

Third time’s the charm, ish. We’re still missing the very top of the cathedral, but it’ll do.

I also made a point of taking a photo with Lenin while wearing my Ulyanovsk State Technical University t-shirt. And a cup of decadent, capitalist coffee. I’m sure Lenin appreciated that.

This photo is almost as good as the one that I took with my Politech hoodie in -20 degree weather. The hot coffee would have served me better then than in this more recent photo.

This photo is almost as good as the one that I took with my Politech hoodie in -20 degree weather. The hot coffee would have served me better then than in this more recent photo.

When I met Jason earlier, he showed me a flyer for an exhibition at the State Historical Museum on the cults of Lenin and Stalin. We both thought that would be interesting to see, so we went into the building that houses the Museum of the War of 1812 to see the special exhibition. Getting into the museum was easier said than done as they had a very sensitive metal detector. My Mercedes belt often sets those off. The guards at Musée D’Orsay in Paris just laughed at me for my belt buckle, but the Russian guards were not amused. I had to take off my belt, watch, and glasses to pass through the detector before opening all of the compartments in my messenger back. The hassle of getting to the cashier’s window was forgotten when I successfully argued for the reduced student rate. The normal price for adults is 300 rubles, or just under $10, but students can enter for 100 rubles. I told the woman that I study at RGGU. She asked to see a student ID, which I don’t have. I told her that I don’t have one and flashed the pass to get into the dormitory. Magically, she acquiesced. Russian cashiers are notorious for rarely giving foreigners reduced rates. The one at the space museum refused to give me the discount because I had a “bilet slushatelya” (roughly translated as a listener’s pass) and not a “studencheskii bilet” (a student ID). When I did my summer program in St. Petersburg, we were forbidden from speaking in English or Russian at museum entrances until after we had passed the ticket collection point even though we each had a Russian student ID. I was quite pleased by my victory. What I was not pleased with was the 150 ruble fee to take photos of the exhibition. I did not pay, so sadly you’ll have to take my word that it was cool. It wasn’t quite what I had expected, but they had some of Stalin’s and Lenin’s clothes, Stalin’s pipe collection, and a series of great Soviet propaganda posters.

We decided to take a walk to the Arbat after the museum, which required walking past the WWII memorial complex along the Kremlin wall. We happened to pass by at the changing of the guards, which was fun to watch. I’m pretty sure the guards on duty were not the regular guards. They looked to be young students of one of the military academies to me.

Changing of the guard.

Changing of the guard.

The Arbat was kitschy as always. Jason wanted to go to a Starbucks to buy a special mug that you can only get in Russia as well as get a caffeine fix. We chatted on a bench on the Arbat for a while before heading back in the general direction of Red Square so that we could go to dinner at a wonderful restaurant called Khachapuri that specializes in Georgian cuisine, namely khachapuri. Dinner was scrumptious.

Georgian egg/cheese/bread goodness.

Georgian egg/cheese/bread goodness.

After our meal we headed to a nearby bar Kamchatka that has 100 ruble beer on tap. We drank, talked, and enjoyed the people passing in front of us at the back entrance of TsUM, one of the major department stores. Much like its counterpart GUM, TsUM specializes in high end goods now. Right inside the door is a Maserati.

We spent a while at Katchatka and headed back to Red Square to take some photos at night for a contrast.

Must get perfect photo for Instagram.

Must get perfect photo for Instagram.

Jason then expressed interest in seeing the Lubyanka, the former KGB, now FSB, headquarters. We walked there, but were saddened to see that its façade is currently under construction. Slightly saddened we returned to the Metro, where Jason and I parted after riding one stop together.

This was my best of about 5 attempts. The lady across from us laughed at my inability to take selfies.

This was my best of about 5 attempts. The lady across from us laughed at my inability to take selfies.

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