Moscow on the Move

Trip Start Sep 08, 2010
Trip End Sep 18, 2010

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Cruise ship Konstanin Korotkov

Flag of Russia  , Central Russia,
Thursday, September 9, 2010

Red Square was full of bleachers for a musical event this morning, but the sun shone brightly on the myriad facets of the Kremlin Walls, the National Museum, and above all, the multi-colored onion domes of St. Basil's Cathedral.

The Cathedral at the south end of Red Square dates back to the time of Ivan the Terrible, who commissioned this iconic Russian Orthodox church to celebrate his defeat of the Mongols, the so-called "Golden Horde", at Kazan in the 16th century.

Our walk started here in Red Square, then continued along the walls of the Kremlin, the spiritual, military, and political center of Russia (tomorrow we visit the inside). We crossed the Moskva River, looking back on eye-popping views of the Kremlin’s domes, and into a district south of the Kremlin that served as a district for merchants and artisans serving the imperial court, and a buffer against waves of invading Mongols.

Olga was our guide for the day and offered a wealth of interesting facts and stories about Moscow and Russia. We had a little trouble at first keeping her moving. The concept of a “walk” is difficult for many local guides to grasp at first, accustomed as they are to a primary focus on sharing information. Ultimately, however, though it took longer to cover our route, Olga proved to be the best guide we’ve yet had in Moscow – skillfully weaving stories and concepts of Russia into her time with us.

After a visit to the massive and majestic Christ our Savior Cathedral, blown up by Stalin in the 30s to be rebuilt in the post-Communist 90s, Arbat Street served as our finish. McDonalds (aka the American Embassy) was the meeting point – the best source of free bathrooms in the galaxy.

After free time on Arbat Street, Olgo then took us for a short coach tour to see New Maiden Convent, where Peter the Great sequestered his older sister as a nun for not sharing her regency with him when he came of age. Apparently czars were not allowed to divorce, but they were allowed to banish their wives or other troublesome female relatives, to convents. I never cease to be amazed at the creative ways religion – the Golden Rule – can be manipulated to serve our own ends.

An early dinner back aboard our ship, the Konstantin Koratkov, allowed time to return to town for a traditional Moscow circus. Subway, the Metro, is the fastest means of transport in Moscow, which is notorious for congested traffic. It’s also a great way to experience the local culture.

So with Galia, our cruise guide from the ship, we boarded an empty Metro car at the end of the green line near our ship. But as it raced south into the heart of the city, it filled quickly with rush hour commuters at each stops. Soon we were shoulder to shoulder with all manner of Muscovites, smashed together like so many proverbial sardines.

Eight stops later, we spilled out onto a crowded platform into a rush of crowds. My concern had been getting everyone off at the designated stop, commingled as we were throughout the car with dozens of commuters. My plan was to gather after we exited, count noses to confirm that we had all successfully wormed our way out, and then reenter the flow of moving Moscuvites to the next track to catch the grey line. One of our party, however, had been swept along with the crowds, thinking the group was ahead of her. As we frantically counted noses, we came up one short.

Galia had given me the ship sign to carry, a large triangular plastic sign designed for high visibility. So I held it aloft as we moved down from the green line - #2, to the gray line - #9. The Moscow subway is a marvel. Built early in the Stalin era during the 1930s, it was constructed deeper in the ground so it could be used as a bomb shelter. According to Galia, more than 200 babies were born during World War II to Moscow citizens escaping the bombs of Nazi Germany. Due to its excessive depth, it’s also served by long, steeply-inclined, high speed escalators, and moves an amazing volume of Muscovites.

As we reached the gray line, we hoped to see Donna, waiting for us. Scott and I swept both sides of the platform, looking in vain for a familiar face, then split up. The group went on via the grey line to the circus with Galia and Scott, and I commandeered the ship sign and headed back up to the #2 platform. The theory was that Donna may have realized that the group was not ahead of her and circled back to the last point we’d been together. Moving alone, yet surrounded by a sea of snickering Muscovites, I hoisted the sign like a sail, and allowed myself to be swept along by the masses.

At platform #2, there was no sign of Donna. On my second pass through the platform, Galia called my cell phone and informed me that Donna had materialized, by herself, at the circus. Relieved, yet mystified, I lowered my sign, returned to the gray line and, one stop later, was reunited with the group. To get to the circus, one needed to know 1) which direction to take the gray line, 2) how many stops to go (which we had told the group in advance), 3) which exit to take at the next station since different exits lead to vastly different regions of the ground-level world, and which turns to make after the exit to get the circus. Somehow, Donna had successfully navigated through those decisions.

The circus was entertaining – a 1-ring affair designed completely for a local audience and entirely different from our visits in 2007. Galia later shared that acts are changed twice a year, and that our group was lucky to get tickets. Since the circus caters to Muscovites, not foreign visitors, and summer is vacation season in Moscow, summer is the slow season with limited performances. We were only the 4th group from the ship that had been able to include this in the program.

EPILOGUE: Later conversation with Donna revealed that she was very comfortable with subways, was not at all panicked, and had made her turns by asking locals “circus?” For my part, when we didn’t see her at the grey line platform, I was not expecting to see her until we returned to the ship. I figured she would need to use the ship pass, imprinted with name and location of the ship in Russian, to return by cab to the ship. And as I looked into the mirror that night after we returned to our cabin, maybe it was the light, but grey seemed to be the color that most described my hair.
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Andrea on

Great story Dan---BTW the Moscow subway is supposed to be the only one deeper than the Zoo Station on the MAX line in Portland!

friesendm on

Hi Andrea - I'll have to check my facts, but I rode the St Petersburg subway for first time this visit and it seems even deeper! Now in Zermatt looking for the Matterhorn - but cloud cover is low and thick :(

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