"I See Dead People!"

Trip Start Aug 01, 2006
Trip End Aug 13, 2006

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Sunday, August 6, 2006

Saturday, August 05, 2006
Moscow, Russia

I learn that one of my clients is down with tummy troubles this morning, and won't be accompanying us on the day's adventures. A second one is having similar problems, but decides to try and stick it out.

We depart the hotel and drive quickly to Red Square. We learn that the name "Red" has nothing whatsoever to do with political leanings or the color of buildings. It is an Old Russian word that means "beautiful." There is always a "red corner" in every house-the place where the icons are hung. The "red staircase" is the most formal and grand staircase. The Red Square of Moscow is simply referring to the largest, grandest, most beautiful square in the city.

It is raining and, much to our dismay, Natalia informs us that the forecast for the next several days doesn't look too good. We arrive at Red Square at about 9:20am and queue up towards the front of the line of people waiting to enter Lenin's Tomb. The Tomb doesn't open until 10:00am, so our guide tells us about the Square, and Lenin, about the care and maintenance of his body, and we take turns ducking out of line to run and photograph the nearby tomb of the unknown soldiers from World War II. The soldiers guarding the tomb are in little clear boxes to shield them from the rain. We are huddled under umbrellas and raincoats. We get to watch the amazing goose-stepping precision of one changing of the guard during our wait.

The line finally starts moving at 10:10am. We wind our way past the graves of several important people, including the cosmonauts who perished during re-entry because there was a crack in their space capsule. We are not allowed to take anything into the mausoleum, so Eva and Anastasia wait outside holding our cameras and bags. The experience is very similar to seeing the body of Mao in Beijing. It looks almost completely fake and waxen. We are told that every so often it is completely disrobed and bathed in some sort of preserving solution. Who knows what is the truth!

It is still raining fairly steadily when we emerge, so we wander into the GUM department store (pronounced "goom"). The letters stand for something like "Government Universal Market" and was built in the late 1800's. It is massive, and once had almost nothing of any quality, but now it is crammed with expensive furs and silks and designer watches and clothes.

We wander around for a while, avoiding the rain and taking photographs (and using a very unsavory toilet which involved squatting). It is here that ill tour member (number two devastated by "number two") decides he is too ill to carry on, so he leaves for the hotel as we go to St. Basil's Cathedral-the iconic Russian cathedral with all the colorful domes at one end of Red Square. There are lots of weddings going on today, and many bridal couples are out on the square having their photos taken in the unfortunate rain with St. Basil's Cathedral in the background.

The cathedral is very surprising on the inside. You envision a large open space like most normal cathedrals, but instead the space has been divided into smaller rooms underneath the domes, and you walk between them by narrow passageways. At one point beautiful Russian vocal music floods out of one room, and I am able to get a photo and movie snippet of a choir consisting of five men who are there giving demonstrations in hope that someone will purchase their CD. It is absolutely beautiful!

Lunch is at a row of fast-food stores (including McDonalds) close to the Square. I get hysterical when a bride and her maids troop into the restaurant and into the bathroom. I am envisioning her having to do her business in that dress, squatting over a hole in the floor with her brides' maids having to hold up her very beautiful and voluminous dress. I laugh so hard I am crying, and I get one photo of her triumphal exit from the restaurant (see gallery).

Next stop is the Izmailovo Market-an amazing flea market set up near a huge 10,000 bed hotel that was built for the Moscow Olympics many years ago. It is an outrageous warren of shops selling every imaginable souvenir for the tourist. You can get Icons, photographs, jewelry, fur hats-all wonderful stuff. One client buys a nesting wooden doll with Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. I could spend hours here!

The final sightseeing attraction of the day is the Novodevchiy Convent, where the Tzar's sisters were put away so they could not produce any babies who might lay claim to the throne. It is a fascinating place, and once again we are treated to a concert by some very talented singers. I can't resist buying their CD.

The women who lived here had a talent for embroidery, and one room is devoted to displaying some of the outrageously beautiful robes they created for the priests. One of my clients wryly asked me if this was like a stroll through my own personal wardrobe! J

A highlight of this place for me was the adjoining cemetery, which had the graves of many famous Russians, including Kruchev and Gromiko, but also stellar artists like Chekhov, Gogol, Prokofiev, Skryabin, Shostakovich, and opera singer Fyodor Shalyapin. The setting is peaceful and the statuary incredibly beautiful.

One of us took a tumble in the rain and uneven ground back at the market, and decides he had better have his arm x-rayed to see if a recent break was re-fractured. He returns to the hotel with others who are planning to go out to the clubs later in the evening.

Twelve of us decide to eat early at Godunov Restaurant, and the bus drops us off at Red Square for better photos now that the rain has finally stopped. We are given a private dining room at the restaurant, and I go a little overboard with the amazing things on the menu: a light salad with cranberries and strawberries under a cedar oil dressing, borsht with a cheese pie, halibut, and Russian Pancakes (crepes filled with cream cheese) for desert. It was all beyond delicious, and everybody was very happy with our restaurant choice.

We take the subway back to the hotel, and I see off the group of six who decide to go out with Roman tonight. Included in the number is a new arrival to the tour. He arrived a day late because he had been staying in a rented villa in Tuscany with some friends and couldn't drag himself away any sooner. I know they will all have a great time!

We have a later start tomorrow (by one half hour), so I am looking forward to tumbling into bed and getting more than six hours of sleep!

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