Category Archives: Travel

Day Sixty-Four: Kiev (arrival)

[August 2]

A fairly uneventful day – if you can include within the term ‘uneventful’ that I flew to Ukraine, which, as everyone knows, recently had a revolution and is currently in the midst of a civil war. Everyone has a different opinion about how good an idea it was for me to go there; I maintained then as now (after the experience) that it was about as safe as anywhere else I went this summer. I was staying in Kiev, after all, far away from the current violence.

At the gate in Sheremetevo Airport (Moscow), I was standing next to a drunken and rowdy group of young men who quickly enough noticed the US passport in my hand and started trying their English on me. They all lived in Ukraine, although one was from Belarus originally, and apparently they had just been on vacation to Moscow. Understandable, I guess. They asked me what I was doing in Ukraine – working, studying, …? I said I was a tourist. “You crazy tourist.” Great start.

Ukrainian border control was the easiest of any on the whole trip. No visa, no questions. That beats even the UK (by a lot) and Schengen countries (they always ask at least something to keep you on your toes) and what I expect to face when I return to the US. Just, “Добре.”

On the bus ride into the city (I only found the bus because of the words “sky bus”, referenced in guides, were, thoughtfully, written with a finger in the dust on a sign), I noticed that there were flags on the lampposts along the highway. They alternated between the Ukrainian flag and the EU flag. This would turn out to be the least of the political messages on display in Kiev.

Being dropped off at the train station, I went inside and had a look. Contrary to popular belief – unless the electronic signs were lying! – there are still trains to Crimea – not to mention Donetsk. While in the former case I’m simply pleasantly surprised that they are maintaining a civil border crossing, I can’t imagine how you continue regular passenger train service to a war zone. (Maybe that says more about my skewed perspective on what the war is like than anything else).

Another thing I noticed was the guns for sale:

Just some ordinary souvenirs... Actually, these pistols take CO2 cartridges, but good luck knowing that at a distance. (Then again, I don't know much about guns, so maybe you can.)
Just some ordinary souvenirs… Actually, these pistols take CO2 cartridges, but good luck knowing that at a distance. (Then again, I don’t know much about guns, so maybe you can.)

As I walked through a market and then some city streets toward my hostel, all seemed calm. Very calm, in fact; it was noticeably quiet, despite the presence of people. Men, young and (mostly) rather old walked about in camouflage uniforms, perhaps getting ready for the “anti-terrorist operation” in the east.



Posted from Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom.

Days Sixty-Two – Sixty-Three: Moscow (part 2)

[I'm back in Edinburgh, on more familiar territory; the next stop is the US, so my adventure has come to an end, if not - quite - my summer. It's time to finally finish the blog (now two weeks behind), which will, including this, be five more cities' worth.]

Day 62

[July 31]

With a few recommendations from a certain reliable Muscovite, I set out walking again. Though it hadn’t been one of his recommendations, I wanted to see the Kremlin [Museums], so I started for that area again – only to find out that Thursdays are their day off.

The next destination was the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. This famous structure was rebuilt from scratch in the 90s, meant to be a replica of the nineteenth-century church on the site, which had been (according to Wikipedia) the largest Orthodox church ever built, and was blown up by the Soviets in the 30s in their anti-religious fervor. For most of the duration of Soviet times, the location was occupied by a swimming pool.

It just wasn’t my day, as I wasn’t allowed to go inside due to wearing shorts. (So I returned later.)

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Next I walked across a bridge leading from the cathedral plaza to an island in the middle of the Moscow River, called Bolotny Island. However, I would instead call it Hipster Island, as that’s who inhabits it. Old factories (which apparently used to make chocolate and candy) were quickly sold off and now house coffee shops, vintage (*shudder*) clothing  boutiques, and loitering young people that aren’t quite, but are close enough to, the American hipster. (I don’t mean to offend anyone; I just thought this was funny to run across in Moscow.)

Gentrification of a candy factory
Gentrification of a candy factory

Continuing across to the other side of the river (because there’s really not much to see on Hipster Island) I quickly came to a “museum park” full of relocated Soviet statues and monuments. This place didn’t seem to receive much attention, either now or when it was (hastily, by the look of it) created.

"USSR - stronghold of peace". In front of it, busts of Stalin and Lenin.
“USSR – stronghold of peace”. In front of it, busts of Stalin and Lenin.
Almost a graveyard of sculptures. Some of them are apolitical, and I'm not sure why they were removed.
Almost a graveyard of sculptures. Some of them are apolitical, and I’m not sure why they were removed.

To wrap up the day: Gorky Park, another Moscow essential.

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People sat all around the fountain to watch the show, which was accompanied by recorded music.
Ah, commercialization. Isn't it refreshing?
Ah, commercialization. Isn’t it refreshing?

Day 63

On my last day before leaving, I finally made it to the Kremlin.

The Kremlin is a walled area that contains, among other things, a number of old churches (those that survived the Soviets, that is, who destroyed an awful lot), Russian/Soviet government buildings, historic imperial buildings, and masses of tourists following around their various leaders who wear and/or carry silly identifying objects like Soviet flags or huge artificial flowers and talk through megaphones.

Something seemed to be going on the day I was there; over half of the Kremlin was closed off by police, and after I exited, there were signs of increased police presence nearby, blocking (for example) sidewalks and crosswalks that I had used the day before.

No one (and no sign) said anything about backpacks, but after I was inside the gates, I did get kicked out of one exhibit (of old coins that had been found during Soviet-era excavations of the area) for wearing mine. (There was even a guard at the entrance who could have told me that. On the other hand, it did say, on a sign near the floor deep within the exhibit: “DEAR VISITORS! rsuaded the Supreme e bag and the bags do not put. thank you!” As you might have surmised, I took a picture of it.)

Inside the buildings photography wasn’t allowed.

An old church. I'm sorry, they get hard to keep track of.
An old church. I’m sorry, they get hard to keep track of.
The Tsar Bell, with a tourist for scale.
The Tsar Bell, with a tourist for scale.

After returning to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, properly attired this time, my final (completely self-assigned) errand in Russia was to find Sophia’s old apartment building. I’m sure you all are very interested, so here’s one picture.

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On the way back I tried to visit the Novodevichy monastery and cemetery, but alas, they were closed. Maybe next time.



Posted from Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom.

Days Fifty-Nine – Sixty-One: Moscow (part 1)

Day 59

My first full day in Moscow got off to a quick start as two people from my hostel, a Swiss guy and a Brazilian girl, invited me to come with them to breakfast. I didn’t register that this would develop into a full day of wandering around, and they were ready to go, so I didn’t bring my things… such as my camera (although I had my iPhone) or my passport (illegal to walk around without, so it’s good that I wasn’t stopped, as apparently frequently is done to tourists by over-eager policemen). The Swiss guy had a flight out that day, but we met up with a guy from Michigan and his soon-to-be nanny from Crimea, whom he had met online when he accidentally posted something in auto-translated Russian to the effect of “I don’t want to learn Russian and I don’t want anyone to help me” on a forum.

We saw a lot of things, but didn’t stay in one place long enough to really appreciate anything or in some cases even figure out what we were looking at.

Old Arbat street
Old Arbat street, on our way in search of a Pushkin museum which wasn’t where we thought it was and was also closed. But, the Arbat is famous in itself. Also we were in search of the Hard Rock Cafe (or Hard Hock in Portuguese) where we were going to meet the others. How much more un-Russian can it get? (I guess McDonald’s and Burger King would be.)
A Vladimir Putin keychain, depicting him, I guess, as steering the ship of state. In Kiev I would find polar opposite political views depicted on souvenirs (stay tuned).
A Vladimir Putin keychain, depicting him, I guess, as steering the ship of state. In Kiev I would find polar opposite political views depicted on souvenirs (stay tuned).
Aleksandrovskiy Garden near Red Square. For Red Square pictures, scroll down a couple days...
Aleksandrovskiy Garden near Red Square. For Red Square pictures, scroll down a couple days…
Inside the GUM shopping mall on Red Square. It seems very un-Soviet, but apparently it's been a department store for a long time. Inside was the most overpriced restaurant I have ever been to, where (only partially realizing this) I split one lemonade with my new Michigan friend, for which my share came to $13.
Inside the GUM shopping mall on Red Square. It seems very un-Soviet, but apparently it’s been a department store for a long time. Inside was the most overpriced restaurant I have ever been to, where (only partially realizing this) I split one lemonade with my new Michigan friend, for which my share came to $13.
The State Duma. I didn't know they needed such a grand building to house a rubber stamp machine.
The State Duma. I didn’t know they needed such a grand building to house a rubber stamp machine.

I’m leaving things out, but the other major activity with these new acquaintances was an river cruise. Unfortunately, the Brazilian girl who was my connection to the others went to the wrong place and missed the boat. On the way to the pier, I passed a Rolls Royce dealership. In general, in Moscow I saw a high concentration of the most expensive cars I have ever seen in my life, putting Darien and Greenwich to shame by leagues: Bentley, Rolls Royce, many that I had to look up. A Mercedes G-wagen doesn’t merit a second glance for the car-watcher there.

From the boat! I think this is the building that was imitated in Astana by an oil company.
From the boat! I think this is the building that was imitated in Astana by an oil company.

Day 61

Being on my own this time, I headed in the general direction of Red Square again. On the way I stopped in a park bookended by two monuments: one to the heroes of the Sieve of Plevna in the Russo-Turkish War (I don’t know if I’m just biased, but it seems like pre-Soviet monuments that were never destroyed are rare…) and one, built after the fall of the USSR, to Sts. Cyril and Methodius. The Plevna monument has inscriptions in authentic pre-reform Russian; the Cyril and Methodius one, however, is done in Old Slavonic written in the 1990s, and apparently it is riddled with errors. This is especially ironic considering why these two particular saints are being honored…

Plevna monument
Plevna monument
Cyril and Methodius
Cyril and Methodius

Finally, Red Square:

I don't think anyone goes to Moscow without taking a picture of St. Basil's Cathedral.
I don’t think anyone goes to Moscow without taking a picture of St. Basil’s Cathedral.

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There’s an underground shopping mall just by Red Square.

What does this cultural reference mean to Russians??
What does this cultural reference mean to Russians??
Just outside the Kremlin walls
Just outside the Kremlin walls
The Moscow River
The Moscow River
Inside an upscale grocery store, you can see the fish you're going to eat.
Inside an upscale grocery store, you can see the fish you’re going to eat swimming around.

To be continued…

The GPS isn’t very accurate in an urban canyon.

Posted from Kyyiv, Kyiv city, Ukraine.