Friday, February 28, 2014

Russia Day 11: Moscow. Matryoshka museum hunting, Bunker 42 and the Bolshoi Ballet.

Thursday morning I got help again at the front desk, booking a spot in the 2:30 tour in English at Bunker 42, a Cold War museum in an old Soviet air raid bunker 60m underground. My Russian is good enough for navigating and buying things in person, but speaking on the phone is much more difficult, and from what I'm seeing, it's difficult even for the desk staff with their native Russian!

With that arranged, and breakfast in me, I set off with a plan to visit the Matryoshka (Russian wooden nesting dolls) Museum and the Ice Carving Museum. I was very proud of myself for successfully navigating subway and side streets to the location where my Lonely Planet Moscow book said the Matryoshka Museum was. And indeed that is where it was, but a sign on the door told me it had moved, and gave the new address. And a short conversation with the security guard (every place here has at least one security guard!), plus a look at my map told me where to go to find the new location, one metro stop and some walking away. On the way there I figured out that the museum I was looking for must have been merged into the Moscow Museum of Folk Art. That seemed to make sense. I got to the new museum, and eventually found me way in. Navigating the metro and streets doesn't seem so difficult, but getting into a building once you have found it can be confusing, as there are rarely clear signs indicating where to go in, and entrances tend to be tucked away behind corners a lot.

I did not find much of interest at the Folk Art museum, perhaps in part because all the information there was in Russian only, and difficult to understand. I only spotted one set of Matryoshki.

I had spotted an Italian restaurant on my way to the museum, and stopped there for lunch, enjoying a pretty decent pizza.

After lunch I headed over to Bunker 42, which again was a little tricky to find. I had been told to be there at 2:20 for my 2:30 tour, and I was a few minutes later than that. I paid for my ticket, and was told to wait in the entrance foyer.

Entrance to Bunker 42 

After waiting about 15 minutes I went back in to ask when the tour would start, and the guy who told me he would be my guide said we were waiting for more people. A few minutes later a large crowd showed up, mostly consisting of noisy students. They were Russian students, but had booked the English tour, perhaps to practice their English. So we quickly went from having too few for a tour (only me) to having too many people, and they split the tour into two groups. It was pretty disorganized, and the guide's English was quite poor. He kept referring back to his notes to help him remember what to say in English, and the students were making fun of some of his mispronunciations.

We walked down 18 flights of stairs to the bunker. It was kind of interesting, but the tour was pretty lame, including a simulated air raid (lights off, siren blaring) and a simulated launching of nuclear weapons (two volunteers from the audience sitting at a desk, turning keys and pressing the red button). I think the best part was the film about the Cold War from the Russian perspective.

Inside "Boon-kair 42"

I returned to the hotel for a rest, then headed to the Bolshoi for the ballet. I had trouble again finding my way in, walking all the way around the theatre before figuring out that the "New Stage" of the Bolshoi Theatre (where tonight's performance was) is actually a different building, next door to the original Bolshoi Theatre.

The ballet was a one-act piece called Kvartira (The Apartment). It had no real story, but portrayed characters dancing around every-day objects like a bathtub, chair, stove and door. The dancing was sort of modern, very athletic, and entertaining. I felt very cultured.

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