Sunday, March 2, 2014

Russia Day 14: Moscow. Victory Park and KHL Hockey game

Taking it easy this morning. I gathered some laundry to be done, as I'm running out of clean clothes. After paying about $4 in Sochi to have a week's worth of clothing washed, I'm shocked by the laundry charges at this fancier hotel in Moscow. I limited my laundry to one pair of jeans plus 5 days of t shirts, socks and underwear, and it's still going to cost about $50. I'm betting that it will be a little cheaper in St Petersburg, where I'll need more done before I head home.

I got more help from the front desk to book some English guides, for this afternoon at the Memorial  Synagogue and for Tuesday at the Museum of Contemporary Russian History, which is supposed to have a good exhibit of Soviet propaganda posters. Today's visit is free, but Tuesday's is over 2,000 rubles, almost $70! I need to think about whether that's worth the money. I'm still surprised at how some things are free or very inexpensive here (like tonight's hockey ticket, just 250 rubles, or about $8), while others are really steep, like this tour and my laundry.

As I was finishing up my arrangements I bumped into a couple of American guys who needed a little help getting their bearings. They were headed to Red Square, and I was going in that direction at first, so I helped them get oriented on the metro. I continued on to Park Pobedi (Victory Park), a huge park commemorating the Soviet victory in the Great Patriotic War (what we call WWII). I was headed first to the Memorial Synagogue in the park, to get a look at the Russian/Soviet perspective on the Holocaust.

The Park Pobedi metro station is one of the newer ones, and is the deepest one in the system; it features the world's longest escalator, which I rode both directions today. Whee!

It was about a 20 minute walk from the metro station to the synagogue, where I met my guide after a short wait. He was finishing a tour for a Russian couple, so he switched back & forth between English and Russian. The museum includes a small working synagogue, which the guide said is the only one in Moscow that welcomes all branches of Judaism. Apparently all the other synagogues limit themselves to their own branch (Orthodox, Chabad or Reform)

The museum covered some early history of Jews in Russia as well as WWII and the Holocaust, and my guide explained how the policy under Catherine the Great, in which Jews could only live is the western border regions of Russia (Poland, Lithuania...) was not really anti-semitism. Well, it was better than pogroms or genocide I guess...

From the synagogue I walked over to the main museum about the war. It had a bunch of dioramas of various important battles between the Germans and the Russians, a Hall of Sorrow commemorating the dead, and a Hall of Glory celebrating several cities that stood tall for the USSR in the war.

Emblem in the centre of the ceiling dome in the Hall of Glory 

I had a light lunch in the museum: a couple of sandwiches (which here consist of a slice or two of meat on top of one slice of bread), a drink and a pastry with jam inside.

After the museum I returned to the metro and found my way to Aeroport station, and walked from there to the CSKA arena for the KHL game. The "KA" part of CSKA stands for Krasnaya Armeya, or Red Army, so this is the Moscow Red Army team I was about to see play.

Banner outside the arena celebrating the memory of Valery Kharlamov,
who used to play for Red Army.

I had a minor issue at the game, as I had bought my ticket online but did not have a printed ticket. I was able to show them the emails showing I had ordered and paid for the ticket. I was sent to a door on the side of the arena, where a guy was standing, took one look at me and said "elektroni bilet?". I said "Da", and he invited me into an office to log into my email and print out my eticket. Then I walked to the gate and went in. There was a lot of security at the game, including policemen with dogs. They didn't seem to like the fact that I had a small backpack with me, but they searched it and let me pass. I found my seat: the last row almost directly behind one of the nets. But that last row was just row 18; it's a small rink, with only about 5,000 seats, and while the web site showed only 5 tickets left when I bought mine online, 10-20% of the seats were empty.

There were some notable differences at this game from what I am used to:
  • The intense security presence. I wondered if this was due to the recent events in the Ukraine (the visiting team, HC Donbass, is from the Ukraine), but the guy sitting next to me told me that this level of security is found at all games
  • Cheerleaders. There were about half a dozen scantily-clad cheerleaders performing on a balcany platform at the opposite end of the rink, accompanied at the beginning by a guy in a CSKA uniform dancing with them.
  • The visiting team had a large noisy cheering section: about 30-40 people all in Donbass hockey sweaters, chanting various cheers loudly in unison, waving flags (including the Ukrainian flag), accompanied by a loud drummer. They cheered pretty much non-stop all game long.
  • At the end of the warm-up, players from each team collected the pucks and carried them off the ice.
I won't rehash the game in detail, since by now you've all seen the score online and probably some of the highlights on TV, but it was a very close exciting game, ending in a 2-1 shootout victory by the home team. While the arena was tiny and a little shabby by NHL standards, the hockey was excellent, with fast skating, good passing and some flashy plays, and some decent hitting without anything dirty, and nothing close to a fight.

Cleaning the ice before the shootout

As the arena was pretty much midway between two metro stops, I decided to walk to the other one on the way back, so I'd get to see another metro station (yes, they are that impressive!). I wasn't sure exactly where it was, so I asked a guy heading the same way, and not for the first time in Russia, he walked me there to make sure I found it, even though that wasn't exactly where he was going.

Back to "home station", stopped in a grocery store to pick up a few things (drinks and snacks), and grabbed a quick shwarma for dinner from one of the kiosks outside my hotel. My laundry had been returned to my room, neatly pressed even though I had declined to pay extra for ironing!

My trip is more than half over now. It seems to be going by very quickly, as with most great experiences. I have just two full days left in Moscow before heading on to St Petersburg. I still haven't "done" the Kremlin, though I've been to Red Square twice. Maybe I'm leery about the crowds, though it's not high season; for some reason not a lot of tourists chose to come to Moscow in February/March. Maybe I'm not keen about all the churches inside the Kremlin, though I can skip those and focus on the historical stuff. Anyway, that's on the agenda for Monday.

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