Sunday, March 2, 2014

Russia Day 13: Moscow. Lenin's tomb, Pushin Museum of Art and the Arbat

More thoughts on the Moscow metro: All the walking paths are one-way, which helps manage traffic, but occasionally makes it a bit of an effort to cross streams. The stations are generally magnificent. I almost had my breath taken away when I popped up in the station at Ploshad Revolutsi (Revolution Square), with its dozens of life-sized figures of men, women and dogs, many with guns (not the dogs!), lining the platform.


It's true that some of the stations and trains are showing some wear, and could be spruced up a bit. There is graffiti in places. The stairways are sometimes a little uneven, and often include the typical Russian practice of having a different step height at the top or bottom. To me that seems designed to make people trip, but perhaps to those who are used to it, it's a sensory warning that the stairs are ending.

The metro is often quite crowded, and on occasion there has been some uncomfortable pushing; the etiquette around respecting lines is a little looser here. On the other hand, men generally yield their seats to women on the train, which seems both very nice, and old fashioned to me. As I had heard, everyone completely minds their own business on the metro, and generally keeps their eyes down. This is a big change from Sochi, where everyone was smiling, and being very friendly and sociable with everyone else.

Today was Saturday, March 1st, and I started out heading to see Lenin's tomb on Red Square. When I had visited the square in the evening a few days ago it was wide open, but today there were barricades set up limiting where you could go, with security checks (inspecting backpacks) in several spots. The use of barricades both here and at the Olympics seems arbitrary and quite annoying. I can never figure out just what they are accomplishing by blocking your path and making you go the long way around everywhere. So today I went through a security check at a barricade on Red Square and headed directly across the Square to Lenin's tomb, where there seemed to be no line-up. But it was surrounded by another barricade. I was pointed one direction to enter, but when I got there, I was told to go back out the security entrance I had come through, and all the way around the Historical Museum. There was another security check there, and several of us were held waiting for a few minutes, I think to reduce the line-up at the next security check. I had to leave my phone & backpack at a luggage drop (these are free at all museums but here it cost 70 rubles, or about $2.25), then cleared another security check to enter the actual line for the tomb. I do understand the need for all the security and I appreciate that they are keeping everyone safe when there is some potentially real danger, but the way they arrange the barricades makes no sense to me.

Along the walkway to the tomb were the burial sites of other Russian leaders and contributors to Soviet society. As I entered the tomb there were guards every few feet. I was told to keep my hands out of my pockets. It was very dark, and a bit difficult to see the steps leading down, especially right after coming in from the daylight (it was a beautiful sunny day today, just above freezing). Lenin lies in a glass case in the center of a room, and you can walk around him to see from three sides as you walk through. He does not look like a real human being, but more like a fake wax figure.

On the way out I saw the graves of several Soviet leaders I recognized, including Andropov, Stalin and Breznev. I reclaimed my backpack and headed over to the GUM department store that spans the east side of Red Square. As I headed over, I heard noise from the skating rink in the middle of Red Square. It sounded like a hockey game was taking place, so I hopped up to the boards (the rink was raised a few feet up off the ground) to have a look.

It wasn't regular hockey! It looked like field hockey on ice (or bandy?), with six skaters holding sticks with curved blades (curved along the length of the stick, not just opposite the lie of the blade), plus a goalie (who had no stick), and they were playing with a bouncy ball instead of a puck.

I wandered into the GUM store (OK, that's redundant since the M in GUM stands for  магазин, which means "store" - same as in French!) and looked around. It was mostly high-end fancy stores, many from the usual international chains. I picked up a pair of Sochi 2014 gloves at the Bosco store, found an ice-cream stand, and hung out for a bit. Then I went for a long walk, out of Red Square, around the outside walls of the Kremlin, and over to the Pushkin Museum of Art. I was ready for lunch, and tried to find a restaurant that sounded good and cheap in the Lonely Planet book. I got directions from someone, but it was difficult to find due to more barricades, this time due to some construction. Finally found the restaurant and went in, only to find that it was closed for a private function. So I found another restaurant nearby, also good, but not so cheap. Had a nice lunch and relaxed after the long walk. I've been walking many km each day, and my feet and ankles are having a rough time of it. I think I may be losing a little weight though!

After lunch I went into the Pushkin museum across the street. As has been common here, it took me a few minutes to figure out where the entrance was! The museum is in two adjacent buildings, with separate entrances (and admission) for each. I dropped my coat off at the coat check, my backpack at the luggage room, and exchanged my health card for the audio commentary device (available in English). At this point I had three different numbered check tokens to use to retrieve my stuff at the end!

The first building had some interesting statues (including a copy of Michelangelo's David and a couple other renditions of David - not sure why I didn't know before this that the statue David is the David of David & Goliath!), and some decent art, but it didn't do much for me. While I do like some art, a lot of it makes no impression on me, and I tend to move very quickly through art galleries. The second building did work for me, with a lot of paintings by Cezanne, Degas, Matisse, Picasso and others, and some Rodin sculptures. I still didn't spend hours there, but I enjoyed it a lot.

From the art gallery, I walked north and west to the Arbat, a long pedestrian street filled with souvenir shops, cafes and street entertainers. It was interesting, but not as much as I expected (maybe it would have been better later in the evening; I arrived around 5pm). The souvenir shops seemed very overpriced compared to what I had seen at the Vernisage market earlier, and I didn't buy anything.

I had a really nice dinner at "Shashlik Mashlik" (shashlik is shish-kebab, from the Caucasas region). The dish was described on the menu as Spicy Fried Chicken, but what arrived was a flattened small whole chicken, not really spicy at all, but quite good, especially when complimented by the Siberian Corona beer.

After dinner I wandered the rest of the Arbat, found a nearby metro station, and returned to my hotel early (before 8pm), quite exhausted from a long day of walking.

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