Monday, March 3, 2014

Russia Day 15: Moscow. The Kremlin and Kitay Gorod

A less ambitious day today, as I try to give my poor feet a break. I headed to the Kremlin (finally), and got a ticket for the noon admission to the Armoury (admission is only at certain times, with tickets sold only in the hour or so before each admission time). Wandered around the Kremlin as I found my way to the Armoury entrance, enjoying the fact that I'm here off-season and it's not too crowded. Inside the Armoury, I checked my coat, put on the shoe covers they ask everyone to wear to protect their floors/carpets, and picked up the English audio guide, which was pretty good. It highlighted items in each room. There was a lot of silverware and various gifts to the Russian nobility from other European countries over the past several hundred years, a small but beautiful showcase of Faberge eggs (I didn't know that each egg had a surprise inside, often a working model of something like a train or a ship or a music box), a lot of armour, and some cool carriages, including a few carriages that were sleighs for winter travel.

The rest of the Kremlin was pretty, but as it was mainly a bunch of cathedrals, it was not as inspiring to me as it may be for others. I still need to understand how the Soviets dealt with the fact that most of the sites within the Kremlin were religious...

The Armoury at the Kremlin 

One of many cathedrals at the Kremlin

The Tsar Cannon

I had read that there was no food or drink available inside the Kremlin, so I had brought a snack along, and after I retrieved my backpack from the luggage storage room I sat on a park bench and enjoyed a little lunch. Then I walked through the park to the tomb of the unknown soldier, crossed by Red Square, and walked through the adjoining neighbourhood of Kitay Gorad (literally China Town), one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Moscow. I was looking for a linen store mentioned in the Lonely Planet book, but once again, things had changed, and the store had closed four years ago. I found a souvenir shop in the same building that did have some really nice linen table cloths, but they were quite pricy (starting at around $150 for a very small tablecloth and 4 napkins), so I didn't buy anything there.

Back to my hotel for a long rest, then out to dinner at a nearby restaurant, and back for an early night.

More random thoughts about differences I've been noticing throughout my trip...

There are trip hazards everywhere! The Russians seem to like putting a complete door frame around every door, including along the floor, leaving a bump of a couple centimeters for you to trip over. I saw this at the arenas in Sochi (there are always full doors at the entrance to every seating section at a n arena here, just to make sure traffic cannot flow smoothly), and it continues here in Moscow in almost every building.

I am very much enjoying finding my way around town. Being able to read Cyrillic makes the metro easy, and the maps I have help me find my way from the metro to each destination (sometimes there are even street signs naming the streets I'm on!). I'm finding that it is easy to find any building within the city, but often tough to find the entrance. The last few meters are the hardest! And I can read the basic signage, including Вход (Entrance). Often I have to navigate a senseless arrangement of barricades that create a maze to be solved before I can actually go in. There's almost always someone around to ask, but I want to figure it out on my own!

While most people here have been quite friendly and helpful, I have encountered a few examples of something I had read about: a tendency towards indifference or hostility in customer service. The desk clerks at my hotel have run into this when trying to make arrangements for me by phone (so it's not just directed at foreigners). And I had one experience in which I was buying a drink at a little shop in the metro underpass. The woman handed me a warm bottle and I could see others in the cooler, so I asked for a cold one, and she yelled at me quite sharply. Later I figured out that she had been stacking cigarette packs in the display, and I think perhaps the case of cigarettes was blocking the cooler door, and perhaps she had told me that once but I didn't catch that part of the conversation. So she was annoyed that I had apparently ignored what she had told me, not realizing I was a stupid foreigner who couldn't understand all the Russian she was speaking. In any event, her reaction seemed extreme.

The underpasses leading to metro stations are filled
with these little shops along the wall.
The service counter is set into the doorway
that lets the person working there inside,
and they sit in their tiny space while they work.

Fortunately I had seen this trick before:
the hotel room key goes into this slot to activate the lights in the room.

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