Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Russia Day 16: Moscow. Gulag & Contemporary History Museums and Movie Night

I did a couple of museums today, starting with the Gulag Museum.  The word "Gulag" is actually a Russian acronym for "Main Administration of Corrective Labour Camps and Labour Settlements". The museum is located down a short lane way off a trendy street full of high-end fashion stores. The lane way is lined with barbed wire and photos of some camp inmates. There were photos and artifacts from the camps, with a little English captions alongside the longer Russian descriptions; many of these were much like what I had seen at the Sakharov museum a few days ago. There was also a re-creation of a typical barracks, with two double bunk beds that would have slept eight prisoners. The highlight of this museum for me was the testimony of three inmates. These were videos projected down from the ceiling onto large book-shaped screens, and the Russian interviews included English subtitles.

I found a place nearby for lunch. I've been trying to eat local and avoid the American chains, but this place caught my eye.

The text to the left of "Bud Diner" is a direct transliteration
of "Food & Drinks", meaningless in Russian

This reminded me of some other fun transliterated signs I've been grabbing photos of this week:

"Dont Tell Mama Cafe" at the bottom of this sign.

Duncan Donuts

Sub Vey

Coffey Khaus (the kh is the back of the throat consonant like the Ch in Chanukah)

Golden Gross (a jewelry store)

And I thought I had a photo of a Vendys, but I can't find it now...

After lunch I crossed the street - as is common here, by using a pedestrian underpass that lets the car traffic keep flowing all the time - and spent a couple hours with a private English-speaking guide at the Museum of Contemporary History. His English was quite good, once I got used to his accent and his rapid pace. He took me through 20 or so rooms detailing Russian history in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. I learned more about the two Russian Revolutions, the White and Red armies, the origin of the terms Bolshevik ("majority") and Menshevik ("minority") and a bunch of other interesting stuff.

After the museum I walked a few blocks to a cool little artsy show with all kinds of quirky things for sale.

Back to my hotel for a rest, and shortly after I got there I had a call from the front desk, wondering why I had not checked out. I told them I had one more day before heading to St Petersburg, and they said my stay had ended this morning and I should be gone by now. I went down to the front desk and showed them my booking confirmation showing I had booked and paid for 10 nights starting February 23rd, and after a few minutes they backed off and apologized. They have now given me a scare at both ends of my stay!

I decided to go see a movie this evening. I had asked the front desk for help finding a movie in English (i.e. with Russian subtitles instead of dubbing), but they were not much help. So I poked around on the internet and found the Pioneer Cinema, showing Nebraska tonight at 7pm in English with subtitles. I took the metro there (2 line transfers and then about a 10-minute walk through a quiet neighbourhood to the very busy street the theatre was on), and found a beautiful theatre. I got to choose my seat on a touch screen at the cashier, and they had a nice restaurant where I had dinner before the show. The theatre itself was small (about 80 seats), but the seating was very spacious and comfortable, and the screen was a decent size. There were only a handful of people there. The movie was not bad, and I enjoyed trying to follow along with the Russian subtitles, seeing places where the translation was pretty loose (I probably understood about half the Russian subtitles).

Just down the street from the movie theatre was this cat theatre:

It's apparently a very popular show featuring cats doing amazing tricks. I had looked into getting a ticket to a show, decided the one first offered was too expensive, and by the time I got around to looking for a cheaper ticket, they were sold out until March 8th (after I leave town). Since then I've found suggestions online that the cats are mistreated, so it's probably just as well. I'm also interested in the Cat Cafe in St Petersburg, where there are lots of cats you can interact with (in a separate room from where they serve the food and drinks). I am not making any of this up!

More general impressions:

Lots of people smoke here! There are groups of smokers outside every metro station entrance, and huddled in the streets outside building entrances.  Smoking is allowed in restaurants; there are usually non-smoking sections, but the separation is not always great.The lobby bar at my hotel (called "Лобби Бар" or "Lobby Bar") has a few tables marked as non-smoking, but the whole place reeks of cigarette smoke. 

And everywhere I go, I see lots of English: on signs and ads, on clothing, on the nameplates on the back of players' sweaters at the KHL game. They seem to think it's cool. I think the Cyrillic is cool, and at times it's hard to find the souvenirs I'm looking for (hats, shirts) in Russian!

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