Wednesday, October 24, 2007

10/4 - 10/8 A Series of Unfortunate Events

After sleeping in and enjoying my stay at the Sheraton, I embarked on a walk to Red Square. All the sights in Moscow are pretty much within walking distance of each other and now that I could place myself on a map, it was fairly easy to get to monuments. On the way I saw the Foreign Ministry building which is in a hybrid style that is referred to as Stalinist Gothic. It was very imposing and in the middle of a bustling boulevard. I also saw the Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer which was beautiful.

I took a more roundabout way and by the time I got to Red Square it started to rain. I was hoping to see signs for tours or the big red bus but Moscow is not yet prepared for international tourism. I saw very few non-Russians and signs were not in anything but Russian. I got into St. Basil's Cathedral, pictures of which are in the post below. It's so interesting since its design and rich colors are unusual for a cathedral, at least to western eyes. According to the guide book, St. Basil's was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible to celebrate the capture of the Mongol stronghold of Kazan in 1552. It is reputed to have been designed by the architect Postnik Yakovlev (yeah, I don't know who that is either). According to legend, Ivan the Terrible was so amazed at the beauty of St. Basil's that he had Yakovlev blinded lest he design an equal. I also walked past the Lenin Mausoleum and saw parts of the Kremlin that could be viewed from outside the walls.

I got to Marika's apartment that evening after her friend met me back at the Sheraton. Turns out I had been waiting outside the right apartment building but we must have just missed each other. For those of you who know Marika, I'll share that her apartment is quite charming. But she leads the stereotypical life of a banker. What more proof do you need than bottles of Evian, a bottle of bubbly and caviar in the fridge? Girlfriend doesn't even have salt in the house. I spent Friday trying to get on the internet but something was amiss and I had no access. Being in Marika's apartment was like being in Bizarro World. For instance, there's a dvd player but none of her dvds can be played on it because they're from the wrong region. Wireless networks appear available but none of them has a signal. There's a phone but I couldn't make an international call (turns out I just wasn't waiting for the rotary system to clear the code). Since it was pouring, I decided not to go out and figured things would be a lot easier once Marika got back to Moscow. Watching an American television show in Russia is really funny. Like the French, they dub over. But unlike the French, there's a two-second delay so you can still faintly hear the English. So "CSI Miami" sounded like this: "Horatio, I fou..blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah."

Since she didn't get in Saturday morning, I guessed Marika's flight was delayed. I mapped out an itinerary of seeing the Chekhov House Museum, Gorky House Museum and the Arbat area. It was still raining so I didn't take any pictures. Unfortunately, there was nothing for me to take pictures of since I couldn't gain entrance into either of the museums. It looked like the Chekhov House Museum was under renovation. I tried to figure out the information provided at the Gorky House Museum but there was no official entrance. I walked around the house and several security people stepped out but none could understand my questions or hand gestures. "In...I want to get inside. Where you just came from. Inside. Not outside. Inside. Nevermind." The stain glass did look beautiful and had it been a nicer day, I'm sure they would have made nice photographs. Defeated, I went to Old Arbat which used to be the artsy area. Now it's just filled with souvenir shops. It was a tiny but much needed victory to find chotchkis for people back home.

Marika finally arrived around 8pm on Sunday. The poor girl had been stuck in transit since her flight got re-routed. In our short time together, we had dinner at a nice restaurant near her neighborhood and drinks at a posh bar frequented by overworked Morgan Stanley analysts.

I left the next afternoon and my extraordinary experience in Moscow extended to the ride to the airport. Traffic in Moscow is insane. Part of the problem is that it's like the wild, wild west. There may be laws but they serve no purpose. It's everyone for himself. While trying to weave through traffic, my driver got us ring side seats to a violent road rage confrontation. When we drove up, we saw the driver of a sedan ("sedan driver") reaching in and hitting the driver of a delivery truck ("truck driver"). There was a lot of yelling but the sedan driver got back into his car. Unfortunately, the truck driver wasn't done and he kept slamming his door into the car. Of course this pissed off the sedan driver and his friend who was on the receiving end of all that slamming. Both of them dragged the truck driver out and the beating started. At one point, the truck driver was on the ground with the sedan driver kicking him. After they were satisfied, the sedan driver and his friend returned to his car. I thought it would end there but somehow the truck driver got back into his truck and began shooting what looked like a gun at the car. It couldn't have been a real gun since again the sedan driver and his friend got out. This time though, the sedan driver popped his trunk and took out a baton. Not the kind you twirl but the kind that cops use. Thinking I was really going to see someone get beaten to death, all I could do was say, "No, no, no" over and over again. It was pretty much to myself since I wasn't going to roll down my window and try to negotiate a truce. I was just hoping someone would intervene before it got ugly. Luckily, the man to the left of us got out and after a few minutes, he managed to get all parties to disperse. I don't know what was more persuasive, his words or the pistol he wore on his hip for all to see. For good measure, the sedan driver smashed the truck driver's window with the baton before leaving the scene.

Moscow was interesting, to say the least. I wish I enjoyed myself more but I learned a lot. I think it will take some time before Moscow becomes an international tourist destination. As more business people and wealthy travelers access the city, more services will become available. But as long as a night at a hotel starts at almost $500; information is only available in Russian; hotel concierge desks are the only option for tourists to contact tours that are in turn the only way to gain entrance to points of interest, Moscow will remain impossible for the average tourist to navigate. It's frustrating to try to figure out a city when everything seems counterintuitive. The main take away from this experience was that regardless of whether I have a friend in that country, if I don't speak the language, I need to do a lot more research than I did for Russia. It's too bad that I didn't see the best side of Moscow and because of the difficulties I faced this trip, I'll likely never return to Russia. But it certainly was eventful.

1 comment:

Daria said...

Thanks for writing this.