Our first day of sightseeing in Moscow was spent following a couple of suggestions from Julia. We went first to the Soviet Exhibition Center, aka VDNKh, a Balboa-Park-type strip of museums. The intent is to show off all the Soviet accomplishments, but it was jumbled together in an odd mix of architecture with a carnival at the entrance. Children swam in the fountains and adults rollerbladed around—it was a very festive atmosphere despite the stifling heat. We shared a popsicle, but it wasn’t nearly enough.
We went also to the Christ the Savior Cathedral, rebuilt after Stalin destroyed it in a fit of overzealousness. Colin was disappointed in the lack of pews and I was reprimanded for having either my skirt hoisted above my knees or my legs crossed. The cathedral was beautiful, and the people-watching quite interesting: ladies in headscarves kissing the icons and kids scampering around lighting incense and candles.
We finished the day with a book-guided walking tour of our neighborhood, one of the oldest in Moscow. It had been a printing haven back in the day, but is now home to several upscale shops. The old Russian architecture is so distinguished and contrasts starkly with the Soviet-era blocks of concrete.
For our “Russian” dinner, we went to a restaurant near the hostel. We ignored all the signs: Old West theme, English greeting, English menu with pictures. The food took forever and there wasn’t enough of it, and then the bill came out higher than the menu prices! The waitress explained that was because the English menu hadn’t been updated with new menu prices. It was a frustrating affair.
On our way to the Kremlin the next day, I was struck from behind and propelled forward down the sloping sidewalk. A hand at my waist pulled me down, and then I was sprawled on the concrete with a young man shouting from his overturned wheelchair. His friend, who had been pushing, was laughing nearby, while Colin hurried down to see what had happened. We left a couple of Russian women to berate the men; I walked away with only a skinned elbow and a slightly shaken nerve.
Inside the Kremlin we saw the cathedral reserved for the tsars, the cathedral for the princes, and the cathedral for everyone who’s anyone in the Russian Orthodox Church. Our book was only mildly useful in pointing out what was important, and there were only a handful of English signs describing how wonderfully lit the cathedrals are. There were no children with incense inside these cathedrals—tour groups with German-, English-, and Chinese-speaking guides filed through the sometimes-cramped rooms. They were air-conditioned at least; a relief from the hottest summer Russia has had in 130 years.
It wasn’t until we were getting onto the bus bound for Riga the next day that we got rained on, extending our streak of rainy countries.