I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Big Guns

Last night, there was a black guy in the hotel bar. First black person we'd seen since getting here. This is not a cosmopolitan city, and one of the possible effects of this would be depressingly apparent on Friday afternoon - though not as bad as the FCO advice that racial attacks are common in particular in the days around Hitler's birthday. April 20th. Hello, April 18th. Last full day in Moscow: like a good Skid Row song, it's time to bring out the big guns.

First, the Kremlin. We'd probably have gone yesterday but it's shut on Thursdays. We had no idea if Good Friday was a public holiday here, and the fact the tube was crazy busy was no real clue because IT'S ALWAYS CRAZY BUSY. There were a few more people around in tourist central though, and in fact a lot of people queuing for tickets. We joined the shortest one and moved forward very very slowly, watching some people struggle with the machines in various ways and all people struggle with their interaction with the staff manning the counters.

After about, I dunno, 20 minutes of inching forwards and witnessing lots of Russians wield passports and print outs, we were now only third in the queue. The westerners at the front had some kind of misunderstanding and stood mysteriously to the side, the girls in front of us bought tickets, and then a pincer movement of over 60s attacked us. A very kind pension age tour guide explained to us that, obviously. this queue was only for tour guides and people who'd bought tickets online. The signs obviously said so. But being a fairly unpopular and not very famous attraction like THE FUCKING KREMLIN there were understandably no signs in English, and the Cyrillic for "tour guides only" is particularly impenetrable. But honestly, she was kind, and said one of us should join another queue while she'd let us attempt to buy our ticket ahead of her anyway. She also asked me "aren't you cold?", because I was in short sleeves. Heh. "No, I don't feel the cold" "Then you are very well adjusted to our country!"

Autocorrect just tried three times to turn "cold" into ".cold". Sigh.

Finally I got tickets, for both the cathedrals and the armoury. The latter only has 4 tours a day, self guided with audio and 60-90 minutes long. The door calls them seances. We'd got tickets for the 1200 tour, aka 12am. Russia has trouble with midday it seems. It was about 1130 so we wandered up, through security, and after a bit of a wait, into a series of rooms worth more money than anything I have ever seen or ever will again.

The armoury is just ridiculous.

No photos, sadly. Not allowed. Look it up if you want to see details of the most elegant, opulent, artistic, incredibly crafted things on the planet. From royal carriages to faberge eggs with working train sets inside* to coronation gowns to tsar thrones to horse decoration to ceremonial muskets and staffs to gifts of silver and gold given by religious leaders and European royal families. Gobsmacking in their intricacy, quantity, ostentation, beauty, ... too hard to describe. We English were well represented with both the oldest and newest carriage plus some of the most impressive tableware, including two silver snow leopards. Wow.

(*this egg was actually not on display. bah)

In the armoury we came across the disdainful posh English family behind whom we'd queued for soviet scran on Thursday and, awkwardly for me (because I wanted to talk about them) they congregated next to us outside the exit too. We kept a distance as we wandered up to the entrance to the cathedral square and smirked a bit when they got turned back for not having the right tickets.

The kremlin is actually a kremlin. It's a citadel, a fortress, a walled city inside which all yer top boys live and lived. The standout thing for tourists is the square which has 4 cathedrals on it, each topped with loads of gold domes and the insides decorated with some astonishing religious art from floor to ceiling. Also lots of dead tsars. Again, no photos allowed inside, but the outdoors wasn't exactly non-picturesque. Upon leaving the Assumption(?) cathedral we saw one guy cross himself before entering. Really? On Good Friday? Is that really the time or place?

A girl asked me to take a couple of photos of her in front of one cathedral, and we spotted her 20 minutes later asking someone else to take an almost identical shot. Was I that bad? :-(

As had been apparent for some time, Russia doesn't really do small. So as well as these cathedrals, we also snapped the hoofing great cannon and giant fuck-off tsar bell. Trying to get a photo of one of us standing next to either involved a changing-of-the-guard style manoeuvre to figure out when it was acceptable to be The Next Person Being Pictured By The Piece Of Tourism. Some fabulous hindering by a family was expertly followed by an ill timed swig making the photo of me by the bell be amusingly poor.

You only really get to see about a quarter of the kremlin grounds, but that's ok because the rest looked pretty uninspiring anyway. We left via the bridge and the no entry sign that nonetheless led to exit gates, and bumped into Masha the tour guide. She seemed happy to see us and we conversed a bit about what we'd been up to and were about to do. It's a city of 12 million people and we ran into the ONE person we knew, in a spot she hadn't taken us when we were her customers. Her current punter stood back and said fuck all. She didn't apologise for being late on Wednesday, which seems a bit off.

We did have plans for what we were immediately about to do, but they were so untouristy and un-Russian we couldn't bring ourselves to be honest with her. Because our next port of call was an Irish pub and a pint of Guinness.

A seven bastard quid pint of Guinness at that. Silver's was a pretty respectably genuine pub and it was easy to get a seat and drink. On the wall were many many photos including two of Iron Maiden, one signed, and right next to us one of...some guys with big fuck off guns. Hang on. And the fellas at the bar, two of them were very Irish and having a loud talk about museums of the republican cause. And when joined by another English guy the causal racism of "oh, you mean the paki?" in their conversation jarred heavily. Do non-cosmopolitan cities attract expats who like that very facet? Sigh.

Felt a bit Moscowed out, and tired, probably because we'd not yet eaten and it was now gone 3pm. But here the weather gets warmer all the way up to 7pm and there was still the matter of Kolomenskoe to attend to. This is a park out in the sticks, 380 hectares of stuff including some palatial ruins, wooden houses, some more cathedrals, etc. Also it's next to the Moscow river, has a honey farm and a church of "St. John the beheaded" or some such. And a falconry, but we didn't see that. It's a nice walk and the whole place had more signs and guides in English than almost anywhere in the city centre.

Back to the hotel and a brief chill turned into an impromptu kip, but by 7pm I'd sorted meself out and we went down to the second floor. There was a rumour of a restaurant in our hotel - despite no ads in the lift (they were only for the pie-vending lobby bar) and the in room brochure only mentioning breakfast and lunch, we thought we'd see what it was. Went to the second floor, past the mysterious "floor -" between 2 and 3. Turns out the place exists and is open from 0700-0300 and has an 80s disco on Thursdays and other discos on Friday and Saturday. Well alright then!

A few people, a lot of tables, a lot of gaudy decoration including a bear with a hat. Too dark to get a photo. A waiter gave us an English menu and after taking a while to decide what to eat we both were told that our first choices weren't available. This also happened with our desserts later. They could save a bit on printing costs if they limited the menu to only the things they actually have.

That's a bit unfair tbh, especially as the food we did have was fantastic. Cheeses and spicy fish and rabbit and nom. I tried to order a second beer by saying "dva Tuborg", but the waiter didn't understand and sent over the one who speaks English. He took three attempts to understand too, even though we'd pointed at our glasses and signalled for two. A similar misunderstanding occurred when we asked for the menu to choose desserts, but worse was to come as that guy left and we were served by the lady who didn't understand English, my Russian, pointing at our glasses, or even seemingly our pointing at the drinks we wanted from the menu. It just about worked and we decided to not try for another.

Making the universal "bill, please" signal made a mockery of universality but saying "check, pay" worked. It was surprisingly cheap meal. By now it was gone 10pm, we were the only customers, no sign of any disco and the rolling not-news interspersed with ropey 80s music on VH1 was grating. Finished the night with mini bar raiding and chocolate while listening to Ian's fantastic cheesy rock spotify playlist. But I won by revealing to him the glory of Europe's Prisoners In Paradise, which you should all listen to/suffer immediately. And then, I wrote this. It's now 0115 and my alarm is set for 0745, even though I'm on holiday and we have nothing to do tomorrow except buy vodka and go to the airport for a late afternoon flight. In seats 1a and 1k. YES.

No comments: