September 15, 2009



Something of a lightning tour of Russia's capital.

After an overlong lecture of how Russia created Quartz crystals for radio sets in the 1950s at the Museum of Stone (Музей рукотворного камня) in Alexandrov, we then had a 2hour visit to the Kremlin (Alexandrovskaya sloboda) in this town.

Now a rather tired Nunnery, the Assumption convent (Успенский монастырь) was rather a pleasant time ambling on a guided tour of the many buildings within this walled fortress. Tsar Ivan the Terrible (Ivan IV Grozny) thought it rather pleasant too, and after conquering the lands all around he decided to take over the place for his residence for 17years. We visited the very building that he used for himself.

And all the time we were treated to lovely musical bells - which I have recorded. There may have been a wedding in progress, or other function that caused the bells to be rung; delightful whatever the reason. Also at this place we were treated to "Tea with Carrot". This turned out to be a lovely light tea made from tea bag and water from a Samovar. A small iced cake was served with it, and this may have had some carrot in it, though it was quite like a Rock Cake. I managed to tip my cup into my lap and spent the next hour looking as though I was incontinent.

Moscow came next as was a dash around. We landed up at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour (Храм Христа Спасителя) and walked around it. We made to walk across a large open square and were halted by a young uniform who informed us that we could not go that way. We paused to consider this, and whilst we did this lots of individuals walked exactly the way we wanted to go and were not confronted. So we pressed on with our original route, and came to closed barrier with just enough room to squeeze through - which many people were doing. we started to go through until the arrival of the young uniform who told us again that something was happening and that we could not go this way.

We started to return, only then to be told by another young uniform that we could not go that way. Clearly in Russia the 'Lenin hand' does not know what the 'Stalin hand' is doing. We left these too toy soldiers (or toy police - I don't know which) to look extremely stupid all by themselves and just carried on as though we had never met them! What point is there in such regulation?

Anyway we then headed to the Metro and made for Red Square, but this was a very nervous underground trip for me and I really couldn't take in the special nature of Moscow’s Metro system. On arrival at Red Square Juris and I managed to lose the rest of the party which I found quite exasperating. But Juris did manage to phone our guide and as they were still by the Eternal Flame we regrouped quickly.

Red Square was something of a disappointment, particularly so because they had erected some giant metallic stadium within in for a public event and this ruined all views. Public spaces such as this should NEVER be filled with anything except tourists with cameras.

We beat a retreat to some square with a giant monument in Victory Park that commemorated the 1382days of the second World War, and took some refreshment. I also used a plastic portaloo at the extortionate price of 20Rubbles (about 40pence). There was no seat, and no way of washing hands, and I know EXACTLY what Russian poo looks like.

We have been stuck in one of Moscow's infamous gridlocks for about an hour whilst I typed this. The schedule for the rest of this day is make for the border and Novgorod and home. I am ready to leave Russia now, but I can definitely say that this has been quite an extraordinary journey in so many many different ways.

02:20hrs we are forced to park up on the gravel verge as a passenger side rear wheel is punctured and totally destroyed. Given the state of these roads it is surprising that tyres last more than a week or so. Some of us remain inside the vehicle, some meander around on the verge watching the relentless convoy of ill-disciplined trucks heading hard for St Petersburg in the black night. The road is a vile 3-lane section, sometimes giving the extra lane to our side and sometimes to the other side.

04:45 we pause at a Hypermarket on the edge of Novgorod. We will stay here until 07:00 and sleep until public transport awakens and can take us to visit Novgorod. No WiFi in this car park, so I cannot transmit from here.

07:00 we begin a tour of Novgorod Kremlin lately being spruced up for its 1150 Anniversary. Russia started in Novgorod.

At 13:30 we head home, a long drive on not very good roads, but we are promised a meal break just before the Russian border. But it doesn't happen (the meal I mean, not the border) and our starving souls are given a rebate instead of hot food.

Then the border, and only one hour to clear it this time, but once again we had to march off the bus with our luggage and it was so well inspected that when the guy checked our passports in his kiosk he could not know how many bags we carried or what colour it was. And the stupid fact is that we left as much stuff in the minibus as we carried into the building. Hundreds of carrier bags with shopping, clothes, gifts, food .... all completely unchecked.

22:30 reach Flat in Riga. Phew !

I am left with lots of positive feelings about this holiday, even though a lot of what I have written here may seem critical. The British LIKE to criticise, rather than to praise. This trip was very very arduous, but it never pretended to be otherwise. It was also full of interest and excitement. I am glad to have had the privilege.

I don't know whether I will stay under the Red Flag (actually it's now Red White and Blue) again, but I would encourage others to consider coming to this giant country, though consider it most carefully first.

Museum of Stone (Музей рукотворного камня) at Alexandrov (Александров). Attached to the institute of synthetic crystals, where Quartz, Diamonds and other precious stones were industrially created. The shabbiness of the buildings and potholed and puddled roads and paths is typical of Russia today.

Terrible Residence. Tsar Ivan the Terrible (Ivan IV Grozny) lived here from 1564-1581 within the walls of Assumption convent (Успенский монастырь) at Alexandrov (Александров)

Ivan Infanticide. Il'ya Repin's historical portrait (1885) Ivan IV killed his son. Photographed in Alexandrovskaya sloboda

Red Square, Moscow. The stepped square building in front with the black band is Lenin's Tomb, MacCartney's Tomb has not yet been built.

Red Square, Moscow
From Russia [a PICASA album by RedSimon]

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