Friday, May 30, 2014

The Post-Soviet Chronicles Part 5: Moscow Part 1 -- It Wasn't Me!

Okay okay okay. I'm the worst. I really have been inconsistent with this blogging thing. I've just found that life here has gotten pretty... normal. Nothing I do/see anymore seems all that strange/different so it seems silly to blog. But going to Moscow? That's pretty epic. I probably should have been a little more prompt on blogging about that. So without further ado, I present to you the first in a series of two blogs on my travel to Moscow, Russia.
Hey, look! It's that famous church in Russia that everyone thinks of when they think of Moscow!

The Visa

Probably the most nervous I've ever been is when I went to pick up my visa after submitted the documents a week earlier, and finally reading the paper slip they gave me that was all in Russian except one phrase: PICKUP: 06/04/14. Remember: my flight out was on the 15th of May- so picking up a visa three weeks post wouldn't quite work.

So, I realize this waiting outside the Russian Embassy which is essentially the place where Tajiks go and wait for the entire day just to maybe get birth certificates or other such documents (remember, this was a thing). As someone applying for a visa (because, really, who does that here?) you get to push through all the Tajiks and wave your passport around like an idiot saying "I am an American, I need a visa" in horrible Russian. Well that's what I did, anyways...

Then I got my visa, and it was for the right days. The moral of the story here is that the Russian embassy is scary and you need to be overly prepared with any possible documentation you can think of.

It Wasn't Me!

This was probably the strangest part of my experience. On the flight to Istanbul from Dushanbe, I had an entire row to myself, as most people did. After a nice enjoyable nap, I sat up in my seat and started to stretch when I felt the guy behind me hit my right arm (pretty hard, too) a few times.

I turned around and he started saying something to me in Russian, I asked him to speak in English and he made a fart noise. You know, like Ron Burgundy style..

To which I promptly said "what the f---?" and turned back around. Then not two seconds later I get a whiff of it. The undeniable smell of someone cutting the cheese. At this point there are only two options:
1) He farted and wanted to warn me that he did it. Weird.
2) He thinks I farted. It wasn't me!

Vnukovo Airport Makes You Walk A Really Long Time Without A Bathroom

Self-explanatory. I really had to go, man!

Navigating Soviet Metros is a Skill (That I Possess) 

Turns out it isn't really difficult to manage metro systems in general, but I am proudly 2/2 on Soviet-era metro systems and I even got asked by a Russian if he was on the right train. Talk about encouraging! My directional/navigational senses are peaking-- do you think there's a job opportunity somewhere there??

Got It!

One thing: the Moscow Metro has like. 15 lines. I mean it's probably less than that, but there's in fact so many lines that they started to have to repeat colors in slightly different shades. "Now is it the light green or dark green line that takes me to work?"

I managed to get form Vnukovo Airport, which is about an hour outside of the city, to my hotel without any hiccups. It wasn't terribly difficult, but I took a train to the metro line and then navigated from there. I was staying at the Hyatt which was right next to the Bolshoi Theatre.

Look it's a bad angle shot of the Bolshoi! (If you want professional looking photos, Google it!) 

My friend and roommate from college, Dan, was busy until later in the night, so I spent the afternoon exploring the close proximity around the hotel and finding some dinner. As you can imagine, I was craving borscht (yes, I know, it's technically Ukrainian) so I enjoyed a nice bowl of borscht at a local place.

Didn't do much that night (super tired), but it was nice to see Dan later and catch up. The next few days were much more action packed as we began our 72-hour whirlwind extravaganza to see Moscow.

The Golden Ring

Dan's family was super awesome the whole weekend, they included me in everything (mostly I think because Dan and his mom were there) and wanted me to really see all Moscow had going for it. They really helped make the experience great, and it started with our trip to the golden ring.

Moscow is kind of like Houston in that they keep building up around it and incorporating more cities on the outskirts into the city proper. So what you have is essentially a growing circle that is Moscow. There are three major highways that circle Moscow, each one bigger than the last. The Golden Ring is the third ring, and further away (and therefore, most traffic-y).

It is called the golden ring because there are a number of older, important Russian Orthodox churches on this ring. And as you may or may not know, Russians love their gold. So we go to go to some of these older churches and we even lucked out and got to go to the top of a bell tower in one of the churches.

A church with some gold stuff!
These churches were really quite cool looking. Russian Orthodox is heavy in iconography, so there were also a lot of icons inside (lots of Mary and the other patron saints, really just like Catholicism but more... icon-y and gold). I don't want to sound bad here, but as interesting as the churches were, it was a bit like seeing one meant you had seen them all. They were still cool to look at, just... redundant on the inside.

This is the church where we actually got to climb to the top, where the bell tower is. 

Oh hai, Jesus! Didn't see you up there!

Dan, in a bell.

From the top of the bell tower.
That's all for now. Moscow Part 2 will be up in a bit, which will include (you guessed it!) more churches, more bells, some red stuff, and a boat tour on the Moscow river.

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