Sunday, February 22, 2009

Moscow Meanderings

This was originally written as one piece with the next post, but since it's pretty much evenly divided between Moscow and St Petersburg and it's quite long, I'm going to split it into two posts.

So it's been a few days since I last wrote so let's catch up. On Thursday I took a bus tour around town. It started at the Kremlin, but then went around town in a minibus to a few good sites. These included the World War II memorial, which is very tall, the Moscow State University main building, which is one of the seven Stalin skyscrapers, Sparrow Hills, which overlooks a large part of Moscow, and a fortress/nunnery. We also drove past a bunch of stuff which our tour guide was about 5 seconds late pointing out to us. At Sparrow Hills I bought a souvenier, a t-shirt with a Kalashnikov rifle on it. The tour group was 5 people; myself, Peter and Yana, a couple around my age, and an older couple of which the wife was rather bossy.

After the tour I went to Gagarin Square, which was a lot further away than the map suggested. I nonetheless got there, looked at the monument for a few moments, took some photos and headed back to the hostel.

In the evening I went to an English club run by a guy called George who seemed to be a permanent resident of the hostel. He's kind of a freelance English teacher. He invited me along to meet some Russians and be the native speaker at the nights meeting (I noticed some of the paperwork in his plastic sleeves showed that people (Russians) pay 900 rubles a month to attend the meetings, so George has to sort of be a native speaker wrangler for the meetings). Two other people showed up, Alexy and Julia, both professionals who worked for banks. Conversation covered topics such as Moscow, work, travels, Boris Yeltsin, the media, comparative drinking, Australia, Korea, trains and more.

The last item of note for the evening was when at MacDonald's (I'm sure I've already presented my reasons for greater consumption of the big M while overseas) I realized they did indeed have quarterpounders. I was trying to read the menu and one item came out to be a "royal cheeseburger". It took a few moments of wondering what a royal cheeseburger was when I recalled the phrase "royal with cheese". Yes, Pulp Fiction saved the day.

Friday was my last day in Moscow. I did another of the suggested walks on my map, but missed a turn and walked an extra two or so klicks, but it was alright. This walk had more of an arts theme and went past a few theaters and a few museums, although I only went into the museum of recent soviet history. This museum takes off about where the big history museum at the Kremlin left off with with the late imperial era and goes up to the modern day with Putin and Medyedev. I was disappointed that the small section on the space race seemed to miss Sputnik I, which would be in any museum I could put it in, let alone one specifically on 20th century Russia.

After I finished my walk I hung around the hostel for a while before eventually heading to the train station (Leningradskaya, for the record, since there are numerous train stations in Moscow) for my 23:55 train to St Petersburg. The train was much nicer than the Trans-Siberian, but I didn't really get to appreciate it much as soon after departure everyone in the berth went to sleep and I woke up about 20 minutes before arrival.

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