We awoke on our second morning in Moscow to the happy news that our luggage had arrived. Yuri and Ivan looked relieved to see we were wearing clean clothes and off we went. Dan was eager to hit the Cosmonaut Museum, where we were greeted by their mascot, Laika, the first dog in space. I was anxious for a photo op but all these bratty little kids kept cutting in line, so all we got was a picture of me in the background.
We had fun looking at all the weird space stuff that looks almost like our weird space stuff, except theirs has Cyrillic letters and a different flag. Dan was a pretty happy camper.
Next on the list was the Darwin Museum, where we saw a lot of stuffed animals…but not the kind you see in a toy store. Pretty cute stuff, but the squirrel hit too close to home.
If you’re on the fence about evolution, I suggest you go see a stuffed ape, and take a good long look. Compare the ape’s features to those of your crazy ass Uncle Harry. You remember him; he’s the one who got so drunk at your wedding that he felt up the bride and then threw up on the wedding cake. The missing link.
Over the next couple of days we enjoyed things I’d always dreamed about; toured the Kremlin, strolled through Red Square, looked at an endless line in front of Lenin’s mausoleum, and checked out Russia’s big department store, GUM. Lots of merchandise made in China; I guess some things are universal. We ogled St. Basil’s and took the classic tourist “look what I found!” picture, visited a convent or two, checked out Olympic Park, and picked up some overpriced Matryoshka dolls.
We went to see the Bolshoi ballet one evening; it was beautiful except that I had to keep poking Dan because he was snoring. It took me right back to my glory days of being a Prima Ballerina. Maybe not, but if I had been a Prima Ballerina it certainly would have been nostalgic. But as we all know, my attempt at dance lessons ended badly.
You may wonder where we were finding grub given the ordeal on the first day. As it turned out there was a Starbucks (Coffee for The People) right up the street, next door to an Italian restaurant. We figured we were set. But we were late in getting back one evening and decided we’d just get a bite in the little coffee shop in the hotel. We shared a fluffy omelet and some delicious mushroom soup, and I was content right up until the bill came and seemed to total $85. We did the ruble to dollar thing a few times to make sure it wasn’t our math, and then it dawned on me that we probably got someone else’s check, like the people in the corner eating blini and caviar. Nope, that was our check, not in the fancy restaurant but in the coffee shop. Yes, the omelet had 3 eggs, but I only got a cup of soup, not a bowl; so much for eating in the hotel, and thank goodness we hadn’t ordered coffee and dessert.
When it comes to leaders the Russian people tolerate a lot and expect little. For example, many of us think of Stalin as, say, a paranoid mass murderer. But when Dan made a little Stalin joke in the car one day, things got tense. Yuri glared at us while good old Ivan lectured, “yes, Stalin did many bad things to many people, but he did many good things too. He was not a bad man!” Wow. Talk about lowered expectations! No more Stalin jokes; understood. It is interesting to be a guest in a country where one man can be considered both a national hero and an evil murderer; although it is election time here in the US…
There was only one other thing to worry about while we were in Moscow; the world renowned Russian bureaucracy. In a brilliant catch-22, it is illegal for a traveler in Russia to leave the country without the right visa and papers, and at the same time it is illegal to stay in Russia under those circumstances. We were super careful with our paper work and luckily made it in and out without incident.
At the end of the day the Muscovites were kind enough to allow us to explore their city, and other than the omelet and the whole Stalin thing, we tried not to judge.