* Five years ago, my brother-in-law Jon went to Moscow with a tourist group. Apparently, it was a different time then because he was pulled aside and taken to a windowless, cinder-block room separated from civility by a stainless-steel door. Fittingly, he describes the room as also having a stainless steel table and hanging heat lamp serving as a light. With no way to communicate with the three corrupt security guards, he solitarily explained the possessions he was bringing into their country until the tour guide had the wherewithal to assist by pounding on the two-inch piece of steel protecting the government employees bribery causes. A simple payment of 100 Rubles (~$4.00) let him off the hook with no injuries, however a bruised ego and extraordinary tale would suffice. He told us this story on the flight from Paris to Moscow. Therefore, the immediate relevance of this story lies at the forefront of my/our minds as we enter customs upon landing.
* By sheer luck, we were greeted at the baggage claim by a man originally from Boston (and extremely proud of that fact), who just-so-happened to work at the U.S. Embassy! He was waiting for a friend landing soon.
- "Should we take the Green or the Red?" - Red: an attendant cracks your bags and goes to town. Green: tourists exit the terminal without claim of any of their possessions.
- "Go Green. In fact, I just walked through the side door over there without so much as saying 'Hey' to somebody, let alone a metal-detector^^," Boston said.
* The Green exit was barren. It was a 30-foot long horseshoe with abandoned stainless steel podiums, tables (with accompanying chairs), and a dusty baggage x-ray that has stood idle for quite some time. (This description is miles from giving the room justice, but an American taking a photograph of the ghost-room likely would have gotten me arrested, or worse.)
* On our drive to the hotel, Nichole pointed out that our newly acquired contact at the U.S. Embassy actually tailed us to our exit to confirm we were not hassled. "Why didn't we get his name?" she asked in the same breath. "Yeah, that probably would have been a good idea," all three of us simultaneously thought.
^^ (Pertaining to the metal detector) When meeting our driver after exiting the airport, we were unaware of how we were supposed to tip/pay him. Therefore, upon re-entry to the terminal I was one of two people to walk through the metal-detector while four gentlemen walked right by the security station. It was appalling, ludicrous, and hilarious all at the same time. Honestly, if I had the option to never have to mess with security when boarding a plane, I would take it.
* Billboards I saw on the drive from the airport:
- One encouraging people to read.
- A McDonalds one promoting the GreekMac
- A brand-new Infinity for under $10,000 - Which Nichole, Jon, and I decided we would do it, but wondered what our family would think if we all returned, rolling in Infinities. Also, can you imagine the popularity of a 'Duty-Free' car purchasing program? I can and it would be glorious.
* 97% of Russian women can pull off the outfit they are wearing. Right now, it's the tight jeans with knee-high boots, and It's Awesome.
This was the entrance to Red Square, and my favorite photo of the trip.
* Lenin's right hand in a fist?
* Met a dude that lives in Prairie Village in line to check out Lenin's Mosuleum.
* Walked through St. Basil's
- very old (1400s?), staircase was awesome.
- windows now cover the openings, but likely didn't in the old days and the arms for the torches were still there.
* Later we thought about how poorly everything was cared for. It seems as though there is little preservation of the artwork and history.
* I bought an $18.00 cup of Bailey's & Coffee that was about 6 oz.
* Also at the hotel bar, Jon & I met a couple from New York. They were very curious about the Detroit Lions score (which we did not know), come to find out she (Bree) was from Michigan (went to Michigan St.) and he was originally from Boston.
* The Armory @ the Kremlin
- The coolest part (for me) were all the carriages used to transport dignitaries from Moscow to Europe.
~ One was a huge sleigh (which makes sense) constructed entirely of wood with iron runners. Large enough to hold eight people, covered (obviously), and drawn by 8+ horses, the thing must have weighed 3 tons.
~ On the other side of the aisle, there was a very small sleigh intended as a toy for 1 or 2 children, likely pulled by a pony.
- Other cool shit:
~ Tsar's chairs and pedestals
~ Guns (where the pins pulled forward)
* During our walk to the Church of the Ascension we ventured along the Kremlin wall next to the Moscow River. As we neared the end of the Kremlin's wall, 1…2…3…4 dark gray, militaristic trucks passed with the bed covered by a heavy fabric with rib-like metal supports from side to side. The rear was bare, however, giving us view of multiple Russian soldiers complete with long, gray coats and ushankas. Then 5…6…7…8 passed before we made a comment about it and pressed forward to the Church of the Ascension. 9…10…11…12…13. "I'm definitely more aware of my surroundings than earlier," I said.^^ The actual number of trucks (and larger number of soldiers) is unclear, but it seemed like something out of a movie. Like the Russian military was in search of someone or something, but not in an actual war-like scenario. Good thing I was wearing a mustard-yellow jacket to stick out like a stupid American amongst all the black and gray donned by those used to the dirty, sand/salt-filled streets.
^^ (pertaining to the above statement about 'being aware of my surroundings') - This is my favorite part of traveling. When experiencing life in my corporate job, there is little that varies from day to day. It becomes monotonous. Boring. Being aware is the essence of being human, and is the driving force for learning and remembering. Personally, whenever I am in an instant or episode where I am enjoying myself, I make an attempt to listen more acutely and look around to gather as much from the scene I can. Later in life, I'll have more detail for telling others about this experience. If you know me, I'm a bit of a storyteller… a bullshitter, of sorts. Getting the best stories requires being aware. Feeling alive.
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