Day 197: Cairo for Us...Moscow for You

We are in Cairo currently, and it is fully living up to reputation. This reputation included amazing sights, beautiful if somewhat rundown city, good food, lots of hookahs about, and pretty constant verbal sexual harassment. Don’t worry, parents of Claire and Lara, we are fine and taking it all in stride.

However, you all do not get to hear about all that yet. Sorry. But we have seen very very much in the last week or so and our blog has not quite caught up yet.

Take Moscow, for example. We went there. For far too short a time, since getting a Russian visa as an American citizen from Mumbai, India apparently looked dodgy so the country booted us out after 10 days once our business transit visa (why this classification? We do not know) ran out.

But speaking of reputations, in our minds this didn’t have a very strong one for this city. In that we had heard of it, but had no solid idea of what to expect.

We expected cold, and we expected unfriendly, and we expected ominous and kind of militant tourist sites. That sounds bad, but we also expected it to be a highlight, and had both been looking forward to it for a while.

We were very very pleasantly surprised. Russia was not that cold, it was enjoying an unseasonable warm streak that broke after we left, and so we feel personally ushered into the Russian experience. And lots of Russians went out of their way to help tour us about the city; we counted 7 people who personally answered our lost helpless American girl faces with personal escorts to the desired point. We don’t know who you are, and none of you know this blog exists, but we thank you very very much for making your city more accessible to us.

Moscow was surprisingly un-Soviet, whatever that may mean. Lots of pretty, old buildings. Even the subway was a “sight unto itself.” Our guidebook had told us this, but as the book had proven to be total crap, we did not expect it to be true. It was. The subways were weirdly palatial with lots of marble and wrought iron work…granted they were pretty much impenetrable until we learned a little about Cyrillic lettering. Which took a while. We won’t tell you how many times we messed things up because it is embarrassing because we do not think Cyrillic lettering should be as hard as we made it. It basically looks like the bastard child of period 4 Geometry and remedial English.

But the subway got us cheaply and safely to all our Red Square sights: St. Basil’s cathedral, the Kremlin, and various restaurants that our guidebook directed us to that did not exist.

However, by far the weirdest site in Moscow, and certainly one of the stranger tourist stops we have ever made occurred on our last day. Lenin’s tomb, people. This is some drama.

All of Red Square closes for certain hours every day to let anyone who wants to walk past Lenin’s shockingly well-preserved body for free. This is what we knew.

The surprises were the impressively armed soldiers every ten feet pointing out the way and refusing to smile even when we tried to be friendly and say thank you in our four-word Russian (these words were: thank you, bookstore, house, and station). They stared straight ahead and pointed every time someone walked by. It would have been strange unto itself, except that there were other rules happening that we did not fully grasp.

Like when we entered the mausoleum proper and stood contemplating Lenin’s body with the appropriately grave faces and for appropriately lengthy amounts of time. Until Lara’s shoulders were grabbed by a soldier and directed away from where she was currently standing. Time to move on? She thought…no, he only moved her 2 feet. Standing too close? She figured…no he moved her closer to the body. The mystery was never solved. Claire escaped unscathed; Lara got a talking to for some improper pose that we cannot begin to fathom.

For anyone concerned with the mausoleum itself rather than the authors of this blog; let us assure you. Lenin looked good. He looked like a wax figure, which we consider a compliment for someone dead as long as he has been. Covered in an attractive maroon blanket and well-lit, he is dapper and very comfortable in the spotlight. The Russians around him are clearly antsy, but what to do.

We then wandered out, bought some attractive gifts for family from hawkers who were threatening each other for our business one minute and borrowing from each other the next, and then headed to that beacon of Russian culture that is McDonald’s. Unlike Lenin’s grave, don’t go. Not that interesting (we like to survey the menus in different countries) and obscenely overpriced. Even for Russia. Which is saying quite a bit. On Claire’s Mc-O-Meter that measures the development of a country based on Mc-Cone-O (sp?) prices Russia is off the charts.


Anonymous said...

I live in Moscow. Your comment "Take Moscow, for example. We went there. For far too short a time, since getting a Russian visa as an American citizen from Mumbai, India apparently looked dodgy so the country booted us out after 10 days once our business transit visa (why this classification? We do not know) ran out" : totally misinformed !

It is not easy for any ciizen ( except from CIS countries ) to enter Russia. India is not to blame ! The Consulate of Russia in Bombay " helped you " ( did you bribe anyone ) get this unusual visa : ten days, business ( not tourist ! ) transit visa : obviosly you will get thrown out after that period ! Don't blame India or any other country : for your own antics !

Have fun
A Moscow-ite

sarah mac said...

you two are totally cracking me up. but i still really want to see the mongolia video. bad.

my friend kate saw mao. these were her words exactly, "he looked good. he was wearing a real nice suit. and shiny shoes". her sister wanted to know who shines his shoes since someone has to. kate was bummed because they wouldn't let you stop and stare.

we are currently hiding out in a very strange hotel in san francisco while people parading as pirates and hookers take to the streets.

Shana said...

Moscow sounds fantastic! A note on guidebooks. I think you've mentioned using Lonely Planet... I've only used them once, and when basic information like internet prices and weather was highly, highly inaccurate, I've never used them again. You'd think they could get statistics like average temperatures correct, right?! I've also met other travellers who've met LP writers, and their "research" [for updated editions] is fairly shoddy, at best. I've had far more success with Rough Guides. Prices are cheaper, if anything -- because I believe they include High Season prices, so if you're travelling in March, financial bonus! Most experienced long-haul travellers I've met haven't used LP since their first trip. I think the only good LP editions are ones that are firsts...

Lana said...

things that made me laugh about this post even though i'm not really sure why:
- you went to lenin's grave with an appropriately "grave" face. PUNNY!
- the guy moved you and you dont know why. i can seriously picture both of your faces. claire like, "lara, what happene?" lara: "claire, i dont know, he just grabbed me and moved me" claire: "why? lara, what's going on?" lara: "Claire, i dont know what just happend either" and both of you with those wtf faces. ha!
-the word kremlin. ha! (is that totally inappropriate? i'm sorry if it is.)
- business transit visa. haha! what?

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