MIDNIGHT TRAIN TO MOSCOW
I lay on an 18-inch wide lower bunk, in the four-person train cabin. The bottom of Mare’s bunk lies within arm’s reach above me. A young Russian man climbs up and into the top bunk about 18-inches across our aisle. He does not say a word. A business man hangs his sport jacket and looks at me. “Hello.” Then he points to my bench, points to his, and flips down a two-foot mattress to cover it. “Speciba,” (butchered Russian for “Thank You”). We enjoy the best sleep of the trip. A cup of tea in the morning, along with a box of snacks is served. Pull the top from a tin can, and eat what we shall eternally refer to as cat food.
A taxi driver speaks English (nonstop) and whisks us from the Moscow train platform for the drive to our hostel. “Communism was a much better system. I worked two-weeks, then off two-weeks for holiday with family. Now, I work 12-hours a day with no days off. Things were cheaper. Moscow too expensive now.” We later find that he scammed us 3x the normal fare. Perhaps that will give him an extra day off.
During our walk to the Kremlin, we dodge many of the 15+ million population, half of them seemingly smoking cigarettes. The Kremlin and Red Square are closed. Apparently Putin is in conference, as evidenced by a massive presence of soldiers, guards and police. Still, we are allowed access to St. Basil’s Cathedral, which dominates the landscape of many domes and towers.
We find the Bolshoi Theatre, where a woman breaks into a beautiful song right there on the sidewalk. No doubt, a former performer. Her two companions clap, “Bravo!” We join in the clapping. They talk at us, but we cannot understand a word. However, that outburst proves to be the single display of emotion that we will witness during our entire 3 days in Moscow. Everyone’s facial expression appears morose. What lingers under that veneer?
Onward, to the magnificent Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. This church sits on the site of the original, built 300 years ago to commemorate Russia’s victory over Napoleon. Leveled under the Stalin regime, and converted into the World’s largest swimming pool, the Cathedral was resurrected in 1997, to mixed reviews from the locals.
Finally, we rest at a street side Italian café, for drinks and people watching, not to mention tasty pizza.
After Nescafe at the hostel in the morning, Mare inquires about taking the Metro beyond our city map. It would require three station changes with signs that may as well be written in Chinese. So, we opt for a taxi to the Novodevichy Convent and cemetery. Actually, it is a sculpture garden, where elaborate busts, scenes, sea nymphs, angels, and full-figured statues of the dead adorn the bones buried below. Although we visit the graves of Chekov, Stalin’s second wife, and Yeltsin, the most ornate headstones adorn the “regular folks.”
A long street-hike back takes us along the Moscow River, across from Gorky Park, where we dodge bicyclists and roller-bladers. Worthy of one more sit, we dine on artichoke, olive and ham pizza at our favorite Italian Café before settling in to our hostel with a bottle of wine, looking out over Moscow for this final night.
The next day, we again walk to the Kremlin, (closed) and sit at yet another café, awaiting our taxi to the train station for a 48-hour ride to Novosibirisk. Even the taxi driver is confused as to which of the nine train stations we need to find, but we eventually figure it out.
In truth, we have seen enough of the domes, Cathedrals, and gigantic structures of Moscow, and now look forward to 48 hours of rest on the upcoming train ride, to Siberia, Baby! SpaCiba, Abundant Universe! Ron Mitchell