Walking through the Moscow Metro, you get the sense that you’re moving through hallowed ground. The place is busy, but not notably so, and everyone moves with a very quiet efficiency. Workers are constantly cleaning and polishing the floors. I saw one worker diligently moving a straight line of fine wood chips across the floor to pick up dust before another followed behind polishing the tile. Considering the age of many of the stations (it opened in 1935), the subway really is incredibly clean and well maintained. The architecture is really unique, with some of the oldest stations containing elements of a Soviet take on art deco called postconstructivism. Lots of classical shapes without the classical adornments. A lot of the older stations conform to Stalinist architecture, with all sorts of communist elements such as revolutionary statues and even, say, images of wheat in the ventilation grating. We made a point of stopping for a few minutes at several of the more notable stations, and it’s easy to see why the Moscow Metro makes it on any Moscow “must see” itinerary.
We started off the day in the Izmailovo market, which is basically a sprawling flea market with all manner of goods ranging from tourist trinkets to old Soviet relics. Many vendors dealt in Russian military pins, stamps, and antiques. It was interesting to window shop here and gawk at all the things that I didn’t realize I wanted, but that I now want, such as a really old Russian phonograph player with horn. Really though, you’d have to be a real expert (and speak Russian) to discern authentic value for a lot of the goods here, but it’s still interesting window shopping. We picked up a couple requisite souvenirs to ship home and it made for an efficient morning since it was gray and rainy out.
As we got into the afternoon we made our way across town and grabbed lunch at a place (Martha’s insistence) serving traditional Russian fare. It’s called Yolki Palki, and is kind of a “down home” Russian restaurant. I guess it’s like a buffet-style Russian “Cracker Barrel.” I was completely famished by the time we found the place, and I was ready to destroy some Russian food. Now, I’ve been to maybe one Russian restaurant that I can recall, and I seem to remember loving it. So, giving a quick look over the offerings at this place I was pretty sure I would love this place as well. As my friends and family may know, I’m not exactly a picky eater. There were plenty of well-fed Russians in the establishment piling up their plates with this stuff like it was their last meal, so that was also encouraging. Well, let’s just say, that Martha and I both…. umm…. did not exactly care for this place. It seems to be beloved by Russians. Anyone we asked for directions had instant recognition and smiled. There aren’t really a lot of tourists in Moscow in general, but there REALLY weren’t any tourists here. So, all I’m saying is, Russia, you had a chance to wow us with your classic culinary treats…. and…. so far…. you have failed. Russia, I’m gonna give you a few of my thoughts and suggestions regarding meal time in list format:
- Fish gelatin is not good
- Fish >2 inches should not be served with head and tail still on
- Potato salad is delicious, but it does not make a meal
- There is no need for 20+ variations of potato salad
- Pickles are a side item, a condiment if you will, not a vegetable course
- Bread rolls that, if thrown, might knock the wind out of a German Shepard, are not good (Seriously though, if you had been a prior French colony like Mexico or Cambodia, you would get this)
- One word: Dessert (read up on it)
I spent my early adult years learning to love beets. I despised them as a child. Yesterday though, that beet salad with the consistency of earthworms in mayonnaise flirted dangerously with putting beets back on the “do not eat” list. Listen, I don’t want to be too harsh here. I realize that Russians are a tough people with an unconquerable spirit, and these classic dishes have sustained them through much hardship. However, sampling a variety of these dishes made it clear to us why Russia is not necessarily world-renowned for it’s cuisine. I’m gonna try to be open-minded for the rest of our stay. We’ve eyed a few locations that are busy and seem to specialize in the really unhealthy fried fare that is probably more difficult to do wrong. We’ll see. Let’s just say though, at this point, staying in Russia long-term would be an effective weight loss plan for the both of us.
So… after that filling and delicious meal, we hopped back on the Metro and headed to a stop to see the KGB building. It’s kind of interesting as a tourist stop. We saw two other couples who had the same idea but weren’t as bold as Martha and I walking up to the front door. I think everyone (including us) thinks they’re being sneaky snapping pics of the place, but it’s pretty clear that they allow it. Unlike Mexico, they seem to be pretty permissive in Russia with photography. The cops here really are friendly and seem like regular guys with, in general, a good sense of humor.
We also explored Alexander Gardens, next to Red Square. It’s a really nice, green, public space adjacent to Red Square with lots of fountains, gardens, and walkways. It also has the guard for the tomb of the unknown soldier and the border wall of the Kremlin. We took a lot of pics here and have several we’ll put in the complete album
Finally, gotta close with a couple oddities. We noticed several locations around Moscow with “porta-potty” type facilities. These were usually in groups of three or four, and were outside of metro stops, markets, and in a couple public spaces. Nothing unusual there, except that each time the unit to the far left would have some lady in it (sans lavatory facilities) who had sort of like set up shop. One lady had clothes hanging in there and a table and all sorts of crap. I mean, I would assume at first that they’re the proprietor selling access to the other bathroom units, but they had really made themselves at home in the first unit. Weird.
Also, I had a really unique opportunity to meet with Lenin AND Stalin!!! Pretty cool. Despite all the notoriety, they’re really down to earth guys. I did have a chance to talk with Stalin and I mentioned that we’d just been in Mexico and the whole thing with killing Trotsky. He did express some regret, but you know, what’s done is done.
Oh yeah, one last thing. Remember how we had issues with the ATM yesterday? Well, it turns out it was a problem with the specific ATM. We’ll try to be more selective about which ATMs to use.