Sunday, August 18, 1991
We woke up and had omelet, bread and porridge of some kind. The omelet was good. We took a cab to the Intourist hotel office to meet the tour group. The tour started at 0930. We went to the Armoury Chamber Museum. It was a museum you could only visit with a tour group. It costs like $18 USD, and worth every penny,. The entrance was a big vault, like you see in bank robbery movies. This place contained clothes, costumes, carriages, thrones, crowns, and gifts of the Czars and Czarinas. There were jewels galore and everything laced with gold and diamonds. The opulence and affluence was everywhere, It makes you wonder why they don’t sell some of these treasures to make enough money to get the country out of its economic hell-hole, but I guess they can’t just do that. After the Armoury, we went through the Kremlin grounds and saw everything again.
OBSERVATION NOTE: The people are great, but they are hesitant to talk. I thought they would be more talkative, but they are tentative. Their clothes do not match and they stare at our clothes (not that we dress nicely or anything, we are pretty ordinary). The only people who talk to us are hustlers, they all sell the same exact postcards, watches and t-shirts. The city is clean and less muggy and gray than I had imagined it.
After the tour, we went back to Intourist and had chips and coke.
Later we wanted to go inside Lenin’s tomb/mausoleum. We stood in line for about 40 minutes. The time went by quickly because people aren't allowed to stand in front of the casket gawking and taking pictures. The line continues moving as hundreds of people walk by and catch a glimpse. We were inside in no time. Cameras and video recorders were not allowed and there were guards every two feet watching and keeping order. I had my sweater wrapped around my waist and they made me carry it. Also, they stopped me inside to examine the bump in my t-shirt. It was my money belt containing my passport and wallet. I felt so secure and at the same time so frightened.
As soon as we walked into the mausoleum, we saw Lenin lying in a glass casket. I was told by Svetlana that his face was a mask, but his hands are real. I guess the face fell apart. He just lies there and he appears to have been overweight. All the guards stood around the casket. The room was freezing and it was made of black and red marble. It was actually an incredible site. It was communism at its best. It was the first time I felt unsafe because we were the only Americans inside. We had gone during non-tourist hours. The waiting in line, seeing the people, hearing them interact, watching the kids run around, looking at the wedding couples lay flowers outside the tomb for good luck, and seeing this guy in a glass casket was so worth it. It seems, the Russian people see Lenin and the tomb as their God. He is the ultimate symbol of the Soviet Union and Communism. It is amazing, in a weird way to see so many people respecting this man. Of course, we do not care for him or his views, but to these people he is somebody grand.
When you leave the tomb, the line continues outside behind the mausoleum. Other important Soviet figures are buried around the outside of the mausoleum. I think John Reed (the American Journalist. I.e. Reds) is also buried there. I didn’t see his name because all the plaques were in Russian, but I read it somewhere.
After the tomb, Ralph and I went to make reservations at Savinsky’s Bazaar while everyone else went back to the Intourist hotel to use the bathroom and eat chips. Ralph and I found the restaurant and we were automatically let in when they found out we were American, a party of seven, and had USD. We entered the place and were escorted to the back of the building. I heard music and we entered the main dining room. It was incredible and it surprised me because from the outside the place looked like a dump.
There was a stage and the restaurant had a large dome with high ceilings, intricate architectural detail, and statues everywhere. We walked up stairs and met a waiter named Andres. He said we had to pay him up front, but of course we balked and didn’t. He said fine and that it was going to be $10 USD per person. The fee included the meal, drinks, show, etc. We made the reservations for 1900. We walked back to the Intourist hotel and met up with everyone else.
At 1430, the city tour was to begin. It was raining and we did not feel like going and we wanted our money back, but it was too late. We got there late with Ralph and Vivian the last to arrive. Everyone else on the bus was complaining. The tour was boring. We saw everything we had seen again! I was already kind of sick of Red Square. Instead of getting off the bus, I stayed on and slept during the stops. We passed by KGB headquarters, the U.S. embassy, 6,000-room hotel (largest in Europe), Bolshoi Theatre, Kremlin, film studios, etc. The tour dragged on for 2.5 hours. What made it worse was that our tour guide was rude and pessimistic. She talked about the poor and state of living of all the Soviets. It was like we were deaf, blind, and mute. It is sad, but you do not go on a tour to hear this information which is very apparent by just looking around. We saw the long lines, lack of goods in stores, mothers on the subway floors holding dirty, small children begging for money. I did not think it was necessary for her to talk about it on a bus full of tourists. What are we going to do about it? We’re here to visit a new land and experience a different culture. If anything, we were stimulating their economy. I got upset and wanted to say something, but I didn’t .
After the tour, the bus dropped us off in front of the Intourist hotel. Ana, Leo, and I wanted to see Gorky Park. I was actually obsessed with it because how can we come to MOW and not see it. We took a 50 ruble (just over $1 USD) cab ride and it was awesome. The entrance reminded me of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, but not as grand. I think there was going to be a festival because there were stages and food stands set up around the park. In the rear of the park, we could see an amusement park. It was a young crowd and all of them seemed inebriated. We were there about 15 minutes because we had that 1900 reservation and everyone was waiting for us. When we were leaving the park, some people were pulling strings tied to balloons and this one guy fell and the rest of them dragged him on the floor until he hit his head and back on the bottom of some stairs. It seemed painful, but we felt he was a bit foolish for not letting go. We took a cab back to the Intourist hotel and met up with the group.
After going to the bathroom, we took a cab to Savinsky’s Bazaar. Everyone else loved the place as much as Ralph and I. We even discovered individual party rooms. We sat down and had cold appetizers: cheese, lettuce and cucumber salad, gelled ham, meats, egg salad, Vodka, water, and some awesome white bread. The service was slow because this was a restaurant where you sat and ate with lots of time because there was a show to watch, but our train was leaving at midnight (we thought it was) so we had to go back to our hotel to pack and shower. We asked Andres, our waiter to please hurry. He asked us for the money in the middle of dinner. He seemed to look worried that we were not going to pay him or something. We obliged and paid him. He was content.
The main course was beef and mashed potatoes. It was actually good. For dessert, we had ice cream. The show had singers, dancers, and vaudeville-like acts. It was pretty good. My favorite was this heavy-set lady with a funny hat. At about 2130, Ana, Ralph, Vivian, and I had to leave, but Leo, mom, and aunt stayed. We got to the hotel at about 2140 and were told the train was leaving at 2305 and the ride was picking us up at 2200. We had 20 minutes to shower and pack. Luckily, I had almost everything put away so I took a quick shower and we were all off to the train station.
It was really cold outside, the car kept stalling and to top it off, had no headlights. We finally made it to the station and it was jumping like a mad house. There were people everywhere. Thank God the driver went inside and got tickets and a porter. The porter took us to the train car, but before that we had to walk a ways through the station itself. We passed by the mobs of people. It smelled like urine. It was straight out of a movie and it reminded Anne and I of “Midnight Express.” The place was creepy. We finally got the train and had our bags delivered to the berths. The berths were very comfortable. We each had a bed so it made the trip less exhausting. We got ready to sleep and the train departed at 2305 on the dot! We all said good night and hit the sack.