Moscow Memories

In these post-Thanksgiving days, I’ve been feeling a little nostalgic about past experiences shared with our kids. One such that involved myself and our older son Daniel was when I visited him in Russia just about three years ago. He was spending the fall semester studying at St. Petersburg University, and we all decided that I would visit him for one week in November.

Our hotel in Moscow. Really much better than it looks.

Going to Russia is still a little complicated. Based on reliable advice, I spent a couple hundred dollars hiring a travel agent to make sure there were no problems in obtaining a visa. The visa application was rather odd, as I remember it asked about my military training (including any experience with nuclear weapons – I could honestly say I had none), as well as a list of political and other organizations I had ties to. Now, I give money to a lot of organizations, but I scrupulously attached a list including the Audubon Society, Friends of the Cook County Forest Preserves, etc. It seems none of these were deemed too troubling, as I did get my visa.

Daniel met me at the Moscow airport. We took a train into the city, where we checked into the guest house Danny had found.

This guest house was located on the third floor of an old apartment building near the center of town. Of course, Daniel travels like a student, so the place he found was pretty cheap for Moscow, which can be a pretty expensive city (there are plenty of luxurious hotels if you can afford them). Certain amenities were missing, as the rooms had no windows and the bathrooms were shared. On the other hand, we were within walking distance of the Kremlin and Red Square.

Daniel outside our hotel in Moscow.

That first night we had dinner in a sort of club where there was singing and dancing. The singer had a good voice, although she sang “Strangers in the Night” in English without realizing that the word “strangers” is pronounced with a soft g, so the lyrics came out as “Strongers in the night…” Despite this, I would say that people were definitely having a good time.

Red Square sits just outside the Kremlin walls. It is built on a monumental scale, and is bordered by a variety of landmarks, including St. Basil’s Church, a historical museum, the Lenin Mausoleum, and a World War II memorial. This is one of those places where the sense of history is awe-inspiring, almost intimidating.

Entering Red Square. St. Basil’s can be seen in the distance.
Kremlin walls and Presidential Palace seen from Red Square.
St. Basil’s Church
Red Square: another view.

We spent a day and an evening wandering Red Square and the environs. It doesn’t take long to realize that this is very much a post-communist society. There are McDonald’s, high-end stores, and stalls everywhere selling just about everything. While there are clearly wealthy people, you also got the feeling that many are not materially better off under the new regime.

Red Square McDonald’s.

The following day we came back to see the Kremlin. To enter you must be accompanied by a licensed guide. Kremlin simply means fort, and the Moscow Kremlin is essentially a large walled compound containing the Presidential Palace, various governmental buildings, and several churches and other structures left from the days of the Czars.

Inside the Kremlin.
More inside the Kremlin.

We also spent a day exploring other parts of Moscow, using the subway system originally built in the 1930s. I thought the Moscow subway compared favorably to the rapid transit systems in Chicago and New York. I especially liked how the subway stations had chandeliers and clocks showing the number of seconds since the last train had left.

In the Moscow subway. I think more subway systems should have chandeliers.

We left Moscow on an overnight train for St. Petersburg. We had seen only a small fraction of the city, and I would jump at a chance to go back. I’ll write a follow-up post on St. Petersburg sometime soon.

25 Comments on “Moscow Memories

  1. Jason, you’ve written very diplomatically about your Moscow experiences. I can say I very rarely go there, only by need. I’m waiting for your next post about my city.

    • I wasn’t trying to be diplomatic, I’m very glad I had a chance to see Moscow. Though I would say St. Petersburg was a more beautiful city.

  2. Thanks for taking us along on your trip back in time. I have been fascinated by the country since my grandmother visited in the late 60’s, back in the days it was very difficult for Americans. I look forward to your St. Petersburg leg.

  3. As a college student, I visited Moscow in 1974, when Russia was still part of the USSR. As westerners, we were frequently accosted on the street, as our blue jeans, chewing gum, and ball point pens were objects of desire… on the black market. When “befriended” by locals and invited to their homes, a gift to our hosts of a carton of Marlboro cigarettes was very appreciated. We also visited St. Petersburg (Leningrad) and Kiev. This was in January, but the weather was no worse than Chicago. The hotel rooms were *cold* and the TP not much better than newsprint and the towels ridiculously meager, but at least we had windows and private baths. Your trip sounds very different!

    • Yes, I’d say it must have been very different than 1974. Now there is no shortage of Western goods, though many people cannot afford them.

  4. Really enjoyed this tour of Moscow – I have yet to travel there, but one of these years, perhaps…. Great photos and write-up!

    • Not in Red Square, certainly. In some other places there are, though probably less than in most large Western cities. I will try to include some pictures with plants in the next post. Of course it was November so not much greenery to be seen.

  5. I just love the domes! St. Basil’s must be magnificent to see! I expect I will never get to Russia in my lifetime, so I enjoyed looking and experiencing it through your eyes. Who would have ever thought that a McDonald’s would be in Red Square!

  6. Thank you for the guided tour. That St. Basil’s Church is a remarkable achievement. Not what you’d think of with the drab Moscow I think of. Reminds me of the Gaudi buildings in Barcelona. But where are the plants???

    • There are some places with plants, certainly not as much as here in Chicago and some other cities. Red Square (the name predates the Communists, by the way) is really a place to showcase the grandeur of the nation, I guess they don’t see trees as part of that.

  7. What an absolutely fascinating place. I love your photo of St. Basil’s, it reminds me of the little colorful iced biscuits I ate as a kid – Midget Gems – not sure you have them in the states? Funny about the singer! Looking forward to the virtual trip to St. Petersburg!

  8. Way cool that you got to visit Russia. I’m fascinated by the country’s history, architecture, and culture but have never visited. Maybe someday.

  9. I visited Moscow 14 years ago on a trip to adopt my son. Sounds like not much has changed. We found the escalators on the subway system extremely fast and hard to navigate with a young child. Is Gorky Park still operating? We visited it for its kiddie rides.

  10. That must have been a really interesting trip, not sure how I would like a bedroom without windows though! Were there plants in Red Square or were you just not photographing them in those days?!

  11. Oh that was fascinating, thank you so much for the tour. Like Hollygarden above, i will not see it in this lifetime. The square somehow looks like the square in China. The first time i went there was when the open policy just started and it really looks so different, i am awed, i bet you were awed too in Russia. I wonder why your son is studying there!

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