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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.