Preparations for our Trans-Manchurian trip complete we await our departure
30.06.2011 - 30.07.2011 24 °C
With the Kremlin closed on a Thursday (bad planning and a slight disappointment but an excellent cost saving opportunity!) we take a short walk to the Pushkin museum. Crossing a multitude of main roads, these walks take in not only sidewalks but the many underpasses that lie around the city. As in the Ukraine most of the main roads throughout Moscow provide these underpasses for those wishing to cross the road. Whilst useful for the fit and able they must be a terrible strain on the old and infirm. How anyone in a wheelchair ever navigates Moscow is difficult to imagine and something we do not see for the entirety of our time in the city. Alongside these underpasses a frequent sight are traffic policemen pulling over unfortunate drivers for what invariably, at least to us, appear to be imagined traffic offences. Those pulled over drivers, that we saw, appeared resigned to the ‘fine’ offering us a knowing smile as the officer berated them over their offence but accepted what I am sure would became a donation to their personal fund. Given the volume of traffic officers stationed at road junctions this is clearly a profitable sport and one far more actively pursued that the apprehension of ‘real’ criminals given the number of dubious characters we see chauffeured in large German and Japanese limousines.
For at, apparently, every street expensive cars some parked 3 or 4 deep on the pavement and into the road line up. Indeed, in the business and Government districts it is often hard to see where the road for passing cars lies. Outside of our hotel, some 50 yards from Red Square, at least 4 lanes of parked cars seem to remain throughout the day and night. Likewise any accessible pavement will be utilized for the parking of cars, for which the local traffic officers appear to have no care.
Arriving at Moscow’s premier foreign-art museum, it is disappointing that the Pushkin Museum has two galleries, that have separate and hefty entrance fees. Both show off a broad selection of European works, mostly appropriated from private collections after the revolution. The Gallery of European and American art of the 19th and 20th-centuries contains an impressive collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings. However, we choose to visit the original museum whose highlights includes works of art from Troy through to 17th-century, including several Rembrandt portraits, Rubens and a pleasant Canaletto (but not one that can compete with a similar representation of Venice housed at the National in London).
Alongside these works of art a temporary exhibition, Dior through the ages, had or so it appeared taken over much of the second floor of the museum. Couture, designs and jewelry through the various decades of his work were presented in a stylish and attractive manner. Yet it was not really what we had hoped to see. Tantalizingly, the galleries of ‘typical’ art could be glanced from the exhibition but stern guards blocked our way. It was only after some searching that we found the small, hidden, passage that now provided access to the rest of the museum, providing us with a few hours of quiet contemplation. Whilst in no way magnificent, in terms of both building architecture and contents, when compared to the great art museums of the world, the museum has some interesting pieces and with some of the exhibits labeled in English made a welcome change to more recent museum visits.
With our art lust satisfied we now had to prepare for our Trans-Siberian adventure. Whilst the train would have a rarely seen in the UK, restaurant car, we had been advised to take plenty of food on board. Duly noted we purchased known items such as eggs and bread along with a few unknown meats and pastry items. It was whilst trying to determine a type of meat that I found myself delivering my very best cow impression to a group of rather amused supermarket workers. From their giggles we were pretty sure that the dark colored meat was not beef but were unable to ascertain anything further. Purchasing said meat we were to find out later it was actually smoked ham. One presumes that an imitation of a pig was beyond the reach of the supermarket employees. Shame but no harm done. Provisioned for our train that would leave that evening at 00:30 we looked forward to the ballet we would be attending before departing for the train station.
Checking out from the hotel, mid-afternoon, a curious impulse had me ask the Front Desk to confirm that our Cyrillic tickets were for Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Having bought them ourselves, from the theatre ticket office, where no English was spoken, there was only a slight concern. Naturally, the tickets were for Eugene Onegin on September 30th. Oh,dear! Just when we thought we were doing so well with broken Russian, pointing and drawing (the previous day I had been reduced to drawing a picture of a train and carriage, when collecting our tickets, so that we knew which carriage we were in!). Yet, Marina and Victoria on the Front Desk solved our problems. Even though offered, freely, our unwanted tickets were purchased from us, at face value and new tickets secured through the Box Office. We would go to the Ballet that evening!
With little time now until the Ballet a brief walk through the pleasant Alexsandrovsky Gardens, along the Kremlin’s western wall, allowed us to take in both the Tomb of the Unknown soldier and the many children playing in the extensive fountain and water features that appear designed for that very activity. With the heat of summer fast approaching it appears de rigeur to strip down and bathe in this most public of impromptu swimming pools. In need of a drink we purchase from a local street vendor a dark, inviting substance that we assumed was alcoholic, possibly even Stout like. From my first sip it appeared very sweet, almost caramel like. Yet I was never to investigate further. A slight stumble had me throw the entire cup over, what had been, my fresh shirt. Much to Trey’s credit she did not laugh at my misfortune. There was little I could do but allow the warm afternoon rays of the sun to dry up the sticky mess. Not an ideal wardrobe addition for the Ballet, that evening.
With my wardrobe malfunction addressed we headed for the Ballet. Correct tickets acquired we enjoyed a competent performance of Swan Lake. As a new theatre the interior of the building lacked the warmth and charm of Riga’s opera house yet the orchestra played with aplomb for when is an evening at the ballet, in Moscow, something not to savior.
Returning to the hotel around 11pm we collected our bags and headed to the Metro for the last time. We were to depart Moscow from Yaroslavl Vokzal .
The station was alive with fellow passengers hurrying to the far eastern corners of the Russian empire. Young travelers with backpacks that towered over them, competed with Russian families and their worldly goods and obvious day trippers to the capital returning home after successful business or shopping excursions. With growing anticipation we waited the arrival of our train, the last to leave the station that evening, as darkness drew upon us. The next stage of our eastern adventure was about to begin.