Archive | 2002
August 14, 2002

Been away so long I hardly knew the place, Gee it’s good to be back home

I’m finally back from Russia, which was a very…interesting country. Here is my short list of the pros and cons of Russia…

What I will miss about Russia: Borsch, Blinies, Khatchipuri, Cafe Laima, $1 = 31 rubles, Nevsky Prospect, $2 CDs, kiosks, Russian ice cream, chicken flavored chips, Commie rallies, fake taxis, Spilled Blood market, Moskovaskaya, Gorkovskaya, Cubans from Gostiny Dvor.

What I will NOT miss about Russia: Bus 31, avoiding the militsia, people that only shower once a week, bitchy border guards, gypsies, blood on the metro, a dead guy on the sidewalk, tap water that causes immense pain, Novgorod, fearless flies.

I’ll have pictures up as soon as I find a scanner.

Now that I am back in the good ol’ USA, I have nothing to do. Welcome to Palm Desert. School doesn’t start until September 3rd this year, which is odd. Damn, I’m actually looking forward to it, too.

July 28, 2002

Russia: The White House

The White House in Moscow has played a very important role in the contemporary history of Russia. It formerly housed Russia’s parliament…

In August 1991, a group of hard-liners calling themselves the State Emergency Committee isolated Gorbachev at a Black Sea resort, announced that he was ill, and sent armored columns into Moscow. Thousands of protesters took to the streets, manning barricades and rallying around Boris Yeltsin, then president of the Russian republic. The coup collapsed after three days and the Soviet Union fell apart a few months later.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin climbs on a tank and calls on the army, the police and all members of the KGB to switch allegiances.

President Yeltsin addresses tens of thousands of people at a huge rally at the White House.

In September 1993, Yeltsin dissolved Parliament and called for new elections. Vice President Rutskoi and his supporters refused to obey Yeltsin’s orders. On October 2, they constructed barricades and blocked traffic on Moscow’s main streets. On October 3, a mob of parliament supporters stormed the police line around the White House territory and seized the Moscow City Mayor offices. On the morning of October 4, several elite divisions of Russian military forces decided to support Yeltsin. Tanks rolled up to the White House at around 5 am. Firing began at 7 am and the assault continued throughout the day. At 5pm, special troops entered the White House and arrested Rutskoi and several leaders of Parliament.

Russian troops prepare to storm the White House.

The White House after being fired on by Russian tanks.

The White House today

They obviously fixed the damage done by the military

Part of the original 1993 barricade built by pro-Parliament forces (many of whom were from communist or nationalistic parties).

A memorial to those killed in the 1993 violence.

July 27, 2002

Russia: The Kremlin

In the Russian language, “Kreml” (Kremlin) means “fortress”. All ancient Russian cities had a kremlin at their center. The Moscow Kremlin served as the seat of government for the Tsars of Russia until Peter the Great transferred the capital to St. Petersburg. In March 1918, the Bolsheviks moved the capital back to Moscow, and since then the Kremlin has remained the center of power.

This is the gate that all visitors to the Kremlin enter through. The white cathedral in the background is the recently rebuilt Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The original cathedral was destroyed by Stalin in 1931. Stalin’s dream was to use the spot to build a gigantic Palace of the Soviets – higher than the Empire State Building and topped with a statue of Lenin taller than the Statue of Liberty. The land proved too swampy to build such a grandiose structure on, so the Soviets instead built one of the world’s largest, heated outdoor swimming pools. Makes sense…

There is an area in the Kremlin called Cathedral Square, which is surrounded by – yep, you guessed it – very old churches. Here’s one of them.

Another view of that cathedral.

Here I am in front of the Senate Building with the Savior’s (Spasskaya) Tower in the background. This building is where Lenin had his office. This is the closest the guards would let us get to the building. If I remember correctly, our guide told us it used to be the presidential residence but for some reason Putin chose not to live there…because he’s special, you know.

Kate and I in front of the “Tsar’s Bell”. Weighing a hefty 210 tons, this is the largest bell in the world. It doesn’t work, though, and has never actually rung because there is a huge crack in it and an 11 ton piece fell off.

The Russians are very original when they name stuff…for instance, this cannon is named “Tsar’s Cannon”. It is the largest cannon in the world but has never been fired. The cannon balls in front of the cannon are too large for the barrel. Ah, those silly Russians.

July 26, 2002

Russia: Lenin’s Mausoleum

“Comrades, Vladimir Ilich’s health has grown so much worse lately that it is to be feared he will soon be no more. We must therefore consider what is to be done when the great sorrow befalls us…. Modern science is capable of preserving his body for a considerable time, long enough at least for us to grow used to the idea of his being no longer with us.” – Joseph Stalin

Lenin’s Mausoleum was definitely high on my list of favorite excursions in Russia…odd, I know. Contrary to popular belief, there is not a never ending Disneyesque line to see the former Soviet leader’s body (or wax dummy, if you believe that). We stood in line for about 5 minutes before being allowed to walk to the mausoleum (for some reason, the Russians block off half of Red Square during the mausoleum’s “open” hours). Before proceeding into the mausoleum you are searched for cameras, of course. When you enter the nice air-conditioned tomb, you walk down a flight of stairs…I almost tripped down them due to the lack of light. Then you proceed to the room with Lenin…and there he is chilling in his glass coffin. My first thought was “damn, he’s short”…because he is…and he is also wearing a black tie with white polka dots…what’s up with that? They should change his tie color according to the seasons. Anyways…you walk around Lenin’s glass coffin under the watchful eyes of four very serious-looking guards. I suppose that the Soviets meant for this to be a solemn place, but when I got out of the mausoleum I wanted to laugh…because it is so crazy that they preserved Lenin’s body and put it on display for millions of people to gawk at! Lenin would have been sooo pissed if he knew Stalin was going to do that.

Lenin’s Tomb was also used as a parade reviewing stand by leaders of the USSR, as shown in this picture. After Stalin’s death, his preserved body was placed alongside Lenin’s, but was later removed as part of Kruschev’s “de-Stalinization” process. He is now buried behind the mausoleum.

Red Square…Lenin’s Mausoleum on the left…notice the Communist rally!

Up close view…The letters in the middle are Cyrillic for “Lenin”.

Kate, myself, and Will in front of the mausoleum.

Me and Will.

Me in front of the mausoleum striking a pose in a fur commie hat.

Will strikes a pose…astounded Russians look on.

Lenin or wax dummy? You decide. I didn’t take this picture…I had no desire to visit a Russian prison, thank you very much.

July 25, 2002

Russia: Moscow’s Red Square

Red Square is probably the most well known area of not only Moscow, but of Russia as a whole. Since the 15th century, this has been the scene of public events such as rallies, demonstrations, processions, and even executions.

A Soviet era parade on Red Square.

Lenin speaks at a rally on Red Square.

Lenin walks across Red Square.

You may notice that Red Square isn’t really red…it is paved with black and grey stones. In the Russian language, “Krasny”(“red”) also meant “beautiful”, so “Krasnaya Ploschad” can also be translated as “Beautiful Square”. The translation “Red Square” which is now used, was established in the 20th century.

Red Square is bordered by the Kremlin on one side and the GUM (“goom”) State Department Store on one side (it’s basically just a huge mall now). On one end is St. Basil’s Cathedral and on the other end is the Russian History Museum. In the middle is Lenin’s Mausoleum, where you can view Lenin’s carefully preserved body (or they claim it’s him, anyway). Lenin’s Mausoleum also served as a reviewing stand – Soviet leaders would stand atop the mausoleum during military parades.

Red Square. St. Basil’s Cathedral is on the left. The clock tower is Savior’s Tower (Spasskaya Bashnya), an entrance to the Kremlin. Lenin’s Mausoleum is to the right.

A view of the other side of Red Square. The history museum, like everything else in Russia, is under scaffolding.

Kate and myself on Red Square. The GUM Dept. Store is the white building with green roof. The large white building in the background is our hotel (Hotel Rossiya) – Awesome location.

St. Basil’s Cathedral was built in the 16th century by the order of Ivan the Terrible. Legend has it that after the cathedral was completed, Ivan the Terrible had the architects blinded so that they couldn’t build anything more beautiful in another country.

In front of St. Basil’s there is a monument with the inscription “to Citizen Minin and Prince Pozharski from Grateful Russia”. Minin and Pozharski were the leaders of the army that recaptured Moscow and the Kremlin from the Polish invaders during the Time of Troubles.

This is Savior’s (Spasskaya) Tower, the most magnificent of all the Kremlin towers. The mustard colored building behind the Kremlin wall is the Senate Building, which was designed in the 18th century as the Tsar’s Moscow Palace.

July 24, 2002

Russia: Around Moscow

Moscow, or Moskva, as it is called in Russian, is a very interesting city. Too bad we only spent three days there, because there is a ton of stuff to see.

These are some pictures that didn’t really fit in any category.

Kate, Will, and myself on the overnight train to Moscow. We had sleeping cars with compartments that you could amazingly squeeze four people + luggage into. I didn’t really sleep that well, though…maybe it was the constant clickety clack of the train (U.S. trains are alot quieter) or the frequent stops that made me feel like I was going to roll out of my bed. It could have been worse, though…we could have been in the sleeping cars with no compartments…the ones where you are in a dormitory like car with a hundred or so Russians clad only in underwear…yikes, no thanks.

The Moscow metro. You can’t see it very well in this picture, but the metro stations are practically works of art. They are mostly made out of marble with huge statues and murals of soldiers, peasants, or workers. Sure beats the bland DC metro…then again I’ve never walked into a DC metro car that had a large pool of blood on the floor like the metro car in St. Pete, so ehhh maybe I’ll stick with the bland DC metro.

Guess what restaurant this is! It should be apparent even if you can’t read Cyrillic. It’s TGIFriday’s!

This is a picture of some soldiers that I took from very far away. These particular soldiers still wear Soviet insignia on their berets. We encountered some of these soldiers while we were waiting in line for ice cream. I think they were demanding that Will give them 10 rubles, but we just said “Ya ne panemayu pa Russki” (I don’t understand Russian) about 10 times and then left…and thank God they didn’t follow us. They coulda kicked our ass.

This is a communist rally that we stopped to take pictures of. All they did at the rally was wave USSR flags, play commie music, and speak about commie stuff. The main participants of these rallies are old people holding portraits of Josef Stalin.

Another pic of the commie rally. I bet the Russians wanted to kick our ass, because here we were, a bunch of Americans taking pictures of them, drinking Coca-Cola, and saying “huh, that person’s holding a portrait of Stalin!”

July 23, 2002

Russia: Novgorod

We took a day trip to Novgorod, a Russian city founded in 859 AD. It is a 3 hour bus ride from St. Pete to Novgorod. What’s in Novgorod, you ask? Churches. Lots of very old churches (built around the 10th and 11th centuries)….and that’s about it. I don’t recommend Novgorod unless you like going to churches or are very interested in Russian icons. We saw tons of those, and we even saw one that apparently cries sometimes (riiight).

A monument inside the Novgorod Kremlin.

A Russian beach! Outside the Novgorod Kremlin.

Me on fire…no actually the film developer screwed up what could have been a nice picture.

A church.

Me in front of a peasant church. Girls had to wear skirts and headscarves if we wanted to go inside a monastery. I bought a headscarf at a kiosk in a metro station. It had pink flamingos on it and was awesome.

July 22, 2002

Russia: The St. Petersburg Zoo

The St. Pete zoo was the most pathetic zoo I have ever been to, yet at the same time quite entertaining. A quarter of the animals aren’t even in their cages. Zoo employees have them out so you can take pictures with them (for several rubles, of course). The cages are surrounded by a waist high fence that is supposed to keep people from getting too close to the cages and having their arms torn off by the lions or something, but if you pay the cage cleaners a few rubles they will look the other way as you climb over the fence…if there are no employees nearby, then parents will lift their kids over the fence and let them feed the animals. The animals look pretty depressed because not only are they in a zoo…they are in a RUSSIAN zoo! The monkeys go nuts and scream and rattle their cages…what a great zoo.

A lion. He got really pissed and started roaring very loudly. The Russians just stood there and laughed at him.

I like polar bears, so I had to take a picture of them. Their living area was actually one of the nicest of all the zoo animals, and that’s pretty sad. Their water was a nasty green color.

July 21, 2002

Russia: McDonald’s & The Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg

A meal at McDonald’s and a ballet at the Mariinsky Theater – an evening of culture indeed!

The McDonald’s in Russia was great. They have fried – not baked – cherry pies and kiwi McFlurrys! We went before the ballet, and the Russians gave us some weird looks because we were all dressed up.

The Mariinsky Theater – home of the world reknown Kirov Ballet Company – is absolutely beautiful. The ballets themselves were pretty entertaining. We saw three different ballets. The first was a traditional one and was pretty boring, but the second and third were more modern and thus quite entertaining.

Kate and I in front of McDonalds

Kate and I at the Mariinsky Theater…too bad my camera sucks and you can’t see the interior.

Back to the index of photos

July 20, 2002

Russia: A flooded Grand Hotel Europe in St. Petersburg

The Grand Hotel Europe is one of the nicest hotels in St. Pete. It is located right off Nevsky so we would always go there to send postcards and exchange money because the employees there speak English, woohoo! Anyways, it rained almost every day we were in St. Pete and one day it rained so much that the lobby flooded.

Kate and I in the flooded GHE lobby.