Friday, May 28, 2010

Painting the Red Square Red

May 28, 2005

Painting the Red Square Red...figuratively speaking, of course.

Wendy and Jupiter posing in front of St. Basil's Cathedral

We wake up early on Saturday morning, mostly because Jupiter doesn't know what it is to sleep late. Someday she will. But that day is not today so we're up and making plans.

First, there's breakfast. We go to the buffet room from yesterday. I have my card out and ready this time. The gentleman manning the host podium doesn't even look. He just waves us through. We're old pros at the buffet line today and move through quickly. I get the usual: cereal, pancake things, hot dogs and juice. I pick up some stuff for Wendy too as I know she's going through the line for Jupiter's food first and it is now our custom to eat as much as possible at breakfast because we have no idea what lunch will hold. Today I am really missing big fluffy pancakes and crispy strips of bacon and lots of maple syrup. Soon enough, though, I'll be headed home for those. And, of course, all the people (And German Shepherds) I missed too. I swear.

There are no empty tables so we join an older couple at theirs. They are from Sweden and speak excellent English. We talk about the view, mostly, as it's a nice one. The buffet overlooks St. Basil's Cathedral. Unlike our hotel room which overlooks the pine tree filled courtyard thing and the other side of the building.

Speaking of hotel rooms, we have to extend our stay for another night because we're not going home until tomorrow.

After breakfast, Wendy and Jupiter go back to the room and I go to the front desk to ask about another night's stay. I am told this is fine but I need to go to the tourism desk in the north block lobby to pay for it. And, by the way, I need to give them more rubles for the telephone. I give them the rubles and get directions to the north block.

I manage to find the north block with amazing ease. Guess I retained something from my travels the day before. However, I can't find the tourism desk. I find the cafe, I find the bar, the casino room, the pharmacy and everything else, but no tourism desk. No tourism office. Nothing that resembles what I'd be looking for. So I go back to the room, figuring I'll get another handy letter under my door telling me where to go.

On the way back to our room, I run into a couple who is looking absolutely lost. They comment that I seem to know exactly where I am going. I ask them what they're looking for and they're looking for the east block. It just so happens that I now know the east block very well so I am able to give them easy to understand directions.

I'm feeling much better about Moscow today. It helps when you actually know your way around a place. Friday made me miss Ekaterinburg where I always knew exactly where I was and where I needed to go to get what I wanted. So far I haven't had that here in Moscow, but we're getting better. I can get breakfast, warm milk for the baby, Evian for Wendy and coke for me. What else do we need? Well, lunch and dinner, maybe, but at this point, I'm willing to take what I can get.

Back in the room, Wendy is putting eye drops in her eyes. I take a bath in anti-bacterial lotion. I love anti-bacterial lotion. I think I would marry it if I could. I take another stab at the television while I wait. The remote is quite difficult and I have to keep taking the battery out and putting it back in to make it work. It gets stuck on the Hallmark channel a lot which is just as bad here as it is at home. I know some people enjoy it but I'm not one of them. I try to make it get stuck on the BBC World network because it's my first contact with world news that I can actually understand more than every tenth word. We also stand a chance at hearing a baseball score once and a while. The BBC however, doesn't seem to care about the Red Sox because they never report on them. They seem to be Devil Rays fans which doesn't make much sense at all. But once again, I'll take what I can get.

We decide to go out and look for the mall and the foot court Stella swears exists here. I hope it's not like the Internet Cafe in Ekaterinburg. To cross the road, you have to go into an underground crosswalk thing which is lined with different kiosks selling pretty much everything you can think of. Several of them are devoted to souvenirs for tourists just like us. They're lined with matryoska dolls. We're hoping to find a Star Wars themed one for Omar because he was so nice about calling the airline and helping us get home. And he's going to pick us up in Boston when we get there. Plus, we just like him so why not? We save the browsing for our trip back to the hotel so we don't have to carry everything with us and get to the other side. St. Basil's is now right in front of us. The square surrounding it is completely empty so we stop and pose for pictures. It's hard to take a picture with both us and the cathedral in it. I need my panoramic camera for the task. Unfortunately, the panoramic camera is back in the U.S. so we have to settle for what we can get. It seems to be the theme of the day.

We see the Kremlin and the State Historical Museum which is apparently a popular place for wedding photographs here. There's a large wedding party hanging out there all watching the bride and groom pose in front of it. We go around them. We're considerate like that. We don't see Lenin's Mausoleum which is all right because the idea kind of creeps me out. We cross the street again (above ground this time) and go into the mall.

Get your wedding photos taken here!

The mall is huge. It's huge and bright and airy and did I mention it's huge? It goes on and on and on. All the stores are big names in fashion so we can be sure we won't be spending much money here. There are some kiosks selling souvenirs and we scan over them looking for Star Wars but not finding anything. We walk further down and find out and it connects to more mall on our right. And that then connects to more store on its right. This is a never ending mall. I almost feel like we should be dropping bread crumbs behind us but the birds hanging out in the bright and airy atrium above us would probably eat the trail. We walk by a big fountain (a good landmark in place of bread crumb trails) and see it. The food court. Right there on above our heads. There's pictures of fried chicken (or what at least looks like fried chicken) and a sign for Sbarro's. Sbarro's. I can't even tell you how excited we are. Here it is, lunch time and here we are, in reach of an honest to goodness food court complete with accessible food!
Baby's First Sbarro's

We restrain ourselves and don't run to the escalators. Then we walk the length of the food court, surveying our options. We pause and look at the bilingual menu of a small cafe. There isn't really anything I would eat but I figure I can make due however Wendy determines there's also nothing Jupiter can eat so we move on.

We end up at Sbarro's where you can order by number. We know our numbers at least through ten and there are only eight meals to choose from so we're feeling good abut our chances. The good thing about this whole experience (you know, apart from that whole baby thing...) is that you get less picky about what you eat. Like the McDonald's from the other day. Fast food is now the high life. We manage to order food and drinks for everyone. We get a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, a slice of pizza, some garlic bread, and some seasoned potatoes. Jupiter gets a special child's pizza plate. No doubt another souvenir to go along with her Baskin Robbins cup.

We sit down to eat and Jupiter enjoys her first pizza, spaghetti and meatballs and garlic bread. The birds enjoy fluttering around waiting for us to drop something. Obviously they've heard about us. Guess Aeroflot told them.

After lunch, we wander around the mall a little longer. We don't shop anywhere but the kiosks. We pick out some Christmas ornaments and Wendy buys Jupiter a Russian doll that will likely never be played with (Good gift there, mom! Just teasing...relax!). We take our purchases and start wandering back to the hotel. Someone (or someones because, let's face it, we're all pretty tired) is ready for a nap. We go back to the underground walkway and I see, out of the corner of my eye, the most perfect souvenir for Jupiter's Uncle J. A Red Sox Matryoska. I go and get it immediately. While we're there, I pick out a Winnie the Pooh Matryoska for Heidi. In the next kiosk, we find more cool matryoskas including the Star Wars set we were looking for. There's also a New York Yankees matryoska that Omar would get a kick out of but we leave it. We're Red Sox people after all. Don't want to be caught at customs with that in my luggage.

The doll with which Jupiter shall never be allowed to play

So we pay for our items and take all our new purchases (saying, "How are we going to fit this in our luggage exactly?") and actually make it back to the hotel. We go upstairs and since Jupiter is asleep by this time, I try to unlock the door. It doesn't work. I try again. It still doesn't work. We go back downstairs and Wendy sits with Jupiter on a bench in the lobby while I go to the front desk to ask about the key thing.
Jupiter checking out Uncle J's souvenir

Turns out the clerk I spoke to in the morning didn't extend our stay like she said she would. But the clerk helping me now does just that and, as an added bonus, I get to pay for the room there. No more excursions to the other side of the hotel! She updates our hotel cards and our migration cards and then our room keys. While I'm there, an English gentleman comes down from the restaurant upstairs and starts yelling at the poor clerk. She's very nice to him even though he's mean to her and yelling at her about something that isn't remotely close to being her fault. I feel bad so I thank her extra nice (and in Russian!) and give English a pointed look before I go back to Wendy. Wendy's not alone on the bench anymore. A nice lady and her cigarette have joined her, which I'm sure thrills Wendy. I show her our new room keys and we go back upstairs.

We're actually able to get through the door this time, which is very nice. Wendy puts Jupiter down for a nap and I start working on the packing conundrum. Just how many souvenirs can I fit in my suitcase? Well, it's time to find out. I seem to do rather well and still have room for more so I suggest we go back to the matryoska kiosk when we go out this evening to forage for dinner. I really want to get Omar the New York Yankees Matryoska even if it means putting it in my suitcase and running the risk of being seen at customs with it.

Jupiter, post ice cream experience

I go downstairs for drinks and snacks. I show my hotel pass to the lobby guards upon exiting the elevator and then go into the little store to make my purchases. I get coke and Evian and ice cream. They have M&M ice cream cones in the freezer so I buy two of them. I have to show my hotel pass to the guards in order to get back to the elevator even though it's not been ten minutes since I last saw them. Two men join me in the elevator. They look at my bag of goodies and then look at me as though I am some kind of goddess.

"How did you get those?" they ask.

"I went into the store and bought them?" I reply, wondering if it's a trick question of some kind.

"Store? There's a store? Where's the store?" they want to know. "There's a store!" they tell each other. "Where is it?" they say to me.

" the lobby? Around the corner from the elevator?"

"Is it expensive?"

"Uh...a convenience store in the lobby of a Moscow hotel? Yeah. It's expensive," I say. "But where else you gonna go?"

They recognize this as truth and make plans to build a monument to honor my greatness. All right, I made that last part up, but the rest is true. They are impressed with me. It's funny what this hotel seems to do to people but I'm loving the fact that I am now in a position to share my knowledge with others. The elevator stops at my floor and I wish them luck as I depart. They fall to their knees and cry, "We're not worthy!" repeatedly. All right, so I made that part up too.

More of Moscow

When I get back to the room, Jupiter's up and we all enjoy our ice cream before heading out yet again in search for more souvenirs and dinner. We try the grocery store next to the pharmacy we went to with Olga. It's a fancy grocery store and doesn't really work out for us so we move on.

We're walking away from Red Square, in hopes of finding something new. We pass a cafe with a bilingual chalkboard menu. Hey, we could probably eat there. We note its location and keep walking. We go into another underground walkway to get to the other side of the road. There's a nice looking park up ahead. We're aiming for that. On the other side of the street are more shops. One of them is a sword store and I want to in and buy everything I see but Wendy won't let me.

"But they're pretty!" I say.

"There's not pretty," Wendy replies. "What's wrong with you?"

Hard to say, really. But we move on.

Not far from the sword store is a baby pharmacy. We are very happy people. We might even be the happiest we've been this entire trip. Well, maybe not quite that happy, but we're still pretty happy. We go inside. I have to leave my bag in a locker. It takes me a while to get the key out to take with me. I think the ladies behind the counter are having a good laugh at my expense. It's all right. I'm used to it by now. I finally get the key and go and join Wendy and Jupiter.

They're standing in front of the baby food display. That's right, people, honest to goodness baby food with which Wendy can feed her daughter!! There's is much rejoicing and we do the dance of joy. The ladies behind the counter call security. Just kidding about that last part. Wendy picks out some jars and we move to the register where we find a display of baby cookies, just like the kind we had in Ekaterinburg and just like the kind we were lamenting we had to go on a very long plane ride without. So, as you can probably guess, we bought them. Jupiter screams when she sees the bag so we have to open it and give her not one, but two. One for each hand. I comment that maybe we should get another bag. Just in case.

We leave the pharmacy and walk up the road to another underground walkway and this time, end up in the park. There's a lot of glass on the ground when we first exit the walkway so Wendy doesn't put Jupiter down until we've cleared it. Jupiter drops her cookie and then screams when we won't let her pick it up so we get her another one. It's hard when you can't explain to someone that the food isn't going to run out and it's really going to be okay. But I think we're doing all right so far. Well, Wendy is. My job is really to hold the cookie bag. But I'm really good at it.

The park is pretty and is filled with people and even a cafe in a tent. Jupiter's fascinated by the pigeons. She drops her cookie again and we give it to the pigeons. This too is hard to explain. It doesn't go over as well, especially where it isn't followed the replacement of the lost cookie so we cut our leisurely park walk short and head back to the hotel.

When we get back, Wendy talks to Stella about tomorrow. We're leaving at 10am, which is nice because it means we'll have time for breakfast. Boris will meet us in the lobby then and take us to the airport. We won't have a translator with us. We didn't last time either so we're okay with that. Then Wendy talks to Omar. I go forage for food for us while she does. I go to the cafe downstairs and get coke and evian and pringles. It's a feast. We top it off with one of the last Lindt milk chocolate bar for dessert. We're leaving the last one for the housekeeping ladies. The milk chocolate bar is better than the dark chocolate one we tried to enjoy when we arrived. It didn't go over well and caused Wendy to coin the phrase "Moscow...where even the stuff you brought from home sucks."

We're much happier people now.

Fed and packed, we all go to bed happy because tomorrow, we're going home.

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