The long empty road across Russia eventually led us to Moscow. The first signs were miles and miles of flats, not very attractive but the roads were lined with trees which did help to alleviate the monotony of so many identical not very beautiful buildings. As with Warsaw the first priority was to make sure everyone had somewhere to live with fairly cheap rents. In the suburbs the traffic was sparse but as we approached the centre it got much busier and the driving became quite hair raising as there were so many streams.
We stayed in the Moscow camp site about sixteen miles out. This time there were splendid little wooden chalets. We did have a job to find the site so we stopped in Moscow to ask an old man, he insisted on coming all the way with us and wouldn’t accept any roubles for his return train journey. We gave him some good scented soap and he was delighted. We knew already how difficult it was to get soap of any kind.
Unpacking in Moscow
All the sites that we encountered were good and even when we stayed in their ready erected tents the floors were wood and there were electric lights in each one.
Eating breakfast in the Moscow camp kitchen, from a colour slide.
Most new buildings in Russia are dull and Stalinist but the Kremlin is superb. Much better than my greatest expectations. The cathedrals are dark, and mysterious, most of them are not used but they retain a spiritual feeling because of the iconstasis and the glittering of gold.
Looking towards Red Square. The Kremlin and St. Basils
Huge queues for the Kremlin.
The embankment of the river.
The Kremlin from the river
We stayed in Moscow for three days. On the first afternoon Betty went to the British Embassy as we had letters of introduction for our ambassador, She was received in a very cordial way. We were given tea and cakes, then I took the girls off in the bus, whilst she had talks with them about further links with schools, exchange visits etc.
At last I found my way to the Tretyakov Museum which was full of wonderful early icons but also huge Social Realist works of noble heroic peasants, idealised industrial workers or Russian landscapes. On the way back to pick up Betty I got fined a rouble for driving down a one way street. I couldn’t recognise the cyrilic script and none of the Russian speaking girls warned me! When I turned to ask the girls to find a rouble they pretended that they hadn’t got one and demanded that I should be sent to the Lubyanka!
Lenin’s tomb from a colour slide.
Before we started our journey we had shown loads of films about Russia and one showed the open air swimming pool in Moscow with people breaking the ice to swim. When we asked them what they would most like to do they asked to go swimming in the pool. It is a massive round outdoor pool divided into segments. On the site there had been a cathedral, Stalin had ordered that it be demolished and it left a huge circular hole in the ground. Stalin was going to build a great peoples palace but the war broke out and it was left. In the early 60’s they turned the hole into this pool, the biggest in the world at that time…..(TODAY I LOOKED IT UP ON GOOGLE AND FOUND THAT THE POOL HAS BEEN FILLED AND A NEW CATHEDRAL BUILT ON THE SITE!)
The round pool just below the university.
We all went into the changing rooms to get into our bathing costumes and were about to go through the door into the pool when we were met by a babooshka. She showed us (by sign language) that we had to wash all over with soap first, she made us strip and indicated where we had to put the soap. How embarassing was that for two teachers! It was a never to be forgotten experience.
We went on the underground which is quite incredibly palatial, each station more spectacular than the last. Maybe the peoples substitute for cathedrals and palaces. We were going to Red Square. to see St Basils Cathedral, visit the Kremlin, see Lenin’s grave. and visit GUM the huge department store.
Moscow underground stations (all different)
St Basils is like everyone’s dream of Russia with the gold painted pointed onion domes and the bold patterning outside. I noticed that there were some old head scarfed women right at the edge of the tourists. The old women leaning against the walls saying their prayers and going to kiss the icons. The Kremlin also seems ultra Russian with it’s massive walls made of dark red brick.
GUM Department store.
Gum…now that was something different and weird. It looks like a great prison inside, There is a ground floor with galleries above linked with bridge walkways.
There was hardly any merchandise to be seen. If you did buy something, (we bought postcards) you went to the counter selling them, the assistant gave you a piece of paper with your order. You then went miles to a check out, queued up in a long line, only then after you had paid you got another receipt to allow you to go back and pick up your purchase, it took ages and ages. It was a very bleak looking place. Strange. In the food section there were just a few tins and a few measly looking apples. Our tinned peaches would have been a great treasure.
In general I thought the Muscovites were dour, without much warmth about them, but their life was quite hard. Shop assistants were unsmiling. The golden exception was the old man who went out of his way for us. The snag is that it is very difficult to meet Russian families or even to talk to many people individually. One day we met Anna, the guide who had been waiting for us at Brest Litovsk, I’ll say this for her she did smile! The chilling thing was that she knew all our movements but I suppose that was to be expected.