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Tag: Spaaace!

Moscow

Ever since I knew I’d be going to Moscow, the thing at the top of my list was the Cosmonaut museum and the monument to the conquerors of space. SPAAAAAACE!

It’s probably been at least 20 years since I went to the Kennedy Center in Florida, and I know it was great but I don’t remember a whole lot about it in detail. Then of course there’s the Air and Space museum in DC which is fantastic, but I was looking forward to seeing the story from a Russian point of view.

The Cosmonaut museum was super awesome. I must have spent 2-3 hours there, and it’s not big, but it packs a lot in. I’d been worried I wouldn’t be able to read anything or get any details, but I paid for an English audio guide as well as a pass to take pictures, both for photography and to use Google translate’s instant photo translation on my phone. (Proof we live in the future – does this mean we’ll have a babelfish or a universal translator soon?!) To be honest, I’d have skipped the audio guide and just used the photo pass. The guide was annoying and slow and only an overview, and while it’s great that they have it, I preferred working out the actual labels I was interested in.

Anyway, in addition to the proud display of Soviet and Russian space achievements, they also showed what other countries had done, particularly the US, in a great cooperative spirit, which is so nice to see. One of the things I love about space exploration is that it brings countries together that are often at odds in other areas. There was, I thought, a particular emphasis in more than one place in the museum on the fact that the plaque placed by Apollo 11 says ‘We came in peace for all mankind’. And even just seeing Russian and English directions for assistance on the back of the Soyuz landing pod (a real, used one!) shows the expectation that everyone will help when necessary because it’s about humans rather than Russians or Americans or whatever. SEE, WE CAN ALL GET ALONG. In space at least.

Before I went in, I walked around the monument (which the museum is underneath) and there are lots of monuments of famous Russian cosmonauts. Including, right next to Yuri Gagarin, one of Valentina Tereshkova, which I was specifically looking for and really excited to see. It’s rubbish that it took so long AFTER Valentina to get another woman into space, but I’m happy that the USSR did put her up there, and what an awesome lady to go first. She is all about going to Mars and she’s nearly 80 now!

Aside from the cosmonauts, the Moscow Metro may have been my favourite thing about the city. the stations are amazing, and all so different. It’s pretty hard to get a proper look at them when it’s busy because no matter where you stop, you’re in the way. But pro tip: It’s all pretty empty on a Saturday morning. You can spend a long time bouncing around between stations and metro tickets aren’t timed, so you could technically be underground all day for less than 50p. I only did 2 hours at a stretch though because that’s long enough to be away from daylight.

I did go to the Kremlin because I felt like you sort of HAVE to go to the Kremlin, but I wish I’d only done the Armoury Chamber and not paid another 500 roubles to get into the Cathedral territory. I just wasn’t up for another 6 or 7 cathedral interiors. Plus it was a gorgeous sunny day! I tried for like, the 3rd time to go see Lenin’s mausoleum but it was closed again (it appeared to not have any kind of normal opening schedule) so instead I got some mulled wine and a pancake at the christmas market in Red Square and planned the rest of the day’s wandering while getting warm-booze-toasted in the middle of the day.

I had some lovely outside wanders in Moscow too. Red Square (and GUM) at night (where they kept playing the tetris song, which I found hilarious), the Boulevard ring at sunset on that beautiful Friday when I escaped the Kremlin early, Gorky Park and Muzeon Arts sculpture park on the river, where they have all the old Soviet monuments that have been removed from various places around the city. There’s a whole lot of Lenin and Stalin going on in there, but there’s lots of other non-soviet-themed sculpture in the park as well.

It finally snowed on Saturday, which made it feel like proper winter at last and gave me my first taste of the treachery of walking on snow and ice on the way to the Moscow Swing Dance Society. The blast of cold was, as always, appreciated when I exited the dance, for at least the first 3 minutes anyway.

On my last day I decided to go ice skating at VDNH because YAY and Russian winter etc etc. I’d seen the rink in Gorky Park which was impressive, but apparently the VDNH one is the biggest in the country (which begs the question, is there a bigger one somewhere ELSE?) so I HAD to go there. Turns out ice skating is like riding a bike. I’ve not been in years and years (no idea why because I love it) but I got on the ice wobbled for like, 5 seconds, and was off just fine. I’m not the best at stopping, but I didn’t fall or careen into any stray small children. I even got some good pace going. It was a good day for it too. Between that, the dancing the night before, and very little sleep in between, I was sufficiently tired out for my overnight train to Kazan.

Moscow sort of felt to me like the Russian equivalent of London. It was an interesting place to see, and there’s a lot happening, but I think St Petersburg is nicer. This seems to be the consensus among all the Russians who asked me which I preferred as well. In fact, I think some of them might have been shocked if I had said I preferred Moscow. I had just as much fun there though, and once again had absolutely fantastic hosts.

Check out the full Moscow flickr album

St Petersburg

So once I remembered that I have very little patience for (most) museums, I kicked off three months of Kate Walks Around Foreign Cities Looking At Things Til She Can Barely Stand Up and Also Eats A Lot. My two favourite travel activities!

On my first full day in St Petersburg, Elena made another incredible breakfast and then we set out to do an epic walking tour of the city. She had printed out loads of information from the interweb and she proceeded to hit me with just the right amount of facts about everything we saw all day. We walked about 15km in 7 hours. Later on when I was looking up lists of must-see things in the city, I noticed we’d seen pretty much ALL of them –  the standards and the ‘often missed’ stuff. It was pretty nice out all day too, windy but sunny with no rain, so we were lucky.

We went up on the wall at the Peter and Paul fortress and all up and down the river on both sides. Then after a pizza and wine stop we walked down the Moika embankment in the dark and saw my favourite sculpture of the day, the monument to Alexander III, DIRECTLY OPPOSITE a bizarre sculpture of a baby riding a T-Rex (because St Petersburg knew I was coming). After we saw where Elena went to university, we went to an amazing bakery (Sever) and picked out some cakes to try once we were home with massive cups of tea.

Sunday was a bit of a day off because I couldn’t walk for another 7 hours THEN dance. So we had an easy walk to see some close-by sights in the rain, bought a bunch of local chocolates, then made a tasty, traditional dinner of salted herring, potatoes and salad. Then I went to the regular Summertime Swing Sunday night social at Freedom Palace! Slightly nerve-wracking at first, but I had a lovely evening. I even got a high five from one of the guys I danced with, because ‘It’s so cool that I don’t speak much English and you don’t speak Russian but we can still dance!’ And yes, it totally IS.

(I’ll do a full post on dancing in Russia once I’ve been to the Moscow Lindy night tomorrow.)

Monday was another rainy day, and I managed to get proper soaked in the morning after going to start my visa registration. I bought some postcards and then went back to the Freedom Palace to dry off and write them, which is actually an anti-cafe where you pay for your time there instead of your drinks, then you get to have as much tea, coffee, and cookies as you like while you sit in various comfy spaces and use the wifi. It’s such a great idea! The first one was started by a dude in Moscow and now there are different ones all over Russia and popping up in some other European cities as well. I’m already trying to figure out how I can open one in Edinburgh.

In the afternoon, I went back to the Peter and Paul Fortress to go to the small museum on the history of rocket development, because SPACE! And I also went to the History of St Petersburg museum, because why not? (also it was free with my rocket ticket.) And actually it ended up being really good. I spent more time in there than I expected to, and I was last out. The guy in the coat check was giving me a good-natured hard time for it. They just had all sorts of stuff on the progression of the city and whole rooms on travel and cinema and kitchens and everything else you could possibly want to know about what things were like in the city for the past 300 years. But the thing that made me wish I had more time was this crazy little video in one of the rooms on how they raised the Aleksandrovskaya column in Palace Square. It was all in Russian, but it was animated in that weird Monty-Python-esque style of like, moving cut out illustrations on static backgrounds with matching ridiculous sound effects. I really wanted to watch the whole thing but there wasn’t enough time. It was hilarious AND informative.

There was an hour between museum closing time and when I was supposed to meet Elena and Elena (yes two!) for dinner, so I wandered around looking for a cafe and found an amazing coffee shop (Double B I think it was called) where I had a much-needed flat white and a sit down before being introduced to the tasty, tasty world of Georgian food at Tbiliso. Oh my god. I clearly need to go to Georgia because they have the most delicious stuff ON THIS EARTH. There was fried bread with cheese, there were all sorts of dumplings, there was chicken in some kind of heavenly nut sauce, there was a spicy red beef soup, there was VERY GOOD WINE, and there was some kind of nuts in grape and honey stuff for dessert. And I wanted to try just about everything else on the menu too, which all looked so different from anything else I’ve ever had. I practically rolled home and flopped into bed like a beached whale.

Then I was down to my last day, which was lovely and sunny again, and I finally went IN to a cathedral. that Church of Our Saviour on the Spilt Blood is covered top to bottom in mosaics, which is pretty impressive. And there was a wee display on the restoration of everything which made my dork heart happy. I took another long walk in the freezing sunshine, broken up by a fancy lunch and a trip to the central post office (massive!) for stamps. And my last stop was the Kunstkamera, which was all right, but by the time I got to all the weird medical specimen babies in jars (um, yeah) I was a little too tired to keep my stomach from going all blergh. So I left and had a coffee and cake before one last dinner at home with Elena. Then it was off to catch the Red Arrow overnight to Moscow.

St Petersburg is beautiful. I can definitely see why it’s called the Venice of the North, and I’d love to come back in summer for all the festivals and dancing and WARMTH. All the better for endless walking and eating. It’s a nice bridge between Scandinavia and the rest of Russia though, so it was a really good way to start I think. And big, big thanks to my first host Elena, who went out of her way to make me feel at home. Hooray for Couchsurfing! It was my first guest Tatiana who put me in touch with Elena in St Petersburg as well as my hosts Yana and Ifan in Moscow and I have been incredibly well taken care of so far. What an awesome way to travel.

Here’s the full Flickr album of St Petersburg

Another reason to be excited about DC

I’ll be in the US in a month and I’ve got a pretty packed schedule while I’m there. I’ve been pretty slow about figuring out what it is I want to do on the few days that haven’t been planned out yet so I’m starting to get to critical ‘figure it out or wing it’ stage now.

Initially, I really wanted to find a regular swing dance night in either DC or Raleigh, NC to check out. While I’m generally socially terrified to rock up to something like that on my own, I know Lindy Hoppers are a friendly bunch, and it would have been really cool to see how stuff goes down in a different city. Plus I’m sure I could have dragged a friend with me and peer-pressured them into taking a beginner lesson. However, it seems The Jam Cellar in DC is on a Tuesday and The Lindy Lab near Raleigh is on a Thursday. And naturally, I will be in DC two Thursdays in a row, and in Raleigh on a Tuesday. WELL PLAYED, ME. So that’s unfortunately out this time around.

So last night, I went back to check the website of the 9:30 Club in DC (the best concert venue ever ever ever) to see if there had been any schedule updates. To my surprise, I found that Ben Folds is playing a sold out show on the Friday I bugger off to Frederick for the night. I kicked myself for not knowing about that, because to see Ben at the 9:30 Club again would make me so happy I can’t even explain it to you. But then I saw a wee link to the Lincoln Theatre show he’s playing on the Thursday that I AM in the city. And it’s NOT sold out.

SO.

I AM TOTALLY GOING TO SEE BEN FOLDS (for the eleventy-billionth glorious time) IN DC! Liam and Bobby are coming with me and they’ve never seen Ben live so that will be EXCELLENT.

Now I just have to figure out what to do during the day. It may be time for a trip back to the Smithsonian Air and Space museum, because after spending $45 on a Ben Folds ticket, free stuff is definitely a draw. Also: SPACE. Also: horrendous freeze-dried ice cream. (And regular ice cream, obviously.)

 

If we can get to the moon…

Dream the impossible, go make it happen. And sooner or later you’re going to surprise yourself. Just go out and do your best.

Captain Gene Cernan, the last man on the moon, on what it’s like up there and what he hopes it teaches humanity.