EDITOR’S NOTE: Burien resident Fred Feiertag’s column for The B-Town Blog will help you start your week every Monday. He shares his observations, travel stories, wanderings and more…
This will be the fifth chapter of my recollections of being in Moscow, Russia.
Eighteen years ago, is starting to seem like a lifetime. I was noticeably younger then. I may have been near my peak as an engineer but was learning each day to be more of a diplomat. I found that to be more than a little stressful. Fortunately, our work was not round the clock. When the day or week ended, I could shift into full time tourist. I tried to make the most of those days. One of the first things I asked our hosts was where to go shopping as a tourist. This led to a wonderful set of experiences.
Everyone I asked said the same thing – go to Izmaylovskiy Park. Thanks again to our trusty guides we ventured out on a nice Saturday morning. Another metro journey took us to a different area of Moscow than we had yet seen. Here we joined quite a crowd of native folks going out to do some shopping. Oddly it seemed to us is that many carried bags and bundles towards the market. Only later did we find out that what they carried was to be sold or traded.
It was a long walk from the metro station with buildings on one side and a wooded parkland on the other. Both were well protected by fences. It seemed that this wide walkway was just to funnel the shopping crowd. After some minutes of walking vendors started to be found along the walk. Including a cage with a bear. Russia loves her bears. Finally, we came to a gateway that split the flow. The majority went to the right towards a solidly crowded bazaar under a full cloth roof.
We – representing the tourist contingent – were sent through a toll booth towards the tourist bazaar. This was reached at the top of a wide stair that opened into a new world for us. We found a maze of paths lined with nice wooden booths with handicrafts for sale. This went on for a good way. Besides handicrafts where was every possible antique, collectable, and original artwork. We saw goods for sale that opened our eyes. There were booths with weapons, new old and clearly not for us to take home!
Ten years after the end of the Soviet era many items of the communist times were to be seen. Watches, badges, buttons, uniforms, and posters were in abundance. I found it easy to spend the entire day there. I finally escaped with some matryoshka nesting dolls, Russian fur hats, a secondhand coat, and many pictures. My compatriots were no less burdened on our trip back to reality.
The next day, Sunday, we had another treat. The Boeing hosts arranged for us to have a guided tour of the Kremlin and the Kremlin Treasury. This was a little bit special as these tours were only done on Sunday mornings. The visit could hardly be covered in less than a book of its own. I will share some pictures and some impressions. The treasury was stunning in the amount, quality, and opulence of what was shown. Jewelry, gold, platinum, art, are just some of the categories. The values of what shown must be in the billions of dollars. Much was the wealth of the Tsars. The costumes were amazing as were the carriages and weapons.
After the treasury we were given a walking tour of the Kremlin grounds. I was struck by how many churches, chapels, and icons were to be seen. There is a cathedral square inside the Kremlin walls with four large cathedrals. There is another cathedral and inside the administrative buildings are chapels and nooks with icons. This alone gave my American cold war propaganda colored brain some real jolts. Having been told for years that the communists burned all the churches and such, how did these magnificent old churches survive being in the heart of the Soviet’s heart? Enough of my disquiet for now. I was also impressed by the armory with hundreds of Napoleon Bonaparte’s army’s cannons sticking out of the foundation.
Our tour ended with us stepping out into Red Square. Here is another mind-bending experience. Red Square isn’t very square, but it is very big. It was interesting how many painted marks and stripes were on it to ease setup and conducting the many military parades that have happened here. Also, the square is paved with very coarse, rough black stone blocks. It is not a nice surface to walk on. Next to the Kremlin wall is a separate structure that is the mausoleum of Vladimir Lenin. It was closed most of time we were there and open for short hours a couple days of the week. It still drew lines of people waiting to see the preserved body of Vladimir Ilyich as the Russians tend to refer to him. I didn’t miss not being able to view him.