Olympic Rings, Moscow, Russia
Day 27: Yartsevo to Minsk: A visit to Smolensk on our way to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where we will enjoy a sightseeing tour of this former Soviet stronghold. (Breakfast and Dinner included)
At 9:45 we had a stop at Katyn Forrest where 21,000 Polish elite were rounded up and executed by the Russians, simply for being smart, which was a threat to Stalin. When this was discovered the Russians blamed the Germans (easy targets after WWII) and tried to divert attention by building a memorial at Khatyn Village (which I will describe later). In 1990 Gorbachev finally admitted to a mild version of the events that transpired here. The memorial here is very serene, a pathway through the woods with little memorials throughout. After walking through I used the bathroom before heading to the Belarus border, a very good decision.
At 11:00 we arrived at the Belarus border and made it into Belarus fairly easily by 11:55. Once in Belarus we had to turn our watches back 1 hour. At 12:15 we had a lunch stop on the side of the road. It had a closed restaurant on our side of the road and an open one (with a decent bathroom, or so I’m told) on the other side of the road. The bathroom on our side of the road was the worst bathroom I have EVER seen in my life! It smelled from a mile away too. I skipped using the bathroom at this stop.
Day 26: Moscow to Yartsevo: From Moscow, we continue to Smolensk – visit “Borodino” on the Dnieper that became the strategic key to Moscow in 1812 and 1941. Later we arrive at our overnight hotel in Yartsevo. (Breakfast and Dinner included)
At 6:30 we arrived at our hotel – the Motel Oasis, best described as a truck stop in the middle of nowhere, Russia. Outside waiting for us was Dodgy Michael; we had been warned not to buy his cigarettes or his Vodka as they were both of very questionable quality. This hotel wasn’t terribly nice, the only nice thing was that my room (and some others, but not all) had a bathroom and separate bedrooms or a bedroom and a living room. When you walked into our room you were in a foyer and straight ahead was a bedroom (Tania’s) and to the left was the bathroom, both the bathroom and the bedroom connected to my bedroom. Maggy had warned us we might not want to shower here. While I couldn’t smell the water (still had a cold) I was told it did have an odor to it, and the shower had seen better days, about 50 years ago. Every Contiki tour has a dodgy hotel, this was ours.
Days 25: Moscow Sightseeing: Two days to explore this fascinating city. Our sightseeing tour includes the Kremlin, the onion domes of St Basil’s, Red Square and the GUM Store. There’s even the opportunity to travel on the Moscow underground! (Breakfast and Dinner included)
When we were on the bus after the circus we saw two drunk guys fighting, fortunately they were too drunk to actually hurt each other. But one guy did take his shirt off for the fight, but all he did was kick the tire of our bus and stumble off in the other direction. When we got back to the hotel I got my stuff ready for a bus day the next day and then went with Tania to send some emails. I finished before Tania and decided to pop into the grocery store on the way back, not my brightest idea at 11pm. I was looking around and then noticed someone looking at me, for a second I thought maybe he was someone from tour, he had on goofy glasses, but he was just a weirdo. I made a quick exit and went back to the hotel, lesson learned.
Days 24: Moscow Sightseeing: Two days to explore this fascinating city. Our sightseeing tour includes the Kremlin, the onion domes of St Basil’s, Red Square and the GUM Store. There’s even the opportunity to travel on the Moscow underground! (Breakfast included)
When we finished on the Metro Galina put us on line to see Lenin’s tomb. We waited on line for a little bit, then had to put our cameras and bags in a security thing since they can’t go in. Going into the tomb was a very weird experience. After going through security you go inside the building, it’s quite dark and the floor looked like granite, it was hard to see. There were guards when you first walk in, then you go down stairs and there were more, maybe 6 or more in each spot. Then when you walk into the room with his body there were only 2 in there, but at this point you’re afraid to do something anyway, it’s a very intimidating experience. Once in the room you walk on a pathway around the body, you can’t stop or put your hands in your pocket (I heard someone did that and a guard came right up to him). The body is encased in glass and looks very waxy, totally unnatural – it was a parafin waxy look to be more specific. When Lenin died he wished for a small funeral with little fanfare. Stalin had a huge funeral with lots of fanfare for Lenin, he also ordered that his body be maintained so people could see him, like me. He told the Russian scientists to figure out a way to maintain the body. According to Lonely Plant the body is wiped down every couple days and then they use paraffin wax on the body to keep it looking fresh, that explains the waxy look. You too can have this done to your body, you just need to pay 1 Million dollars. After Stalin died his body was put with Lenins, but after 3 years Kruschev had his body removed from the tomb and buried.
On the way back Lis and Jilly wanted to sit for a few minutes, it had been a long day and it had started getting hot out. Only Kate, Andrew and I waited with them, the others went ahead for lunch. The 5 of us ended up at the underground mall by Red Square having lunch at the food court – we had pizza with bad salads, we also ran into Tom, who had been released from the hospital, I think Lis had sent him a text message about where to meet us. At 3:00 the group met outside the Kremlin for our tour of the Kremlin. Once inside there are areas where you can and cannot walk, they get a little pissy if you cross the line. While inside the walls we saw a group of the military marching in formation, they started heading in our direction but Fraser didn’t see them and they just kept marching right into him, it was pretty funny! Inside the armory we got to see some of the Tsar’s Faberge Eggs, which were very nice. But I was so tired that it was hard to concentrate on what Galina was saying. After that we went to dinner near Red Square and had Borst (soup) which I didn’t like and Chicken. After dinner we tried to go to a bar, but the one that had been picked out wasn’t that good so most of us left. We went back to the hotel and tried to go into the Vodka Museum which was nearby, but it was closed. We ended up in the hotel bar having a few drinks, Daniel was there, he had been released from the hospital and was feeling a bit better.
Day 23: Novgorod to Moscow: Past Klin where Tchaikovsky lived, then a short drive to Moscow where we enjoy a first glance at the city sights, including Red Square. (Breakfast and Dinner included)
We arrived in Moscow at 6:15, picked up Galina, our Moscow guide, and Maggy gave our passports to someone else to go get our Belarus Visas. Galina talked to us a bit about Moscow and Russia on the way to Red Square for our group photo. On the way over to Red Square I saw a kid walking around with a stuffed mouse, what? Who would want a stuffed mouse? And no, it wasn’t Mickey. Don’t kids want giraffes like me? So we walked into Red Square where the Red Army has marched countless times. We were quickly lined up for our picture, we took a couple and of course I was squinting in the one they picked, owell, but St. Basil’s is in the background. In Red Square they were cleaning up from the concert the night before, the one that Tania and I had watched on TV, I guess it was live.
When we got back to the hotel the girl who had taken our passports wasn’t back yet, she was stuck in traffic, and so the hotel would not let us check in. Around now the trip was getting to me, I was tired and it had been a long day, I even commented to Kate that I was ready to kill someone, no one in particular, just that I was on the edge. I had been one of the last to get into the hotel and I heard Maggy announce that we couldn’t get our rooms yet and that we were going to leave our bags in the lobby (with someone watching them) and the rest of us would eat. Everyone was bunched up in the middle so I was waiting till they cleared out to put my bag in the middle with the others. Renae asked if I was going to dinner, I said I was just waiting for everyone to move (I think I sounded a bit short with her). Right after Fraser came over and told me I had to put my bag in the middle… Well I lost it… I yelled something about how I could see what was going on, Fraser tried to explain himself, but I just yelled at him more. I hear he mumbled something about me being a bitch, he’s not the first, wont be the last even though I really am a nice girl. Once I put my bag down I went up to dinner with the few people who were around to witness my outburst.