Nauru Travel Diary

From Houston to Sydney 2013

From Houston

to Sydney



After yesterday’s long day (I didn’t get to bed until 3 am when I finished writing yesterday’s travel diary), we needed a physically easier day today.  Fortunately, we were able to achieve precisely that.

We rose to the alarm at 8:30 am, and lingered over a wonderful breakfast at the hotel.  We had decided that today we would be tourists rather than travellers.  Moscow is one of the cities with the red double decker sight seeing buses, and unlike the Minsk version of the concept, the Moscow buses are far newer, they are genuinely “hop on, hop off”, they come along every 20 to 30 minutes (in theory, anyway), and a ticket covers two different intersecting routes.

Although I have been to Moscow several times, I have usually done my own individual sightseeing using public transport, walking, a guidebook or two, and lots of prior research.  I had not done a guided tour by bus of Moscow since my visit in 1991, just after the attempted coup that had failed to unseat Mikhail Gorbachev.  And, of course, I had never seen Moscow from the upper deck of a bus.

We walked to the bus stop at the north-western corner of Red Square where a bus was already sitting and waiting.  We were warned when we boarded the bus that the driver would stop the bus for half an hour to eat his lunch when we reached one of the stops which was about mid-way around the circuit.

I really enjoyed the tour.  The open sides of the upper deck were a welcome change from the bus in Minsk, both because they allowed clearer viewing and better photography, as well as allowing a very refreshing breeze to cool us on what turned out to be quite a warm summer’s day.  Moreover, the commentary was clear and informative, even though Di found the lilting tone quite soporific (which explains why she drifted off to sleep on several occasions).  The speed of the drive was faster than walking pace, but not by much, and this added to the enjoyment as it was possible to study the sights and take them in fully.

We left Red Square and proceeded clockwise along the inner ring road, stopping at the Bolshoi Theatre before passing such significant sites as the KGB (now FSB) Headquarters on Lubyanka Square, the Stock Exchange, Red Square and the Kremlin before the driver’s lunch break paused the trip at Bolotnaya Square.

It was good to stretch my legs during the stop.  The park was a beautiful sight in the summer sunshine, and the pedestrian bridge to the side was being used by a steady succession of bridal couples for photographs.  However, what caught my attention most of all was an intimate collection of sculptures at the north-eastern end of the park with two golden figures of blindfolded children surrounded by 13 grotesque, and in some cases somewhat frightening, characters.  Entitled “Children are the victims of adult vices” by Mikhail Chemiakin, it is intended to be an allegory of the fight against global evil.  The figures that seem to hover threateningly around the children are helpfully labeled in English as well as Russian: Drug Addiction, Prostitution, Theft, Alcoholism, Ignorance, Irresponsible Science, Propaganda of Violence, Sadism, For those without Memory, Child Labour, Poverty, War, and in central place, Indifference.

Eventually, the driver’s appetite was assuaged, and we were on our way once again.  The rest of “Route 1” took us the inner area of Moscow to the west of the Kremlin, past the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts and the (relatively) new cathedral of Christ the Saviour before heading past the end of Arbat Street and back to Red Square.

I woke Di, who agreed to transfer over to one of the buses following “Route 2”.  We didn’t have to wait long before a Route 2 bus arrived, and we boarded.  The first part of Route 2 was identical to Route 1, so once again we saw the KGB Headquarters, the Stock Excahange, etc, until we stopped at Bolotnaya Square for the driver to eat his lunch.  It seems that the drivers on the two routes stop for half an hour to eat their lunches at quite different times.  Still, it was nice to watch the bridal couples on the bridge again.

When Route 2 continued, it no relationship whatsoever to the maps we had been issued.  We had been expecting to drive west along New Arbat Street, circle the Hotel Ukraina (one of Moscow’s seven Stalinist skyscrapers known as the “seven Sisters”) and take in a good view of the Russian White House.  Instead, we went for a much longer trip into western Moscow, following the Moskva River for several kilometres before driving past the stadiums used for the 1980 Olympic Games (where the IAAF world championships are currently being held) and then back past Kievskaya Railway Station, the western end of Arbat Street, along New Arbat Street and stopping at the eastern end of Arbat Street.

Di and I decided to alight from the bus at that point to explore Arbat Street, an old street that was closed to traffic at about the time of the breakup of the USSR so private entrepreneurs could sell handicrafts and souvenirs.  To be frank, I was somewhat disappointed today in what Arbat Street has become – it is now has a sanitized character and has gone decidedly upmarket with trendy art galleries and expensive boutiques.  This is no longer the anti-establishment place to find bargains or good, cutting edge discussions about politics that it was in 1991.

I had decided to take a walking tour at 6 pm on the theme of “Communist Moscow”.  For Di, this tour held (to use her words) “absolutely no interest”, so we left Arbat Street from Smolenskaya Metro Station to Revolution Place Station, where I alighted and Di transferred to another train to travel one stop to our hotel.

I had a short ten minute walk to the meeting point for the tour, which was Solovetsky stone, just to the eastern side of Lubyanka Square.  This large stone, set on a granite plinth outside the KGB Headquarters, was brought in 1991 from the Solovetsky Islands, the location of the Solovki prison camp, which was part of the gulag system under Stalin.  Today, the stone forms an important monument to the suffering of the tens of thousands political prisoners during Soviet times.

From Lubyanka Square, the walk continued past the building where many of the KGB’s terror suspects were tortured and kills, down the hill (past Moscow’s new Bentley dealership) to  Revolution Square with its huge statue of Karl Marx (apparently too heavy to move after the collapse of the USSR), the Bolshoi Theatre, the outside of the museum of the Gulag concentration camp system (which was closed for renovations), past some excellent Soviet-era wall frescoes and a statue of Lenin that I had not seen before), into what was described as “the world’s most beautiful supermarket”, and on to Pushkin Place on Tverskaya Street where the tour ended at 8:15 pm.

To be honest, I didn’t learn much that was new about Moscow during Soviet times – after all, I had been in Moscow in both 1987 and 1991.  However, it was interesting the young guide’s perspective on the Communist era and its pros and cons, as well as some details about Soviet history from the Great October Socialist Revolution (which was actually in November 1917) to Gorbachev’s programs of glasnost and perestroika. We heard stories of Stalin’s great terror, secret KGB prisons, the Cold War, the Soviet Movement for Freedom and much more.

There was even an example of a Soviet-era joke:

Question: How many times could you tell a joke in the Soviet Union?

Answer: Three.  Once to your friends, once to the KGB interrogator, and once to your cellmates.

Day 40 - Moscow


14 August 2013