St. Basil's Cathedral
Sylvia, Sofia, and I in front of the famous St. Basil's in Red Square.
In March, Sylvia and I took the opportunity to visit one of my friends and former grad school classmates, Kelly, during his diplomatic assignment at the American Embassy in Moscow. We nearly gave up on trying to obtain visas, but after three truly unpleasant encounters with the Russian embassy in Bratislava (including paying double for expedited visas), we finally were set for our trip. We flew from Kosice through Prague to Moscow and Kelly met us at the airport. We travelled to their house which is inside the American, British, and Canadian housing compound in Moscow and really a nice place. We were a bit worried about this trip because of the recent metro bombings in Moscow, but decided to travel anyway. The bombings occurred two weeks before our trip on the day we got our visas and Kelly was only two stops away on the metro when one bomb exploded. The security around Moscow was very tight and we were stopped on occasion by the police in order to check our paperwork. The police were definitely disappointed when Kelly showed his diplomatic credentials!
During our first days there, we made trips to Red Square, St. Basil's Cathedral, GUM, and Lenin's
Me in front of Lenin's Masuoleum, which was also being repaired in preparation for the famous May Day Parade (the Russians still parade their tanks, missile launchers, and troops each year through Red Square).
tomb. We were able to see the nearby graves of Russian revolutionaries as well as former party secretaries including Stalin. The most decorated tomb was that of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. We made a visit inside the Kremlin and its famous Orthodox churches as well as a boat tour through Moscow to see many of the famous skyscrapers which comprise the 'seven sisters.' Kelly took us to the famous Izmaylova outdoor market in order to look for good Russian souvenirs (I bought a nice Russian mink hat) as well as a beautiful Orthodox crucifix from the 18th century. Sylvia and I traveled to see the All-Russia Exhibition Center area with its famous buildings and fountains. One of the highlights was the Russian Space Pavilion. Many of these buildings are now used for gardening expos. One of the highlights of the trip for me was the Russian Space Museum near Prospekt Mira, which houses original space capsules, suits, and the taxidermied space dogs, Belka and Strelka, who were the first animals to be shot into space and returned.
We enjoyed our time with Kelly, but prepared to leave on our scheduled flight on a Friday. The morning of
Sylvia, Sofia, and I in front of the famous Bolshoi, which was being repaired.
our flight, the Iceland volcano decided to erupt and ground every flight in Europe, so our flight was cancelled and Kelly graciously hosted us for two days as we waited for our new flight....which ALSO got cancelled. We stayed three more days with Kelly and his family, made another trip to Izmaylova market, and enjoyed a few cookouts. After two flight delays and nearly another week in Moscow, our visas were expiring and we were in jeopardy of missing our next trip to Italy, which was to depart two days after our new flight date. The volcano was showing no signs of letting up and we began to be desperate for a way home. After some research, we discovered that there was a direct train which runs nightly between Moscow and Zilina, Slovakia. Despite Sylvia's reluctance, we booked ourselves on 37 hour trip across Russia and Ukraine to Slovakia. We departed in the rain at 10 o'clock at night from Moscow and traveled all night in our small sleeper compartment out of Russia. At about 2 in the morning, we crossed the Russian border and received no harassment from the Russian train police, despite our expired passports...perhaps because of the
Christ the Savior Church
This amazing church was completely demolished by the communists and completely reconstructed from blueprints and pictures after the end of communism.
volcano circumstances. We traveled all night and the next day across Ukraine, which despite being a very poor country, was quite beautiful and very interesting to see from a train. At many stops, people would meet the train selling various things including beer, alcohol, and even bags full of a local variety of crawfish. We traveled through Ukraine for the rest of the night, stopping for a police check in L'viv and then again in Uzgorod. At about 3 in the morning, we neared the Slovakian border and the point at which the train wheel gauges change. We waited about two hours for the wheels to be changed out from under us and another police check, before we were on our way again. The next morning we met the Slovak border, where a final EU police check cleared us to enter Slovakia. We arrived into Kosice at about 10 in the morning and to our surprise, our train car was now the very last car on the train! Although our trip to Russia was plagued by difficulties from beginning to end, it was an excellent trip, a great chance to see old friends, and a true adventure.
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