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Thursday 19th December 2002

Waking up earlier than I would have wanted at 7am, I quietly switched on the TV and flicked through the channels on mute, as not to wake up Julie. Euronews forecasted another day at -12C. We got up shortly after 8am and went for breakfast. It was on the second floor, and all along the corridors towards the front were photographs of famous people who have stayed at the National. Most of them I could not recognise, but a few obvious ones such as Pele, Margaret Thatcher, Lenin, Stalin and Peter Ustinov!

Breakfast was served in the St. Petersburg suite which commanded an incredible panoramic view of the Kremlin. It is a shame that our room is at the back of the hotel, and not on the front, but apparently the cost of a Kremlin view would be astronomical. Also it is said that the further up in the hotel you go, the smaller the rooms get. Well, the 7th floor is their top floor, so we've got the smallest one with the worse view! In fact there's no view because the window is covered with an opaque Perspex sheet! Never mind, at least it's warm.

Anyway, breakfast was very good, despite being far busier than the Astoria. The majority of people appeared to be business men in suits with American accents. Julie was aching quite a bit this morning, she moaned that her limbs were about to drop off! Unfortunately there was no rest for the wicked as we had a full day of seeing Moscow ahead of us.

First on the agenda was Lenin's Mausoleum, and after yesterday's experience, we won't take our bags or cameras with us. We stepped outside to find it snowing gently. The doorman, who was concerned about Julie's lack of headwear, also warned us about the slippery conditions today. He was a peculiar doorman, a tall elderly gentleman, with a sad pale face and a sad pale voice but his concerns were sincere and quite endearing.

We headed towards Red Square to find that the barriers had come even further out, and a large collection of police / soldiers were gathered. A guide offering their services to show us around told us that the Kremlin was shut today, and would we like to go around the Historical Museum instead. I could see a queue forming for Lenin's tomb inside the secured area, and pointed to it. A soldier waved me on. We reached the check point and Laurel & Hardy were on guard again, but no one was being let through. A large group of English speaking school girls were in front of us and one of the school teachers told us that they weren't too sure when they were going to open today because President Putin had a visitor, which also explained the extra security.

It had just turned 10am and within a few minutes we started to be let through. We managed to queue jump the school kids. They all had rucksacks and we didn't want to be behind them whilst Popeye Doyle and Cloudy Russo went through their Good Cop Bad Cop routine. We walked up to the police officers with their metal detectors, and he rubbed me up and down. I made the detector squeak as it went over my 'love token'. It was a steel heart-shaped gift that Julie had bought me last Christmas and I always carry it in my top pocket. He just checked it wasn't anything large, and then allowed me through.

Next it was Julie, she also squeaked, but it wasn't the detector!

From the checkpoint it was a gingerly shuffle up an icy slope towards the strange looking pyramid building that is Lenin's Mausoleum.

I can remember from my childhood watching television pictures of Breshnev standing on the balcony, in the freezing cold, wearing his bearskin hat, observing the military might of the Soviet Union march proudly before him.

We walked past two other security types with metal detectors who just waved us on. So onwards we trundled to the entrance.

Our slow progress up the icy Red Square meant that those who were in front of us were long gone, and the pack of school children were still at the checkpoint, so we were alone. That is apart from the soldiers!

As we walked in, a soldier stood facing us, and immediately pointed to his hat, saying something in Russian. Obviously he wasn't saluting me, so it must have been a request for me to take my hat off as a mark of respect. This I did, and we continued inside, turning left down a very dark staircase. The entire structure appeared to have been made from dark granite or marble. The only apparent lighting was a spotlight at the bottom of the stairs illuminating another soldier, standing to attention, observing our every move. Next we turned right, down another dimly lit flight of stairs towards another spotlighted soldier, motionless, watching us. It was an incredible eerie setting. One worthy of what we were about to see.

At the bottom of the stairs we turned right again, and entered the tomb, and there he was!

Laid out to rest in a glass sarcophagus. We walked alongside, totally mesmerised by what we were looking at.

He was shorter than I'd imagined, and I didn't realise how ginger his beard was! With small ears, short arms, pale complexion, (well he did die almost 80 years ago!) it was very bizarre to think that this is really the body of one of the most important figures of the 20th Century, Vladimir Lenin.

The embalming technique had certainly given him a waxy sheen, some even say had many parts have been replaced, but there was no denying the significance of this tomb.

I've read that it costs millions of pounds every year to simply maintain the body, and there are calls for him to be finally laid to rest with a proper burial. Julie and I were alone in the tomb, except for the 3 soldiers on each corner, and we certainly felt privileged to have seen him, however morbid that seems. (The image above was taken from a postcard)

We had one last good look before leaving the tomb to make sure the memory of what we saw would stay with us. As we left we heard a rush of school children cascading down the steps, prompting the soldiers to shout at them. We were glad that we experienced our viewing without the distractions of disinterested children! By the time we reached the outside world the majority of the kids had already whizzed passed us, unforgivably bored by it all!

The exit from the mausoleum brought us to a garden of remembrance, the final resting place of many of the previous Presidents of the Soviet Union. All except Krushchev I believe. There were numerous memorial plaques placed on the walls of the Kremlin, all the names were written in Cyrillic however, but I did decipher one which was Yuri Gagarin, the first man into space. More obvious were the large tombstones with a bust placed on top. We saw Andropov and Chernenkov. Also Breshnev, who had 3 red roses placed on his grave, and a weeping lady paying her respects. Then we saw the most famous of the lot, Joseph Stalin. His bust made him look like a kind fatherly figure, but his extreme tyrannical rule of Russia was far from fatherly.

We came out of the garden back on to Red Square, but now on the other side of the barriers. Our Lenin experience was over, but what an experience to remember.

We returned to our hotel via a quick walk through the GUM shopping centre and picked up our rucksacks and cameras. As the Kremlin was shut today we decided to head for Novodevichy Convent. This involved using the metro for the first time. I had read that they could be quite confusing and they weren't lying!

The entrance to the metro was conveniently a few steps away from the front of the hotel. The station was called Okhotnyy Ryad. It was a small station with only two metro lines running through it. All we wanted was to go five steps down the orange line to Sportivnaya. Sounded easy!

Buying a ticket was easy enough. Through pointing and grunting we got a ticket each. They were incredibly cheap at 30 roubles each. What utterly confused us was that none of the signs seemed to be colour co-ordinated. We were looking for the orange line, but could we see any orange signs? Not a chance! We ended up going down an escalator to a lower level before asking a scary looking woman in a booth, with radioactive pink lipstick and Stalinesque moustache, for some directions. (Actually her facial hair wasn't that bad, but bad enough!) She sent us back up the escalators where we finally decided to pick a platform. We had a 50/50 chance but neither platform showed any indication that we were going the right way. I tried to find Sportivnaya listed on a sign but I couldn't spot it, even allowing for my lack of Cyrillic. I cursed the monk called Cyril who came up with this ridiculous alphabet!

The train arrived, and we just had to go with the flow, hoping that our collective sense of direction wouldn't let us down. At the first stop down the line we couldn't see any station name displayed along the platform walls. In fact this was a common theme for all of them. The station names are put on opposite side of the platform, so that when you are standing, waiting for a train, you know where you are? But that's of absolutely no use when you're standing inside the train wondering at which station you are arriving! Where's the sense in that?

Luckily however, they announced over the speakers that we were at Biblioteka Imeni Lenina. It was barely audible, but I caught enough of it to be confident that we were successfully on our way to Novedevichy Convent. Another four stops down the line and we got off the train. We had no idea if we had counted our stations correctly on the map so we waited for the train to leave, and as it moved out of the way it revealed the name 'C?OPT?BHAR'.

After a second or two decyphering the Cyrillic we celebrated. It was Sportivnaya!

On exiting the station we had not a clue about which way to turn, left or right? We chose right, and hoped for the best. Within a few minutes we saw the convent ahead of us, on the left. Our sense of direction was proving infallible today! My ego was certainly very pleased with itself!

We walked into the convent and immediately a security guard with his Alsatian directed us towards the ticket office. We paid the entry fee plus an additional fee to view an exhibition. At a total of 266 roubles it was quite reasonable.

The main building was called the Cathedral of the Virgin of Smolensk. It had a large golden dome with four lower ones. It was very pretty, but apparently its interior was meant to be even prettier. Of course it was closed for renovations until May.

As we walked around the sun shine filtered through the trees and the light snowfall sparkled as it fell. It was quite a magical sight!

Alongside the cathedral was a tall bell tower, and as we walked past the bells rang out. It wasn't a big 'dong' like Big Ben's, but a more intricate musical arrangement. We stood there captivated by the melody, smiling to each other. Five minutes later it was still going and we were getting bored of it!

We moved on and came across a building that had a banner strewn above the door. It was all written in Russian so we couldn't make any sense of it. We thought it might be the exhibition but the door was closed and we couldn't see inside.

The two of us stood there like a pair confused tourists wondering whether we should walk down and open the door, when it opened by itself. Out stepped a member of staff who waved us over and she nodded her head when I asked if it was the exhibition.

It was all housed in one room and on view was a collection of robes, bibles, iconastic paintings and a few candlesticks.

As exhibitions go it was quite disappointing. Riveting it was not!

We continued around the convent and past the entrance to the large red bricked Church of the Assumption. We thought about going inside to have a good look, but there were many people coming out of the church. They all turned to face the church and did the sign of the cross at least twice before leaving. We felt a little invasive and chose not to go inside and mingle with the worshippers. When it comes to religion one could easily offend.

As we left the convent we felt that it had been a very peaceful and pleasant experience and well worth the hassle of the metro.

Before returning to the confusion of the underground we walked down to the frozen lake by the side of the convent to take some panoramic photographs of the whole area.

Children played with their sledges on the slopes down towards the lake, and on the ice itself a bizarre sight of people on skis , walking around in a circle!

It baffled me as to what enjoyment was there to be found in sliding around with 6ft planks on your feet.

Skiing down a slope at high speed, I can understand, but walking in circles?

Each to their own, I suppose!

As we returned to the metro it was still snowing lightly, and because it was cold the snowflakes weren't melting on our coats. Instead they stayed intact in all their glory. Both Julie and I were amazed by them. We both admitted that it was the first time that we had seen real, perfect snowflakes! Six pointed stars, sprinkled like confetti against my black coat. We were so excited at seeing these flakes we even tried to take a photograph! The locals were giving us some strange looks, but we didn't care if we looked like children who hadn't seen snow before! That was until I almost bumped into a lamp post because I was too busy looking at snowflakes as I was walking!

Back to the metro, and this time it was a piece of cake. We got onto the train and got off two stops down the line at Park Kultury. I fancied going for a walk around the infamous Gorky Park but by the time we reached half way on the bridge over the Moskva River we decided to turn back. It was cold, we were hungry, our bladders were swollen and we could see Gorky Park in the distance. It was too far to walk just so that we could walk some more, so we decide to return to the metro and head for the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum instead.

This time the metro wasn't so easy! Park Kultury had more than just the one orange line. In fact it had a whole rainbow of lines! We wandered down escalators, up escalators, and when we were almost at the point of despair when an angel appeared before us. With well spoken English accent she approached us and offered to help. She pointed us in the right direction, and before we could thank her enough she had gone. We were so grateful for whoever she was. Apparently I was colour blind and should have been looking for the yellow line! Doh!

We got on the right train, and got off a couple of stops further down the yellow line at Kropotkinksaya. When we surfaced we came out to a view of the impressive Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer.

This building was enormous!

Apparently the original church was demolished by Stalin in readiness to build a Palace of the Soviets, but the plan never got off the ground. Then during the 90's it was decided to rebuild the church.

We decided not to go inside, choosing instead to march onwards towards the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum.

It only took a minute to find the building on our left. A sign on the gates outside said "December Nights - Last Admission 3:30pm" It was now 2:15pm.

We entered the museum, bought our tickets, found the cloakroom, and made a B-line for the toilets! What a relief! The next essential stop was the café. The good old pointing and grunting method with a polite "spaseeba" for thanks at the end of it worked a treat, and we sat down to our small feast of cheese sandwiches and crisps. It was a much appreciated watering hole.

Before we left the café we studied the guide book which had an excellent detailed floor plan of the museum. As a joke Julie pointed at a painting by Matisse called the 'Goldfish' and said in mock seriousness, "I would really like to see that painting" then added "but I bet it won't be there!" Just like the Caravaggio in Rome or the Amber Room in Catherine's Palace!

We walked around finding the majority of the highlights as shown in the guide book. The paintings of Renoir, Rembrandt, Monet, et al were wonderful, but when we entered the large room that housed the Matisse we couldn't find it anywhere! Picasso's "Boy on a Blue Ball" was there, which wasn't listed in the book, but no Goldfish! We just found it so funny!

We stumbled across something even funnier in one of the rooms. Each room had a member of staff watching everyone to make sure all the valuable treasures or paintings weren't touched, or worse, stolen. We entered this one room (room No.6) and noticed someone sitting down in the corner. Initially we weren't too sure whether she was a mannequin and part of the display or a member of staff. She could so easily have been a museum piece, fitting in quite nicely with the Louis XIV period artefacts! She had white powdered face, complete with black mole, and lilac buffón hair, as if she had stepped off the stage of a French period drama. We left the room as soon as we could before we burst into laughter! I wished that I had taken a photograph of her because she was just so funny. Despite obviously being proud of her appearance, she probably wasn't immune to people finding her hilarious! which was why I decided not to invade her privacy with my camera lens.

After the museum we thought it best not to tackle the metro again, and decided to walk back to our hotel. We could see the Kremlin walls from outside the Pushkin Museum. As we reached the walls we decided to walk through Alexander Gardens, the park to the side of the Kremlin.

It was here we came across the dramatic memorial to the unkown soldier with its eternal flame and a soldier's helmet and cape.

Two soldiers guarded the memorial.

Just after we had walked under the entrance bridge that led you into the Kremlin, I turned and took a photograph of the Trinity tower with its crowning red star alight.

Within seconds a policeman, with the MB? on his sleeve, came towards me looking very stern asking for our passports and visas. We explained that we did not carry our documents, and that they were at the hotel. We pointed at the National as we could see it from the park. He was unsympathetic, and shook his head saying "little problem". Now where had I heard that before!

His English was terrible, and we couldn't make out what he wanted us to do. I showed him a photocopy of my passport, and he asked me if I was a diplomat? I almost laughed, but said that I wasn't.

He then read out a prepared speech from a little red book. It was written in Cyrillic, but was spelling out phonetically the English words he wanted to say. All I could work out was 'pay fine'.

"So you want me to pay a fine?" I asked. "pay fine, pay fine" he repeated. At this point Julie suggested going to the hotel to get the passports. We started moving in that direction, very slowly. He kept on saying "stoop ear" but we couldn't make out what the hell he meant. He then brought out his little red book once more, repeatedly saying "pay fine, pay fine", and wrote down 2500. Pointing to the area where a large number of policemen were gathered by a checkpoint, he said "Militia" and pointed to the 2500. He then wrote 1000 and pointed to himself. I immediately understood what he meant, but shrugged my shoulders and looked confused to buy myself some time to think about what my options were!

Refusing to pay may have booked us a room in Lubyanska prison for the night. Running away could have resulted in a bullet in our backs! We could call his bluff and go to the checkpoint and cause a scene, but that could backfire with a dozen policemen wanting a piece of the action. Or I could just pay him the 1000 roubles.

I took the easy option and slid a 1000 rouble note onto his opened book. He calmly shut the little red notebook, put it back into his pocket and walked off. We stood there, stunned for a minute, then we made a quick exit from the park via the nearest available steps. We were fuming and stomped away angrily towards Red Square. We felt violated and now intimidated by the presence of the police. The police are supposed to be there to protect us, but who was there to protect us from the police?

Determined not to be put off by our bad experience we walked up to the GUM shopping centre where we strolled around for quite some time. We sat down at a "pavement-side" style café for a coffee, and browsed through our guide book to choose a restaurant for tonight's evening meal. We chose an Italian on Arbat Street where apparently the best pizzas in Moscow are to be found.

Just on our way out of the shopping centre we spotted what looked like a food shop with a large waiter mannequin outside the door, but when we got there it sold chess sets amongst other things. My stomach groaned but I was quite excited as I spotted a small wooden set at a reasonable price. They had allsorts of sets available.

My choice looked ridiculously inferior to this huge marble and mahogany set that was being bought by a Russian customer. We tried to find out much it cost but could only find one similar yet half the size priced at an astonishing 24300 roubles! That's £486!

As we returned to our hotel, just below the Resurrection Gates we were stopped again by a policeman asking for our passport and visa. This really riled me, and I ranted on that I had already paid a fine of a 1000 roubles, and that we were on our way back to the hotel.

He looked at me confused. I huffed, and repeated what I had said, with some exaggerated arm waving, and then he gave up. He just walked away! He was quite young, and perhaps we were his first extortion attempt! I may even have I intimidated him, perhaps?

Anyway we went immediately back to the safety of our hotel before we got fined or arrested. The doorman commented again at Julie's lack of head wear! I joked that the reason why we stuck out as obvious tourist was the lack of a hat on Julie's head. She returned with the fact that taking photographs of the Kremlin was a bit of a give away! Then we descended into hysterical reasons such perhaps it was because we smiled too much, as the locals didn't do smiling. Or perhaps it was because we weren't drinking in the streets and spitting on the pavement as the locals seem to enjoy. Even my beard got a mention because perhaps it made me look suspiciously Armenian or something? It was certainly true that Russian males weren't into beards. Only one beard had I seen all week and he looked a bit like the mad monk, Rasputin!

After collecting our passports we bravely ventured back out onto the streets of Moscow in search of the best pizza in town. San Marco was at 25, Utilista Arbat, which we found on the map, and was just around the corner from our hotel. Or so we thought!

We found the beginning of the street Arbat and before too long noticed numbers 14, and then 16 on the buildings. Not being stupid we crossed the road to the odd numbers and found numbers 17, 19, but half a mile later we were still walking. We came across the entertainment district with brightly flashing neon signs. Next came number 23, and then eventually we found the block of buildings with the number 25 on them. We had left the neon signs behind us and had almost reached the end of this street. It was with great disappointment when we just couldn't find an Italian restaurant anywhere. We were almost inconsolable. The temperature had dipped to -16C, we were tired and hungry, in fear of the police, and well over three kilometres away from our hotel!

We decided to give up, (as if we had a choice!) and trundled back slowly towards our hotel. We did walk past a few restaurants but none could lure is inside. We hardly spoke on the way back, both of us too upset! At least we did get the excitement of a presidential cavalcade passing us at hide speed. It was a large collection of policemen on motorbikes, protecting the passenger of a black limousine. It must have been either Putin, or his VIP guest, (who turned out to be the President of Kazakhstan.)

As soon as we reached our hotel room we collapsed in a heap and phoned through for room service. We were exhausted and starving, which is a bad combination to be suffering when you're reading from a very expensive menu! We just didn't care how much anything cost; we were simply desperate for some food. Julie ordered the lamb and I went for a mushroom omelette, and we asked for a bottle of 'Russian Brut' wine. The bill came to an extortionate $72 but it was a far more pleasurable form of extortion!

We sat down to our meal, but I don't think the food touched the sides of my mouth for long enough for me to taste it! We both wolfed it down like we hadn't eaten for a week! I cleared my plate first, but Julie did have a bit more chewing than I had.

I tried phoning home at 9:30pm and got an answer phone. I disconnected without leaving a message only to find that my mobile phone had charged me a £1 for a mere two seconds connection time. Now that's another extortion racket, international mobile phone charges! Never mind. I eventually got through to Hannah on her mobile; she was with my mother, shopping in Tesco, Holyhead. It was a terrible reception, as it always is inside the supermarkets, so I said I'd phone back later. I eventually got through to home and had a longer chat with Hannah and my mother. Hannah was complaining at the prices of Christmas cards. She'd bought four cards and hardly had any change back from £10. United beat Chelsea in the Worthington Cup, and now face Blackburn in the semi-finals. The Reds go marching on, on, on!

Julie started to watch a film called Buried Treasure starring the late John Thaw, about an older man who gets the news that his daughter had died, but unknown to him he had a granddaughter. From the glimpses I caught it was an excellent film.

I read the guide book for a while. It was then I noticed where we had gone wrong in our search for the San Marco Italian restaurant. I had mistaken the street we were walking down as Ultilitsa Arbat but unfortunately we were marching down Ultilitsa Novyy Arbat, or New Arbat instead! I felt so stupid and angry with myself!

I wrote in my journal, (still unable to sit in my dressing gown because of my baboonitis), drank vodka, and ate a lot of chocolate. Lights out shortly after 11pm after watching CNN for a while where they showed President Putin conducting a live televised phone in from all over Russia. (He has been busy today!)

I chuckled to myself when I remembered someone saying how similar he looks to the little sprite "Dobby" from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets! He's the spitting image!

Friday 20th>>

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