Thursday, July 24, 2014

DAY 35 – 20 July 2014; In Moscow

The idea of driving through to Moscow and resting the night here was one of the most sensible decisions in the journey thus far. It gave me a long night in bed and was rested well to devour a huge Continental breakfast in the hotel restaurant. The room we had checked into last night was small, though comfortable. The room lacked air-conditioning, but was great to dry the clothes quickly! Crepes were fast becoming a staple item on the meal plate. I have it with sugar/milkmaid, a variety of jams/freshly cut fruits or just plain and they taste yummy, whichever way it is had. The restaurant also served excellent coffee.

By 11 am Dattan Nair picked us up from the hotel. We had a few free hours before getting back to the hotel for a lunch organised by AMMA, All Moscow Malayalee Association. Duttan first took us to the Red Square and Kremlin. Being a holiday it did take him some time to find a slot to park the car. As we were walking to the Kremlin Duttan told us about EP Menon who, in 1962, walked all the way from Delhi to Moscow. Duttan had met him for a function in Bangalore, where he is settled. It is said that the Russian Premier, Nikita Krushchev, had offered Mr Menon a private airplane to get to Moscow, instead of wearing out his footwear! Such legends and enterprising spirit help to place one’s initiative in proper perspective, rather than be carried away by the importance of the journey.

Russia is the largest country in the world covering an eighth of the Plant’s inhabited area and is the ninth most populous country with about 150 million. It straddles the entire Northern Asia and much of Eastern Europe, thereby originally spanning eleven time zones and incorporating a variety of environment and landscape. Orthodox Christianity was adopted by the nation from the Byzantine Empire in the 10th century. The prominent influence prior to that was that of the Slavs. Thus, the Russian culture was a synthesis of the Slav and the Byzantine influences. By the 18th century the Russian Empire, that outlasted the Mongol invasion, stretched from Poland to North Alaska, becoming the third largest empire in the history of mankind. The USSR was the world’s first constitutionally constituted Socialist State which also piloted some of the path breaking technological advancements of the 20th century. The USSR was dissolved in 1991 and went through a large convolution economically and politically. In the past decade it recovered gloriously on both fronts. Its extensive mineral and energy resources helped correct the course.

The capital city of Moscow, situated on the banks of the Moscow River, is the centre of all political, economic, cultural and scientific activity. It is reputed to have the largest billionaire residents in the world and is the second most expensive city after Tokyo. It is the seat of power of the Government of Russia, the Kremlin. The Kremlin is a medieval city fortress which serves as the residence of the President of Russia. His presence there is marked with the hoisted National Flag. People were everywhere. We reached the Red Square through the GUM Mall, which is reputed to be the first shopping mall of the ancient city where traders used to aggregate to barter their goods. The first part of it was built in 1812. Today it is a magnificent modern shopping mall with galleries and something to do for every visitor. It is also famous as a cultural centre hosting art and photo exhibitions. Duttan induced us to try an ice cream, which he said is unique to the area. The young lady at the counter seemed perplexed when we were discussing the flavours that one would like to have. She dismissively mentioned that only chocolate flavour was available!

I forgot that I had an ice cream cone in hand when I came out of one of the exits to the Red Square. It isth century; the irregular triangle of the encasement spans nearly 70 acres with the walls ranging in height from 5 to 19 metres depending on the topography.
awe inspiring. Being where one had only read about and seen in photographs truly keep one's mouth open longer than required! So was the case with the St. Basil’s Cathedral, which symbolises Russia and Moscow. The Cathedral, now a museum, was built by Ivan the Terrible to commemorate the conquest of Kazan. The structure was so magnificent that the Tzar ordered architects to be blinded so that they would not replicate the beauty! The huge queue to visit the Lenin Mausoleum deterred us from venturing anywhere near for shortage of time. We spent enough time in the Square trying to soak in the atmosphere and imagine the goings on there over centuries. There are many churches in the complex such as the Cathedral of the Annunciation, the Church of the deposition of the robe, Cathedral of the Assumption, Cathedral of the Archangel, etc. The churches have rich display of Icons. The famous Spasskaya tower is another attraction. Just outside the wall is a small square with metallic plates fixed to signify what is considered to be the Centre of Russia; something akin to the Zero Mile in Nagpur. The change of guard is another visitor’s favourite. The Bolshoi Theatre, the most famous in Moscow, is close to the Kremlin, and focuses on works of classical composers such as Mozart, Wagner, etc. The Kremlin walls with 18 towers were built by Italian Masters in the 15

It was difficult to leave the historic square. But the lunch engagement with the Malayalee fraternity in Darbars was less than an hour away. By the time we reached the restaurant many of them had already arrived. The food and the conversation went on for more than two hours. Rajhu Nair – the owner of the restaurants - and his team, in the meanwhile, helped to move to a better room in the hotel. The Malayalees present at the lunch was a reinforcement of the spirit, enterprise and hard work of the community. Many of them have been there for decades and will continue there despite the love for their cities of birth. For instance, Cherian Eapen, who reached Russia in 1977, is the pioneer who introduced computer mainframes into Russia and participated in many significant technology transfers that helped the Soviet Republic. Ayurveda is popular with residents and visitors to the city. I met a few practitioners and sales people engaged in making it popular and sought after.

After some rest Dattan took us to the Moscow State University from where one can have a panoramic view
of Moscow. The place was teeming with bikers, who converge to the area in the evenings to display their machines and exchange notes. Some of them were seen freewheeling within the city! The Victory Monument is a must visit in Moscow. It was built to commemorate the victory over Germany in the Second World War, during when Russia lost over 20 million people. It is a magnificent park with fountains, promenades, huge statues, memorials and museums. Later Dattan to us to the Patrice Lubumba University where students from over 140 nationalities have come together to study. In the company of Sunny Chacko, who operates a flourishing garment business in Moscow, and George, who came to Moscow as a student at the age of 18 and is a computer professional, we enjoyed the rest of the evening in a Lebanese restaurant. The Vodka and the excellent kebabs were enhanced by the beautiful Russian belly dancers.

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