September 9th, 2009 ~ Moscow
|Gate to the Kremlin|
I'm on my way back to Siberia's Lake Baikal for a second autumn working alongside members of the Great Baikal Trail Association (GBT) as they move forward with the development and construction of hiking trails in national parks and reserves surrounding the lake.
Last year I traveled with three American trails experts-John Griffith from the California Conservation Corps, Suzanne Wilson from the Pacific Crest Trail Association, and John Schubert of the U.S. Forest Service. This year the team is composed of me and Jennie Douglas, an expert in organizational design who will be lending her skills to assisting GBT as it continues to expand. Jennie is a terrific world traveler making her first trip to Siberia.
We were met at the Moscow airport by Maria Gendricks, a young Moscovite, she had volunteered two summers with the Great Baikal Trail Association to work on trail crews. She has finished college degrees in tourism and psychology, and had agreed to be our guide for the day.
She led us to a railroad platform just outside the terminal where we caught a train for the 35 minute ride into Moscow, then transferred to the subway for the run into the heart of the city, enjoying the marble stations and steep, very long escalators. Very fast trains arrive every minute or two, and were packed with people.
Finally we climbed five flights of stairs to Petrovka Loft, our little hotel in an out-of-the-way building about five minutes' walk from Red Square. There are just ten rooms on one floor with shared bathrooms down the hall. The young woman at the desk told us her name was Kseniya. "It is pronounced like the warrior princess," she told us. "Xena."
I asked her if she was, in fact, a warrior princess. "I have taken a lesson in karate," she laughed. It was about one in the afternoon when we left the hotel to walk with Maria. Jet lag was beginning to kick in, but we'd just met a warrior princess and I figured we could fight through fatigue for awhile.
"You are hungry?" Maria asked, though it was more of a statement. She led us to a buffet-style restaurant called Mao-Mao. It was decorated in early Holstein black and white with rustic ranch furniture. "It is as the cow would say," Maria explained. "Moo Moo."
|Jennie Douglas tries out the local fashion|
Buffets are good for travelers who don't speak the local language—simply point and smile and nod. We had a good meal of soup, vegetables, and potatoes fried with mushrooms, all washed down with big glasses of a cranberry/wild berry drink that Maria told us was her favorite.
Maria told us that in her free time she likes to go with her boyfriend Pavel to the countryside where they hunt for mushrooms. "This is a very popular activity," she told us. "My boyfriend and I have a contest all summer to see who can find the biggest mushroom. He always lets me win. That is a good thing for him to do."
Our afternoon walk took us around the outside perimeter of the Kremlin. I like getting my directions locked down in a new city (you never know when you might need to tell yourself the direction of South Southwest), and I like to understand the size of the place. Red Square is closed for an international band competition, but we could look in from each end and could feel its dimensions from the distance our encirclement of the Kremlin had entailed.
Along the way a young couple overheard Maria explaining architecture to us in English and they asked her several questions. They were from Lyon, France, and were disappointed to miss Red Square. Was there anything else they could do, they asked. "You could come with us," Maria told them, and they did, sticking with us for the rest of the afternoon and becoming very pleasant travel companions.
Maria showed us a number of churches, many of them very old, and took us through GUM—the famous State Department Store near Red Square. Built in the 1890s, it has an arched lattice-and-glass roof over three stories of stores, the banks of shops connected by foot bridges.
|Our guide Maria Gendricks (left), Jennie Douglas (right) and the French couple who joined us as we walked around Moscow|
I was really feeling the fatigue of very little sleep in the almost two full days since we'd left Seattle. Jennie insisted we stay awake until at least 8:30 p.m. We had a light dinner, then hit the pillows and were deeply asleep for the next ten hours.
Kseniya the Warrior Princess was still on duty this morning. She delivered breakfast for us—coffee and tea, sliced bread, cheese, butter, and jam. Just right.
We were on our own for most of today, walking back down to the ticket office for the Kremlin. Soon we were touring the Armory, home to the historic riches of the czars – more gold and silver and brocade and armor than you would think anyone would ever need, but you never know, I guess.
We also walked around the cathedrals in the center of the Kremlin. There were lots of people wandering about, some in tour groups, others on their own. Three American Airlines flight attendants from Chicago told us that they like to travel together to cities throughout the world and play a few days during their layovers. Jennie struck up a conversation with a group of Russian Orthodox clergy who had come to pay their respects to one of the saints of the church.
At an outdoor café beyond the Kremlin we relaxed with tea and coffee and visited with the people at the table next to us. They spoke no English, we no Russian, but we managed to discover they are from Lake Baikal. I drew a map of the lake on a napkin and correctly located the places they mentioned, much to their delight.
|Peter the Great's Bell Tower in the Kremlin|
Late in the day we Maria rejoined us. She led us down into the subways, then back to the surface some miles from the center of the city where we boarded a boat for a sunset trip down the Moscow River. It gave us a great perspective of the city as seen from the water, and eventually brought us to a forested park she called "The Not Boring Park." We disembarked and hiked past a sign that said "Eco-Trail" to the top of the park and a spectacular overlook of the city.
It was a cool and clear evening with an almost full moon. There were hundreds of people enjoying the view and visiting and eating food from the small stands nearby. Lots of couples. There had been lots of people on the trail, too, even in the gathering darkness. It all felt very inviting and safe. People were relaxed, friendly, open.
Maria's boyfriend Pavel arrived and joined us to eat bellinis – very much like crepes. "I love the ones filled with caviar," Maria told us, so that's what we had. We tried a couple of kinds of Russian beer, and had a traditional juice drink made of cranberries that Maria likes.
As the evening got late, Maria and Pavel drove us home. "I love my city," Maria told us as we got out of the car. "I want to show you everything I can so that you will love Moscow, too."
In that she had certainly succeeded.