It is 5:00am. I have been awake for an hour and have finally given in to the fact that sleep is done for the night. Even though I went to bed at midnight and I am working on a huge sleep deficit, I can no longer sleep. Perhaps it is due to the fact that my internal clock has not yet adjusted to the new time zone (it is 9pm back home), or perhaps it is due to the stifling heat in my hotel room(35c). Either way I can not sleep.
Here are some more details about last night’s adventures.
We took the subway to Red Square which is about a 10 minute ride through 5 stops. The Moscow subway system is huge and services a large percentage of the cities 10 million inhabitants (7.7 million people per day ride the subway). Nothing is in English so it takes a bit to figure out, but once you know where you are going it is easy.
The Moscow subway system was first opened in 1935 and consists of 185 stations and over 300km of track. Some of the stations and tracks are over 200 feet under ground. It is the second most used subway system in the world next to Tokyo.
It costs 53 Rubles (about 75 cents) to take the train to any location in the city. Each station is huge with elaborately decorated walls and floors of marble, granite and pure white limestone. Hundreds of massive bronze statues, carvings and engravings (at almost every station) make the trip on the tube almost a museum of art. One could easily spend a day exploring the various subway stations.
Specific bronze statues have parts of them that are worn smooth and as shiny as the day they were made. I observed people stopping as they walked by these statues to rub a strategic spot on the statue; a dogs nose, the muzzle of a soldiers gun, an explorers looking glass, a workman’s hammer. Obviously this is seen as a good luck spot to touch or a sign of respect. Regardless, I don’t think you could get Howie Mandel (germaphobe) to touch the same spot as a million people a day for all the tea in China.
The Red Square is a huge public square that was once used for massive military parades during the communist rule and other public gatherings throughout history. In this spot, Stalin would stand atop Lenin’s tomb and salute the thousands of marching troops and passing tanks. The Red Square has been around for hundreds of years and has always been the governmental and cultural hub of Moscow. The massive Kremlin flanks one side and beautiful churches adorn either end. One of these churches was recently re-built after being removed by Stalin to make room for military tanks to enter the square on parade.
Opposite the Kremlin is Moscows ultimate shopping mall. I have never seen anything quite like it. It is absolutely giant and houses every high end store you can imagine from Louis Vinton to Rolex. It could easily rival the highest end mall anywhere in the world. I could not even afford to window shop in there. There is an amazing amount of wealth in Moscow with outrageously expensively dressed people everywhere and the number of Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s, Bentley’s, and Porsche’s boggles the mind. Apparently there is a huge gap however between the have’s and the have not’s. Not much of a middle class.
This wonder of the shopping world was once the communist government shopping building. This is the spot where workers would take their food and supply coupons to get their food and clothing. Ironically, this outrageously opulent sign of capitalism sits directly across from the Kremlin which was the heart of communism for decades.
The square is always amass with hundreds if not thousands of people and yet it is so huge it almost feels empty. As we wandered through the square last night at 10:30pm you would have thought from the number of people that it was the middle of the day.
Moscow is very European in that people eat late and stay up very late. Families with young children can be seen sitting in the square to have an ice cream or a drink at 10:00 at night.
Dinner was at an amazing Italian restaurant called “Gustos”. The food was amazing. Quite likely come of the best Italian food I have ever eaten; and the people watching in unparalleled.
After dinner we walked slowly back towards the subway. As we walked we came across this area of fountains and small water canals. Almost like a mini version of a Venice street. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people sat around the fountains and dangled their feet in the extremely murky dark green water. Some were swimming in the fountains and even jumping off the canal walls into the dark, and I’m assuming, refreshing water.
The beer flows like the water and groups of young people sit around talking and generally having a fun time. A stark contrast I’m sure to the social interactions this spot saw at the height of communism.
We stopped at one location that presented the best high diving location into the fountain pools. A group of young men, obviously encouraged by vast quantities of alcohol, were jumping from the canal walls into the water below. One jumping location was about 10 feet from the water and the higher location was about 20 feet from the water. As I watched them jump I tried to guess how deep the water was and judging from the heights they were jumping I thought it must be 10-12 feet deep at least.
People were everywhere enjoying their evening and watching the kids and adults alike frolic in the water. As I watched, one man of about 20 shoot out from the wall in a long dive. As he disappeared below the surface of the water I lost sight of him due to the thickness and the dark colour of the water. As he slowly rose to the surface I could see him standing on the bottom, holding his hands to his face. Apparently the water is not nearly as deep as I thought, and this fellow had just learned this the hard way (however, he was already wet so I am assuming he knew how shallow the water was from previous jumps). I wondered what he was doing as he repeatedly splashed water onto his head and then as he lifted his face from the water the crowd of people across from him shrank back in horror. He had deliberately taken a long shallow dive, but apparently it had not been shallow enough. He had struck the bottom and A flap of skin the size of a tea saucer hung from his forehead just above his eye and reached well into his hair line clear down to his gleaming white skull.
Two police offices stood watching and seemed almost annoyed that this guy had peeled his head open on their shift. After watching for what seemed like an extremely long time to me, they dropped their cigarettes to the ground, rubber them out with the boots and made their way slowly to the injured man. One officer was talking into a radio I assume requesting paramedics to the scene. I stood by for about 15 minutes watching to see when the medics would arrive, but by the time I left no help had yet come to the scene. It seems the police and the victim were also bored waiting as they all stood around smoking (yes the man with part of his head in his hand was smoking) and the injured man even drank some beer to make him feel better.
In hind sight, with the amount of people fooling around and with the volume of alcohol that was flowing it was not really a matter of if someone would get hurt, but rather when. Perhaps this is why the police reacted so casually; just another night in the Red Square.
With a queasy stomach I started to make my way back to the hotel with the rest of my team. I am now going to bring this blog posting to an end as I need to do my final packing, have breakfast and start on the next phase of this journey.