Russia Journey, 2023. First Leg, Moscow from July 25-August 4th.

Arrival at the Downtown Metro Station

 

After a couple of days’ rest following my roughly 25 hour trip–from Chiang Mai, to Bangkok, Thailand, a 4 hour wait, a 6 hour flight to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, another 4 hour wait, and another 6 hour flight to Moscow, and another two hours to get my bags and find a taxi to my final destination, I was ready to take on Moscow. First order of business was to get my long awaited refund from Aeroflot.

My trip in 2020 was cancelled due to Covid, and the airline wasn’t offering any direct flights…only voucher credits for use inside Russia. Finally, the three year limit passed and I was eligible for a full refund–plus interest. With my friend Tonya’s help, along with my bank, which showed that I was the payer and owner of the ticket, I finally got my money back. But the Aeroflot office is on the famous Arbat Street.

I arrived in the center of Moscow on the Metro subway and was met by these musicians, along with singalong by the crowd. My first sense of Russian people’s spirit. Two violinists and a cellist playing to the crowd. Apologies for the change in the picture. I really like the passion which the lead violinist showed. The song, a Russian friend tells me, is a popular song, from what I can tell, a song of lost love.

 

 

 

Arbat Street and Downtown Moscow

 

Arbat Street is one of the real trendy streets that caters to tourists. Lots of souvenir shops, restaurants from various countries and interesting attractions/distractions. Such as…you never know who you’re gonna run into for a photo op on Arbat Street.

statue of Russian novelist, Gogol

Am I mistaken or does Russia really value its writers and thinkers more than the West? Here is a statue of the famous novelist, Gogol, in Moscow

 

My guardian angel friend Tonya helped me fill out the paperwork to get my refund from Aeroflot, the Russian airline, after 3 years. Afterwards, we went to this Soviet era themed restaurant with real authentic Russian food. As you see on the wall, there is a Soviet era poster with the flags of all the constituent Soviet Republics of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, along with people in the local dress. Much of the sentiment of people I know who grew up in the Soviet Union was the ‘friendship of the peoples’. There really was harmony between the huge Soviet Union’s 100+ ethnic groups. To a large extent, this fell apart with the West fuelling separatism and toxic nationalism, most obvious in Ukraine but also in the other former republics.

 

Another Trip to Tretyakov Gallery

 

 

Much of the art of the enormous Tretyakov Gallery, which took two trips totalling over 10 hours to get through, depicts scenes out of Russian history. This ties people together. Compare that with Western “pop art” such as pictures of Coca Cola cans, or worse yet, Abstract Expressionism, which is essentially meant to create an anti historical, nihilistic and atomized population, ignorant of its own history. Here are depicted three Russian heroes of past centuries.

 

A portrait in the Tretyakov gallery, of famed writer, Leo Tolstoy, who is revered in Russia to this day. His novel, War and Peace, should be required reading for budding Western imperialist inheritors of Napoleon’s vision of subjugating Russia.

 

A Surprise Awaited Me in the Refrigerator

 

On returning from a day of touring, my host, Kirill, left me a present in the refrigerator. This is wild salmon from the Kamchatka Peninsula, not far from Alaska. Its diet of real Artic sea critters give it its intense color and flavor. It’s difficult and expensive to get salmon of this quality. At least in policy, Russia is opposed to GMO’s and promotes itself as an organic food producer for its own people and for export.

 

Stalin’s Bunker 42: An Unforgettable Unique Museum

My friend Irina is an unusual woman, fluent in both Russian, her native language, and English. She promised me something special for a tour and I wasn’t disappointed. This is probably the most powerful museum exhibition I have experienced, because it is based on real life.

This rather unprepossessing entrance is of ‘Stalin’s Bunker 42’. Started as a bomb shelter during WWII as a shelter from Nazi bombs, it was completed after Stalin’s death, as a shelter capable of withstanding a 50 kiloton atomic blast (2x the power of Hiroshima or Nagasaki, but not enough to withstand a modern H-Bomb attack). Along with the bomb shelter itself is a missile launch facility. So when the USSR felt itself under attack, the leadership would access the bunker through secret passages in the Moscow subway system. I was given the opportunity to ‘turn the key’ to launch. I politely declined, even in jest, launching nuclear missiles isn’t for me.

Hallway of Bunker 42. It is reinforced with yards think reinforced concrete.

Office for Stalin (or a successor) in the Bunker

Supersonic Russian bomber, in use since Soviet times

This bomber, designed and built during Soviet times, attains supersonic speed and is meant to deliver missiles, both conventional and nuclear. It’s still in use today.

Warning screen: Nine seconds to impact. Turn the key to launch counterattack.

Video of the final seconds before impact of an atomic bomb.

A tunnel leading to a secret passage to the Moscow Metro, with video of the final seconds before impact of an atomic bomb.

 

Victory Park and Victory Museum

Victory Park is the park leading up to the Victory Museum. It has statues and memorials to various Russian victories throughout history, including the defeat of Napoleon, and the winning of the 1917 Revolution.

A placard about Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. Napoleon did succeed in fighting his way to Moscow, where he expected to seize Russian provisions and take control. However, a fire broke out that destroyed much of the city and left Napoleon in Moscow in the middle of winter, with little shelter and no food. He lost most of his army.

 

Teenage Russian girls. If you identify a few items like a shaving brush or a canteen for water, you can write a letter to Russian soldiers, who have been fighting to protect Donbass people who have been under attack by the Kiev coup government since the Donbass resisted the US backed coup in 2014.

 

 

The plaza and eternal flame in front of the Victory Museum

 

 

Poking fun at the French following Napoleon’s debacle in 1812, the Russians created a replica of Paris’s arch of Triumph

 

 

Description of Moscow’s Fire of 1812, Napoleon’s army’s undoing. For some reason, the collective West has an obsession with conquering Russia. Napoleon’s army included soldiers from several countries, just as the new USSR was invaded in 1918 by 14 countries when they thought Russia was weak and vulnerable. The UK military, under the guidance of future prime minister, Winston Churchill, even used poison chlorine gas. Fortunately, it didn’t work and the British stopped using it. Now, US policy, as being carried out by NATO has the same goal, to defeat and destroy Russia. As in the past, they will lose.

 

The Victory Museum

 

 

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Inside the Victory Museum is the Museum Shop, with various historical posters and mementos for sale. The Iconic Poster “Motherland is calling”, pictured above.

 

A painting in the museum. Perhaps this was the parade of November 7, 1941, when the German army was just outside of Moscow. The soldiers, in defiance of the threat, commemorated the date of the November 1917 Revolution….and then marched straight to the front. The Nazi attack was thwarted, the first of many defeats that led, following several years of brutal combat, to final Soviet capture of Berlin

This is a painting of the surrender of the German Marshall von Paulus at Stalingrad in February, 1943.

About 2 million people died in this battle, both German and Soviet, as well as Romanian, Italian and Hungarian troops fighting on the side of the Germans.

This is a panorama of pictures of millions of Soviet people, who fought and defeated the Nazi invasion. Hitler’s plan was to knock out the USSR, then take over much of European Russia, head towards and take over India, and also invade and conquer England. The Soviet Union’s people thwarted that plan, at enormous cost of lives and suffering.

 

The German inscription in this video says that in the war, there is no reason for the future existence of the city of Leningrad with its population of well over 1 million people. The sounds in the video replicate the sounds of a battle that people were forced to deal with. From Wikipedia: The siege began on 8 September 1941, when the Wehrmacht severed the last road to the city. Although Soviet forces managed to open a narrow land corridor to the city on 18 January 1943, the Red Army did not lift the siege until 27 January 1944, 872 days after it began. The blockade became one of the longest and most destructive sieges in history, and it was possibly the costliest siege in history due to the number of casualties which were suffered throughout its duration. An estimated 1.5 million people died as a result of the siege. While not classified as a war crime at the time,[12] in the 21st century, some historians have classified it as a genocide due to the systematic starvation and intentional destruction of the city’s civilian population.[13][14][15][16][17]

Although the Victory Museum is mainly dedicated to the Great Patriotic War, that is, the USSR’s life or death struggle against the Nazi invaders and their Western allies, it also devotes some space to recent and current wars. Notably the Afghan war, fomented by Jimmy Carter and his National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski The title of this photo says “Nato in Afghanistan 2003-2021.” Question: NATO stands for North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It was founded—supposedly—to defend North Atlantic countries. Since when is Afghanistan located near the Atlantic Ocean?

In addition, the museum notes the historical connection between the Ukrainian Nazis of WWII and the current regime in Kiev, following the US backed coup in 2014.

Stephan Bandera (see book in top right) collaborated with Nazis and carried out atrocities that shocked even German soldiers.  The main street of the capital, Kiev, was renamed Bandera Street, following the US sponsored 2014 coup, honoring that mass murderer.

Here is their latest iteration, using Nazi symbols.

The following day, August 1, I decided to explore on my own.

Moscow is a city of museums. One goal I had was to visit the Lenin Library, now named the Russian State Library, although the Metro station is still called the Lenin Library station. Lenin founded the library as part of the Soviet plan to bring the literacy rate in Russia from 20% to 100%, which it accomplished. Even today, following a disastrous period of inferior Western based education, the older Soviet style educational standards are being reintroduced.

These are photos of an exhibition I stumbled on, by the noted Soviet era photographer, Nikolai Rachmanov.

The Tsar’s crown and scepter.

The Kremlin, again, a photo by Rachmanov

Another Museum is a small archeological museum of the origins of Moscow. It has a history going back to neolithic times.

 

I wondered into a coffee shop and going down the memory hole, I saw a record shop with old LP’s—you know, those plastic discs that music used to be recorded on. The Soundtrack to the original movie, Blade Runner, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane are some of them, and featuring a Russian edition of the Rolling Stones album, Play with Fire.

 

Zen in Moscow?

My next adventure was meeting a small Zen group in Moscow. They are of the same ‘school’ the Soto Zen School that I initially trained in, although their original teacher was French.  I found this group on VKontakt, a Russian social media site, similar to Facebook.

Following our period of meditation, we had tea and snacks. As an American I was curious how Russians feel about the current situation. Opinions vary widely in Russian society, but people here nodded in agreement when I said that WWII never ended.

The following day, one of the people, Artem, took me on a tour of Moscow that I probably would have missed. Here are some of the pictures I took for that.

This is Moscow’s biggest toy store. Maybe there is something like this in New York or London, but I haven’t seen any thing like these….and this is a country supposedly under sanctions.

Apparently, books are still something that people in Russia interact with….as I saw on several occasions during my travel…more on that later. These two exhibits are about 20 feet high.

Artem made an interesting observation during our discussions. He said that Americans are good at small talk, while Russians are not.  As an aside, one of the teachings of Buddhism is ‘Right Speech’, which among other things recommends against frivolous talk–small talk. Talk about things that matter. Otherwise, stay silent.

More Museums

There are museums in tunnels in Russia, not just bomb shelters. Here is a museum dedicated to the workers who built the subway system. This was at a time when the Soviet Union was faced with the task of not only uplifting the people physically, with better transportation, but also better work habits, better hygiene, and so on. So many posters of that time exhorted people to work diligently, and take better care of themselves.

Shoddy work habits are like a destructive dragon.

 

Drive Carefully.

 

The Lenin Library

By August 4th, my last day in Moscow until my return on August 21, I finally decided to see the famous Lenin Library. The formidable intellect, Senator John McCain, referred to Russia as a gas station pretending to be a country.  Let’s examine his statement in light of the following.

The Library was founded in 1862, but after the 1917 Russian Revolution, it was renamed in 1924, the Lenin Library. While the name changed to the Russian State Library in 1992, Lenin clearly left his mark– his name still visible on the front, his name clearly shown in Russian letters on the front.

 

Here are more details:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_State_Library

The Russian State Library (Russian: Российская государственная библиотека, romanizedRossiyskaya gosudarstvennaya biblioteka) is one of the three national libraries of Russia, located in Moscow.[2] It is the largest library in the country, largest in Europe and one of the largest in the world. Its holdings crossed over 47 million units in 2017.[3] It is a federal library[a] overseen by the Ministry of Culture, including being under its fiscal jurisdiction.[5][6]

Its foundation lay in the opening of the Moscow Public Museum and Rumyantsev Museum in Moscow in 1862. This museum evolved from a number of collections, most notably Count Nikolay Rumyantsev‘s[b] library and historical collection. It was renamed after Lenin in 1924, popularly known as the Lenin Library or Leninka, and its current name was adopted in 1992.[8][9]

 

The Front Entrance to the Lenin Library

 

The library has several buildings of varying architectural styles.[10] In 2012 the library had over 275 km of shelves, including over 17 million books and serial volumes, 13 million magazines, 370 thousand music scores and sound records, 150,000 maps and others. There are items in 247 languages of the world, the foreign part representing about 29 percent of the entire collection.[11][12] In 2017 holdings covered over 360 languages.[3][13]

However, the entrance is under reconstruction, so I got side tracked to another museum, the Museum of Books.

 

The Museum of Books

 

Museum of Books Entry Door

 

This museum is a collection of manuscripts showing how books became books from the earliest forms, to the hand written books of the Middle Ages, to the first printed books.

Examples of early books from past ages

A book printed in Russian in 1553-4

A book printed in Russian in 1553-4

 

Original edition of Marx's Seminal Book, Capital, A Critique of Political Economy
Original edition of Marx’s Seminal Book, Capital, A Critique of Political Economy

 

 

Original edition of War and Peace, 1869
Original edition of War and Peace, 1869, by Leo Tolstoy

 

 

This Book, Cybernetics, may be one of the early warnings of our current manipulated reality
This Book, Cybernetics, may be one of the early warnings of our current manipulated reality

 

 

From early medieval manuscripts, to original editions of Tolstoy and Marx, to the relatively modern book, Cybernetics, with its (to me) cover of foreboding, it’s a very interesting, if small, Museum.

Hmm, Control of the Animal (who…us humans?) and the Machine

I Finally found the entrance to the Lenin Library, which was around the back of the building. In order to access the library, I had to get a library card, which entailed offering my US passport. However, that entitles anyone who does so, to use this amazing library.

Sure enough, despite the name change, credit is given to Vladimir Lenin.

Portrait and Bust of Vladimir Lenin, the original leader of the Soviet Union.
Portrait and Bust of Vladimir Lenin, the original leader of the Soviet Union.

 

 

One of the main reading halls. Since it was a beautiful summer day, not many people were there. However the hall is dominated by a stunning painting.

 

The reading hall of the Lenin Library
The reading hall of the Lenin Library

It seems that Lenin himself is exhorting people to study

On the way back, I took the Metro back to my friend’s apartment where I was staying. You can see how far down the escalator goes. Soviet era subway stations were also designed for, and used as bombshelters during WWII.

An escalator going deep into the Mosco Metro Station
An escalator going deep into the Mosco Metro Station

 

And you can still see, in some of the older Soviet era stations, vestiges of the Soviet era.

Soviet decoration in a Metro station
Soviet decoration in a Metro station

 

 

A Walk in the Park

I left the Metro station and took a walk through a park on the way back. So ended the first leg of my Russia journey.

 

A Moscow Park
A Moscow Park

 

 

A Moscow Supermarket
A Moscow Supermarket

 

But on the way home, I stopped off at a supermarket, to buy my host a bottle of wine. There were three rows of shelves of wines and more shelves with liquor. And the supermarket itself was fully  stocked, with a wide variety of food, all excellent quality.  I didn’t see any California wines, but did see the usual Western assortment of popular Western candies, like, M&M’s, Snickers bars, and so on.

Unfortunately, on the way out, an elderly woman was hanging out, hoping for a handout. While I never saw any actual homelessness, it’s clear that some people have a tough time economically.

Old woman hoping for a food donation ouside a supermarket in Moscow
Old woman hoping for a food donation ouside a supermarket in Moscow

 

And so ended the first part of my Russian trip, with the next leg starting with a 6 hour flight from Moscow to Irkutsk, a city in Siberia, where I was to meet a tour group headed to Lake Baikal.

 

 

4 thoughts on “Russia Journey, 2023. First Leg, Moscow from July 25-August 4th.”

  1. Thank you, Eric, for sharing this travel experience with us. It brings back many fond and nostalgic memories of my own travels to Russia. My travels helped me understand the spirit and sacrifice of the Russian people going back to hundreds of years.

    Needless to say, I wish for peace in Ukraine. In the Hindu scriptures, the question is asked, ‘how should one treat the other?’. And then the answer is given, ‘there is no other. We are all the same.’ This is true for the people of Russia, the people of Ukraine, the Global South, and the collective West. We need to think of ways to work together and to aspire for peace…..as an extension of our common humanity.

    Reply

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