Thursday, April 25, 2013

Russia, Day 5

Our plan for the day was to visit Novodevichy monastery and cemetery.  This is the cemetery that contains some of the most important figures of Russia from the last one hundred years.  We met up with Tom’s friends John and Jessica.  On our way there I noticed a lot of cops in the metro.  It seemed that as we got closer to the metro stop for the monastery the more cops we saw.  It was Jessica who said that there must be a soccer game on.  It was so strange to see literally dozens of police, some in full riot gear with night sticks out, walking through the metro.  Ironically, the metro stop for the monastery is also the stop for the soccer stadium, which meant the closer we got to our destination, the more soccer fans we picked up.  As we rode up an escalator I noticed a man sitting next to a camcorder, recording everyone who entered the metro stop from the trains. 

We saw one man struggling with police, who were trying to restrain him, while another man was down on the ground.  Another man was in a very loud, vocal fight with another cop.  It was so hard not to watch, but obviously that would have been stupid.

Anyway, we left the metro and headed to the cemetery.  This is one of the few places in Moscow where Tom had not been.  It was nice knowing that he was seeing something for the first time too.  Unlike a lot of American cemeteries, the gravestones are big, impressive and very close together.  We saw Yeltsin’s grave, which looked a bit like a misshapen rock.  It was obviously supposed to be the Russian flag, blowing in the wind, but it looked more like a large river rock that had been painted red, white, and blue. 

John, Tom and Jessica (Tom's friends) in front of Yeltsin's grave.
Chrushchev's Grave.

There were a bunch of these graves, covered in either flowers or pine boughs.
The gate from the new cemetery to the monastery.
The new cemetery and old monastery.
The grave of Stalin's first wife, who killed herself.
The main reason I wanted to go to this cemetery was to see the grave of Anton Checkov, one of the best playwrights of the last two hundred years.  We also got to see the grave of Mikhail Bulgalkov, Tom’s favourite Russian author.  We also saw the grave of Stalin’s first wife.        

Anton Chekov's grave.
Mikhail Bulgalkov's grave.
This is an old grave in the old cemetery.  I could not figure out who it was, but I am guessing it is a saint's grave.
We had a quick look around the monastery grounds while figuring out the best way to get to the restaurant we had decided on for lunch.  The restaurant was picked purely for the novelty of it, but turned out to have some really good food.  It is called Koryo, and is a North Korean restaurant. 
It is in the basement of a very non-descript building in a non-tourist area of Moscow.  We joked that we wondered if they would accept American Express at a North Korean business, and yes, they do, according to the sign on the front door.  You are instantly greeted by a painting of a smiling woman in a white gown flying through the air and throwing flowers out of a basket.  Once we walked down the stairs, complete with a moving picture of a jungle waterfall, we came to the dining area.  A TV played what must have been various, patriotic music videos, often featuring a singer in traditional clothing against a CGI background of peasants working in the field, standing at three-quarter silhouette.  One wall was painted with beautiful women in flowing white robes flying around an idealized mountain paradise.  The bar was painted the same as the North Korean flag, but the star replaced by the symbol of the restaurant: a man riding a galloping horse. 
the outside of the North Korean restaurant.  
Apparently, even communist-government run North Korean restaurants take American Express.  I bet the irony is lost on them.
This greets you upon arrival in the restaurant.
Pretty, or tacky? 
I was attempting to recreate the poster; pretty accurate, if I do say so myself.
More white-robed maidens, flying through the air.
The food was actually pretty good.  I had fried tofu with a nice chili sauce, and then a soup (strangely with no broth) of rice and vegetables.  All the waitresses were beautiful women, who did not seem too interested in talking to the customers.  We noticed the absence of anything showing Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jung-Il or Kim Jung-Un; but as we left a short Korean man in slightly military looking clothing appeared, looking a lot like Kim Jong-Il.  He caught us off guard and a few of us let out an audible laugh of surprise. 

Fun men.
Manly men.
Tom and I then went on the Gulag Museum.  The museum itself was pretty sparse and unimpressive, but there was a photographic exhibit called The Commissar Vanishes about Stalin’s use of photo editing to remove people from, and alter photographs.  Some of the photo editing was really badly done, making you wonder if it was on purpose in order to remind people how easy it was to remove someone from history. 

We decided to have an early night and so went for a beer at a chain bar whose name I forget, and then had more blinis before going back to Tom’s.

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