Red Means Beautiful

It should be noted, that Red Square, was not only not red, but it was neither a square. It was much closer to a large gray rectangle. As was noted in my little travel book, the name in Russian “Krasnaya Ploshadts,” did translate into English as “Red Square,” but the actual, original meaning was “Beautiful Square”. It turns out that the Modern Russian word “Krasnaya”, meaning Red, used to be the same as the Old Russian word for Beautiful, now pronounced “Krasivaya”. Yes, that means that this place has been around so long that the language has changed around it. It apparently predated the freaking Kremlin.

Crap. This place is old. I think I got some history on my shoe.

Continuing to read, there is also a “Red Gate” and a “Red Bridge” and a whole bunch of other “Red” things that were supposed to be “Beautiful.” Taking the time to read and contemplate this meant that Bob and Paul were already halfway across the square, and I had to run to catch up.

We didn’t even have a destination in mind – we were just wandering around. Everywhere we looked was some amazing chunk of history. Locals and tourists alike were walking about, taking pictures and gazing at the Kremlin. A line of people stretched from the front of Lenin’s Tomb, back along the Kremlin wall, and around the corner. We were headed over to the base of St. Basil’s, which towered over us, much larger than I expected.

Red Square is on a bit of a hill, so you could look out over the river, behind St. Basils, across the center of the city. Moscow in not filled with huge expanses of tall skyscrapers, like New York, but is generally flat, with mostly low buildings. The few tall buildings around really stand out because of this. Right near us was the Hotel Rossia, a hulking Soviet-era monstrosity, boxy and rectangular, made of dull steel, glass and decaying concrete. It stood out horribly, taller and not fitting it with the Czarist era buildings and small churches that were its neighbors.

Down the river a bit we could see a much taller building, it looked like a frosting cake with a soviet hammer and sickle on its spire, great white wings of windows stretched out along the riverbank. It was significantly larger in height and scale than anything else in sight, and was truly amazing. Just across the river from this was some sort of small factory with smokestacks belching smoke out into the sky, you could almost see the small flakes of soot landing like grey snow, and you could identify the industrial small as the wind changed.

Impressed, we headed back across the square, and went into GUM (rhymes with DOOM), the Government Universal Store. This was a shopping mall that opened sometime in the early 1800’s. The interior was several floors up, with an open atrium down the long axis, and a glass paneled window for a roof above. It stretched down the entire length of Red Square. Aside from being really old, the interior was what you would expect from almost any mall, rows of little shops selling everything from clothes to food.

A few of the Soviet era shops were replaced now with clothing and goods from Europe. You always heard of empty shelves in the stores in Russia, but all these shelves were full. Looking inside, we could see why, as the prices were insane, even considering that we had American dollars, there was no way any locals could shop here. The remaining original shops had really low prices, but mostly these carried touristic stuff, painted boxes, carved eggs, etc. We purchased a few things and continued our hike down the hall. Our feet started getting heavier as we walked, as the jet lag started to take hold, and the adrenalin of being in Russia started to wear off.

We came out the opposite end of GUM, where LEGO had a store, with a LEGO copy of St Basils in the window. Looking down this new street, we saw a metro station and decided to head in. We had no idea where to eat locally, so heading back to the hotel made the most sense. The sign listed this station as Ploschad Revoultzi, which was on the Blue Line, not the Green Line that we needed. But the map showed that these stations connected, so we figured that it was easier to just walk through the station instead of backtracking around the city, and possibly getting lost.

Now, with a single successful experience navigating the Metro and its gates under our belt, entering the turnstiles and descending the escalators was no big deal, we were pros. This station was also less deep than the last one, and was a shorter ride down. When we got to the platform we found yet another amazing work of art. The station itself was smaller and more cramped, but along each of the archways leading out to the platforms were giant crouched figures in bronze. Larger than life, and all in heroic poses, soldiers, farmers, workers, all valiantly fighting for the Soviet Union, which sadly for them had failed as a state about 2 years back. But hey, they all looked great, so we gave them an A for effort.

Down the platform a ways was the stairs that went up to the connecting passage, which in turn led us down and over to our station, Tetralnaya. When you are in a strange place, even small familiar landmarks are comforting, and it was a good feeling to head back, racing up the tubes, pulling into our station, and crossing the huge street back into our hotel. It was dinner time, and we were greeted at the door with flutes of cheap champagne. Which made the perfect cocktail to tide us over until we could make the long walk upstairs to the bar.

Bar food hit the spot. We were far from acclimated to the world outside the hotel, and crashing down into overstuffed hotel furniture, with a burger in one hand and a beer in the other was comforting. We were pretty excited to be here, but this was just the beginning. Tomorrow we would meet the folks at the office, and finally try to make some sense as to why the hell we were here in the first place.