That’s all for Moscow

We’re on a flight from Moscow to Yekaterinburg right now. That’s were I served a mission in 1996 and 1997. I don’t imagine this is a flight that has seen very many American kids–Yekaterinburg isn’t really a tourist destination.

I’d like to say we finished strong in Moscow, but the truth is that the cold weather cooled our resolve to get out as much as we would have liked to.

I did get to go to a Russian banya with Steve and a local friend of his. It was definitely a highlight of the trip.

The basic routine is to sit in a very hot and humid room with a bunch of other men (the banyas are sans clothes and segregated by gender). Every now and then a dude near the furnace (or whatever the heat source is called) will call out, “should I put in some more?”, to which the reply, “Yes! It’s freezing in here!” The dude then opens the door to the blast furnace and tosses in a few scoops of water and instantly the room is 5-10 degrees hotter.

It’s so hot that you wear a wool felt cap that covers your ears to keep them from burning.

After you’ve sat in there for as long as you can take it (10ish minutes), you leave the room and jump into a cold plunge pool. Then you walk into a sitting room, have a bite to eat, a drink of water or glass of tea, then head back in for round 2.

If you’ve gone with a friend, or make a friend there, you can ask them to hit you with a venik. A venik is a bundle of branches with leaves still attached (most commonly birch branches). In the steam room, you lie down while your friend wacks you with the branches. This pushes the hot steamy air against your skin. Seems like it would cool you down, but it’s actually much hotter The venik gets so hot from moving it through the air that it burns to the touch.

Then you jump in the cold water (or rub your skin down with ice–ground ice was available for that purpose at this banya), and start the process over again.

It was a relaxing and social experience.

Birch venik

Ashley and Nolan made it to the mauseleum that houses Lenin’s body. We had made a few attempts earlier, but it is only open for a few hours a day and not every day.

I talked her into making a special trip to see it as it is something that one never forgets.

When Lenin died in 1924, they embalmed and preserved his body. Since then, his body has been housed in a glass chamber filled with some mixture of clear chemicals. You can enter the mauseleum and see him. They don’t allow photographs, talking, or stopping–they just shuffle you through in silence. The room is dark, and the body (dressed in a suit) is illuminated. You can all the littles details on his face–every hair in his eyebrows and beard. It’s definitely a bizarre but memorable experience.

Image courtesy

Nolan went with her. Although he was originally very worried that it would terrify him, in the end, he loves the experience.

For our last full day in Moscow, we took another brief tour of some of the more decorous metro stations, toured the State Museum of Russia, and met some friends for dinner.

When I was in Moscow before, taking photos in the metro was illegal. I guess with the advent of camera phones that was completely impractical to try to enforce. In any case it had been asked the last several years.

These are the ceiling mosaics in the Belarus metro station

Here are a few photos from the metro station Mayakovskaya. The first is of the platform. The recessed areas on the ceiling have mosaics— thirty-four in all. Here are a few of those 34.

Mayakovskaya platform

We had wanted to visit the Tretyakov Gallery, but like many museums and galleries in Russia, it’s closed Mondays. I wanted Ashley to see it as it was my favorite of the Russian museums I have visited aside from the Hermitage. It has a large collection of famous Russian paintings, including truly gigantic Avant garde paintings by the Russian artist Vrubel that have to be seen in person to be appreciated.

So, we settled for the Russian State History Museum. Another overwhelming museum that was hard to fully appreciate. Russia is full of these.

Here are a few photos that give you an idea of the scope of the museum.

Contemporary icon
Screen painted by one of my favorite Russian artists, Bilibin
Death mask of writer Ivan Turgenyev
One of many many chain mail suits on display
Idol depicting deities worshipped by people before the adoption of Christianity
Small wooden cup carved by Peter the Great as a child and later embellished

At the get together at Steve’s house over the weekend, I meet a young man named Ivan. It was he, Steve, and I who visited the banya together. Ivan wanted Ashley to meet his wife, Elena, and they invited us to meet them for dinner at a Belorussian restaurant.

We had a great time there with them and enjoyed some thoroughly filling and hearty food. Nearly all dishes Incorporated meat and potatoes.

Ivan ordered the fried pigs ears. Although I stuck with something a little more tried and true (baked beef tongue with potatoes), Ivan let me try an ear. It was greasy, crispy, and cartilagenous–not altogether too bad.

They had a three-year-old little bit and he and Margaret hit it off. He called her “Maska” because he couldn’t remember her name.

Oh, and Nolan got to go to the”optical illusion museum”to take a few photos.

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