Perhaps not an iconic photo of Moscow, but that was the view from our hotel room at 3:30 a.m. this morning when my eyes popped wide open. We are staying at the Hotel Gamma Delta in the Izmailov area, just a few metro stops from downtown Moscow. The hotel is part of a tourist complex built for the 1980 Olympics and there are presently just as few Americans here as I suspect there were back then.
The trip to Moscow went smoothly, although accompanied by the usual hiccups – such as the last minute search for ski baskets for my trekking poles (none to be found in Orlando in June) only for the original six we had purchased months ago to be located under the pile of gear in the guest bedroom. And I shouldn’t omit the re-packing of all our carry-on luggage at the airport when we became concerned our backpacks exceeded the maximum 22 inches in length.
Our first day started with a long traffic jam as we left the airport, during which our non-English speaking taxi driver seemed to take particular delight in playing games of chicken with much larger vehicles. Our route took us past innumerable high rise apartment buildings. Some rehabbed; many not. They stood in stark contrast to the incredible green surrounding the airport. We spent the afternoon recovering from jet lag and exploring the Izmailov area, which includes a reconstruction of a wooden Russian church and brightly painted castle and surroundings, now used for the History of Vodka Museum and weddings. There’s very little English here, and I’ve been looking up how to say “please” and “thank you,” not to mention trying to gain some understanding of the Cyrillic alphabet.
After dinner at a traditional Russian restaurant last night with our guide and one of our climbing companions (who has climbed Denali and Acongagua, among others), we spent the day touring Moscow. The Armoury Museum at the Kremlin – itself surrounded by 15th century walls, is incredible. The opulence of the dress, crowns, carriages, and jewels rivals Versailles. No wonder there was a revolution. Particularly interesting was seeing the two presidential helicopters land only a couple of blocks from us in the Kremlin, then take off again, and shortly after we saw the presidential car with its two security vehicles exit the Kremlin.
We ended the day with dinner at a very ultra modern Italian restaurant that embodies the new Moscow. Now it’s back to re-packing everything for a long travel day to the Baksan Valley in the Caucasus Mountains where our mountaineering will really begin.
And who knew? The name “Red Square” has nothing to do with the
Soviet Union. The word red means beautiful.