After a good night's rest, I decided to take a tour of Moscow. I soon realized I had forgotten my mobile phone and went back to pick it up. Back in the apartment, grandma just had to give me breakfast (although earlier I already had declined friendly) and showed me a flyer of the Novodevichy Convent in Moscow. The Novodevichy convent has the most interesting cemetery in Moscow, with graves of Kruschchev, Prokofiev, Tupolev, Gogol and a bunch of others. Unfortunately, the whole convent is a bit boring, but that's beside the point. On the front of the flyer grandma was showing me, was a copy of a larger-then-life icon, she claimed it to be an image of her grandfather. I smiled as friendly as I could.
Almost half of the city turned out to be under construction. Whole streets had been opened up to put new piping, wiring and who knows what in the ground. But my first goal was to get into the Kremlin. Surprisingly, I got there too early.
My 'bed' was only a ten minute walk from the Kremlin, but I didn't suspect the place only opened up at 10am. What was more remarkable, was that literally hundreds of soldiers where standing in line outside of the Kremlin entrance to go sightseeing. Most where carrying photo- and film camera's and where already posing for group photo's. I bought a ticket and, without asking, got one at student price. A considerable savings, where a regular ticket costs a whopping $9!
The Kremlin is a really nice place to visit, albeit a little bit too crowded, especially with these soldiers hanging around. The churches and cathedrals are nice, the exhibits mildly interesting and the communist-style parliament plain terrible and therefore great. Unfortunately, you're not allowed to walk on the side of the walls overlooking the Red Square, so I just couldn't do my Chroesjtsjov act.
For the rest of the day, I raced across town to suck in as much of the Moscow as humanly possible. And it's true, Muscovites aren't very friendly. Actually, they're among the most unfriendly people I know. Ask them something (even in Russian) and they'll only growl at you. Unless you offer them money, say when buying something. And even then, they only care as far as your money goes.
There's this Russian joke, that perfectly illustrates the difference between people from Moscow and people from St. Petersburg; This young lad from St. Pete has come over to Moscow and is taking a ride on the metro. It's crowded but with quite some difficulty he managed to find a seat and is now sitting comfortably, looking at the other people on the train. At the next stop, an old lady comes in and, seeing that there are no more seats available, the lad offers his seat to the old lady. The lady sits down, looks at the boy and says: "Why, you must be from St. Petersburg." "Well, yes!", the boy replies, "How did you know?!" The old lady looks again and says: "Here, in Moscow, they never give their seat to someone else." The boy is a bit overtaken by this but keeps on looking at the old lady. After some time, the boy says to the lady: "Then you must be from Moscow", upon which the lady answers that she is. "How did you know?" she says. "Well, " the boy replies, "in St. Petersburg, you say thank you when you get a seat from someone else."
That joke pretty much sums up the differences between Moscow and St. Petersburg.
I got home pretty late, but luckily, a nice, juicy steak and frites had been prepared for me. I ate with quite some satisfaction, having only had some local snacks during the day. I was a bit surprised, considering that not Mark, the Belgian, but his Russian wife had prepared dinner.
Only later I learned they almost always ate Belgian grub.
During dinner, I made it known that I had planned to go out, stroll around town a bit for the rest of the night. I invited Mark to join. He friendly declined, but the most terrible horror stories where thrown over the table. Newly recruited Mafiosi, when entering the 'company' had to shoot an unlucky individual on the streets for themselves to be accepted. Both Marc and Anya had been harassed multiple times and Marc even had to spend a couple of nights in jail once. I seemed to have an interesting night ahead of me. I was now determined to go out.
My first stop was going to be an Irish pub near by. The Planet recommended the place, saying that it was one of the major expat gathering places. It turned out to be empty and, after being able to down one pint, they closed at twelve. I left and went on to Red Square. I figured that somewhere around the Kremlin, there would be some location where youngsters where to hang out.
Directly next to western side of the Kremlin, there is a park. I started at the south side of that park and, gradually moving northwards, the park became more and more crowded. Young couples kissing on benches, youngsters sharing beer. I figured I was going in the right direction. And yes, on the north-western corner, a whole horde of young ones had grouped together. Sitting in small groups, they seemed to just 'hang out' as young people have a tendency to do, especially when the weather is good.
The place was like a small open space, between benches and hedges. People where moving from one group to another and almost everyone was talking, where only some where drinking. I sat down on one of the sides, and to my happy surprise, almost immediately, two girls started talking to me. One was very drunk, which didn't really help the fact that she only spoke Russian. However, when she kept on insisting '50 dollars', I started to get an idea on what was happening. Meanwhile, a very nice looking third girl, with a long white dress and large eyes had started walking small circles just in front of me.
I started talking to the only other man in my surroundings. An older guy from Finland, who had lived and worked in the former Soviet Union for over 20 years. He said he loved it, and then pointed out to me that all woman around us where ladies of the night. By then, I had no problem believing that. But then he went on. He said that tonight wasn't a really 'good' night. If I was lucky, I was going to see something much more interesting.
And just at that moment, indeed, something much more interesting happened.
For some reason, a whole group of some 25 girls had started to form a semi-circle. One of the corners of the square had turned completely empty. In the middle of the circle, two guys and an ugly girl with a money pouch around her waist had settled. The ugly girl was obviously showing off the other girls to the guys. Pointing to each of them, telling something about them and occasionally, apparently when the boys where more interested than average, told them to do something. Some wiggled there hips, others slightly pulled up their skirts and even others showed a breast, baring almost all. The less interesting ones where told to turn around, push out their behind or do something similar for entertainment purposes.
During the meat market, at several occasions, as if having missed the start, girls added themselves to the semi-circle, seemingly feeling stupid for missing the beginning. I was flabbergasted.
The whole process took some ten minutes. Girls where sent away, police walked by, cleaners where cleaning the street, until only a couple of girls remained. Then, picking three girls from the group that was left, one of the guys paid while the second hailed a cab to leave. Somehow I had the idea that it was the second guy's birthday.
The Fin laughed at me for the look on my face and then started to tell me that he didn't really like Moscow. People where to unfriendly and having intercourse with someone was just a matter of paying. No, he said, in Alma-Ata, there, girls really loved you, and getting someone in bed was really romance and free of charge. I just nodded, as he started off on a story that once had happened to him where he paid 200 dollars for a working girl ("the first time he paid") in Berlin, and had the most boring time of his life. Although he did sleep with her four times in one night. Yep, that sounded really boring to me. Anyhow, he had himself tested the week before, and after 20 years of Russia, he was still clean. He seemed to be really proud of that.
Come to think of it, he looked like an actor in a blue movie.
The next morning, during breakfast, I told Mark of my findings of the day before. He wasn't really surprised and told me that the previous summer they almost did the exact same semi-circle trick just behind their house. The difference being that the girls where selected from a car, where the girls had to stand, one by one, in the headlights of the car and then show themselves off. Don't you just love Moscow?