June 28, Wednesday - Helsinki/Moscow

We got to Helsinki pretty much on time, so we got to rattle around in its non-huge airport for several hours before boarding the DC9 that would take us to Moscow. Next to the MD11 we had just left, the DC9 looked like a toy, despite carrying something like 140 people and their luggage. (Photos 1-2, 1-3, 1-4, attempting to show the size differential between the MD11 and the DC9.)

Sheremetyevo 2 is the first hint of how much of Russia will seem - modern trappings in the midst of poor construction and poor maintenance, and unsmiling official people. While we are waiting to slowly make our way through passport control, a number of us visit the WC, and are distinctly not impressed. Granted, airport facilities are not known for being models of cleanliness or decor, but these were among the worst that I have seen anywhere - tiny, poorly lit, poorly cleaned, no toilet paper (fortunately, we had been warned about this last, and I never travelled anywhere in Russia without a pocket pack of Kleenex). We got through passport control and customs pretty quickly - my luggage was not even x-rayed or examined.

This was our first of many similar dinners - usually a salad including cucumbers, mystery meat, often fried or breaded, rolls, and some kind of dessert. Always bottled water - preferably still, but often carbonated. As a guidebook listed the rule of thumb for safe eating as "Cook it, boil it, peel it or forget it", (in addition to disliking most salads) I didn't usually eat anything from the salad part.

At dinner, many of us were hyper and not feeling ready to sleep, so Father Michael led a walking tour of Red Square and the Kremlin after dinner. This was where we got our first taste of the effects of the "Midnight Sun" - the sun didn't set in Moscow till something like 11 PM or midnight, so our tour was by natural light even though it started a little before 9 PM (see the clocks on the Kremlin's towers in the photos). It was very odd to be walking around in Red Square, especially when thinking back to the many May Day news reports that I had seen, with tanks and soldiers all parading through this very space showing off the military might of the Soviet Union. Incidentally, one thing that I learned in preparation for this trip is that the word "Kremlin" in Russian simply means "Walled City" or something similar, so that most old Russian cities have a kremlin. I have a number of pictures of the Moscow kremlin (the one that most Americans think of as "The Kremlin", and the Novgorod kremlin. I tend to use the capitalized word "Kremlin" for the Moscow kremlin, but may also refer to it as "the Moscow kremlin", so you may see it both ways in this text.


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