Friday, March 27, 2020

Eastern Europe 1990: Moving on to Moscow

Welcome to Moscow!

The customs line at the Moscow airport was long and slow, as the inspectors were going through a succession of very large suitcases piece by piece. We however, were waved on through with hardly a glance, even though we were carrying bags of photo and video equipment. Our taxi was a Volga, which somewhat resembled a '62 Chevy Nova, and we were shortly deposited at the Intourist Hotel, only three blocks from Red Square. We learned that all foreigners were parked at the Intourist so they could more easily keep an eye on us.

Three Russian soldiers, going off duty, probably
from guarding Lenin's Tomb, head across
Red Square toward the GUM department Store.

The temperature was in the mid-fifties, very warm for March in Moscow, and there was still some daylight, so we went over to Red Square and through the GUM department store. Back at the hotel we ate an unidentifiable substance purported to be beef and went to bed.

The next morning I was out early to photograph. We met Paul Lauster at 9 a.m. for a breakfast which was at least identifiable as boiled eggs. The breakfast is included in the price of the room. Instant coffee (all that's available) is an extra 25 kopecks. Paul's lost jar of Instant Nescafe was sadly missed.

A hundred kopecks make a ruble, and the average worker's salary is 200-300 rubles a month. Rubles are six to a dollar at the official rate, but 13 to a dollar on the black market. Any taxi driver can supply black market rubles for dollars, but it's risky. You never know who might be an informer.

Standing in line for the basic necessities was
a normal way of life in Soviet Russia,
as in all the Iron Curtain countries.

In the afternoon, Louise and I went out and photographed around Red Square. Later, Paul joined us and we took a cab to the new McDonald's. The line was two blocks long, with people two and three abreast. We didn't stay. Instead, we got hot beef sausage sandwiches and Pepsis at a little booth near the hotel. Best food we'd had so far!

The new Moscow McDonald's. The line
was more than two blocks long.

In the late afternoon we went to a place Paul had told us about, a street called the Arpatskaya (Arpat Street), which has been converted to a pedestrian mall; about three-quarters of a mile long and lined with artists selling their work and little booths selling ice cream and other goodies. There were also many Russian young people hanging out. We had some of the ice cream, and it was good.

An artist displays his paintings for sale in the Arpatskaya.

Russian young people hanging out. The Arpatskaya
was a very popular gathering place for them.

I'm proud to say that photographers appear to be in the vanguard of free enterprise in Russia. They were everywhere, making and selling photographs of people at various attractions. Red Square, with the Kremlin and Lenin's Tomb, is apparently quite the tourist mecca for Russians, and photographers were busy making photographs of tour groups in front of the tomb with the Kremlin in the background.

Photographers were busy photographing
tour groups in Red Square.

It was nearly dark by the time we worked our way to the end of the Arpatskaya. Louise decided to do a bit of shopping, and I went to Red Square to make some night photos of the Kremlin and St. Peter's Basilica. It had been a long day, and when I came back to the hotel Louise was already asleep. She is a great travel companion and a real trouper, always ready for the next challenge.

Red Square and the Kremlin at night.

(Photographs made with Olympus OM and Leica M cameras and lenses plus a Tamron 100-400mm f4 zoom lens, Fujichrome 100D and 400D films.) 

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