Everyone is looking forward to enjoying our day off today in Moscow.  Especially since our kind security team has organized a bus tour of the city.  Cruising the streets of Moscow in the comfort of a heated bus sounds ideal!  

After pilfering a sack lunch from the hotel's continental breakfast, Chris and I head to the lobby with our cameras and notebooks in hand.  Once we've all assembled, Tatiyana (our Russian tour guide) leads us to the purple coach bus we'll be traveling in for the day.

We situate ourselves at each of the window seats, as Tatiyana comes on the bus's PA system and introduces herself once again through fits of giggles.  As we wind through Moscow's curvy roads, Tatiyana explains that the streets are often compared to the solar system because many of them are full circles that resemble the orbits of planets.  They were designed this way to create circular defense boundaries around the Kremlin and central fortress of the city.  If you ask me it makes driving in this city a bit difficult (having to make Michigan lefts constantly) not to mention it's quite dizzying!

Not too far down the road, our bus passes an extremely domineering building with three dominant turrets and a large clock on its facade.  This is Moscow University, Russia's largest university.  Tatiyana tells us that 75 percent of the students who attend receive free education.  The 25 percent who pay their own way are mainly foreign students.  Our local dresser, Sergey, studies physics at Moscow University, and is one of the 75 percent attending at the cost of the government.  

Tatiyana tells us our first stop will be Victory Park, a monument park built to honor the 40 million Russian victims of World War II.  On our way we pass a synagogue, mosque and cathedral which were built to commemorate the three religions of the World War II victims.    

Before our bus even stops at the entrance of the park, I can see an obelisk peircing the blue sky, above the surrounding trees.  This 141.8 meter pillar commemorates the 1,418 days of the siege during the Great Patriotic War (WWII).  Surmounting the obelisk is the goddess, Nike, holding a wreath and delivering her message of victory.  


After exploring the area, we climb back onto the bus and Chris pulls me aside.

"Have you checked out the sexy bus driver?" she asks.  I hadn't payed much attention to Igor as I jumped off the bus, but I promise to take a second look the next time we stop.  

Tatyiana tells us our next stop will be the New Maiden Convent.  Along the way she explains the legend of how Moscow came to be.  The story goes that after a great calamity, everyone living in the area of modern day Moscow died, safe for two people.  A man named Mos and a woman named Cwah, supposedly the most beautiful people in the world.  They started a family together and their procreation began the rebuilding of the population of Moscow.  The name of the city was created by combining the two lovers' names.  

The bus parks in front of the Convent, and Tatiyana leads our group down a path alongside as she explains that the convent was founded in 1525 and took nearly two centuries to build.  The white, red and green building with gold onion domes sits in front of an frozen lake that is said to be the body of water Tchaikovsky used as inspiration when composing the music for "Swan Lake".

Alongside the bank sits a statue of a mother duck leading her eight ducklings in a line.  The sculpture was presented by Barbara Bush in 1991 and was "given in love and friendship to the children of the Soviet Union on behalf of the children of the United States".  We each pick our favorite duck, and pose in between the statues for photos.  

Tatiyana rounds us up and we walk to the adjoining cemetery, where she says several famous Russians are buried.  The first grave we visit is that of Boris Yeltsin, the first popularly elected Russian president following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.  His final resting place is topped with a sculpture of a billowing Russian flag.

Across the path, Tatiyana points out the grave of a famous Russian clown.  Flowers from visitors surround a statue of his likeness and his dog.  Tatiyana tells us this performer was known to always be smoking, and often cigars are brought to lay at his grave in lieu of flowers.

Next to his grave is a headstone with a relief carving of a ballerina.  The entire headstone is covered in plastic for restoration.  


"A prima ballerina even in death, not wanting to get her headstone dirty," Krista says to me as we pass by.

Next Tatiyana points out a modest headstone surrounded by a wrought iron gate.  This is the resting place of famed Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, author of masterpieces like Master and Margaret.

My favorite grave belongs to a highly respected cardiovascular surgeon.  At his resting place, a statue of a pair of hands reach out of the ground holding a large red jewel (representing the human heart).  

Once the tour of the cemetery comes to an end, Tatiyana explains that we will return to the bus, and head towards the Red Square.  As I climb back onto the bus, I steal a glance at Igor, and he (almost habitually) gives me a smooth wink.  My friends and I refer to him from this point forward as Mr. Sexy Bus.  

As our bus drives through the Medical University of Moscow, Tatiyana explains that the avenue we are driving on is often referred to as the Road of Life because it begins with the birthing house and ends with the morgue.

We also pass the Moscow Music University.  When it was founded in 1866, Tchaikovsky was appointed as professor of theory and harmony.  A statue of the composer sits just inside the gate of the institution.

I can tell we are approaching the city center, as the traffic becomes more hectic and the buildings taller.  Through the bus window, I see billboards advertising beds with naked woman asleep atop them, and others advertising local brews.  Tatiyana pipes in that she doesn't reccomend that we drink Moscow beer or Old Miller as it is called in English.  She says the water is better in St. Petersburg, and so the quality of beer is far better.  

Our bus merges onto a road with a full twelve lanes of packed traffic.  This is Moscow's Garden Ring, the widest avenue in the city.  As Igor repeatedly honks the horn, Tatiyana explains in an exasperated voice that Moscow drivers can at times be "quite rude" as a line of four of five cars cut off our enormous bus.  

Eventually we arrive a Red Square, where the seat of the Russian government, the Kremlin, is found.  The square is a buzz with Russian families on holiday, and my friends and I decide to attempt to avoid the crowds by retreating to the underground mall in search of somewhere to sit and have lunch.  But, if it is possible, it's even more crowded down here, and after standing for a half and hour with our trays of food in the crowded food court, we finally procure a small table that we occupy for a long time, relaxing and eating pancakes from Tempemok.  Over a few glasses of beer, we recount our favorite parts of the day so far and rest our feet. 


With only a little while of our free time remaining, we wander the mall, trying desperately to stay together as we sift through fur hats, nesting dolls and other Russian souvenirs. 

When we finish, Chris and I help Dennis hobble back to the group's meeting point, and Tatiyana begins the tour of the Moscow Metro. 

Before we even head for the underground, Tatiyana gives us a lecture on metro etiquette (wait for others to get off the train before you get on, hold onto the hand rails while riding, mind the gap, etc.)  We all listen with bored faces.  Come on Tatiyana, this group has seen more metro stations worldwide than the Russian Ballet has seen camel toe. 

The Moscow Metro is renowned for the elaborate design of several of its stations.  Although our group is close to looking like a pack of zombies at this point we wander about the platforms taking photos of vaulted ceilings and colorful mosaics.  Eventually, Tatiyana gathers us together to explain when to exit the train.


"One stop, no.  Two stop, no.  Three stop, yes!" she says enthusiastically.  This line becomes the mantra of our bus tour.

We exit at the Revolution Square Station where statues of several Russian guards and their dogs line the archways.  The noses of the dogs are shined to a brilliant gold, as riders pass by and habitually rub the snouts for good luck.  I rub the nose and silently wish for a bathroom break within the next ten minutes. 


After a few more stops along the line, we resurface the streets of Moscow and climb tiredly onto the bus once more.  Before concluding the tour, Tatiyana takes us to the Observation Platform near our hotel to look out over the bright lights of beautiful Moscow set against a midnight blue sky.