In Moscow I walked from Red Square to Lubyanka where the former KGB headquarters were, but I couldn’t remember which building it was in the vast intersection. I stopped to ask two policemen and they pointed across the street. When I asked what the building was now used for, they laughed, one of them saying, “Same.” The other said, “New KGB.”
I haven’t discussed politics with Russians I am meeting other than to ask in a roundabout way, such as if a flight to Crimea—a part of Ukraine until recently—is considered a domestic flight. Everyone does appear to be pretty OK with the annexation of the ethnically Russian parts of Ukraine. With that reasoning, shouldn’t Latvia be next, as it also has a very large Russian population on its eastern border? Latvia had its independence once before, unlike Ukraine, but is that the only reason? If Hungary decides tomorrow to invade all of its neighbors to reunite those many territories that have long been ethnically Hungarian, is it the same thing? Feel free to educate me.
This is an article in the New York Times from two weeks ago about the mood in Moscow at the moment. I don’t know what to think of it partly because I am a simple tourist not here long enough to know and partly because I don’t feel confident to say I have grasped the feeling here.
I will say that—again, these are just the fleeting observations of a dude passing through that may or may not resemble reality—I have been caught off guard by how conservative Russia feels. Maybe subdued is the better word. I wasn’t expecting Sodom and Gomorrah, but the population is well north of 10 million, and yet it isn’t chaotic at all. There isn’t much honking on the roads, very little public drunkenness, and no hotheads. I also haven’t been out at night much, so take that into consideration.
When I asked the policeman where the KGB headquarters were, I had a flashback to a time in Kiev, Ukraine when I asked directions from the police and they demanded to see my passport, took me outside, took me down the street into an apartment block, walked me behind a stairway, and said I had to pay $100 because of a “problem” with my visa. I stood my ground and as the price came down to $50 and then $20, I laughed, took my passport, and left.
So how can you visit the Hermitage and the Kremlin for free? Hermitage tickets go for 600 rubles and the Kremlin Armoury Museum is 700 rubles. The thing to do is to simply buy a bunch of tickets and resell them to the people at the end of the line. It’s more lucrative to do this at the Hermitage where lines are especially long and ponderous, but the Kremlin has timed entry into the Armoury and most tourists don’t want to wait all day. Cash cow.
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