Sunday, April 12, 2009

In Which We Actually Venture OUT on a Weekend

It's April 12 and that means it's Cosmonautics Day (День Космонавтики) here in Russia. A newer and slightly separate celebration on this day is called Yuri's Night. The point is that today is the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's historic space flight in 1961.

We rarely venture out on weekends, generally finding ourselves too exhausted from just our weekly routines. But this morning we were out of bacon. I had to run to the grocery store before breakfast, and it was just so darn . . . NICE outside. Really, there was no other word for it.

So I returned with my bacon and a mission: drag the family out of the apartment today . . . anywhere out of the apartment.

Now, one of the odd things about my experiences in Moscow is the number of virtual friends I have. There are two in particular who I have never met, save through our exchanges on the Internet. They each have blogs that I enjoy. Moscowmom's blog is noteworthy for her excellent photos of Moscow (she makes it look really good!) and her very kid-friendly activity suggestions. TRex mostly makes me laugh.

Both these bloggers had mentioned a place called the All-Russia Exhibition Center (but through a long series of name changes, it is referred to as VDNKh, which is an abbreviation of Выставка Достижений Народного Хозяйства or Vystavka Dostizheniy Narodnovo Khozyaystva if you can't read Cyrillic . . . and in case you cared). The easiest way to explain it all is to send you here to read more and look at photos of it in its former glory.

The Metro stop there even carries the former name of VDNKh. When you exit, you see all these yellow mini-vans, which are called marshrutki (маршрутки). If you speak French, the name comes from "march route" and means "fixed route taxis." They travel a fixed route, but with no fixed stops. You pay a flat fee and then tell the driver when you want to get off.

I have never used one.

But I digress. There, near the VDNKh, is the Space Museum. I read a story about it in the latest issue of the Moscow News. Seems the museum chose this auspicious day for their long-awaited grand re-opening, a concept that became painfully obvious to me as we, along with most of Moscow, exited the Metro around noon. EVERYONE was going to the VDNKh or the Space Museum.

To me, one of the highlights of the museum was the promise of an exhibition of the taxidermied Belka and Strelka, space dogs who survived their journeys and returned to Earth. But the lines to get in the museum stretched back all the way to Red Square. So we contented ourselves with enjoying the public art and the sunny day.

First, there is the "unmissable" Monument to the Conquerors of Space.

The Moscow News describes it as "soaring up on its titanium exhaust plume, which catches fire in the spring sunlight."


I could not fit the whole thing in my viewfinder, so you will have to see it here.

Seated at the base of the monument is Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. You can read more about him here, but I got the impression he was a recluse and a bit of a nutball.

Leading to the monument is what is called Cosmonauts' Alley. This is lined with busts of famous Russian cosmonauts, including Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space. Here are the girls in front of Yuri.

Look here for more and better quality photos.

Across from the busts, we discovered a line of classic Russian cars. It was a very user-friendly exhibit: children were not only welcome to climb inside, but encouraged to honk the car horns. Over Glenn Miller's Moonlight Serenade (er . . . not all that Russian last time I checked) the horns sounded until, rather suddenly, all the owners leaped into their vehicles and drove away.

The base of the Monument to the Conquerors of Space is decorated with fabulous friezes, in the style of what I call "People's Art," but which scholars probably call "socialist realism."

Lenin leads the people forward, to infinity . . . and beyond!

I know I sound snarky, but I really do love this sort of public art.

Following the model of the Russians all around us, we posed rather than just standing and allowing our photos to be taken. Honestly, they were positively Chinese about this posing thing.

Here's Yuri Gagarin again:

The climax of his nation's efforts to this goal:

(Is it just me? Or are the workers a bit . . . more than just friends? I see Tom of Finland written all over this. I'll let you do your own googling on that one.)

See anyone you know here?

That's right! Laika the Space Dog!

Here is a sputnik motif in the fence. The word sputnik means "little traveller." Note that it is flying over the Russian Federation.

The line to enter the museum. We'll come back another day. (I especially liked the white boots here. If you click on the photo, you can see it in more detail. I recommend you click on it.)

Then we went over to the VDNKh itself. The entrance is marked with this fabulous portal.

This exhibition center was designed to celebrate agricultural achievements. Atop the portal is an idealized farming couple hold aloft sheaves of wheat.

Below is the Central Pavilion. I am fairly sure it used to be a celebration of the USSR and its successes. Now it is a hodge-podge of small shops ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime. You can buy a guitar in here. Or a DVD. Or amber jewelry. We went in a tiny cat exhibition (entry: 60 rubles for adults and 30 for children) where we saw a loose assortment of cat breeds including those with folded ears and no fur. Breeders were dealing. Outside the pavilion, a woman with a box of orange kittens would give you a cat for free.

Here is the Karelia Pavillion (Karelia is up there next to Finland).

The Armenian Pavilion. Virtual Friend TRex recommends going there for cognac and baklava . . . there were no seats available in the cafe, so we skipped the cognac. But the girls got baklava.

The Fountain of the Friendship of the Peoples. "Yeah," muttered The Spouse, "The 'peoples' who couldn't get out of the Soviet Union fast enough."

Pretty fountain, though. Will be better in May when the water is turned on.

Another pavilion. Sadly, I didn't get close enough to see which one it is.

Because we found the CAMEL RIDES!

The French bulldog was cute. The crowd behind his family were dealing with a woman who had a crash on her roller blades. An ambulance arrived just as we left the camel. Right quick.

Russian girls doing the obligatory posing for a photo.

You could pay to have a photo taken with these friends, too.

On the Metro on our way back. The cat is a Claritin ad. It says (and I can read this all by myself) "Allergies--Your Nightmare?" The Russian word for nightmare is the same as the French (cauchemar). I'm not sure why the cat is carrying oranges. Are people often allergic to oranges?

And this art was on the wall in the restaurant where we stopped for lunch on the way home. There's a bottle of spirits, and the men and the pig seem to be enjoying some.

We had a little, too. Just because.


Susan said...

Great pictures!! My grandson will love seeing that museum. They lived in Seattle where Boeing had a great Museum of Flight.
Yor family looks very nice!

valentina said...

I will keep this short as Valentina is resting in my desk drawer which makes typing over her difficult... Ahhh she has moved!

I LOVE this post and the pix of your family and the fountain is really glorious!

Too bad you didn't get any pix of the cat place. Maybe you could do a whole blog post on Russian cats?

How did you all resist a tiny orange kitten? That must have been difficult! I can't understand why anyone would WANT a furless cat...fur is so important to catness don't you think?

The orange cat poster is great! Reminds me of your Nathan Detroit who was a wonderful kitty, RIP!

The girls on the camels are great! Skittles looks so happy and I don't see Baboo's missing teeth! She is so photogenic! I love the posing of everyone in a row in front of the huge relief!

I remember Sputnik. I was just Skittles' age when it went up and Yuri Gagarin of course! I was Baboo's age when he orbited the earth. It was amazing! The following year Telstar went into space and the record came out and I bought it. It was the first record I ever bought and I was in 6th grade. Hearing it today takes me right back to being a bit older than Baboo is now. And Valentina,( who while being no relation to my kitty of the same name,) was a remarkable woman.

Those taxis look like they might be a good way to get around. Ate there any near your house?

Definitely you'll have to go back to see the stuffed doggies don't you think?

"A grand time was had by all!"

Thanks for sharing this lovely day with us! xov

valentina said...

For more info about the Friendship Fountain check this out:

MoscowMom said...

What a fun post!! I want to check out that new museum, too! I like all that big Soviet public art, too... I might not like it if I'd lived here my whole life and were Russian, though.

Great pics!

How funny that on the same day we both posted pictures of women in white high-heeled boots! Russian fashion. Go figure...

copydude said...

Yes I enjoyed VDNK . . . but it is a pity about the tacky stalls and nonsense exhibitions.

Interesting about the derivation of marshrutki. I never knew that.

Natasha said...

I can tell you why the oranges are in the picture. For some odd reason, in Russia, it is a tradition to bring oranges to people who are sick, and are either bed-ridden at home or are hospitalized. Hence, kitty is toting flowers and oranges, to visit his sick human.

The Expatresse said...

Thanks Natasha . . . I thought people could be allergic to flowers and cats, but wasn't sure about the oranges. That makes sense.

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