My Moscow Exploration


Patricia Yokley


My Moscow Exploration

By Patricia Yokley


In February I took a trip to Russia that was sponsored by a local school. In the waning days of the Soviet Union, it was a trip to remember.

Our group stayed in a dormitory built for the 1980 Moscow Olympics. It was on the outskirts of the city and I understood that the Russians put Western tourists on the fringes of the city while Eastern Bloc countries – deemed more reliable – were accommodated in the city’s center. When we visited Red Square, I saw some newlyweds just outside the gates – her still in her wedding dress. Curious I asked our tour guide what was going on and she informed me that all the newlyweds just married in the city visited Red Square – and the eternal flame – to celebrate the country’s victory over the German fascists.  Although taken back by her use of the word fascists, I realized I can’t judge how these people felt. Entering Red Square, one sees Lenin’s tomb upon which the Soviet leaders would stand on to review their military parades. One could enter his tomb, with long dark drapes and view his actual body in a coffin. He was tiny, Lenin, and his face look shiny – a little like wax. I don’t know the process by which his body would last so long; however, I know that the authorities were very careful not to allow any cameras in the tomb.

Off of the square to the left was the Gum Department store. It was big with kiosks on either side of the main aisle. The large kiosks themselves were nearly empty. I remember a large stall that had about 10 or so pairs of shoes. While I was there, I heard an announcement and saw shoppers rushing to a kiosk that sold bath towels that were about the size of our dish towels. I found out later customers would hire surrogates to stand in line while they were at work or school. Right here in this store was an indictment of communism itself. People had money but there was “nothing to buy”.

The food in Russia was lousy. The meat was tough and we had potatoes, onion and carrots – all root vegetables – prepared a myriad of different ways. I carried a flask with me filled with scotch that came in handy. Our group also visited the nascent Space museum in Moscow. I remember it was outside and the exhibits were on the ground. The one artifact I can remember was of the capsule that looked like a front-loading washing machine. Inside the first animal into space was a dog. Around 10 miles outside of Moscow we saw the large barricades (pieces of wood nailed together that formed a cross) and I understood how close the Nazis came.

The last night there we had dinner with our tour guide. Feeling tipsy from rather good Russian champagne the conversation soon turned to politics. While the other girls in the group said little, I told our guide I felt that the United States did not want to and would not fight her country. Returning to our hotel I saw a babushka (a woman tasked with watching and helping people) on our floor for the first time.

The next morning, I slept late. My roommate Katya have gotten up early and had left the room when all of a sudden, a young woman burst in and said something to the effect of: “this room is a breath of fresh air.” With that she put a key down on the counter and left. Being groggy from sleep I realized later that I already had a key and hers was an extra.

On the return trip to Athens, I thought of my adventures traveling and I must say this one was an exploration to remember.