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Update: Sat 19:25

Brits Abroad

A couple of British things from yesterday that amused me.

When I'd been round the Armoury I chanced my arm at walking round the Kremlin -- for which you need a ticket that I didn't have. There was a stream of people heading up and I joined in the flow. The barriers narrowed and as I approached a shrill British female voice was directed at me, "No, I'm sorry, you'll have to wait!" What?

It seemed there was a party of Brits being checked through the gap by the doddering ticket man and this harpy who together were trying to identify her group from the odd person like me and clearly having a hard time of it. My presence (youngish, scruffbag) was clearly too much like her group (aged, infirm) and I was brought to a halt.

A group behind me barged through regardless as she managed to reach her quota of sixteen and then some others were pressed for tickets by the gate man whom I guess was relieved to be freed from her thrall and had recovered his ticket checking composure.

I opportunely reversed direction to save ticket-less embarrassment.

He might have been part of the same group but there was one old boy trooping around the Armoury beforehand who was following on at the back of the tour group and was announcing after viewing one exhibit that, "of course you write an icon, not paint one."

Ha! That's the sort of pedantry I aspire to.

Saturday, 17 September

I plodded down to Red Square again this time in the rain. As I approached the normal entrance I saw a large queue forming in the corner leading to Lenin's Mausoleum. This looked like my queue so I joined the back of it at 10am. It was maybe 200m long.

I noticed while I was there that today they were giving everyone heading into Red Square the third degree and metal detecting and searching bags etc.. Yesterday you just wandered in. How odd.

Eighty minutes later I got past the first barrier -- where they were just keeping the numbers low for the second barrier. There was the expected sign saying no cameras etc. even though everyone was sporting a camera and continuing up.

Of course, most of those were in groups and their group leader became bag man at the top. I had to nip over to the bag deposit room and give them 40R. I had forgotten (-ish) about my phone which was detected by the security check and I was sent back to the bag room. Initially he wanted another 20R just for my phone despite me waving the locker number for my bag I'd deposited two minutes before. He relented, eventually.

The security people then got a bit sniffy with the Chinese group pressing forward at the security checks and there was much blowing of whistles and people being pushed back.

Eventually I made it through where you walk along the Kremlin wall and then down into Lenin's Mausoleum. Actually underground, too, which I wasn't expecting. Hats off, hands out of pockets, gob shut and file past the rather un-lifelike body. Not only does it look like a bad wax-work it doesn't appear to have any legs, the lower part of the body covered with a blanket and no feet-like objects sticking up. Worse still, I have been given the impression by all the statues of him espousing whatever that he had a magnificently pointy goatee. Not the day he died, it seems.

Still, never mind, that was just a means to an end. You exit the mausoleum, hats on, hands back in pockets, mumble to self again, and walk along the Kremlin wall down the other side where I was on the lookout for GH's relative's grave. Hmm, not immediately obvious but I think I have ID'd the grave site as there is a suspiciously likely name (in Cyrillic) in a mass grave although there are no dates. No pictures, obviously.

So I trotted back to the bag room and picked up my bag where I then realised that I was now in Red Square without my bag having been searched by anyone. Not the most thorough security system.

What to do now? I went round the State History Museum which is quite good. Where they need a representative object they put half a dozen on display and throw in a contemporary drawing where possible.

The ticket was not the combined entrance with St. Basil's as suggested by the LP and each cost at least the figure in the LP. Still, RU needs my money, I have the impression. St. Basil's isn't the riveting experience I might have hoped for the money. It's essentially nine(?) churches arranged like nine anythings would be in a roughly 3x3 grid with some mediaeval paintings in most. The churches are octagonal rooms maybe 6m across (though several go 30m up) and it's hard to imagine a service being held in any of them even if the place (the Intercession Cathedral) is colloquially known as St. Basil's because of the (once?) daily service held in the one built over the grave of Basil.

I then had a nose at GUM, the big department store with its "stunning" (LP) glass roof. It's just a half-cyclinder glass roof. It's also just a shopping mall with some expensive brand shops. Full of many people not buying stuff. I wandered back via an underground mall near the north entrance to Red Square which was positively humming with people buying stuff.

I then found my way to the Gulag museum which is a depressing indictment of human persecution of fellow humans. There's a glossy picture exhibition of an expedition last year to one of the gulags where they dug out and refined uranium ore. There's not much to be seen now other than it is starkly bleak. Great if you're holidaying, not so great if you're imprisoned for crimes against the state and will be there for five years in concentration camp conditions.

There's plenty of artwork depicting conditions as seen by the prisoners and lots of case studies. Convicted and sentenced to five or ten years in the late thirties through mid forties, almost uniformly the sentences were revoked ("no crime found") and the prisoners (generously) rehabilitated in 1955. A few took until anything up to 1992.

Then there's copies of the 12 volume (notebooks only!) recollections of a woman sent to a gulag and amongst other things escaped and travelled 900 km on her own and on foot. She was then recaptured. Her story consists of her written tale plus 600+ colour drawings depicting various scenes. A rather macabre story book although the overall tone is optimistic and upbeat.

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