Tuesday, 15th May:
The choir and pilgrims were housed at the "Hotel Universitetskaya." It's not to be found in guide books such as Lonely Planet! Yet, it's considered worthy of three stars in Russia, for the guest rooms have (1) color televisions, (2) private bathrooms, and (3) hot running water! The hotel also houses a chapel -- a far cry from Intourist, I'd like to point out.
What it did not have is computers! Check-in was completely manual, and involved slow, hand-written registration of each guest, passport by passport. This made for a chaotic scene when five busloads of people arrived at once. The staff was overwhelmed and the travelers were weary, but some of us had to wait quite a long time. A few very savvy young people sized up the situation quickly and rushed to the check-in desk as soon as we arrived, but others decided to help some of the senior members of the group. I noticed Archdeacon Evgenii Burbelo looking a bit shell-shocked, and asked Irene Gan to help him get a room as quickly as possible. She and Peter Fekula must have spent four hours standing at that lobby desk, helping coordinate the check-ins.
Irina Mozyleva and I resigned ourselves to a very long wait for our room, and settled in at the hotel cantina with some beers -- what else to do? Soon, we were joined by lively company and it was as pleasant as waiting for a shower after 10 hours in a plane and two hours on a bus could be. We got into our room after 6:30 that evening (note that we'd left Synod headquarters at 4:00 pm local time the day before!). The bedroom was not large, but serviceable -- a simple wood floor and full-sized beds with pine frames, with a large pine armoire, a desk, a chair, a nightstand, and a view of the broad, noisy avenue on which the hotel is situated. As for the bathroom... well, let's just say it looked better than it smelled!
I must have been exhausted, but rest was not yet on the agenda. Quick unpacking, a shower (in a 2'-wide, 4'- long and 3'-deep tub), a light bite at the cantina, and a venture out into the city was in order. Too early to bed would not help the adjustment to an 8-hour difference in time zones, after all.
A group of us got together -- first to get ourselves some rubles at the nearest money-changing office -- and then to get ourselves to Red Square. Among us were my dear friends, the Krassovsky brothers (Vova and Otets Roman), Liza Olhovskaya and her brother Sergei Shohov. Poor Serge was a bit shaken by the Muscovy idea of customer service -- he's an urbane guy, and was already feeling homesick!
At the bus stop, we happened upon more old friends -- Serge Chidlowsky and Vladimir "Mickey" Galitzine. With the assistance of our well-traveled Prince, we figured out how to pay for the bus and rode it a few stops to the nearest Metro station. There, we bought tickets and headed deep down into the famous Moscow subway.
I love those steep escalators and the heady sensation you get when riding down them!
We managed to navigate our way to Red Square, though I began dozing as the train hurtled, shuddering, through the tunnels. I was so sleepy!
That feeling passed as we emerged and found ourselves in Moscow's buzzing center. The weather was lovely, balmy and pleasant, and hordes of tourists and Muscovites were out for a stroll in Aleksandrovsky Sad (Alexander Garden).
I barely remember our walk. We bumped into Protodeacon Pavel Wolkow and his Matushka, and, eventually, plenty of other familiar faces. We had hot dogs right near the Kremlin Wall and walked past the Eternal Flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We came onto Red Square, and there was what is perhaps Russia's best-known landmark...
This view brought on the first of many tears I was to shed on this trip. I had so many emotional thoughts about my ancestors, about my own life, and about how lucky I was to be there. We walked toward the famous cathedral (really, dedicated to the Feast of Pokrov, or the Protection of the Mother of God, with one chapel being in honor of St. Basil, the Fool-for-Christ, the better-known namesake!), and I simply could not look to my right as we passed the ghastly building that houses Lenin's corpse. I literally shielded my eyes, I was so disturbed by that edifice!
We wandered on a bit and enjoyed pleasant conversation, but it wasn't too long before decided to head back to the hotel, grabbing some hot and tasty piroshki at a bus stop on the way. We had a busy schedule and many more emotional moments ahead of us.