#3 India, Jan. 30, 2015


DSC07743Ah, comfort! I hired a car and driver to take me to four places that I wanted to see. The car was new (!) and the driver was very skillful, which it takes as normal traffic is quite daunting.

We started by going to the Nandankanan Zoo where I took the TigerDSC07615

and Lion Safari. There are huge jungle enclosures (many acres) each for tigers, lions, bears, and deer. No sightings were guaranteed as this is truly jungle. We did see a white tiger—I believe they are the
largest tigers in the world, and it was really big. I’m told they have blue eyes but you’ll forgive me if I didn’t verify that! The only thing DSC07625that can go into these enclosures is the safari bus on a dirt road.  Then into the lion enclosure where a pair of lions accommodated us by resting right by the side of the road.

In other pens, the orangutan looked prettyDSC07659 friendly (but BIG). I saw chimps, monkeys, lots of deer, beautiful birds, giant squirrels, mice deer, jungle cats, and on and on. I was surprised at how DSC07679up-to-date the zoo was for such an out of the way place as Bhubaneswar. It was also fun to watch the visitors watching the animals.

DSC07711Next were the caves of Udayagiri and Khandagiri that were carved by Jain ascetics in the 1st C. BCE. These rock cut shelters were quite dramatic. One cave was built by King DSC07724Karavela who ruled from 168 to 153 BCE.

Some young men were posing inside the tiger’s mouth.

On the way to our next destination, we came

DSC07746 across a woman drying rice on the highway.

DSC07748There were also some cow dung patties drying nearby. We were really out in the country. Of course there is no shortage of DSC07751cows and cow dung in the city, either. Cows are everywhere

and casually interact with this horrific traffic, looking pretty blasé.

Next up was the Edict of Ashoka that was carved into a rock in about 260 BCE at Dhauli. I wonder if anybody can read this, and what it says. Maybe a grocery list?

All of these places were within about 15 km of Bhubaneswar. We were constantly driving through small villages on poor roads with zillions of people, motorcycles, pedestrians, rickshaws, bicycles and cars; the driver definitely earned his money.DSC07761

And that brought us to our last destination, the Yogini Jain Temple at Hirapur. A circular structure, open to the sky has 64 niches in it DSC07754honoring the 64 names for Durga. There were small piles of rice in front of each little statue and some had cloth ‘shawls’ around them. There are only four such Jain temples in all of India.DSC07770

As I left the hotel the morning of Sunday, January 25h there was a parade/rally of young men in tee shirts with bull horns making quite a ruckess. Because it was Republic Day, they were holding a ‘Get Out The Vote’ parade.

Moving on to the State Museum, they were there, too, holding a rally in the courtyard. DSC07774The State Museum was more interesting than I anticipated. There were many interesting Buddha statues from the 1st DSC07784century through the 12th. The museum also had displays of Pattachitra painting, an old tradition, coins, writing, local fauna, and more. The musical instruments area was closed, DSC07800which would have been interesting.

In between times, I was tuning into Indian CNN to watch the arrival of President and Michelle Obama. Clearly the Indian government went way out of its way to show honor and respect to President Obama. The honor guard for Obama (with a 21-gun salute) was led by a woman, who called out the signals. Local CNN made much of this.

I had asked the hotel desk person if they served beer in the dining room, and she said that they didn’t. I did walk a bit up and down the street to see if I could find a store to buy some beer to drink in my room before eating my linner. No luck. So I went to eat in the hotel dining room. I asked the waiter if they served beer, expecting a ‘no’ answer. To my surprise, he said, “Just a minute,”—was gone a bit and returned saying that they did! OK. So I ordered a Kingfisher (by the way, it has gotten hotter so the beer really tastes good) and waited a long time. Finally the waiter came with a water glass with a paper napkin wound around it and yes, it had some liquid in it. “Is this my beer?” Yes, it was. “Can I take the paper napkin off?” “No, this is a family restaurant—-Would you like a straw?” OK, I get it. So I drank my glass and when I needed a refill, I brought my glass over to the sideboard, where I could see my beer bottle peeking out of a deep drawer. Shades of prohibition!

The next morning I again ate breakfast with a Canadian couple who I had met in the DSC07824dining room the day before. We had planned to go together to a ‘do’ that evening where tribals were going to perform with song and dance. This was in connection with Republic Day. When it was time to go, Carolyn didn’t feel well so I went by myself. Unfortunately the first 45 minutes were spent with DSC07822politicians making speeches in Hindi so I left, and got an autorickshaw back to the hotel.

Also in connection with Republic day, someone had draw an outline of India on the pavement with flower petals.

The next day I got a bus to Puri, a town on the coast. The Hotel Ghandara where I DSC07827stayed had a lovely respite garden although the noisy traffic outside interfered.

The beach, just a fewDSC07839

steps away, had a camel giving rides. I spent the afternoon arranging a tour and doing other ‘chores.’

The next morning I took a small overloaded bus for an hour’s ride to Konark, the site of the Temple of the Sun, a UNESCO DSC07843World Heritage Site. I had been wanting to see this for ages—in fact it was a factor in choosing this area for my trip this time. This 13th C. temple was built by Orissan King Narashimhadev I. The idea is a stone ‘chariot’ with 24 huge ‘wheels,’ pulled by seven stone horses. The whole temple is carved with tableau representing daily secular tasks as well as religious symbols. Sex figures prominently!

Given that it is over 800 years old, it is in remarkable shape. However, some had tumbled down during times past and has been reconstructed. I hired a guide, which I rarely do, who told me a rather fantastic story about the construction of this temple. According to him, there were small holes drilled in the stones into which was pored molten iron. As it hardened, DSC07862
this held the structure together. A huge magnet was placed at the top of the high tower, which attracted the iron and kept everything upright. (Maybe I got more than my money’s worth from my guide!) DSC07893DSC07857However, there were big iron bars, about 10 inches square, in a pile off to the side. In any case, the beautiful temple with the concept of a chariot with wheels and horses to pull it was very successful.

DSC07864DSC07882As were the sexual scenes, I guess! The guide said that the Kalinga (these people) had had a long war with Askoka, the Mughal, and their population was decimated. Therefore the sexual scenes were meant to convey the desirability for population growth. Given India’s billion+ population, maybe it was too successful!

DSC07961One day I went on a tour to Chilika Lake, a brackish lagoon off the Bay of Bengal. We saw Irrawaddy dolphins, or at least a few fins of them as this species doesn’t ‘jump’ out of the water like bottle-nosed dolphins. Actually these have DSC07963

no ‘nose’ at all—just a round head. It was funny because a gull was swimming near our boat when the dolphin appeared. As the dolphin would swim away under water, the gull would take flight and then set down where the dolphin was. For the tourists??? We saw DSC07944many birds, although we were told there are millions here from December to mid-January.

We also stopped in a rural village for breakfast, but instead of eating, I had a chai at a chai stand and then did some photoing.DSC07925

DSC07946

An Indian family with a 17-
year-old-daughter was very cordial; I ate lunch with them and enjoyed it very much. The daughter spoke quite fluent English, the parents, less so. All of the tourists were Indian; I see almost no Western tourists here. Several people wanted to have their photos taken with me, the American!

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The last day I was in Puri I went to visit the Jagannath Mandir, the granddaddy of all the temples in India. Non-Hindus are not admitted so I couldn’t see much of the temple except the 175 foot high tower. It was built in 1198 AD and draws jillions of pilgrims every day. Since the autorickshaw let me off about three blocks before the temple, I had a good chance to see the people, cows, beggars, etc.

Everything is on a huge scale. There must have been 200 beggars, mostly sitting along the street. There also must have been 100 cows sitting or DSC08194standing in the street with motorcycles and bicycles going past them, missing them by inches. There wereDSC08181 hawkers selling everything you could think of, especially DSC08199jewelry and fruit. This was also where the renowned sweets of this area were on display. I did buy one and try it—yes, it was very good. A deep fried frittery-thing covered with honey.

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All the religious Hindus were there, looking exotic to my eyes.

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And boodles of women looking like butterflies in their beautiful saris.

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I was allowed to go upstairs in the ‘library’ (which was a wreck) across the street to view the temple, but I still couldn’t see much. Still, the people were the interesting thing, anyway. These people have tough lives—I hope their religion is a comfort to them.

Tomorrow I shall return to Bhubanesware by bus—only 1-2 hours, depending on the type of bus.

Posted in India | 1 Comment

#2 India, Jan. 24, 2015

DSC07440First I started off my day with a chai, as usual. There are many ‘restaurants’ at the side of the road near my hotel, with even a bench to sit on.

Then I headed to the internet as I’m still dealing with trying to ‘recover’ my email address. The young man had told me he opened at 7:00, but he was still sleeping on the floor along with another person when at 7:30 I knocked and woke them up. I tried some more to recover my email as I had planned to send out a mailing on the 18th but that wasn’t possible. Now I have tried “too many times” to recover it so have to wait 24 hours before trying again. The second person on the floor remained under his blanket while I used the internet.

Later I went for a long walk among the government buildings. Kolkata was the capital of DSC07442the country of India, formed by the British. They moved the capital to Delhi in about 1914. That leaves quite a few fancy buildings for their state government now.

First I saw the Raj Bhavan where the West Bengal governor lives. I also checked out the Town Hall and the DSC07452West Bengal Assembly Building. The most fun was seeing the High Court with lawyers DSC07444running hither and thither in special ‘uniforms’—black jacket with formal white shirt and then a black robe. I had a nice chat with three interns who were wearing black jackets and white shirts, but no DSC07447robe—not as formal as ‘real’ lawyers.

DSC07457I thought that the Burmese Pagoda, tucked away in some DSC07456beautiful gardens would be fun DSC07460to find. Well, it was totally a wreck and under reconstruction, which was kind of interesting anyway. And there were certainly gorgeous dahlias in the gardens, along with some strange birds—maybe cranes?

Tuesday the taxi came at 5:00 AM to take me to the Howrah Train Station. Wow! Even atDSC07481 that early hour it was swarming with people, many who were sleeping. I found my platform without too much trouble, waited for the train and then wondered how to find DSC07483my ‘bogey.’ There was no such thing as a conductor anywhere, but I found a man who was pasting bogey numbers andDSC07486 lists of passengers on the sides of the cars. I asked him for my bogey number, DE2, and he gestured well down the line. I stuck with him as he pasted on about six more papers on bogeys and then entered the bogey that he indicated. It was pitch dark. I asked, “Number 24?” a few times (my seat number) and eventually someone with a flashlight gestured up ahead. I went into the next car and found 24, and sat down. I kind of wondered if somebody would chase me out, but nobody did, although I’m pretty sure I was in the wrong car.

At first the train was not crowded but as we made several stops it filled to the brim. Nobody ever came and took tickets. This whole thing was through the looking glass into the past. There were many food and chai hawkers, of course. Pretty soon a little boy and girl started doing an act. She was a contortionist (pushed her whole body through a tiny metal ring, etc) and he did backward flips. Talk about “Slumdog Millionnaire.” Later DSC07499about four pretty and beautifully dressed women got on with lots of jewelry. They would loudly clap their hands and collect money. They had all the bills folded between their fingers. Then they left. Later another four got on and I realized that they were transgender? Transsexuals? I asked the young man sitting next to me and he said that they were ‘neither man nor woman.’ I remembered something about a long tradition in India of these people forming a group who always helped celebrate at family weddings, etc. They demand respect and watch out for each other. They are called “hijda.”

It was very cold in the train with wind coming in all over. Eventually it warmed up DSC07493enough for me to open the shutters on a very dirty window. I even opened the window briefly to take a picture of the bucolic farming scene.

I saw some interesting signs on the way. One (in English) on a small shed said, “Dead Body House.” Another, DSC07500indicating the pedestrian walkway over the train tracks said, “Foot Over Bridge.”

When I arrived Bhubaneswar I went right to a restaurant near the train station and had a very good linner. I also had a nice talk with a couple that live near here. (She supplied the word, ‘hijda.’) They invited me to stay at their house when they come back from Mumbai on Jan. 29th, but I probably won’t be here then. We’ll see—I’m always flexible!

Got checked into the Shatabdi Hotel—a small not-so-spiffy hotel. There was a really good one that I wanted but it was full. However, this one is kind of charming—the next morning there was a knock on the door at 6:45 AM (I’m always awake by then) and I was presented with a hot cup of chai. How nice! Then to the shower—I called downstairs to see when the hot water would come on (they had said ‘morning’ when I asked if there was hot water 24 hours/day) and he said in 10 minutes. I waited and then tried the shower again—no, no hot water. Just then there was another knock on the door and there was a man with a bucket of hot water. OK, a bucket shower—not difficult, I’ve done it many times before.

I went to an extremely slow internet to work some more on my locked email. This reminds me of 25 years ago when it took two or three minutes for each screen to come up. I had just gotten the message that they had verified my account (hooray!) but before I could act on this, the power went off. Back to the hotel—I’ll try it another day! The next day I went to a four-star hotel to use their business center (which they weren’t crazy about my doing even though I would pay) and finally recovered my email. When I get home, I must update my info (phone number, etc) and keep track of my password for an alternate email so that if/when this ever happens again, I’m prepared. Then it’s only a matter of a few minutes to verify your account. This happened once before in Estonia.DSC07504

On the way to the hotel, I stopped for a shoeshine. Goodness, he had me take off my shoes, took the laces out, showed me where my shoe was coming apart, superglued my shoe back together and shined them up beautifully! What a deal!

I also bought some tangerines, which are soooo good here. What isn’t good here is the traffic. I thought it was bad in Kolkata,
and it was, but here, it’s bumper to bumper DSC07505with no traffic lights. Crossing the busy roads is really scary. Earlier today I hailed a autorickshaw rather than try to cross this mess.

 

 

 

One day I hired anDSC07502 autorickshaw for two hours and had him take me to eight temples (out of the 50 still existing, which are out of thousands that were built here in Orissan medieval times, roughly between 600 and 1200 AD. Several are still in use.

The grandest complex
is the Lingaraj Mandir, which had many pilgrims entering and leaving. The tallest part of DSC07519DSC07528the structure is about 160 feet tall.  Unlike in many other parts of India, this temple
forbids entrance to non-Hindus. However, they had constructed a viewing platform from which one could get a good idea of the complex. The entrance to this temple was a busy and gaudy place!

The other temples did allow admittance but IDSC07542 only went into one, as by the time I removed my shoes to go into the sacred courtyard, stepped gingerly over the hot, rough stones and around the dog and cow crap, I discovered that the interior was not all that interesting! In fact that one was full of junk!

DSC07588Some were set in beautiful gardens; one had a ‘tank’ (a four-sided enclosure for water), which an old woman was just entering for a bath.

The detail on the exteriors of the temples is amazing. Scenes from everyday life as well as religious scenes are carved in excruciating detail. One had a red-painted DSC07598DSC07552Ganesha as a focal point on an exterior wall; another had somewhat erotic carvings to keep people’s attention!

After I had located and looked at all of the major temples, I had the DSC07546autorickshaw man drop me at a restaurant where I had eaten another day. I enjoyed my paneer masala (like solid cottage cheese with a wonderful gravy) and was ready for a nap.

I had been having trouble with my new iPhone, in that I was unable to text, get my email, or the weather on it. When I was getting change at the bank I asked a young man there if he could help. He did—checked it out thoroughly, called somebody else for advice and concluded that the problem was that the signal was so slow/weak here in Bhubaneswar that it wouldn’t work. That’s probably right as it had been working fine, but I then discovered that the time when it quit working was the day I took the train here. And judging by the internet speed, I think that’s right. Shades of yesteryear, as I said!

Friday morning I decided to change hotels since I think I’ll be here for several days more. How nice to have wifi here—only in the lobby but that works. Breakfast is also included, which I had the morning I moved in. They served very good chai and then I had iddli with sambar and raita—a favorite of mine.

And now we’re coming up on a National Holiday at which there is supposed to be singing and dancing by the nearby tribal people—the Adivasi people. They have ancient cultures that are expressed in music, dancing and arts. Originally animists, they also are at odds with Christian missionaries and Hindu Naxalites (an ultra-leftist political movement), all of which they feel have taken advantage of them. There is also great excitement about President Obama’s upcoming visit. Stay tuned—-Carol

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#1 India, Jan. 18, 2015


DSC07377 I arrived Kolkata (used to be spelled Calcutta) in India after three flights that were all delayed. I took a taxi to my hotel, which encountered the most heavy and chaotic traffic that I have ever seen. Then the driver couldn’t find my hotel, which required several turn-abouts in the street causing the usual cacophony to rise another notch as all other vehicle drivers leaned on their horns. There were man-pulled rickshaws, bicycle rickshaws, autorickshaws along with cars, taxis, trucks and motorcycles. If you wonder if I am safe here traveling alone, I can tell you that the biggest danger, by far, is crossing the street or walking along it in this traffic when the sidewalks are full! As I consulted my map to find landmarks in my neighborhood, it all was a mystery since most of the signs and certainly the street signs, if there were any, were in Hindi, which is unreadable to me. Then the afternoon traffic was at its zenith so I didn’t go very far that first afternoon. Kolkata reminds me of India as it was 25 years ago when I first came. The view from my DSC07339hotel window describes the life here. Since there are no hostels in Kolkata, I was hoping to find a small hotel or guest house that is patronized by back packers that socialize in the common areas. But alas, I am in a modest hotel, which can be described as grotty and there are no backpackers here. Actually the room is fine except it seriously needs paint and a good floor scrubbing. I am not finding many (any) western tourists here. People often ask if I’m British or German—and are surprised but pleased when I say I’m from the USA. The second day I walked ‘west’ which I hoped would eventually take me to the Maiden, their ‘central park.’ While I did ask a few times for verification, I did run into the Maiden and walked a long ways to see the Victoria Memorial. As my LP guidebook said, “think US Capitol meets Taj Mahal.” It’s a huge DSC07342white marble extravaganza, which was built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1901. DSC07348Just walking around the streets and stopping in for chai now and then (tea cooked with milk, sugar and cardamom) is both interesting and challenging because of the traffic and level of activity. People were bathing (with their clothesDSC07367 on) at pumps on the sidewalks, hauling all sorts of stuff with their bodies and with rickshaws, and selling everything imaginable on the sidewalk. They also were DSC07381preparing food outside of small restaurants, which, I gather kept some of the heat outside and maybe enticed people to come in and eat some of their cooking. DSC07340           DSC07350

Later I DSC07361walked back to the Maiden and enjoyed the Indian Museum. What a collection of very old Buddhas and related pieces. I enjoyed a 2300-year-old beautiful lion. There was a Second century BCE Barhut Gate from a Buddhist stupa that was colossal.

Next was linner, which I had at an upscale restaurant, the Marco Polo. I had a Kingfisher beer, a green salad (huge plate of lettuce, then slices of cuke, onion, red carrot, and tomatoes), a lamb dish with a gravy with many spices and some tandoori roti (bread). The usual ‘pickle’ (a very hot concoction) and onions soaked in red vinegar accompanied. The electricity goes off for a couple of hours a day but the hotel has a noisy generator, which keeps the lights, but not the lift, on. Since I’m on the 4th floor that gives me some good exercise.

DSC07386Saturday was one of those days—I was planning to walk to see St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Academy of Fine Arts; then I would stop at an internet café and do my email. I walked along the Maidan and was treated to seeing their Lawn-Mowing-Detail, which was a herd of goats. Then I DSC07391continued following the map but discovered I was on the wrong side of the road with no access across a high fence to St. Paul’s. Ditto the Academy. So I walked a long way around and headed back on the Wrong street. OK, back to get the right one and finally reached St. Paul’s, which was beautiful from DSC07385 the outside but a disappointment on the inside.DSC07390 Continuing on to the Academy, they have new hours—open at 12:00 instead of 10:00. It was now 10:30—shall I wait? No, I decided to go to an Internet café and do email. Along the way I encountered a Hindu Street Shrine. I also saw an Indira Gandhi statue.

Well, after finally finding the Internet cafe, I was locked out of my account, presumably because they didn’t expect me to be in Kolkata! Of course I couldn’t remember my ‘alternate’ address and for some reason the telephone number was out of date, too, so I was plumb out of luck. DSC07394I gave up and had a chai from a little stand on the sidewalk. It was served in a pottery cup—I wondered if they reuse these or just throw them away? Back to my hotel—the electricity was off so the lift was not working, and by now I’m ready to drop of exhaustion. I asked at the desk where I could get a beer. Lots of perplexed looks and finally he suggested that I would have to take a taxi, etc. I decided to skip it and went off to a local restaurant for linner. Hah! 30 feet from the hotel was a wine/beer shop. Next problem—they couldn’t/wouldn’t open the bottle of Kingfisher beer that I bought. (Probably off-sale, only) But another solution—they had a fancier Kingfisher that had a pull-off cap—I’ve never seen one of those before. So I bought it and brought it back 30 feet to my hotel and drank it straight out of the not-so-cold bottle. Then back to the local restaurant to have some chicken biryani, which was DSC07409good, although the chicken was pretty skinny.

Sunday morning I changed hotels and then took a taxi to the train station to see about getting a train ticket for the next morning to Bhubaneswar, pronounced something like Buuf’-nesh-zvar. I had to show them the printed name as I couldn’t pronounce it well enough to be understood. My taxi crossed the famous Howrah Bridge, which had a jillion people walking across and a solid line of cars. DSC07410What an experience! The famous Howrah Train Station was HUGH and teeming with people. There were many doors and I finally walked along enough to find the right one to buy a ticket. Even then I had to go three places and discuss all of this with several people until they needed a copy of my passport (which the hotel had not returned to me!) before they could issue the ticket so that ended that. I took a taxi back to my hotel and the desk clerk contacted a travel agent! It’s hard to get used to the number of people that are anyplace—like the train station. There must have been 20,000 in that huge place! Later a travel agent secured a ticket for me but not for DSC07396Monday, as they were fully booked, (everybody is going to Bhubaneswar??) but for the next day, Tuesday.

That morning as I was walking to my new hotel, I saw a man filling a goatskin vessel with water.       DSC07398

Then I came upon a rickshaw with a full load of live chickens, heading to the chicken market.

And I sawDSC07406 someone not so fortunate—he was sleeping on the sidewalk on cardboard under a blanket. It gets down to about 55 degrees at night, so that can’t be much fun. As I paused for a chai at a sidewalk stand, I asked a young woman if they threw the little pottery cups away, or if they reused them. DSC07423She told me that they threw them away and pointed to a barrel for the purpose. I walked to the Academy of Fine Arts where I had been yesterday and not gotten in, today arriving just at the stroke of 12:00. Alas, today, in spite of postings to the contrary, it wasn’t going to open until 1:00! So I gave up and headed to a restaurant to eat. I had linner at a restaurant called the Teej. The interior was beautifully decorated with DSC07427murals and paintings.

I had one of the best meals that I have ever had in my life. It was a DSC07426thali, which is rice and bread served with several small bowls of different dishes. This was vegetarian so had quite a bit of paneer—kind of like solid cottage cheese, with various sauces; also potato and other vegetables. It was sensational!DSC07408 Walking back to my hotel I photographed some Hindi writing, which would demonstrate why I can’t read the signs! I’m enjoying Kolkata but Tuesday will travel on to Bhubaneswar, which is about seven hours (by train) south of here in the state of Orissa.

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#4 (final) Finland/Soviet Union, Oct. 20, 1982

One of the first things that we did when we arrived in Leningrad was to visit the massed graves of that horrific event, the Siege of Leningrad, from World War II. Our leaders laid a wreath at the Memorial. The drizzle added to the atmosphere. Ironically I realized that the amplified music playing was ‘Traumerei’ by that German composer, Robert Schumann.img101

img106Moving on to Palace Square and St. Isaac’s Cathedral, we saw Foucault’s pendulum inside which rotates throughout the 24-hour day, visualizing Copernicus’s theory.

img105Another building on the Square is the beautiful General Staff Building.

 

 

 

We visited St. Vladimir’s img119img112img121img123Church where a Mass was in progress.  It was fun to interact to the parishioners as they exited the church.  One of them asked me if I liked Ronald Reagan.  I said that I didn’t like his administration very much since I didn’t agree with his party’s positions.  I asked him if he liked Bresnev.  He laughed a bit and said, “Yes, I have to!”

More tours around town allowed us to see img150many, many huge apartment blocks where most Russians lived.

 

 

 

 

We saw city buses, img133

 

 

 

 

 

 

and Russian vending machinesimg139.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our group was taken img156out of town on a day that it actually snowed.  I’m from Minnesota and thought our winters arrived early but this was in mid-October!

 

 

We saw rustic dachas on the outskirts of img177Leningrad on our way to Tsarskaye Selo or the Catherine Palace.  The luxury of these palaces are amazing.

 

 

We toured the img174palace seeing a img167table set for royalty—slightly different from our hotel tables!

Then finally it was time for the supreme treat of all—The Hermitage!  This museum was img128img186built by Catherine the Great in 1764 and img192opened to the public in 1852.  There are three million items in the collection with only a small perimg198centage on view at any one time.  We especially enjoyed the Impressionists—who doesn’t, but the main stairway sets the stage for this most exquisite art museum.

img206An evening at the Kirov Ballet rounded out our time in Leningrad.  The old European small theaters are so charming.  One of our group who seemed to know a lot about ballet didn’t think it was very good!  Still we were glad we went.  img204

We were ready to go home.  At the airport there was a delay because of the Jewish supporters challenging everyone that interviewed us or interacted with us.  There was talk about confiscating the film taken by the TV personality that came with us.  After a couple of hours delay, we were finally allowed to leave.

img207While we were not able to interact directly with many Soviet citizens, it was still fulfilling to have gone behind the Iron Curtain and to have spent some time in Moscow and Leningrad.  We exchanged lapel pins with a number of people.  We were pleased when Russians accepted lapel pins of the American flag, which they wore with delight!  We were very glad we went.

Carol

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#3 Finland/Soviet Union, Oct. 15, 1982

img022Another tour with part of our group took us to the Andronikov Monastery with two beautiful churches img019containing many wonderful Byzantine paintings.

 

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We also saw the Church of Santa Barbara and the Cathedral of Znamansky, there being no shortage of churches in Moscow.

img029Meals were at our hotel where we were seated around large round tables. For breakfast we were served platters of cheese, cold meats and bread, with only one cup of coffee per person. The coffee ‘ration’ upset many of our comrades on the trip who apparently were unused to the European way of only drinking one cup of coffee rather than our American tradition of being served seconds and thirds.

The food was not great, but it was adequate. However, one evening we were served some rather unusual meat that was mostly fat but had two bands of very dense, dark lean running through the piece. Immediately there were opinions circulating that it was reindeer meat but an older man from North Daimg044kota at our table said, “No, this is not reindeer meat. I grew up during the depression and sometimes we ate old boarmeat that couldn’t be sold. I’d know this anywhere—it’s from an old boar!”

Noticeable on the street also were vendors selling many things, such as eggs. It seemed difficult for the people to earn a living. While they were quite well dressed, it seemed to us that they didn’t have much material goods.

img052Because we were on Friendship Force, one day there was a program relating to this. We met with Russian Friendship img053Force personnel and broke into small groups but communication was difficult as there wasn’t much English spoken. There was also a musical treat. The press were on hand, and had been on some other occasions, also. Unfortunately there were about a dozen people among the Americans that had come with a specific agenda in mind, which was to challenge the Russians about their not allowing Jews to emigrate to Israel. Whenever the Russian press interviewed any of the Americans, the Jewish supporters would ask, “Why won’t your government allow Jews to leave Russia?” This would cause difficulty with the press and typically the interview would be discontinued. I think we were all sympathetic to the Jewish supporters, but since the premise of this exchange was Friendship, it seemed out of img055place to many of us who assumed the purpose was friendship with Russians, and not confrontation.

What a surprise when we first took the subways in Moscow. They are very deep with loooong, kind of scary escalators going down, down, down—-and then the surprise!  Each underground img068subway station had been img064decorated to be a gorgeous salon!

 

 

 

 

 

They seemed to be extra deep which somebody suggested was for the purpose of bomb shelters.

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Another treat was  a night at the famous Moscow Circus. It truly was spectacular with the strong man, men riding galloping horses standing on their backs, and, of course, the famous bears.

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A short trip out of town took us to img090img095Kolomenskoye to the church of the Ascension with its Byzantine paintings.  We also saw the Cathedral of Mother God of Smolensk and the Church of the Transfiguration of the Savior.

More tours and more img050walks around town seeing landmarks and a toy storeimg042 completed our time in Moscow.

Jeanne, img098Bob, Burt and I prepared for our night train trip to Leningrad by buying a bottle of Stolichnaya vodka, which we ‘passed around’ in our compartment until the small bottle was empty!  We slept just fine on the train and by morning, we were in Leningrad!

 

Carol

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#2, Finland/Soviet Union, October 13, 1982

Our group leaders had been here before and so at their suggestion on our first evening we all took the subway down to Red Square at night.  What a thrill, to see St. Basil’s Cathedral, and the other buildings on Red Square, all lit upimg001!

 

 

 

 

 

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We watched the guards at Lenin’s Tomb parade past us.

 

 

 

 

 

Of course we visited Red Square again the img943next day in daylight, enjoying St. Basil’s Cathedral, the State Historical Museum,

 

 

 

 

 

and Lenin’s Tomb, with its long line of people waiting to see Lenin’s corpse.

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We weren’t the only tourists in Red Square—there seemed to be some Soviet tourists, also!  img946

On one side of the square is GUM img959Department store that had many shoppers but not a lot of merchandize.  Still, the shoppers were quite well dressed.

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The Kremlin was chocked full of beautiful old churches built in Tzarist img970img979times. They had wonderful frescoes inside. There img986were other government buildings as you would expect. The whole effect img987img975was so historical in spite of the Soviet Union seeming to reject religion and the Tzarist img982img985history.  One could have spent a lot of time within img983the Kremlin, but of course we were guided rather quickly through the area. Still it was very exciting to think that we were standing within the Kremlin walls.  Some of the churches were the Cathedral of the Dormition, the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, and the Cathedral of Ivan the Great with its Bell Tower.

Our group used three Intourist Buses with a special guide in each.  One destination, a kindergarten, was difficult to find.  It was pointed out that there were no street signs; someone opined that it would be difficult to mount a revolution without street signs.  img008However, it made finding our kindergarten difficult.  First out guide asked some women for directions, and when that didn’t work, our driver img009got out and asked directions.  We finally img010found our destination—the kindergarteners seemed glad to see us.

 

 

 

 

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The director shed some tears and told us to tell our countrymen that the Soviets did not want war!img015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These days are jam-packed, but we’re loving them!

Carol

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#1 Finland/Soviet Union, Oct. 10, 1982

Jeanne, Bob, Burt and I signed up for Friendship Force, a program started by President Jimmy Carter a few years earlier. Normally the exchange program involved staying in homes of the country we visited, and having the same people stay in our homes the following year. In this case, the country to be visited was the Soviet Union, which did not allow their citizens to visit us. We also would not be staying in anybody’s home, ostensibly because their apartments were too small, but it also discouraged too personal an interaction which was frowned upon by their government.img875

Upon arriving in Helsinki where we would spend two days in orientation, we were treated to a tour around the city, including visiting the Cathedral.

 

 

 

 

 

We spent some time in lovely Sibelius Park with the Sibelius Monument.

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img919It was a beautiful time of year, but was quite cool, and since we were outside quite a bit, Jeanne and Burt each bought a hat and gloves at the img887Stockman Department Store.

 

 

 

Our tour guide was a Swedish woman who told us that since there were many Swedes living here, all of the signs were in both Swedish and Finnish.

 

 

 

 

img894Some of the buildings that we saw were the Government Palace, the Bank of Finland,

 

 

 

 

 

img897the Parliament Building, and the underground Temppeliankion Church.

 

 

 

 

 

While it was very cloudy and cool, we did enjoy seeing the harbor with big ferry boats at the ready that went to Stockholm each night.img891

 

 

 

 

 

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img926img938Several monuments added to our enjoyment, as well as an open air market.img072

 

 

 

After two days spent getting to know our fellow travelers and learning about what was to come, we flew to Moscow on a Soviet airline, arriving at our huge hotel, called the Cosmos.  We were finally in Moscow, behind the Iron Curtain!

Carol

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