Nice early start, well 08.00 is an early start when it is still two hours before the sun comes up.
We had to drive out 70km to a town called Zagorsk (it has recently been renamed Sergiyev Posad, its original non-Soviet name) as the day's highlights were to be a Matryoshka Doll factory and the ever mandatory religious establishment. This time the religious establishment happens to be the Trinity Lavra Monastery of Saint Sergius, the spiritual centre of the Russian Orthodox Church and seat of the Patriach.
The drive was uneventful, well it probably was, because I snoozed through it.
The first place we stopped was the factory. After we found it, that is, the guide and the driver had a bit of an argument and we had to back track after the driver did an about turn in some random person's front yard, leaving nice black wheel marks on the snow.
Now this particular Matryoshka "factory" was in a couple of ramshackle sheds around the burnt out ruins of a brick building. I would call it a workshop rather than a factory. The "finance manager" showed us their display range, and they were beautiful. It is hard to believe that this is a declining product, being so quintessentially Russian. We went to watch the wood turner create the doll shells and he could turn one out on his wood lathe, both ends from scratch completed in less than 30 seconds. 30 seconds later there is another one exactly the same size all by eye, no measuring instruments in sight. He was an older bloke who had been doing this for forty years and he didn't even wear glasses.
Next we went to another shed to see how they were painted. There in this big room was one lonely lady with a set of dolls in front of her with her paints and brushes. She would paint a little bit on one doll then the same bit on all the others in the set. The guide said that it would take a day to complete a full set of "artistic" dolls, these have different scenes from Russian history or fairy tales on them. If she was painting traditional designs, she could paint 15 sets a day.
Because working in the factory was so boring, they play a little joke on stupid foreigners, it is called make the quambies paint a doll. Kat and I were plonked down in front of a couple of paint brushes, some paint and a blank doll and told to paint our own. We did have a couple of examples to follow so we did have a go. It must have been funny, Kat left her glasses in the car and had to cuff it. Well you can see the masterpieces that resulted. We got to keep them too. (I think it was more a case of you had better take them or else!)
Well we then went to buy a doll to bring home, what a choice, what a decision, they were all beautiful.
Next stop was the monastery, well after the bank that was. That was a story, the bank front door was a big steel door without a sign, lucky the driver knew where it was. Inside was a little empy foyer the size of a toilet with an other big steel door. The bank was inside there. As the guide and I went in we were presented by the ATM being opened up to retrieve some bloke's card, my confidence level went up immediately. My fears were unfounded as it all worked as it should and we were soon on the way to the Trinity Lavra Monastery of Saint Sergius. We stopped on a hill overlooking the monastery for a photo and it was an impressive sight. We had to leave the car a fair way from the entrance and the ice covered walk to the entrance was a challenge, but no falls today, as we had come to expect, everything was beautiful inside. It is once again a working monastery with 350 monks in residence. The complex also holds the Russian Orthadox Seminary for apprentice priests. There are a lot of churches in the complex built from the 14th through to the 18th centuries. Our guide purchased a photography permit so we could take photos just about anywhere, except when actual services were being conducted, which was most of the time! We also had to have a monastery guide and she presented us with a CD of Russian religious music as a memento, we must have looked like we needed saving! Well the monastery guide whispered or mumbled something to our guide who mumbled it to us in English, it sort of worked. The tour was very interesting and as you know, too many churches is still not enough churches, especially when they are kitted out like Russian Orthodox churches.
Every so often our guide would tell us to take our time looking at something then she would disappear for a while, I got the impression that we were funding her pilgrimage to this holy site.
Well we got some great photos of the inside of one of the churches, and like all the churches we have seen here, there was a lot of gilding and priceless icons going on, most of the other churches we have been in forbid photos.
Well off to the temple store for Kat to buy postcards then a quick slip n slide back to the car. On the way our guide bought us some sort of pastry with a hot potato filling, it was quite nice.
At least the drive back to Moscow was in daylight and we got to see the giant soviet statue of the peasant and the worker and the rocket memorial to the space program as we drove past.
Well that was the last we see of Alicia (Rosa Klebb) our guide, our time is our own now.
It is New Years Eve so in preparation for the night, we went to a supermarket to get some diner, fresh bread, salami and cheese.
After dinner and a snooze we headed out. We caught a trolley bus down towards Red Square, getting off a couple of blocks back, it was about 20.00hrs. Well the one thing the Russians do better than anyone else is put up crowd barriers and man them with soldiers. Red Square was completely closed, damn, well let's find a coffee shop and wait, all closed, damn this is going to be fun!
While we were standing outside a Mac Cafe, a young couple asked us a question in Russian. I take it as a sign that we don't stand out as tourists because since being here, we have been asked directions a number of times by Russians who seem very surprised when we say we can't speak Russian. Well the young lady has a very outgoing personality and with the aid of Google translator on my tablet, we established that they were also trying to get something to eat and that they were from Uzbekistan. They were also some sort of brother and sister but with different fathers and mothers, or that could have been a mis-translation. Well the girl's name was Jamila and she was very feisty and bluffed our way into a restaurant and onto a reserved table. Her brother's name was something like Shari. Kat and I just went along in the cyclone, it was fun communicating with them, she had some English and we had the Googles, though the translations were head scratching at times. We had our coffees and shared some chips and toasted sandwiches but Jamila arked up at the waiter when he brought out a pork sausage she didn't order. She had told him that she didn't want any food with pork in it as she and her "brother" we're moslem. This is when the penny dropped about the "brother" thing. It seems that Russian Russians also have problems understanding the Uzbec version of Russian.
During the meal, they pressed a scarf on Kat and a pair of gloves on me as gifts, all we had to give them was an OZ 20 cent coin, though Jamila seemed very happy with this.
Well we had to leave them at 22.30 as it was getting close to New Year and also the table's legitimate reservers had turned up!
While we were having dinner, the Red Army had cleared the street, blocked all side streets with big tip trucks and set up numerous check points, but at least Red Square was open.
It took about an hour to navigate the 100m into Red Square, through crowd channelling queues, three separate checkpoints each with their mandatory groping before we were in the square. WOW we made it. (we spoke to some Canadians in the lift this morning who didn't make it before the square was closed because it was full)
What can I say, Midnight on New Years Eve in Red Square and it started to snow, perfect and very exciting.
Now getting back to the hotel when it was all over was a challenge. We were channeled out another side street and away from where we wanted to be, but with the aid of the GPS in the tablet we unlosted ourselves. It was very romantic strolling up Tverskaya St arm in arm in the falling snow on the first hour of the new year. Well the arm in arm stuff was really to stop each of us slipping over on the ice, but it was nice. We were very tired by the time we walked the two (probably closer to three after the diversion) kilometers back to the hotel.
What a night.