My Travel Map

My Travel Map

08 May 2012

Moscow in Winter

This is going to be a picture heavy post, since I've already devoted a good post for Moscow.  I was back in the capital of Russia for a meeting in November...a stark contrast to July in many ways.  It was colder, though not terribly cold, but the most noticeable thing was the length of the was very, very short.  This is the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.  Stalin actually tore down the original cathedral here to build his seventh, and grandest skyscraper, the Palace of the Soviets.  However, this 1000+ foot high building never got off the ground, as the soil was supposedly too soft being so close to the river.  Instead, the Soviets converted the massive foundation that had been dug into a massive public swimming pool.  However, when the Soviet era ended, the government built this new cathedral to replace the one that Stalin tore down.

The Kremlin and Moscow River by night.  It really is a beautiful city, and it is very obvious that the Muscovites are experiencing an economic upswing.  There were more Mercedes, BMWs, Audis, and Astons here in Moscow than in Los Angeles.

One of the six Stalin Skyscrapers that are so characteristic of the city...I believe this one is now the Foreign Ministry...pretty cool.

The "Brains" buildings (background) and epic monument to Yuri Gagarin (foreground left).  Gagarin has surpassed hero status and is something more of a demi-god in Russia.  He has even coined the new informal, yet popular, way to say cheers when drinking with his first words from space (or before liftoff?): Поехали (pa-YEH-a-li), which means "let's go"

The Kremlin and the Moon at sunset

You can compare the uniform of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with that form my July trip...quite different and oh so much more Russian looking in Winter form.

Like St. Petersburg, Moscow also has replicas of art hung in random places around the city...this one shown adjacent to the taksofon (pay telephone) booth.  The art is a nice touch I think.

The famous Moscow Metro and another of the Soviet skyscrapers in the background.

On this trip, I was actually able to get up close and personal with St. Basil's Cathedral.  I was lucky too as it had just been renovated for it's anniversary.

It's an absolutely beautiful building...the architects went wild with the detail and intricacy.

The cathedral seen from across Red Square.

Being the end of November, it was almost Christmas season, and the city was decorated as such...

Another Christmas tree outside the Bolshoy Theater...

And another in...wait...Lubyanka Square...oh that's just not right.  The Lubyanka Building (seen here in the background) was the former home of the KGB and is the current home of the Russian Federal Security Service, a federal police force similar to, but with much more power and right to invade personal privacy than the FBI or Royal Canadian Mounted Police (i.e., Mounties).

And of course, the Christmas Tree in Red Square...wait, wait...right in front of Lenin's Tomb.  OK...someone has got to reconsider these things...I mean the man was fundamentally know, one of the founding philosophers behind Marxist-Leninist atheism?  Does anyone else find this a little disrespectful, or maybe ironic...

Speaking of irony concerning former Soviet is a picture of the Red Square Mc Donalds...just a conveniently short stroll from Lenin's Tomb.

And Lenin's Library...with a massive Samsung advertisement in the background (which is lit up brilliantly with florescent lights at night too)... enough said I guess.  Modern Moscow is definitely a different place.
Finally, the sixth Stalin Skyscraper...and the largest of the existing buildings: Moscow State University.  Much of the University is housed within this building, including classrooms and student dorms!

Overall, Moscow by winter (OK, technically late fall...but close enough...I saw snow and it dropped to -15 deg C overnight) was pretty beautiful actually.  The city center is spectacular by night (and the nights are long during that time of the year) and they do a nice job decking it out for the holidays.  On a bit of a sadder, political note: Russia was also ramping up for elections when I was there, and I had an interesting conversation about the current state of affairs.  Basically, Putin's party dominated the campaign adds and posters/billboards (they were everywhere, on buses, benches, street lamps, and buildings, and practically nothing visible from any opposition), and despite there being legitimate opponents, it was well recognized and frustratingly accepted that no matter how people actually voted, Putin and his party would remain in control.  Moscow is an interesting place, and I look forward to returning...though on my next trip to Russia, I'll definitely have to get out of it's two big cities and see more of the actual country itself. 

Washington, D.C.

The American Capital, Washington, D.C. I was here for a meeting for work; being the home of NASA HQ, Goddard Spaceflight Center, and the Applied Physics Laboratory...I'll be visiting D.C. pretty often now.

Ah yes, the famous Paris Metro....wait...wrong city. Washington, District of Columbia: the capital of a superpower nation; a center of diplomacy and den of politicians; a seat of power, wealth, manipulation, and corruption; a concentration of culture, history, and art; one of the most violent cities in the nation; a multi-ethnic city of immigrants and their descendants; a bustling metropolis with great food and terrible traffic. All of these things describe D.C. It is so much, and this brief post wont even begin to do it justice. I focus here primarily on the center and the National Mall, though for many of the cities inhabitants, they rarely visit these parts. Those that work regular jobs, like butchers, plumbers, electricians, construction workers, and garbage collectors, live outside of the world of politics. They live in normal, urban and suburban neighborhoods, which is also where some of the best restaurants and nightlife is located. For example, we had dinner one night in D.C.'s Little Ethiopia along U and 9th Streets. The food was fantastic (I LOVE Ethiopian cuisine), and of course, the people working were all Ethiopian, probably mostly all part of the same family. This is just one example of an ethnic hotspot in the American capital...there is a vibrant Chinatown (also with good food, though from what I sampled, not up to LA or San Francisco standards) and many other ethnic culinary treats from Mexican to Vietnamese (ironically).

This post will be focused primarily on history and politics, though.
Things you simply cannot miss in D.C. include the Smithsonian museums...shown here is the full tyrannosaurus fossil skeleton at the Natural History museum. I always loved dinosaurs, and they have a great exhibit here, with several full skeletons of some favorites, like alosaurus, stegosaurus, brontosaurus, and triceratops. The rest of the museum is filled with great exhibits as well. One of my favorites was a temporary exhibit of nature photos, all of which had won prizes in photography contests. The exhibit just showcased the awe-inspiring quality, beauty, and power of nature.

Did I mention irony before (with respect to Vietnamese food in the American capital), well how about this one. Oh, what a lovely portrait of General George Washington, the first president of the nation and a hero of almost godlike proportions here, and his family. Wait, who is that in the back right, barely visible in the shadows? Oh, it's the family slave. America has a dark and stormy past...slavery and the lack of civil rights for women and African Americans being some of its most despicable historical facts (alongside the many wars it has started/perpetuated and the outright genocide of indigenous peoples). The USA was one of the last nations in the world to abolish slavery, an interesting and very hypocritical fact considering how indoctrinated many Americans are with the notion that personal freedom is a cornerstone of American ideals.

Seriously, the founding fathers have achieved godlike status in American history.  It's sad really that the education system is more of an indoctrination system instead of just teaching reality.  These were people too, yes, special people that rose up during extraordinary times, but people nonetheless.  It is unusual to hear about the founding father's slaves for instance, and the relationship with Native Americans is overlooked through this period in the public education system.  Frustrating...

Now, onto something more inspiring (for me at least).  The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.  This lovely specimen is a piece of aerogel, a miracle material.  Aerogel is actually a solid material that is formed from a substance initially like a jelly, but with the liquid removed and replaced by gas.  It is just about as light as air, strong, and a very good heat insulator (see the aerogel article on Wikipedia for some great pictures and explanations).  Aerogel was used on the Stardust mission to collect and return samples of interstellar dust.

The Apollo 11 capsule with the Spirit of St. Louis and SpaceShipOne in the background.  For a space geek, this is freaking awesome.  That capsule carried Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the Moon, where Armstrong and Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on our nearest astronomical neighbor, and back again...and SpaceShipOne demonstrated that private spaceflight is achievable.

Harbingers of death and hope...side by side. The V2 rocket (on the left) was a terror employed by the Nazis...the ICBMs on the right represent everything that can go so easily and horribly wrong in the world today. Yet, the Hubble Space Telescope (center right), Sputnik (center bottom) and the Sky Lab (behind the V2) represent human hope and the quest to overcome the bad in life, endeavor, and explore our Universe.

Another sign of hope, the mated Apollo and Soyuz capsules, symbolizing that despite the Cold War, some parties on both sides were willing to reach out and shake hands...if only they'd been able to do so on the ground too instead of only 100's of kilometers overhead.  The Apollo-Soyuz test was also the last mission for the Apollo spacecraft, which is a sad fact since we are now struggling to come up with its replacement technology.   

The massive, Canadian embassy in Washington.  It is nice to see this; it is in a place of honor, just down the street from the Capitol along Pennsylvania/Constitution Ave.  It was interesting to see the big banner stating "Canada remembers 9/11" as well.  The flowers in the potted plants outside were all red and white was very patriotic and a nice reminder of how close my two countries are, and I don't mean just physically.

The Federal Trade Commission...seems so Randian thanks to the Art Deco that is used so often to decorate her novels. Figures I guess...

I particularly liked the way the National Archives was done...these two, flanking statues were great, stressing the importance of remembering your past.

The Federal architecture in the center is quite extreme and just exudes power.

The Department of Justice...

Unfortunately, justice is often a farce. This protest, a vigil for peace in front of the White House, has supposedly been going on since 1981...that's longer than I've been alive.

The Korean War Memorial on the National Mall.  Falling between World War II and the Vietnam War in American history, the Korean War often seems overlooked, if not outright forgotten by most Americans.  However, this war split the nation of Korea, leading to the current state of affairs, in which South Korea is an economic powerhouse and high-tech giant in good standing around the world while North Korea is a backward, isolated, secretive, and hostile dictatorship. 

The Washington Monument and Capitol Building at Twilight.  The Washington Monument is so tall, and so phallic.  It was actually closed while I was there, being that it was still under repair from damage inflicted during the earthquake and hurricane combination last year. 

People hanging out at the Lincoln Memorial, with the giant statue of Honest Abe himself lit up in the background.

The US Capitol...home of the Senate and House of Representatives, the Legislative Branch of the government and my least favorite politicians.  Enough said on that...this is not a political blog.

The Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial from the White House... the US National Mall is laid out in the shape of a (Christian?) cross.  Seriously, check it out on google maps.  The Lincoln Memorial is the top, the Capitol is the bottom, with the White House and Jefferson Memorial being the cross bar, and the Washington Monument stands at the center.  This is no mistake either; Washington D.C. was a planned city, modeled to be a great capital of a great nation (or empire?).  Seriously though, where is the separation of church and state there?  I mean, that is a farce anyway, since most politicians policies are heavily based on their own religious beliefs...but this is not a political blog...

Ominous clouds over the White House...hopefully not a sign of things to come.