Alexandrovsky Park and the Old Arbat

A string ensemble and true Moscow charm.

Click on any image for an enlarged view.

People gather on all sides to hear a string ensemble.
Another day took us to a park area outside the Kremlin for a walk leading to the Old Arbat, a wonderful old street, now open only to pedestrian traffic and hosting tourist shopping and eateries.

Okay, now I have a confession to make. I'm afraid some of my notes from the trip got a bit jumbled. I was visiting so many places everyday and shooting so many pictures that this was probably bound to happen. But in my notes I have this place in the first couple of pictures here listed as Alexandrovsky Park. Maybe someone can help me out with this and tell me if I got my names mixed up.

All that aside, whatever it's called I really enjoyed stopping by the water and listening to the string ensemble for a while. They attracted a pretty big crowd, too. People had gathered on all sides of the them along the walkways surrounding the area from which they played.

They played sort of a montage of classical pieces, some of which I recognized, others I didn't. All were very good musicians, and their audience was most appreciative.

Children played in fountains nearby, and people stretched out on shaded grassy areas outside the nearby Kremlin walls. This whole area seemed like a refuge for people from the noisy hurried pace of the Metro and the noise and dust of the busy Moscow streets. I hadn't yet seen any places where Muscovites gather to relax and spend quieter time with friends and loved ones, so this place was a very welcome stop on my day's travels.

Another view of the mall area.
After listening to the music for a bit, I chose a dry place in the grass and settled down to read the Moscow Times for a while. We had already walked quite a bit that day, and I was ready for a rest. I was also a little tired that day because we had been up pretty late the night before, having discovered a recently opened pool hall in the neighborhood. While I'm not exactly great at the game, I did squander enough of my teenage years in such places around my own hometown to still remember how to play fairly well.

The place was also not too expensive by Moscow standards, twenty thousand rubles per game, and the vodka was cheap. I discovered that pool and vodka made a pleasant combination and a good way to spend the evening.

Nino was a good pupil and began picking up on the game pretty quickly. She had a funny habit of, immediately after striking the cue ball with the stick, standing back on one leg and exclaiming, 'Yes!', regardless of the outcome of the shot. It was pretty funny to watch, and her enthusiam for the game was encouraging.

After reading for a while, and resting up, we called some new friends Nino had met and agreed to meet down by the Old Arbat and then proceed to dinner. Tatyana and her boyfriend Ali live in the same building as Nino and had offered to take us to one his favorite restaurants. Ali is a part time Muscovite from Turkey, here on business, and knows many of the local digs where the natives go for good, reasonably priced meals.

Improvisational parking near the entrance to the Old Arbat.
This was actually my second visit to the Old Arbat, and we had a little time to kill before Tatyana and Ali arrived, so we strolled around and checked out some of the souvenir stands. Once again, we came across the Russian hockey jerseys I wanted so much. But here, along a main tourist trap, they were even more expensive than outside Patio Pizza, near Red Square.

The man behind the stand saw me admiring them and when I told him eighty five thousand rubles was too much, he immediately dropped his price down to sixty five, and then finally fifty five. This seemed like a fine price to me, less than ten dollars! In the states they would easily sell for twice that. But this was still too much for Nino, and she was already pulling me away, assuring me we'd find them cheaper elsewhere. I had passed up the objects of my desire now for the third time. The man behind the stand was dismayed to see me go. So was I.

All kinds of great stuff is available along the Old Arbat and I would have two new t-shirts stuffed in my bag before we finally headed to dinner. One has a picture of Lenin on the front with the McDonald's logo reading 'McLenin's'. My nephew Matt now has this one here in Atlanta and it is a highly valued garment, I can tell you.

Naturally, the famous nesting dolls are everywhere, but I found you can buy them much cheaper here in the states. In New York City, for some reason, they are for sale all over the place. I'm not too crazy about them, myself, so I passed up on these.

Plenty of shopping between the wonderful architecture of the Old Arbat.
Tatyana and Ali arrived in time to rescue me from the fast talking, persuasive salesmen before I spent all my money, and we headed off to dinner. The restaurant was one trolley ride and short walk away.

Over dinner I came to realize that Ali was a very well traveled man, having been to almost all parts of the world. He had a strong hope and enthusiam for Russia's new direction and future, but confessed being anxious to return to Turkey to tend to his house and affairs there.

As someone who was not only visiting Russia for the first time, but someone who was out of his native country for the first time, he was very interested in my opinions of Russia, and we had spirited conversation over a terrific dinner with wine and vodka. We ran the gambit from poltiics and religion, to grocery stores and young people's fashion and musical tastes.

I described the wide generation gap that I sensed in Russia these days. Especially around places like the Old Arbat, you see young people laughing and joking and acting much like young people do just about everywhere else in the world. The older people, say thirty five and older, seemed much more depressed and morose, perhaps brooding over the current situations, at least out in public.

The younger people that worked in the shops I went into were cheerful and helpful as I browsed the aisles and shelves. I read a short time ago a quote by a company manager who said plainly that they had a policy in place of not hiring anyone over thirty five, and that they preferred people in their twenties. In the states a company with such a policy would get sued in about two seconds for age discrimination, but in Russia this seems to be a logical outcome of the current social climate.

On the subways people sit very still and either stare straight ahead with blank expressions, or read a book. Smiles from silly American tourists like myself result in averted eyes. I must have stuck out like a sore thumb, as we say here in the states, with a goofy smile plastered to my face all the time.

Notice the smoke from the barbecue in the background.
The mood along the Old Arbat is quite a bit happier. When we arrived a band played for a crowd of mostly twenty-somethings, who seem to know all the words to the songs the group played. They were loud and in very good spirits, many dressed in t-shirts with musical groups I recognized.

Younger Russian women around the Arbat seem very fashion conscience. Each one trying to outdo the others in style and sex appeal. In the states young women, for the most part, tend to dress down more, quite a bit more casual. In Russia they tend to prefer slinky dresses and high heeled shoes, even if the Russian streets are not well suited for walking in them.

The music the band played was very interesting to me; it seemed a cross between popular rock music and maybe a taste of traditional Russian folk music, as well. I think popular music all over the world would benefit greatly from these newer groups coming out of the former USSR, who are playing very original material and not just copying western bands. I heard a lot of interesting music on this trip, as well, admittedly, of some pretty bad imitation music. Still, this band playing on the Arbat that day deserves a good listen, in my opinion.

After dinner we headed over for a walk along the Moscow River as the sun set. I was just beginning to adjust to these late night sunsets, and actually starting to like them. I mean, as a tourist it's a real advantage to have daylight until ten or eleven at night. It not only makes for more convenient sight-seeing, but also probably contributes to the overall safety of the city. And as I've said elsewhere, Moscow is safer at midnight then Atlanta is at noon!

Ivan Grozny with our new friends, Tatyana and Ali along the Moscow River.
The Moscow River at night is a beautiful sight. The bridges are lit up, the buildings glow with soft lighting, and the statues and landmarks along the way shine brilliantly. The Moscow River at night was probably one of my favorite views of the city.

Ali and I carried on our conversation as we strolled along the bank and Nino and Tatyana talked behind us. Tatyana carried my ever faithful travel companion, Ivan Grozny, and seemed to have taken a real liking to him. He was to make many friends on this trip.

The weather in Moscow this time of year was perfect for an after dinner walk. Coming from the humid southeast of the states, the dry Moscow air and pleasant temperatures made being outside a real joy. A gentle breeze along the river made things even better.

Ali explained to me how much better he felt things were in Moscow then the last time he had been here, several years ago. He was confident that the transition Russia is going through, while difficult, will be successful. He had made many contacts with business people who were anxious to get involved in international dealings and expand their enterprises. All of this was most encouraging to both of us.

The moon shown brightly and reflected off the water. Passing a bridge the lights illuminated red, white, and blue flags in the breeze. It was a perfect way to end the day, and was the most beautiful view I had yet had of Moscow. After a while we decided to grab a cab and head home for a nightcap of Alex's wonderful Georgian Cognac. I was the last one to climb into the cab, and I felt myself pausing for just a moment, reluctant to give up the wonderful view. I finally got in and closed the door and thought to myself, "What a great city this is."

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