The final week dawned drizzly, mizzly and dull. I consider this to be a very good thing as you can so easily wear the rosey specs if you are in a place for the first time in warm sunshine or indeed just sunshine. Dull skies alter the perspective. I still love this city. We are off to the lab. Edward takes control. We should know better by now. On the metro, we change onto the dark blue line from dark green and I am confident that we need to go 4 stops. After 3 I am herded unceremoniously off the train to alight into another uniquely gorgeous station, up the rapid escalator and into the drizzly mizzly outside where Edward declares we are in the wrong place. We need to go another stop … bite thy tongue, I council self. Edward, having exited the station, has no ticket, we have three passes, we lend him one for the ride which he gleefully pats in his pocket and says ‘just enough rides left until I leave tomorrow’. Two Brains had carefully calculated that between the three cards WE had just enough rides – we exchange silent laughter through the aether and bite our collective tongues again.
Eventually we get to the lab and I am entranced by my tour. One thing I absolutely love about scientists is their make do and mend attitide. Of course, these high end boffins make shiney new discoveries but they do it using cast out stuff as well as hideously expensive and inexplicable machines. I am away in my B-movie mad scientist imagination and it is bliss. They showed me experiments along the way (which at the time I entirely understood, honestly but I don’t think I had better try and explain – sound, water, waves, vibration and all terribly clever) but the best bit, for me, was the second floor where they have saved equipment dating back to the 19th century and through to the revolution (1917) … these are beauteous things and stunningly crafted even if, like me, you don’t really understand what they do. If you have never been to the Science Museum in Oxford (and to my shame despite living in and around the City most of my life, I didn’t know it existed until Two Brains, or HB2 as he shall now scientifically be known, took me there when we first met in 2012) you should a) visit if you are in Oxford and b) understand that much of what they have in this living, learning place, this University is better than anything you will see in Oxford. Sergey, who is finding his passion in teaching told us that they use the items when teaching because the size of old-school items makes it easy for the students to see from anywhere in the lecture halls what is being demonstrated. He lit up and it was intoxicating … there is nothing better than an explanation from a passionate person. Look closely at one glass piece and you can see a cross engraved in the glass …. ‘this certainly pre-dates 1917’ said Sergey.
Given that the main cathedral (Of Christ The Saviour) was a swimming pool under the Communist regime, I guess that would be a certainty! The rebuilt cathedral, incidentally (the 19th Century original having been destroyed in 1931) is the highest Orthodox Church in the world and was constructed in the 1990s. It is a bling eye-catcher.
After my tour, Anna (Sergey’s wife) took me across the street to the Novodevichy Monastery. Built in 1524 the name means Young Maidens monastery (which is a tad confusing) and was named such to avoid confusion with the Old Maidens monastery within the walls of the Kremlin Palace … the mind boggles.
We didn’t go in. Just walked (in the now driving rain) in the park to the front which runs along the river. Along the way I met some ducks. Bronze ducks. The exact same ducks I had encountered (or rather hunted down as the one thing I HAD to see) in Boston. Those ducks are an homage to the delightful childrens book ‘Make Way for Ducklings’ by Robert McCloskey which I read and read to the girls when they were small. These ducks were given to Raisa Gorbachev by Barbara Bush in 1991 when they were both first ladies as a symbollic gesture when the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty was being agreed. I can report that they are absolutely identical and that I was thrilled to meet them. Anna took a photo of me with the ducks – typically Russian and very direct she did not conceal her amusement at my moment of pure tourist indulgence. I rather love the fact that a childrens book had a role in those historic negotiations. The book, incidentally was published in 1941 – the year Russia joined the allies in fighting in WW2.
Later, we went for dinner with Sergey, Yury and Edward. The chosen venue was a ‘pub’ with more draft beers than I’ve had hot dinners. I had white wine. We ate Kaspian Pelmeni – plumptious little dumplings stuffed with salmon and sturgeon … absolutely delicious but it was the floor show that shone. The second rehearsal for Victory Day had the massed tanks and armoured vehicles parading down Tverskaya in daylight this time … but you will have to wait for my report which is a blog unto itself.
PS: It rained a little on the walk back to the hotel but I shunned the umbrella weilded by Edward. I am scarred by an umbrella related incident many years ago in Sloane Street when using my brolly as a prop to lean in my coolest pose whilst waiting for a bus, it snapped and I was left flat on my face on the pavement which was NOT the look I was trying to achieve as a sleek girl about town. Not to be deterred, Edward offered me the umbrella lest it should rain the last few days of my stay. How kind, I thought. He burst the bubble with his customary honesty ‘I have not got room in my case for it’ ….