As I said when talking about the flight over, I had been up for about 22 hours when I arrived in Moscow. When I got off the plane, my first stop was Russian Immigration Control. These are the folks who check your passport and visa. (You can't get into Russia without a visa - a document issued by a Russian Consulate in the U.S. When applying for the form, you have to tell the Russian authorities when and where you are going, and furnish a written "invitation" for your visit from someone in Russia who will be responsible for you. That "someone" can be the official tourist agency, a university, a business, or even a Russian family.) Now, Russian immigration officials are not the most efficient bureaucrats in the world. It took me 45 minutes to get through the line.
Then, it was on to the baggage arrival area where I picked up my checked suitcase. Next came Russian Customs. I had to luck out somewhere, and this was the place. I walked right through the "Nothing to Declare" area without being challenged. I was now in the main arrivals lobby of the airport, where, hopefully, someone from the tour company was waiting. And indeed they were - a pretty young lady named Lana, and a driver. So, we fought our way through the crowd of Gipsy peddlers and beggars in the parking lot and made it in one piece to the car for the 30-minute trip to the hotel.
The Cosmos Hotel was built for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, and I suspect that the rooms haven't been renovated since the place opened. But my room seemed clean enough, if a bit cramped and definitely unattractive. The bad part was that I was on the 20th floor, and the elevators closest to my room were slow-slow-slow. I unpacked and took a shower. My tour group wasn't scheduled to get together until evening, so I had plenty of time to explore the gift shops off the hotel lobby, exchange some dollars for rubles, and go outside for a stroll around the block.
Finally, the get-together time arrived. There were 15 of us, about equally split between Americans and Australians. Our tour director was a young fellow from Slovenia, 'Gregor.' (He never did give us a last name.) We headed for one of the hotel restaurants for the customary "welcoming" dinner, where I got my first taste of what was to become the standard Russian appetizer and salad courses, smoked salmon and caviar, cucumbers and tomatoes. (I was told they grow a lot of those salad ingredients.) The rest of the meal was good. I remember the main course was a cabbage soup that was quite tasty. For dessert, we had chocolate pastry confections and tea. (Russians drink tea like we drink coffee - all the time.)
As I sipped my tea, I congratulated myself on surviving the hectic day so far, and decided to go to bed early that night. Wrong! This was not to be. Lana showed up and decided that it was a beautiful evening, and we should get started on our tour by exploring the Moscow Metro! Now!
We walked two blocks to the subway entrance, where Lana pointed to a large map of the system. (You can take a look at the map below. Click on the map for a full-size version) We were at Prospect Mira. She explained that we would take the Orange Line for three stops, change trains, take the Red Line for three stops, then change trains again and take the Green Line to the station nearest Red Square. I recall her saying, 'since we can't all get on the same car every time, some of you will have to count stops and catch up when we change lines. If you miss us there, we'll see you in Red Square. Lets Go!'
Needless to say, I stuck to that woman like a leech! We fought our way through crowds, rode numerous escalators, ran through underground terminals to catch the next train, and fought our way on and off the crowded cars like veteran "subwayites." We finally emerged from the tunnels at Novokuznetskaya Station, about a block from Red Square, and Lana decided that since we were there, we might as well explore the square - after all, it's only the size of three football fields! Much later, we dragged ourselves back to the Metro for the ride back. This time, Lana decided to take the Orange Line all the way. The last thing I heard her say before she disappeared into the tunnels was, "be sure to get off at the ninth stop, or God knows where you may end up at."
Back at the hotel, I got to my room, and eyed the bed, something I had not been properly introduced to for close to 32 hours. I had no trouble sleeping that night. Thus ended my first (l-o-n-g) day in Russia.
Proceed to Moscow
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