Myself in front of a prototype jet bomber.
N.B.: This is a really big plane… and not even close to the biggest there.
The plan for Tuesday was the Tretyakov Gallery and Park Pobedy (“Victory Park”, henceforth Park P-Body), home of the Great Patriotic War Museum. However, the plan was somewhat dashed by Bill feeling all fragile and lurgy-ish, and moping around the flat. By noon the day was going to have to be seriously cut down (we’ve been planning for, and having, 8am starts), and he still wasn’t feeling up to the Russian winter. So we replanned (“if he feels better, let’s forget the Tret and just go to the GPW museum”) and replanned (“well, it closes at 7, we should still manage to get some time out of this…”) and replanned (“he’s not getting better, is he; reschedule to Friday?”)
We had the Central Air Force Museum at Monino pencilled in for Friday, on the vague and tentative understanding that it could be scrubbed if something else came up (as it just had). This was going to hurt me more than it hurt Bill and Tom: the Monino museum is home to ALL THE COOL COLD WAR STUFF, including quite a few one-of-a-kind machines (among which the phrase “world’s largest” crops up with impressive frequency), and was the only thing outside the city limits we’ve planned at all. It was also the replacement for Kubinka tank museum, which seemed to be implausibly troublesome and expensive, and far too likely to end with us somehow banged up in Russian jail drinking chifir’ while we waited for my friends to graduate, get on to Fast Stream, get into the diplomatic service and get us out. When it became clear that it was rushed-now or never, now seemed preferable.
The only real guide we had getting to Monino was this one, written by some internet plane-nerd and found on Wikipedia. Fortunately, it’s amazingly comprehensive and detailed, and I loaded the relevant tabs, plonked my laptop and sammich-assembled-from-stolen-breakfast-ingredients into my bag, grabbed a Tom and left for Vladykino. We followed all the steps as detailed on the site, which went off fine (apart from a misread Metro sign which caused a double-back) and the train as we rolled out was exactly as I’d hoped: Real Russia, in a banging, creaking tub on wheels full of surly people in hats and random buskers – shortly after the train started moving, a duo with guitar and violin came onto our carriage, and played so amazingly well I gave them a fistful of small-denomination roubles and asked if I could take their picture; after determining that I was a tourist and not an oddly dressed undercover cop, they said yes. But no ice-cream sellers.
(“Ice cream? Seriously?”
“When in Russia…”
“When in Russia, wrap up warm and don’t do as the locals do because they’re fucking insane.”)
And I was very glad of the train journey and the not-being-in-a-city, because I got to see Actual Russia, which is exactly as I had imagined it, full of enormous pieces of gently decaying public infrastructure and the stereotypical huge blocks of flats surrounding miserable-looking public parks. Everywhere there were stunningly overbuilt residential districts, down-headed Russians heading on their everyday business, swish new Japanese cars rolling past crap, broken-down old Russian ones, and random power plants and factories looming out of the grey mist and adding to it from forests of red-and-white-striped chimneys. It was post-Soviet porn, and it was amazing. I saw a MiG-17 in a random garden and was convinced beyond all doubt that yes, This Was A Good Idea.
The train journey was, however, long, and when after an hour and a quarter of journey the urban wilderness had turned into just plain normal wilderness (though peppered with little abandoned and semi-abandoned allotments and settlements) Tom and I were getting a little worried that we had the wrong train. Checking the map on the train (as we probably should have done at the start), we found that we were on the right train and one station away.
Monino was again one of those stereotypes; past the big, empty station and the excuse for a shopping strip it was all just broad avenues through grey, miserable Soviet tower blocks, some abandoned, all suffused with an atmosphere of general neglect. I didn’t get the feeling that anyone really lives in Monino, though I have no doubt a lot of people exist there. As we got to the edge of the military academy and double-checked our directions next to a great big sign praising Yuri Gagarin, wondering how much further it was, it began to gently snow.
Helped in the last stage by a Russian woman who took one look at our greatcoats and vaguely lost expressions and said “musee?”, we got to the airbase in what was by British standards already a blizzard, and coughed up the entrance fee. What happened next was a sustained kid-in-candy-store period of me gleeing all over Soviet nuclear bombers, jet fighters, giant helicopters and insane historical curios I’d never even heard of before, in a developing blizzard. Suffice to say IT WAS AMAZING; masses of pictures will be up when I’m back on a decent connection.
(“So what proportion of the stuff at Monino did you photograph?”
“All of it.”
When we got back, after lots more Monino-exploring and camwhoring in a snowbound derelict construction site, Bill was feeling much more alive, and we all got on the Metro down south of the river to see the University proper and fill up on dinner; the chap in the same kebab-making cube as Monday recognised us, so we didn’t need to explain the concept of “vegetarian” twice, and we strolled up to Moscow State University in the listless slush and gaped at its endless glory. It really needs pictures to explain, but after Moscow I am ruined for all universities.
Tomorrow (well, today, as I’m writing this a day after the fact): Red Square.