Ekaterinburg

Michael in Europe and AsiaI bestride the earth like a colossus! Two continents lie beneath my feet! That’s Europe to the left and Asia to the right, and I am at the watershed in the Ural Mountains to the west of Ekaterinburg that marks the boundary of the two continents.

The most affecting part of the day was to see the site where Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra, along with their five children were murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918. An impressive church has been built over the basement that was the site of their execution.

Kazan

Robin in coupéRobin writing in his journal in the cabin of the “Golden Eagle” train. For July 3, our stop was in Kazan, capital of the Autonomous Republic of Tatarstan in the Russian Federation. The population is a mix of Tatars and Russians, ethnically speaking, and Kazan’s development in the post-Soviet era towards a more multicultural civil society has been eased somewhat by an influx of oil money, as Tatarstan is an oil-producing region. We saw new construction, such as what is now the largest mosque in Russia, on the grounds of the Kremlin in the oldest section of the city at the confluence of the Kazan and Volga Rivers. At the same time, we couldn’t help but notice the ruins of what once were grand, Russian imperial buildings. Kazan is a sports-mad city, and it has more stadiums and sports halls than a city of its size by rights ought to have. They seem particularly proud that the Universiad (world university games) will be held here in a couple years’ time.

Start of Trans-Siberian Express tour

Revolution Square sculptureThe metro station at Revolution Square is lined with socialist-realism sculpture like this example. Along with seeing three of the best metro stations we had a private tour of the Armoury collection at the Kremlin, and a bus tour of the prominent sites of Moscow. Lunch was at a restaurant that was playing a silent film starring Adolphe Menjou, which set a certain mood.

We went to Moscow Kazanskii station around six, and had a champagne reception in the ornate hall before boarding the train. The long journey commenced punctually at 18:48, and our first dinner aboard the train started with caviar. Now that is a proper welcome to Russia!

Dominion Day in Moscow

Faberge eggsFaberge eggs. In the foreground is the “Standart” Yacht Egg of 1909, and behind it is the Alexander III Monument Egg of 1910. These are samples of Easter gifts that the Russian royal family gave to one another, and are on display in the Belfry on Cathedral Square in the Kremlin.

The struggle to be reunited with our bags continued. Aeroflot never phoned or emailed, and their contact numbers at the airport were either busy or they just didn’t bother to pick up. When a breach was made in the wall of silence, at last, they said they couldn’t find “a guy with a car” to bring the bags into central Moscow. For indeed, the bags were sitting at Sheremtyevo airport, gathering dust.

Only going to the airport was going to make anything happen. I left Robin to represent the MacKay brothers at the welcome banquet for our rail tour at the Marriott Royal Aurora hotel, and went to the airport with my good friend Galya — a native Russian speaker, but more usefully an expert in how business really is done in this country. At the airport, Aeroflot found another baffling but effective way to keep me from my bags: lock the door of the luggage office, and threaten to call the militia if I kept bothering them! After four hours at the airport talking to everyone (none of of whom had a supervisor and for whom everything was “impossible”) the magical door to the luggage office was at last opened, and I was reunited with our bags. The dragon lady in that office even apologized — in Russian to Galya — when she found out I was Canadian. I have no clue what difference that makes about anything, but it added a last comedy touch to the whole grisly proceedings.

Of course I completely missed the welcome banquet, but to celebrate our meagre victory we went to a Georgian restaurant, and I savoured that wonderful national cuisine on a patio on a warm Moscow night at two in the morning. Welcome to Russia, right? And a huge thanks to Galya, without whom everything really would have been “impossible.”

A Summer Day in Moscow

Michael and Robin in Red SquareThat’s me on the left and Robin on the right in this photo taken on Red Square. Behind us are the Lenin Mausoleum, and the Senate Tower and the Saviour Tower of the Kremlin. When we tried to enter the Armoury Museum we were told “the Kremlin is closed.” I thought that must be a practical joke, like the old Candid Camera bit where a fake cop puts up a barricade on a country road, and informs confused motorists who stop that “Vermont is closed today.” Unlike that gag, it turns out the Kremlin really was closed. Our Plan B was to see 19th century Russian art at the Tretyakov Gallery (which somehow managed to be open to visitors on a weekday!) and then to go on a boat cruise along the Moskva River to take in the cityscape.

In Moscow

Russian flag
Here I am in Moscow, Russia. People find it strange that I have been to Ukraine many times over the past 20 years but have never been to Russia. I have corrected that deficiency now. Unfortunately, my bags did not arrive with me. I’ll blame Air Canada for that, as the flight from Ottawa was substantially delayed due to mechanical failure, and the consequently shortened layover time at London Heathrow was evidently insufficient to get baggage transfered on to the connecting Aeroflot flight to Moscow. I’m a seasoned road warrior from work, though, so I know to roll with the punches. This is not the most welcoming of circumstances to start the trip, but I am happy to be here.

Luggage tag

This is the luggage tag for the Trans-Siberian Express private train. I will be travelling across Russia, from Moscow to Irkutsk and Lake Baikal, and from there going into Mongolia to see the Naadam Festival in Ulaan Baatar. Accompanying me will be my brother Robin. We leave next week, and start things off on Canada’s Dominion Day in Moscow on July 1st. I hope to be able to keep a travel journal through this site, updated with pictures and notes as we go along. Stay tuned!

Welcome

a Cosmopolitan cocktailHello world! I’m Michael MacKay … empire builder and public hero. No, that’s not me, but the character Robert Conway, played by Ronald Colman in the film “Lost Horizon.” I would indeed like to have written a book where I said (as supposedly did Conway): “There are moments in every man’s life when he glimpses the eternal.” You will find here something more modest, but perhaps interesting nonetheless.