One of the good things about retirement is the ability to go and do most anything you want on your own schedule. Having spent most of my working career looking down on most of North and Central America and parts of 5 of the 7 continents from the Flight Deck, you can develop a desire to see the ground a little closer and stay a little longer .
My wife Kris and I had the opportunity to visit Russia this Fall and travel from St. Petersburg to Moscow. Russia has changed just a little bit from the 60’s black and white TV images of tanks and rocket launchers rolling through Red Square with the Politburo and Premier Khrushev standing atop Lenin’s tomb during the height of the Cold War.
My first visit to Moscow was just after we began flying to the USSR and naturally we had to venture out to see this famous landmark. You had to get a special form to leave the hotel and venture out on your own and we complied, and with our passports and shore passes in hand made our way to Red Square.
Moscow wasn’t dirty but very gray and grimy, with very stern people and all busy going somewhere as we navigated our way with a Cyrillic map to our target. We rounded a corner and entered via the North gate, opposite end from St Basil’s with the GUM on the left and the walls of the Kremlin on the right. The first thing that struck me was, wow, it’s not all that BIG, it looked much larger from the old television images, even with only a few people in the center. My Copilot also remarked it looked smaller than he expected and noted that he too had never seen it on the ground, only in the targeting photo’s from his days as an Air Force F-15 pilot stationed in Germany. I gained new respect for Mathias Rust, the teenager who landed his Cessna in Red Square in May of 1987 on a flight from Germany and caused quite an incident. The GUM was empty and a deserted feeling permeated the place, except for the line for Lenin’s tomb which wrapped around and stretched all the way out of the Square, the place was empty.
We arrived in Mocba last October and I was keenly interested in seeing the changes since the dissolution of the USSR and the glasnost of Mikhail Gorbachev. Changes are a understatement! Honestly if you removed the Cyrillic lettering you would think you were in Prague or Budapest, not quite Western Europe yet, but getting there. Red Square was jammed with tourists, the GUM was open with shops and sidewalk cafe’s. Starbucks and Mickey D’s abound and while waiting to cross the street next to St Basil’s there was not a Lada insight, only Mercedes Benz, BMW’s, Land Rovers, Volvo’s and even a Chevy. It’s like Times Square Russian style, with street vendors selling everything, thousands of people taking selfies and no lines at Lenin’s tomb. It is no longer open to the general public, now only on special occasions.
The Cold War is definitely over and while some tension has resurfaced with Mr. Putin, the Russian people will never go back to the old days. They universally despise the Soviet Era and now everyone has an iPhone, Ruble’s to spend and a bunch of Millennials to satisfy.