Recent Events Dictate : Russia, Part 2

|August 13, 2012 | Asia, Recent Events Dictate, Travels

Tagansky nuclear command bunker, Moscow : Oliver prepares to initiate the launch sequence which will begin WWIII. Considering that he’s a half-Trinidadian drummer from Los Angeles, the Russian army hat they put on him looks strangely appropriate.

I feel funny, waltzing in at the end of a long, grueling tour when it’s time for sightseeing and fancy hotels and partying, but I’ve toured as hard as anyone ( I’ve slept in vans in Summer, likewise in unheated squats in Winter, been searched by soldiers with assault rifles and dogs at border crossings [ often ], driven hundreds of miles to play to two people, you name it ), and I tell myself that this is a little reward.

Moscow itinerary :

* Hotel bar ( meet charming and perky tour guide )

* Kremlin, Cathedral Of The Archangel ( gigantic bells, Tsars are buried there, awesome )

* Subway tour

* Taras Bulba Korchma Ukrainian restaurant ( Boysenberry Kompot = crack in a glass )

* Tagansky bunker 

* Red Square ( GUM Department Store )

* Cruise on Moscow River ( seen : among other things, the famous ugliest statue in Russia )

* Hotel bar ( fade )

A thing which people I know who travel a lot have been talking about : in other countries, if you’re an adult, they trust that you will act like an adult, and that if you do something dumb, you will accept responsibility instead of suing them. When we all crack beers in the van, the driver turns around and says, ” Is new carpet. Be careful, please. ” — and in the bunker, where there’s rebar sticking out of raw concrete and puddles and unlit corners, the tour guide says, ” Is dangerous. Be careful, please. ”

Moscow subway stationsCW from top left, Komsomolskaya, Novoslobodskaya, Mayakovskaya, Belorusskaya.

The entrance to the Bunker is in what looks like a nondescript Moscow apartment building : we climb down 18 flights of stairs and pass through immense blast doors. We walk through endless tunnels and every so often come to large vaulted rooms lined with massive interlocking steel plates. We’ve heard that there’s a nightclub down here and at one point see through some open doors what looks like a disco ( there is a definite smoking-drinking-partyparty vibe ), but our bunker guide, a young guy dressed like a soldier, seems unwilling to tell us about this. His tour spiel English is mangled to the point that we can barely understand him, and we decide that he has learned his lines phonetically.

In the command center, amidst piles of vintage gas masks, there is a multimedia presentation. Screens show images of 1950s schoolchildren, missile silos, fields of grain, Soviet fighter planes. The guide calls for two volunteers to man the missile launch console, and, in tandem, they press various large buttons. Andrey translates the voiceover for us, which is about the cold war arms buildup, nuclear capabilities, and Russia’s heroic confrontation with a dangerous, imperialist USA. The operators insert and turn keys, and the screen goes white : obliteration. Our guide’s version of the story : ” And, uh, nuclear war is declared. Etcetera. “, which gets a big laugh from the crowd.

We exit through a room filled with old military equipment and communications gear, and you can put on a Soviet army uniform and be photographed playing with this cool junk. There are even a couple of AK-47s, and when we examine their bolts and fire selectors, we realize that these are, in fact, fully functional automatic weapons.

Paul, Gogol’s tour manager.

Next : travel to the black sea.