Free at last! The "official" trip is over. There is an optional trip to Star City and Russian cosmonaut academy, but I can't endure another four hours in a bus. Instead, I slept in until 8:30, took my time getting dressed, and rolled into the hotel lobby and met up with some folks around 10. We headed down to Red Square hoping to see Lenin's tomb. Unfortunately, most of Red Square is barricaded off in preparation for Victory Day on May 9th (Russia celebrates May 9th instead of the 8th because when the treaty was signed, it was already the 9th in Moscow). We ended up walking through the G.U.M. and toured St. Basil's instead. For such a large exterior, the church was quite small inside, but interesting nonetheless. We decided to head toward old Arbot street and pickup gifts to take home, and swung by Sbarro pizza on the way. I'm normally not a big Sbarro fan, but it was great to have some familiar food for the first time in a week. The restaurant was decorated with American flags and mini Statues of Liberty. It was strange to see these things in the shadow of the Kremlin.
While we were walking, I learned that Vice President Cheny spoke out against Russia, and Gazprom in particular, over yet another pricing dispute. While I agree with him whole-heartedly, I really wish he would hold off on the bold statements until next week when we're all out of here!
On Arbot street, I was surprised to find a Texas A&M nesting doll. I bargained the vendor down, but in the end still overpaid. But hey, when you find A&M paraphernalia in Moscow, you buy it. I also did some looking for jewelry for Holly, but I really don't trust myself to pick out jewelry for her, especially since she just bought herself some jewelry a few weeks ago. I ended up leaving empty handed other than the nesting doll, but that's really a present for both of us :)
After shopping we headed back to the hotel where I caught up on my journal and took a break from my shoes. When we got there, we found out that one our classmates had her wallet and passport stolen from her hotel room. Things got pretty ugly, and she and a few others spent the morning going back and forth with the police, the embassy, etc. It's not a good situation to be in. She was able to get a letter vouching that she is in Russia legally, but she will have to stay in our hotel and get a new passport and visa. Since the next few days are a holiday here, she will most likely not be able to leave until Thursday or Friday - missing a side trip she had originally planned. I was impressed by her relative calm over the whole ordeal; I would be going ballistic, and that would pale in comparison to my wife's (or even worse, mother-in-law's) reaction.
After some downtime, I headed back to Pushkin Café for dinner, this time with a different crowd. It was excellent again, but I was surprised to find that the restaurant has a different, more expensive menu on Saturday night. Oh well, it was my last meal in Russia and I blew through all of my remaining Roubles - mission accomplished.
Back at the hotel, our crowd was firmly entrenched in the normal party spot in the lobby. I tried to stay and socialize as long as I could, but I was fading fast and needed to pack. I headed back to the room and said goodnight to Moscow one last time. Tomorrow home! I can't wait to see my wife and sleep in my own bed. Freebird's and Starbucks are definitely on the agenda as well.