Top Secret Underground Bunker

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Saturday afternoon:watches synchronized – almost – departing Alpha Echo headquarters in stealth mode @ 12:00 or (thereabouts); Our mission: locate unknown Russian underground facility – AKA Bunker42.

 

 

We headed to a named, if not known, Metro station to meet a named if not known tour guide. The order, if we decided to accept it was to take a metro and head to Taganskaya Metro and ‘mill around’. Mr Expat was in mid ‘mill’ when another of our party arrived on foot followed by 2 more who had checked the bus routes and then the last of our visit posse.  Once all the troops were rallied outside Taganskaya Metro, tour guide located and accounted for, we weaved our way down alleys and in between buildings in this quiet residential area. Making our way to a building hidden in plain sight, Mr Expat can’t help feeling like he is in a 007 Bond movie as the theme music plays in his head.

Reaching an eggshell-yellow coloured building, to the untrained expat eye seems like yet another Moscow-like building. But in fact, tucked away in a local residential area and mere minutes away from the Metro, is a secret establishment that most of the average Muscovites on the street don’t know about. Covering this top secret bunker is a large  building that residents back in former days were told was a library. With no windows and a few pot plants strategically positioned, who would have thought this would be Stalin’s location of choice to hide away from danger during World War II. Inside this fairly innocuous building was a huge concrete and granite dome-like structure designed to withstand the impact of the largest of bombs.

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After receiving our secret agent passes, we entered the area, fronted by a door weighing about two tons followed by a zig-zag anti blast tunnel. The bunker is divided into three blocks positioned side-by-side, hidden sixty five  meters or seventeen floors below the surface. Mr Expat opted for the stairs thinking 65m was not that far, but then he always was old school feet and inches. We regrouped in the first passage before making our way to the first block – mostly because of the wheezing and breath catching from the descent. Here in the steel reinforced tube-like tunnel, a desk was located were people in soviet times would have to sign in for a second time before proceeding through to the restricted blocks of the bunker.

Once we reached the first block, the entered an area where different types of missiles were on display. Located beneath a large black and green map of the world on a large projection screen, were two stations where military staff would receive orders to turn their security keys and initiate a bomb launch if fired upon.

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In a fun simulation, two candidates played out how this would have been done in previous days. First they would turn key number one and wait for further instructions, followed by the insertion and turning of key number two. After receiving final instructions and a secret launch code, they would punch in the number sequence on the panel and press the green launch button. Over head on the large screen, a video simulation displayed the course and different stages of how the bomb would be deployed and the impact it would have. Even though it was simulated, it felt very close to real although the consensus was that it should have been a red button!

After blowing up the world, we went up a small staircase and tried not to get lost in the maze of tunnels and passages. We ended up in a area where a large door slammed shut behind us and red lights flashed as the sirens went off before a very authoritarian voice made announcements in Russian. Too scared to move a muscle and not being able to see a single thing in between the intermittent pitch dark and red flashes around us, we experienced what it would have felt like had Stalin needed to evacuate the bunker for whatever reason.

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After all of the ‘agents’ had regrouped, we entered the second block of the bunker where the radio and control room was located.Here they had a three-dimensional module of the bunker showcasing how deep it is beneath the surface and the layout of the three blocks of the bunker. It also shows the rail tracks of one of the metro lines that passes in front of  one of the doors. (This particular door has been closed since some visitors to the bunker like to play ‘freak out passengers on the metro’ by making their camera flashes go off as the train goes by). In the room they had various different gas masks and weapons that you could pick up and try on for size. We were told that back in the day the bunker had a self-destruct mechanism – when in the control room, staff had sixty seconds to execute task before the self-destruct mechanism is automatically activated. No pressure then!

The tour had a great deal to offer, Mr Expat, as ever, intrigued by the logistics – how to move this much earth and debris without arousing suspicion; how to get 2000+ workers into the bunker spotted and most importantly whether there will be a lift to take him the surface!

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To conclude our visit  to this amazing location, we were guided past a modern banquet and wedding venue – site of an Armageddon party on 12/12/12 and into a video room where the history from the end of WW2, the development of atomic bombs, the race for space and the beginnings of the cold war and Bay of Pigs incident through to what we have now. It provided visitors with a brief, albeit slightly biased, slant on recent day history. A definite must-see for any lover of world history, nuclear and military development.

And yes, an elevator did await Mr Expat which made his day and the journey home much more pleasant for me!

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Bolshoi Theatre: Backstage Tour

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This day was set up to be one of the most memorable and most awe striking experiences and it did not disappoint. We had family from outside  Russia stay with us, a mere three months after we moved here and almost before our belongings had arrived with the haulage company, and we really wanted to do something special that they would not only remember but that is unique to Moscow. We were very fortunate to have a privately arranged backstage guided tour of the Bolshoi Theater.

Bolshoi, in Russian means big or great, and upon arrival, you are met with a majestic sight of a  bronze sculpture of Apollo in his chariot supported by a row of colossal pillars, welcoming you to one of the greatest theaters ever built – the world renowned Bolshoi Theater. Located right opposite the large and busy road of Teatral’nyy, and destined to be overlooked by Apollo and his team of horses is a large statue on Revolyutii square over which parts of the Kremlin peak.  Once we walked through the great pillars and into the foyer of the theater, this expat could not help getting this overwhelming sensation of being surrounded by greatness.

An interior of marble, white and gold leads you down a maze of passages to beautiful, elegant small lifts that transport theater goers between the cloakroom and all the floors of the main theater – of which there are six. Coats duly checked into into the cloakroom we efficiently received a numbered token before we set off to the first floor of the Main Stage and entered the enormous, pitch perfect, acoustically sound, auditorium. As we sat in the seats of the amphitheater, we sat in silence for a moment just to take in all the beauty, splendor and history. The stage, which is at a perfect three degree angle, is located beyond the orchestra pit. Once you are viewing this from up close, you can’t help feeling very small and insignificant. Turning around to get an dancer’s view of the theater, it is dominated by the Royal Box in the center of the Belle-Etage and the rows of ornate golden balconies. On the far right, directly above the stage is another box, said to be the one used by Stalin and located directly opposite is the box where distinguished dancers and opera singers sat.

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We progressed to the top floor of the theater and entered the forth balcony. Walking over to the edge of the balcony, you can almost touch the magnificent crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling. The ceiling features beautifully painted figures, one on each panel, representing the twelve muses of Apollo.

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After a barrage of camera activity, we proceeded with our tour and headed up into the rafters that is the ninth floor, where all the members of staff work tirelessly to put together the perfect productions expected by discerning ballet and opera goers. We were treated to a private  rehearsal of Spartacus that was taking place on the rehearsal stage – the stage is an exact replica of the Main Stage and dancers rehearse each production here until the opening night when they take their costumes, their ballet shoes and what is left of their nerves downstairs to perform on the Main Stage for the first time. Making our way back, we passed through the wardrobe rooms where all the costumes are made. Here they work tirelessly, crafting each item by hand with the view of enhancing each performance. And the view from their window is just priceless – this expat would never get any work done!

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As our tour was nearing it’s end, we were led down to one of the lower floors and showed to two ballrooms. We made our way up one of a most beautiful marble staircases, surrounded by yet more crystal, gold and mirrors. The Imperial Ballroom was decorated in a warm shade of red, typically associated with soviet times. Everything looked absolutely immaculate and pristine as we took in one lingering last glimpse of all the beauty that surrounded us before making our way back to the foyer.

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