The Wandering Scot

An occasional travel journal.

Moscow: Vostok-1

To my gleeful amazement, I unexpectedly ran across Gagarin’s Vostok-1 capsule yesterday!

I was out wandering in Moscow and at the VDNKh exhibition center I discovered a newly opened museum “Cosmos”. It turns out to be a big new Space Technology museum. And sitting in the lobby was the original Gagarin Vostok-1 capsule. Oh wow!  I’ve been trying to visit this for years and I was really pleased to finally and unexpectedly see it!

The Vostok-1 capsule is normally kept at the restricted-access RSC Energia Museum, which until recently was closed to foreigners. I am amazed that the Cosmos Museum guys managed to pry the Vostok-1 capsule away from RSC Energia, who normally guard it like a particularly suspicious mother bear with its favorite cub.

By an odd coincidence, I had finally managed to arrange a private visit to the RSC Energia Museum today (for a princely 580 Euros).  Here they explained, rather grumpily, that the Vostok-1 capsule was on a temporary loan to the new Cosomos museum and they were expecting it back imminently, if not sooner.

Even with Vostok-1 away, the RSC Energia Museum has lots of other good stuff, including:

  • The Vostok-style capsule that had been used for Belka and Strelka. This Vostok-style capsule had held a smaller capsule with the two dogs.  After re-entry, the smaller capsule with the dogs was ejected, just as a human cosmonaut would be before the main capsule landed.  Both the larger and smaller capsules landed safely.  The RSC Energia exhibit includes both the larger capsule and the in-situ dog capsule.  My guide assured me that both are the originals.
  • Another similar dogs-in-space Vostok-style capsule.
  • The Vostok-6 capsule of Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space.
  • A three-crew Vostok variant, the Voskhod-1(1964).
  • The Voskhod-2, which had been used with 2 crew and an airlock for the first space walk.
  • The Soyuz-3 capsule, the first successful Soyuz mission.
  • No less than five other Soyuz capsules, including the capsule used in the Soyuz-Apollo mission.

So a total of five Vostok style capsules and six Soyuz capsules!

Soyuz and Vostok capsules

Scotsman in an authentic Soyuz capsule

I very much enjoyed the RSC Energia tour, even without Vostok 1.

Finally, note that Moscow now has three Cosmonautics museums:

  • The new Cosmos Museum inside VDNKh.  This is a good large museum, but almost all the exhibits are mockups or replicas.  The Vostok-1 is only there temporarily.
  • The older Museum of Cosmonautics, just outside VDNKh.  This is mostly replicas, but has a few original pieces, notably a Soyuz capsule and Michael Collin’s Apollo-11 spacesuit.
  • The restricted-access RSC Energia Museum out at Korolev City, which has many original capsules.

Hawaii: Lava 2018



Fissure 8, from 3000ft
I’m out in Hawaii to see the current lava flows.

I started at 4:00am with a bouncy boat ride with Lava Ocean Tours. I had sacrificed a delicious lemon muffin to Poseidon, so the sea was reasonably smooth and we got a good view of where the lava river is hitting the ocean. There’s a lot of steam, so we were mostly seeing glows rather than actual lava, but we got a reasonable view of the intense glow where the main lava stream seemed to be entering. Sadly, Sane Captain Rick was observing the new 300 meter limit, so we only got fairly distant views, unlike my 2016 trip where Mad Captain Shane was taking us in really really close.

Then I took a couple of helicopter tours, one of them a “doors off” tour.  The helicopters are required to stay up at 3000ft, so we got good, but rather distant views of the current live flow from Fissure 8 and of the grayed-over lava river flowing down to the ocean.

The current eruption is the most intense for many years, so if you want to see some good red lava, then right now is a great opportunity.  It may continue for years, or it may stop next month, so seize the moment!

Cyprus: Gothic Mosques

In North Nicosia, I visited that rare architectural oddity, the Gothic Mosque. The Selimiye Mosque was originally a 13th c French Gothic Cathedral and after the 16th c Ottoman conquest was turned into a Mosque. It comes complete with flying buttresses, vaulted ceilings, an arc of tiny carved bishops over the entrance arch, and two minarets.

The converters had a bit of a problem with the interior, as the building has a West-East axis, but Mecca is roughly SE from here. So they’ve created lots of visual cues, including a particularly colorful Mihrab, SE aligned wooden platforms, carpets, etc, to try to keep the faithful pointed in the right direction, at an awkward 45 degrees across the main axis of the building.Two days later in Famagusta, I found another example. This was the 14th c St Nicholas, converted to a mosque by the Ottomans and now called Lala Mustafa Pasha Camisi. The tower tops are ruined, but the roof is intact and the façade and interior are fine. In this case the church axis ran WSW to ENE, and the Ottomans were willing to treat the SSE wall as sufficiently aligned towards Mecca. It was a very grand Gothic Church and it’s an impressively strange Mosque!

Tirana: Familiar Faces

I was striding past Albania’s National Art Gallery when I suddenly spotted a familiar face lurking at the back. Wait, it can’t be? Can it? Yes, it is! Stalin himself, larger than life, glaring disdainfully at the passers by!

It turns out that an area behind the Gallery has a small selection of communist-era statues. There are not one, but two Stalins, and a damaged but still cheerful Lenin.

I had forgotten that Albania had been not only Communist but actually Stalinist, all the way up until 1991. So unlike most of Eastern Europe there were still Stalin statues, as well as Lenins, to be torn down and banished to museum back yards.


Stalin #1

Lenin, maimed but resolute.

Stalin #2

A rather befuddled tour group.

Japan: Samurai Castles

Matsumoto-jo

Inuyama-jo

I’ve been visiting Samurai castles in Japan.

A fair number survive, in some form or other, but authenticity varies wildly.  Some keeps, such as Osaka-jo, are imaginative rebuilds, with concrete cores and even elevators.  But there are a handful of authentic survivors and I focused on the five that are ranked as “National Treasures”, at Matsumoto, Hikone, Himeji, Inuyama and Matsue.  Even these have seen extensive renovations.

These mostly follow fairly similar patterns, with complex moat systems and walls protecting the route to the inner keep.  Inuyama-jo is a striking exception, using a natural hill and river instead of moats.

There are many repeated design tricks, such as double gates at right angles, with a weak outer gate allowing entry to a small courtyard and then a very strong inner gate making sure you stayed there, as convenient target practice for the defenders.

Hikone-jo

Himeji-jo

Ethiopia’s Dallol region combines a salt flat with volcanic hot springs, to wildly colorful effect. Hot rocks far below are forcing up hot salty water, laden with minerals.  The bubbling hot springs then form brightly colored salt formations and salty lakes.

The active areas are continually changing, with new features appearing and old ones drying up and fading.  The currently active hot spring area is full of lots of little bubblers, 1-3 inches, burbling up colors.  The water is hot, but not boiling – most of the bubbles are trapped gas, not steam.  There is yellow from sulfur, green from potash, red from iron, white from pure salt.

The colors are much more intense than anything I remember from Yellowstone.  They look ridiculously over-saturated!  I suspect this is because I’m seeing colored salt, whereas at Yellowstone you see colored limestone.  When there is rain (which happens every few years) all the formation and colors are washed away.

It looked extremely cool!