A Historical Flashback in Moscow - United Hub
Employee Travel Blog

A historical flashback in Moscow

By The Hub team, March 20, 2017

Each week we will profile one of our employee's adventures across the globe, featuring a new location for every employee's story. Follow along every week to learn more about their travel experiences.

By Ground Safety Program Integration Specialist Kerry Fischman

Growing up in the age of the Cold War and the monthly air raid drills, my wife and I never imagined that one day we would be able to visit Russia, the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and a country that had instilled so much fear in us as children. My wife had loved the movie "Dr. Zhivago" (cue "Lara's Theme") and thought it would be interesting to visit during a Russian winter. However, saner minds prevailed, and we chose August of 2011 to visit Moscow.

In order to visit Russia, we needed to obtain a visa. In addition to the appropriate paperwork, the visa required a letter of "sponsorship," which our hotel was able to provide for us. To make life simple, we used a visa service in Washington, D.C.

Once we arrived at our hotel and freshened up, our first "must-see" was Red Square. As children of the 1950s, we would see TV newsreels showing the armies on parade marching into this massive square with tanks and missiles. All around were imposing red brick buildings and at the far end was this colorful cathedral. Fast forward to the 21st century, and here we were. We walked through an archway that, during the Soviet era, had been destroyed to make room for the military equipment but now had been rebuilt. We emerged into Red Square and, instead of marching armies and tanks, there were families strolling with their children. We stood and just slowly turned in each direction to take it all in. The far end of the square is dominated by St. Basil's Cathedral, with its multi-colored, onion-like domes. Two other sides contain various buildings of the Kremlin and the State Museum. On another side is GUM, the large department store. During the days of the old U.S.S.R., newsreels would show lines of people lined up outside to get their bread or food allowance for that day/week. Today, the building houses stores like Prada, Louis Vuitton, an upscale food market and ice cream stands. It's a complete 180-degree turn from what it had been. But, more than just a building housing three floors of stores in which to spend your money, the building is very beautiful with a ceiling made of steel and glass. After meandering through this late 18th century architectural beauty, we walked back out sun into Red Square, still full of families strolling in the late afternoon.

Glass and steel ceiling in GUM.

Throughout our stay, we would walk the short 10 minutes from our hotel to Red Square – just to take in the historical relevance. A bit of background information: Red Square does not get its name from the pigment in the bricks of the buildings in the square, nor from a euphemism for communism, but rather from a Russian word that means both "red" and "beautiful" – in reference to a small area around St. Basil's and parts of the Kremlin.

The British have Parliament. The Unites States have Capitol Hill. The Russians have the Kremlin. The name "Kremlin" means fortress inside a city. The Kremlin is made of cathedrals, palaces, office buildings and the residence of the president of Russia. It is walled off from the city, but many of the palaces and cathedrals are open for touring. One can tour some of the buildings (not the governmental ones) on their own, but we wanted more in-depth knowledge of what we would be seeing, so we arranged through our hotel for a private guide. Our guide took us through cathedrals and museums that displayed masterpieces of Russian art, Russian icon paintings, gilt frescoes and all things connected to the Russian royal family. Of particular interest were the world-famous Faberge eggs. A series of Easter eggs were created by Fabergé for the Russian imperial family from 1885 to 1916. The Faberge egg is fashioned out of gold and other precious materials and decorated with jewels. The outer "shell" can be opened on many of them to reveal a surprise inside. The surprises range from a perfect miniature replica of the Coronation carriage - that took 15 months to make working 16-hour days - to a mechanical swan and an ivory elephant, to a heart-shaped frame on an easel with 11 miniature portraits of members of the imperial family.

Just outside, near the Kremlin Wall, is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Just like the American Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Arlington Cemetery, it is guarded with dignity by the Russian military.

Steps away from Red Square sits the famous Bolshoi Theatre, home to the world-famous ballet, theatre and opera companies – but, due to renovation during our visit to Moscow, the theatre was closed and we were unable to attend a performance there. Although we could not enter, we admired the grand sculptures of the four flying horses that sit atop the theatre and imagined the majesty of hearing a performance of Tchaikovsky.

Moscow is more than the red brick facade buildings, the onion-domed cathedrals and the block style of architecture from the Soviet era – it also has beautiful boulevards that are lined with 19th century mansions. Over the years, one boulevard, Ulitsa Arbat, fell out of favor and was neglected, but in the 1980s it became pedestrianized, and now it is home to trendy restaurants, art galleries, shops and street performers. The mansions are pastel colored – pale green next to pink next to sunny yellow, making this boulevard come to life and a perfect area to stroll.

Every major city of the world has its underground subway system and, of course, Moscow has one as well. But what makes the subway system in Moscow unique is that several of its underground stations are very ornate. The first metro stations were conceived as magnificent showcases of Soviet success. The Ploschad Revolyutsi station boasts 76 bronze statues, while Mayakovskaya station has beautiful mosaics, Komsomolskaya contains marble walls and chandeliers,Novoslobodskaya has amazing stained glass and is very ornate, and Novokuznetskaya contains historical themes. For the price of one metro ticket, you can take a tour of these stations simply by changing subway trains, all underground without surfacing.

Statues and sculptures in the cemetary

Not only are the metro stations works of art, but the Novodevichy Cemetery is like walking through a sculpture park. Don't think of this as a mournful place, but rather one that has a "park-like ambience." As you enter the cemetery, which is dotted with small chapels and large sculpted monuments, you are struck by the ornateness of the gravestones. Reading the names of those who are buried here is like reading a list of the who's who in Russian culture and politics. Anton Chekhov, Raisa Gorbachev, Nikita Khrushchev and Boris Yeltsin are buried here, along with notable scientists, musicians, poets and playwrights.

Although English is spoken widely throughout Moscow, one thing we needed to do was decipher the Cyrillic alphabet. While it does resemble the English alphabet, many letters are "turned around." For us, especially while in the Metro, we would go letter by letter… regular A, backwards C, then backward R, followed by an O with an I in it – it was not only a cultural experience but a linguistic one as well.

Moscow amazed us – giving us reminders of the bleakness of the Cold War era and then surprising us with the colorful streets full of upscale shopping. Many times, we had surreal experiences with our personal flashbacks to the "duck and cover" days while we were walking Red Square. It was an experience, to say the least.

Adjusting to Customer Demand, United Adds New Nonstop Service to Florida

By United Newsroom, August 12, 2020

CHICAGO, Aug. 12, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- United Airlines today announced plans to add up to 28 daily nonstop flights this winter connecting customers in Boston, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, New York/LaGuardia, Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio to four popular Florida destinations. The new, nonstop flights reflect United's continuing strategy to aggressively, and opportunistically manage the impact of COVID-19 by increasing service to destinations where customers most want to fly.

Entertainment for all

By The Hub team, August 04, 2020

Our Marketing Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity team and Bridge, our Business Resource Group (BRG) for people with all abilities, partnered together to test and provide feedback on our award-winning seatback inflight entertainment (IFE) system.

Aptly named "Entertainment for all," our new seatback IFE system offers the an extensive suite of accessibility features, allowing for unassisted use by people of all visual, hearing, mobility and language abilities.

"It's nice to know that I can get on a plane and pick my favorite entertainment to enjoy, just like every customer," said Accessibility Senior Analyst and Developer and Bridge Chief of Staff Ray C., who is blind.

"As a deaf employee, the closed captioning availability on board our aircraft is something I value greatly," added Information Technology Analyst Greg O. "The new IFE further cements United's visibility within the deaf community and elsewhere. It makes me proud to be an employee."

Accessibility features of the new IFE include a text-to-speech option, explore by touch, customizable text size, screen magnification, color correction and inversion modes, and alternative navigation options for those unable to swipe or use a handset. For hearing-impaired and non-English-speaking passengers, customization options provide the ability for customers to be served content and receive inflight notifications based on their preferences and settings —with closed captions, with subtitles or in the language of their choice from the 15 languages supported. Our "Entertainment for all" system won the Crystal Cabin Award in 2019, and recently, the Dr. Margaret Pfanstiehl Research and Development Award for Audio Description by the American Council of the Blind.

"This really showed the benefits of partnering with BRGs in helping us improve products and services for our customers and employees," said Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity Senior Manager Corinne S. "Even though we have been recognized with awards for our IFE accessibility features, we are not resting on our laurels but continuing to work towards improving the inflight entertainment experience for all of our customers to ensure entertainment is available for all."

Shaping an inclusive future with Special Olympics

By The Hub team, July 24, 2020

If your travels have taken you through Chicago O'Hare International Airport anytime since October 2019, you may have had a friendly, caring and jovial exchange with Daniel Smrokowski. Daniel is one of four Service Ambassadors thanks to our ongoing partnership with Special Olympics. This inaugural ambassador program aims to provide Special Olympic athletes employment opportunities within our operation, affording them a unique and meaningful career.

Since 2018, our partnership with Special Olympics has become one of United's most cherished relationships, going beyond the events we take part in and volunteer with. While the plane pull competitions, polar plunges, duck derbies and Special Olympics World Games and other events around the world are a big part of our involvement, the heart of this partnership lies with the athletes and individuals supported by Special Olympics. To advocate for their inclusion in every setting is one of our biggest honors, and we take great pride in the role we play in the organization's inclusion revolution.

Aiding in the success of Special Olympics' mission to create continuing opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, throughout the two-year partnership, United has volunteered over 10,500 hours and donated over $1.2 million in travel to the organization. The impact of this partnership is felt at every level, both at Special Olympics and within our own ranks.

"The Inclusion Revolution campaign, led by our athletes, aims to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. United Airlines has joined in our fight for inclusion, empowering our athletes with the skills needed to succeed and opportunities to contribute their abilities as leaders," said Special Olympics International Chairman Tim Shriver. "United Airlines believes that people with intellectual disabilities should be perceived as they really are: independent, world-class athletes, students, employees, neighbors, travelers, and leaders who contribute to make this world a better place."

Our Service Ambassador program is just one of the many ways Special Olympics has impacted not only our employees, but also our customers. "I see every day how our Service Ambassadors connect with our customers the moment they walk into the airport lobby," said Senior Customer Service Supervisor Steve Suchorabski. "They provide a warm, welcoming smile ad assist in any way they can. To see these young adults hold positions that a society once told them they couldn't is truly the most heartwarming part of my job," Steve continued.

"The opportunity to be a part of the United family means everything to me," Daniel said. "I feel so much pride showing up to work in a Special Olympics/United co-branded uniform, working among such a loving and supportive community. The relationship between these two organizations is truly helping to shape my future while letting me use my gifts of communicating and helping others. Hopefully, I can spend my entire career at United," Daniel added.

In honor of Special Olympics' Global Week of Inclusion in July, we're asking our employees, customers and partners to sign a pledge to #ChooseToInclude at jointherevolution.org/pledge.

And be sure to check out Daniel's podcast The Special Chronicles.

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