Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I left my rubles in Russia – part chetyre


So one day when pressed for time we popped in to a Sbarro Pizza place for a quick lunch.  Did I mention those things were everywhere? I mean, on many a trip to the mall growing up I have eaten a deliciously greasy ginormous slice of sbarro pizza, but I can probably count on one hand the places I have seen those things at home.  Not the case in Russia.  Considering we spent a great deal of time in tourist traps, I saw only 2 McDonalds the whole time, but probably saw a dozen Sbarros.  There were 3 in the Moscow airport and you could see all locations from one spot.  Madness I tell you. 


Anyway, there we were eating.  We had spent plenty of time seeking out unique restaurants during our trip, but like anything where you have to eat out ten days in a row, sometimes you just pick the place next door.  Inside and seated with our trays of food, we realized that the TVs above our heads were playing back-to-back-to-back Ace of Base music videos.  This was just awesome.  For one, I had no idea that they had more than a couple of hits, but when each new song would come along, we would happily hum along and discuss which skating rink or school dance that particular song represented to us.  As we were watching the bizarre cinematography, moody 90s attire (crushed velvet, leather, army boots, mullets) of this Swedish band of yore, it occurred to me that THAT was Russia as I had come to know and love.  Bowler was not as impressed with my ‘aha’ let’s-compare-the-whole-country-to-a-90s-band-generalization moment.  I’m just saying, it reminded me of some of the people watching in the city in a totally not a bad thing resemblance.  It was deliciously European. I loved it.

Ace Of Base - Don't Turn Around [1994]

But post lunch, we had some more exploring to do from inside the Kremlin walls!

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Can you spot the Sbarro still stuck in my teeth? Many more rounds of pictures happened before this was acknowledged.  Points for Bowler for finally getting it off my tooth after about four minutes of me saying ‘and now did I get it?’ That’s friendship folks.


On some of the buildings in and just outside of the Kremlin (the Red Square/Kitay Gourd area), the construction was covered up by a false wall designed to look like the exterior of that building.  Seriously, can you tell that the picture below has not real windows and a crane peeking out from behind.  So much more scenic. 

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While in the Kremlin it was pretty limited with what we could see.  Only so many tickets were available to the exhibits in a few buildings.  If you weren’t there at the precise moment they went on sale, Nyet tickets for you.  One exhibit we were able to see however was the Diamond fund, which is basically the crown jewels for the last few centuries.  Holy smokes that stuff was magnificent.  Also if you make jokes with the hilarious Australian ladies in your tour group and raise your voice to laugh you will be promptly scolded in Russian.  Then you will get the giggles and it will be worse.  Those guards are all business.


And then of course we left a little time for some shenanigans before we left Red Square.

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Next stop was a traditional Ukranian restaurant.  Complete with kitschy flair for us to use while dining.  You know we were all over that.

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We were famished by the time we sat down to eat and when bread and mystery dipping stuff was put in front of us we didn’t hesitate to dive in.  The proceeding conversation was all of us guessing the ingredients of the then unidentified dip which tasted like something delicious and fatty.  Was the base butter? mayo? ‘Guys, I looked it up in the guidebook, it’s lard’.  We all exchanged slightly grossed out looks, and then proceeded to eat some more. Fat is tasty stuff, no surprise there. 

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What was a surprise was my entree.  I was trying to order something intriguing with no guarantee on taste or presentation.  Nailed it. Our waiter brought it long before the other dishes and accidentally gave it to Bowler first. We looked at it with intense curiosity for like five minutes before asking the waiter what the onion/jello cake was.  Turns out, that was my order of ‘Herring in a fur coat’. It was a layered casserole of sorts, served cold, with the fish/potato mix on the bottom and layers of carrots, beets, and beet Technicolor sour cream on top.  Truthfully, it was kind of gross.  Cold fish in a non sushi type of plating was hard for me to wrap my mind around. 

Also, the sickly Bowler had ordered some sort of pear beverage with the hopes it might soothe her throat.  When the waiter enthusiastically recommended it after she pointed to it on the menu, he asked Rosley and I if we would like samples. He didn’t know tons of English, but he did use the word sample.  What the hell, we thought.  Then he brought us large steins (damn, not samples) of a root beer like concoction.  Maybe it was more like non alcoholic beer.  In any event, it was not a great pairing for a cold herring casserole.  It’s cool though, I ordered dumplings also and then helped myself to Bowler’s lard mashed potatoes.  Which were the stuff dreams and thunder thighs are made of. Holy moly was that good.

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And with that meal (last supper?) our trip had come to a close and we headed back to the hotel for packing and an obscenely early wake up call for the train. 

I can’t say it enough, Russia was amazing, wonderful, fascinating, superlative superlative superlative. I am grateful to my friends who made this little adventure happen.  I feel so fortunate that I had the opportunity and that all the stars aligned for such a fun and enriching trip.

I also felt like it was such a fascinating time to be visiting Moscow.  With communism now twenty years behind Russia, it seems like much had been developed to make the city like other major European cities (technology, global businesses, universal languages).  It felt like that place would have looked so different ten years ago and will look so different ten years from now.  And that my friends is the beauty of travel.  These foreign destinations put their imprint of that point in time in our passport, hearts, minds, and collection of fur hats (which has gone from 0 to 1).  You put your imprint, however incrementally, on the local economy and everybody is better off for it. Let’s go abroad again soon, da?


And now, for your moment of zen: Rosley  at the crack of dawn in Moscow with too-long pants that were tight rolled, her luggage backpack, duffle full of clinky vodka bottles and some industrial strength tobacco packed Russian cigarettes. A sight to behold.