Friday, October 14, 2011

That time I went to Russia – part dva


So there I was in Moscow with three of my pals. We went for a week in September and it was amazing.

The visit was full of beautiful old churches, less beautiful soviet cinderblock buildings, old USSR propaganda (murals, statues, etc), delicious vodka, unsmiling people but secretly nice people, leather jackets, weird food, medieval villages, boatloads of seafood, fur hats, really confusing signs, and tons of fun.  The weather was high fifties, which felt refreshingly fall-like (you have to be a little cold in Russia, right?). Though it rained every day which further contributed to the overall gray like feeling of the city.  It made it even more fun to see the colorful painted onion domes of the churches dot the skyline.  We packed the days in and got to see a little bit of everything: touristy stuff, ballet, bars.  Few people with whom we interacted (waiters, etc.) spoke much English, which I found surprising. But I said ‘Spasiba’ (thank you), they always replied ‘Pashalsta (please/you’re welcome) and by the end I got pretty good at charades.  

I feel like it is good for the soul to drop in on a different culture and be a minority for once.  It makes me appreciate how easy things are for me in my cushy American life.

But more about the trip you say? Onward!


They don’t make ‘em like they used to, am I right?

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So one of the few places were we spent the time and rubles to delve deeper into the history was the iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral (behind us in the big photo).  It is made up of ten tiny cathedrals that could probably only hold a few people at one time.

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The audio guide probably said iconostasis 700 times.  If only I had a shot of vodka every time I heard that… I’m just saying it would have been the full Russian experience.


Hey Dad, look at the tile work!

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Caution: wildly inappropriate behavior (this isn’t an active church anymore so its only mildly sacrilegious)

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Owling is the new planking… so we hear.


Our best Russian unsmiling faces (we were assimilating).


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----------------------------------------------> look it is of the world famous Bolshoi Theater (ballet)!

But it wasn’t all tourist photos, we had some crazy food.  To be fair, Moscow in many ways was the same as any other major European city.  There were sushi restaurants, Italian restaurants, you name it.  However I usually tried to order something unfamiliar and even questionable in some cases.  Below was at a sidewalk cafe (a Russian chain from what I could tell), I had a salad with salmon (so much fresh fish everywhere there!!) and caviar with a strong mustard dressing.  Included with the salad was a pancake rolled up with mashed potatoes, gravy, tuna and peas.  Lots of comfort food, it was pretty good! Though predictably the flavors were all over the place, so those with weak stomachs need not apply.


Speaking of weak stomachs, my BFF Bowler got a sinus infection while we were out there.  Sad times.  Actually Rosley got sick too (the airplane? the greasy food on the go? the rain? who knows) but was able to hold off the full nasal discomfort until our very last day.  Meanwhile Bowler had to sit out some of the trips around the city in favor of sleep and trying to explain to the ladies at the pharmacy around the corner that she needed a coughing, stuffy head, night time medication.  Now THAT is knowing your charades.


Meanwhile we made a trip to the ballet.  The Bolshoi is under construction and the top tier ballets were still pretty out of our price range.  We went to a ballet of Hamlet, of all things.  Though most of the performance was without dialogue (and hello the program was not in English), occasionally there would be moments where the characters or narrator or God (or someone with a booming voice?) would say things to move the dialogue along.  It had been ages since I have studied Shakespeare, and was really missing my iphone for just such last minute story-line researching.  However once we realized that Hamlet is the same story line as the Lion King, eeeeeeeeeeeeeeverything made so much more sense.  We were all in that age window where we weren’t quite old enough when the movie came out to make the mental leap to Shakespeare.  Clever Disney, clever.

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Also, in one of our daily romps (and before the sick got too sick), we did a little daytime Russian booze sampling.  It was fun!


Inevitably it led to more Elk reenactments for those who weren’t in that dirty Chicago alley last March.

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And also a trip to a Hookah Bar (no worries, we just had pineapple smoke/water)

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We DID go out big one other night.  Ros and Ian had made friends with a bartender and we followed him to this basement club.  Seriously it looked just like the bar from Inglorious Bastards, pre violent murders. 

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This bartender was a former diplomat’s son and spoke fluent English, also he treated us to a tower of booze and flames.  Oh boy.  The place had a DJ and we were trying to request songs via napkin… which was infinitely more successful than trying to shout in ears above the music in another language.  Also though no one besides our bartender friend knew much English, those 90s songs would come on (Bon Jovi, Michael Jackson) and the whole place would sing each one word for word.  It’s so funny how western influences are everywhere.  There would be people sitting next to you on the subway with t-shirts, purses, etc with English writing.  Like the middle aged guy next to me once who was wearing jeans that said ‘surfer dude’… pretty sure he’s not a surfer dude. I wondered the whole ride if he knew or cared what his tag said.  It was so interesting.  Even in this bar there were random US license plates dotting the walls.  South Dakota? You don’t say.

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One day we went to a big marketplace on the outskirts of town.


We got to stop in a traditional Russian restaurant and even had some Borsht. MMMMmmmm Beets.

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Truthfully most of the places we went had menus printed in both Russian and in English. Although sometimes the English pricing was a bit higher (blarg!) it was almost worth it to have some idea what the heck you were getting.  However one place we went, a wine bar, had ipads for us to use when ordering that could easily be switched in and out of languages.  Technology win! At that place we had a paella platter (technically Spanish), but the next day it was right back to Eastern Euro cuisine with some goulash.  Yours is still better mom :)

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Did I mention that the fish was aplenty? Not only were there sushi places everywhere, but it was good and fresh stuff.  Sometimes it pains me living so far from a coast. But my do I enjoy it when I can!

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And that concludes the first few days of my Russian adventure.  Part Tri is coming right up and includes our excursion to the countryside and pictures from within the Kremlin walls.  Stay tuned!