After years of wanting to come to this country and months off my life waiting for the its-such-a-pain-in-the-ass-for-Americans-to-get visa to go through, we are finally in Russia. First stop: Moscow. And it is beautiful. The buildings go back and forth between the very blocky and structured 70s soviet-style and the iconic, ornate Russian Revival style we picture with Russian architecture (am I the only one who has spent time thinking about this??) It’s such a walkable city, perhaps even moreso than New York (gasp), and the grandness and history behind it all gives Paris a run for its money (two gasps). There’s the impressiveness of the Kremlin, with its high red walls, double-headed eagles and glowing red stars outside, and its many churches and museums inside. The Red Square is vast and imposing and gorgeous, especially at night (I passed on Lenin’s tomb). St. Basile Cathedral, with its nine domes in a riot of colors and shapes, looks like something from Candy Land. The Russian orthodox churches are on every corner and beyond ornate, with mosaic tiles and gold leaf and soaring ceilings and cupolas and candles everywhere — they make the catholic churches look simple (three gasps – I’m done for today). There are no seats inside, and during the long 3-hour service people walk throughout the church praying, often kissing icons of Jesus or saints placed around the church. In all of the churches, women cover their head, tourist or not, something most of us don’t do even in the Vatican, and I loved watching the church-goers pray (yes I hear the creepiness there), with their sign of the cross that’s repeated several times and goes in the opposite direction of catholics’. When I was done stalking worshippers, we went to the opera at the famous Bolshoi Theatre, had dinner at the extravagantly Russian Cafe Pushkin, afternoon drinks at the beautiful outside bar Strelka overlooking the Moscow river where we heard the bells of Christ the Savior church ring every hour, walked around Gorky Park and generally discovered as much of the city on foot as we could. We found the Fallen Monument Sculpture Park by accident and it was crazy — statues of Soviet heroes taken down throughout Moscow after the Soviet Union dissolved in the early 90s, come here to live as if in a graveyard. It’s eerie, while at the same time (Dad I’m sorry and history buffs forgive me) even a little kitschy. We stayed with a friend’s family (Hi Yado!) and they were so kind and generous and welcoming and just all-around awesome that we never wanted to leave. We haven’t felt that at home since we were actually home. It was also our preview to the famous White Nights we would see in Saint Petersburg. One night we went to a bar with our hosts to watch the America’s Cup soccer championship game — Chile played Argentina at 11pm. When we walked out, at 2am, the sky was already getting light, and by 3am it was full-blown daytime. We often don’t want to leave a place when we go, but we REALLY didn’t want to leave Moscow. We loved its vibe, even without speaking Russian, and no, most people we met did not speak English. Even global brands like Starbucks, Subway and Dunkin’ Donuts (yep, in the train station) are in Russian, and I’m talking about the big neon signage, not just the menu (actually today I stood in front of a store shelf for 10 minutes trying to decide which bottle is shampoo and which is conditioner — finally Anthony called over a store clerk for help and we played a fun game of washing-hair charades). And we loved the culture: 24 hour bars and restaurants– even the swankiest ones. Papers posted in every ticket window, from museums to train stations, listing regularly scheduled breaks for the window worker. If you were in line when a break came up, you’re gonna have to wait. Also no one here fully understands the concept of waiting in line, so really you either stand your ground so no one cuts in front of you (yayyyy finally my kind of place) or you wait til tonight when everyone is gone. We just nodded, looked around and took it all in. Alas, after a few days we said goodbye to Moscow and hopped a high-speed train for Saint Petersburg, which I’ll write about next. Now though I’m plotting how we can go back to the capitol before our its-such-a-pain-in-the-ass-for-Americans-to-get visa is up at the end of this month. Below are photos of our fun. Hope you enjoy.
Where we ate that we really iiked:
Cafe Pushkin (very well-appointed, for traditional Russian food and ambience)
Elardzhi (for amazing Georgian food)
Strelka (complex of old factories turned into restos and bars)