Hello all! I hope you’re all enjoying the spring weather- It’s gotten significantly nicer here so I can only imagine what it’s like in the States! Almost all the snow has melted and the majority of the canals are rid of the massive ice chunks they were previously covered in. Today is my third day back at school after travel week. Kind of bittersweet to move from the complete fun and relaxation that was my travel week, but I’m glad to be back into the swing of things.
Anyways, the weekend before last we had our programmed trip to Moscow. It was one of the best weekends I have had here in Russia. I absoloutely fell in love with Moscow during the three short days I was there. In this post I’ll mostly break down the расписание (schedule) of the trip for you all.
I met the sixty or so program members travelling to Moscow in Mосковский Вокзал around 10:00 the night of the 24th. We boarded a direct overnight train and left the station around midnight. Once on the train, we spent some time hanging out in eachothers cabins, just having fun until around 3 am when the conductors close the doors between sleeping carts. I shared a compartment with four of my girlfriends which was great. Luckily I got one of the bottom bunks and I was able to fall asleep really quickly. I think it might have had something to do with the sound of the wheels rolling over the tracks again and again- but whatever it was, I was the first one to fall asleep and stayed that way until the train lurched to a halt in Ленинградский Вокзал.
As soon as we got off the train we met up with our tour guides who led us out to our typical travelling set up- two enourmous coach busses. We loaded our luggage up and grabbed a seat (I got to sit in the front this time! aka the best view haha) and we headed off on a bus tour of the city. We don’t waste any time on this program. Our tour was entirely in Russian as per usual (although it still blows my mind how much my comprehension has improved since being here - since when can I understand entire tours conducted in Russian!?) We got off the bus at a few places with senic views of the city to snap pics. I caught some really interesting snapshots of the cities design on the tour. People always told my that Moscow and Petersburg were nothing alike, I always figured they couldn’t be that different- but God was I wrong. They are like night and day!
Petersburg is on an almost completely flat terrain, the line of the city scape in general is very low as it is against the law to build past a certain height here. Besides for the occasional Soviet style apartment or administrative building, almost every building you lay eyes on is basically an architectural masterpiece and they are all painted in muted pastel colors (sounds bad, looks great.) The city itself has a very intentional feel to it, very much like it was planned out and almost decorated. Moscow is the exact opposite, with foreboding castle-like skyscrapers dotting the entire skyline, a complete mixture of Imperial, Soviet and Modern archituecture. There are massive advertisments everywhere, my favorite being the massive car ad directly next to St.Basil’s Cathedral. The traffic is unbelievable and grafitti is rampant but the city definitely pulls off it’s seeminly clashing aesthetics. From the midst of all that chaos radiates an immense beauty which I was immediately drawn in to the second I stepped off the train.
We finally got off the bus next to Red Square and made our way over to the center, where we met in front of St.Basil’s cathedral. I couldn’t help but get a little secretly emotional once I finally stopped and looked around the Square. I kind of wandered off to the side and just took some time to reflect on where exactly I was. For me, stepping on Red Square felt like the culimation of my Russian studies. I remember learning about the layout of city in the eighth grade and just thinking about how different and interesting Russia seemed- and dreaming about the day that I finally got to experience it in real life. It was just really great to look back on all these years of Russian studies and think about how far I’ve come. Lets just say the fourteen year old in me was very proud haha.
St.Basil’s up close
After a quick tour around the Sqaure we head over to GUM- one of the oldest and most beautiful shopping centers in Russia. My freind and I immediately headed to Gastronom 1 which I can honestly say was the best store I have ever been in (and everyone knows how much I love to shop!) It was amazing. Gastronom 1 is basically an enormous store filled with only the best products. Pastries,Fruits,Vodka,Candy,Flowers you name it, they have the best version of it inside. It smells unbelieveable in there, I was immediately drawn to the bakery where my freind and I bought the best chocolate crossiants I have ever eaten, for only 30 roubles! After walking around a bit we decided to sit by a foutain in the center of the mall, enjoy our purchases and do a little people watching (one of my favorite activities here in Russia. It was soon time to meet up with our group again, so we took a few last pictures of Red Square and made our way back to the busses and headed to the hotel.
Some friends and I inside GUM
After a somewhat nerve wracking run in with the afore mentioned traffic, we finally made it back to our hotel. It turned out CIEE had booked us rooms at a really fantastic Holiday Inn off the Cокольники metro stop. *If your feeling ambitious, check out this map of the dauntingly enormous We were at the fourth stop from the top of the red line. For reference all the touristy stuff like the Kremlin and Red Square are in the center around Библиотека Ленина анд Китай Город, that general area.* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mosmetro2010.png
We unpacked our things, settled into our MASSIVE rooms and just chilled out for a while. I took a shower and watch Hairspray in Russian with my roomate. Soon after, we decided it was time to explore so we got dressed and set out to find a place to eat dinner. We eneded up at this really great Italian restaurant where we ordered pizza (somewhat of a novelty here in Russia.) The menu was hysterical, the person who translated it clearly had issues with English and/or Microsoft Word as about a quarter of the Pizzas were labled in English as “Braised eel over rice” and Bread was constantly listed as “Gin.” haha!
We ended up ordering a barbeque chicken pizza which was really great except it wasn’t so much barbeque as it was curry flavored? Needless to say it tasted very interesting, but it was still nice to have pizza! After dinner we went back to our hotel room and met up with a bunch of our friends. Its always fun when our group travels together so we can really have some time to hang out and relax.
The next morning we had a great (American style!!) breakfast at the restaurant downstairs before we headed off on our excursion to the Kremlin. The weather in Moscow was bizarre to say the least, switching from sunny to cloudy to windy to snowy at seemingly four hour intervals the entire weekend. Of course when we arrived to the Kremlin it decided to snow! I forgot my hat so in true Russian fashion I tied my scarf around my head babushka style. Hey, when in Russia…
The Kremilin was absolutely amazing. There were tons of old cannons and cannon balls laying around on display. The cathedrals in particular were very beautiful, we got to go insde both the Cathedral of the Annunciation and The Cathedral of the Twelve Apostles. We ended the trip with a visit to The Kremlin Museam. I really loved this museam, it was probably my favorite museam in Russia so far. It was filled with thousands of amazing collections of gold, silver, bronze, bejewled creations. Pretty much anything you name, they had it. Want to see a gold enrusted/bejeweled goblet made out of ostrich egg? Its there. How about tons of beautiful Imperial Russian ball gowns? Also there. Catherine the Greats throne? Saw it. Hands down the most interesting museam I have ever been to.
The highlight of that day, however, was just as we were leaving the Kremilin and the changing of the guards outside the Могила Неизвестного Солдата or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Alexander Garden started. The flame is there to honor the dead of the Great Patriotic War (How Russians refer to World War II.) My Dad had asked me to try and get pictures of it while I was in Moscow and not only did I get a ton of pictures but the whole scene was very interesting. I didn’t know much about the memorial prior to my visit, but its history is very touching. The tomb was officially unveiled in May of 1967 after the remains of unkown soldiers killed in the Battle of Mocow were transported from their original burial place on the 25th anniversary of the battle in 1966. Apparently the torch used to light the to light the flame was brought all the way from the Field of Mars in St.Petersburg, a memorial to those killed during the Seige of Leningrad. The tomb itself was beautifully designed. My favorite part was a bronzed inscription illumated by the flame which read “Имя твоё неизвестно, подвиг твой бессмертен” meaning “Your name is unkown, your deed is immortal.” There was even a wedding party there at the time as Russians newlyweds traditionally bring flowers to the tomb, as a way of thanking the soldiers for affording them the opportunity to get married. I constantly see brides and grooms at famous landmarks in St.Petersburg. I really love how much pride Russians take in the history of their country. They truly believe that in order to know were you are going, you must understand where you are coming from and therefore take the time to honor the past. Reason number 2507 why I love Russian culture so much.
After the tour of the Kremilin some friends and I went to the center of the city to seek out the largest McDonalds…in the WORLD! Even crazier than its size, however, was the ammount of people there. We couldn’t even find a place to sit. We had to stand and eat. In the largest McDonalds in the world! We were in shock.
After we ate our Russified McDonalds (no different in taste just much nicer presentation) we made our way back to the hotel stopping here and there to check out some stores and more famous landmarks. We eventually got back in time to get dressed and make our way to the center of the city where there was rumored to be a Chili’s Bar and Grill. It was really nice to have a taste of America.
Anyways, we found the Chili’s which was fantastic and then made our way out to nice kafe to just relax and have some coffee after dinner. Eventually we met up with some Russians that my freind knew from her previous stay in Moscow and went to one of their apartments which was conventiently near our hotel for a birthday party. It was really interesting to see another Russian birthday party. I’ve already been to one and this was extremely similar, MASSIVE ammounts of food cover the table and the hosts constantly encourage you to eat! We had a great time just hanging out and talking with our new freinds, listening to music and eventually one of the boys who studies music at Moscow State brought out his guitar and we had alot of fun combining our knowldege of Russian and American music. Russians always have the best parties, they are always so welcoming and hospitable, no matter if they are 19 or 65, every Russian I have met knows how to treat a guest. Once the party started to wind down my freinds and I went back to our hotel room to get some sleep.
The next day we spent walking around the city, checking out a souvioner market and getting lunch at this great Sushi restaurant. A lot of people from our program left early in the day to catch their flights so a few of us that were travelling back to St.Petersburg on the midnight train killed some time by going to see Rango in Russian. It was a really cute movie and my first time in a Russian movie theatre. Very different from the U.S - the chairs are so comfortable! It was eventually time for us to say goodbye to Moscow and get on the train back to St.Petersburg. I was defintely sad when we left, I really wish that I had been able to spend more time there.
Overall, it was an amazing trip. My favorite weekend excursion so far. Both cities are beautiful in their own unique ways. Despite their massive differences, their is something about both of them that is so appealing to me. Russian cities are just so inexplicably different from those U.S. Anything is possible here and I love it. Maybe thats just the young study abroad student in me speaking, but I really have fallen in love with Russia. I know that it will always be my second home.
Me in front of the Eternal Flame
Allright, so those were my thoughts about Moscow. Hope you all enjoyed!
***AND FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE*****
My personal soundtrack to this trip. Я шагаю по Москве. Final clip of the film by the same title, featuring my all-time favorite Russian actor/director when he was young. Nikita Mikhailkov. LOVE. It Roughly translates to “I am walking around Moscow”