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Archive for May 13th, 2008

old Soviet statue at Sculpture Park near New Tretyakov Gallery

Jon and I have just returned to London. Our trip to Russia was fun and fascinating, but it was exhausting. I’m now thinking about out how best (i.e., at what level of detail) to share our adventures there. As a start, here’s my list of favorite and least-favorite parts of our trip:

Five favorite things about my trip to Russia (hard to keep it to five, actually):

  1. Meeting my friend Helen’s friends from Moscow. Everyone was so warm and chatty that we felt right at home, and confronted by everyone’s perfect English, I felt once again humbled for not being able to reciprocate in a local language. (Special thanks to Masha’s husband, Lyonya, who took an afternoon off work to show us around the cathedrals in the Kremlin).
  2. The Moscow metro. The stations are works of art; the trains seem to run every 60 seconds; and it’s dirt cheap (10 trips for 155 roubles/$6).
  3. The buffalo mozzarella pizza at Bocconcino restaurant, near Pushkinskaya metro. Creamy, rich mozzarella that tastes like Italy. Exactly what I needed after five days of eating smoked, salted and/or pickled foods of all shapes and sizes.
  4. Drinks at the Bosco Bar at GUM. You get a perfect view of Red Square (so here’s where I squeeze in how much I loved the sight of Red Square for the first time); the servers are helpful; the gin fizz is perfect; and most drinks are 320 roubles/$13, which is a steal considering the previously-mentioned.
  5. The “Red Arrow” overnight train from Moscow to St. Petersburg. It’s plush, old-school train travel, complete with red velvet curtains and comfy, clean beds. Well worth the 6400 roubles/$270 we paid for two one-way tickets. Jon and I shared a four-person kupe with two young businessmen who work in central Russia and “commute” home to St. Petersburg by flying to Moscow and then taking the overnight train to St. P. When I commented that this sort of travelling must be “hard,” one of the men replied (without pause, bitterness or irony): “life is hard.” And now I understand how Russia gave the world Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.

Four of my least-favorite things (for what it’s worth, I couldn’t come up with five):

  1. Bad value-for-money at many (though not all) restaurants we tried. In Moscow, we ate at Café Pushkin, Kvartira 44, Sword and Shield, Dioskuriya, Fisheria, and Bocconcino. In St. Petersburg, it was Molokhovet’s Dream, Karavan, and Cafe Idiot. I’ll write in more detail about a few of these restos in my next couple of posts this week.
  2. Long lines. Maybe it was because Russia had a holiday weekend recently (for Victory Day), but I swear I’ve never waited on so many lines in my life. More on this when I post about our trip to Peterhof (if you’re unfamiliar with Peterhof, think Versailles, but bigger and with more gold – yikes).
  3. The nickel-and-diming at several major tourist attractions. More on this in a future Peterhof post.
  4. The heavy police and military presence. The big show of force is likely because Inauguration and Victory Day took place while we were in Russia, but regardless of why, it was unsettling to see soldiers lining the streets every twenty or thirty feet. Helen’s friends explained that the Russian government is worried about an unruly mob demonstrating either for or against what they called “the Putin Puppet.”

Overall, a great trip, but more challenging than Jon and I have gotten used to when traipsing around Europe. Despite learning how to read the cyrillic alphabet (a must if you travel sans organized tour in Russia), I still took ages to figure out signs, and getting anything done always took three times longer than expected.

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