The Russian people have a saying: ‘Посидеть на дорожку’, or ‘to sit down for the trip‘. The phrase originates from the tradition of taking a moment to reflect upon, and literally sit down before, a journey.
Here, at the end of my five years in Moscow, I took a moment to reflect on what this journey has meant to me – my travels, my students and friends, a place representing both lockdown and incredible privilege.
Reflecting also reminds me that life is about who you spend it with ❤
Thank you to those who traveled to see me here or elsewhere abroad. For those who weren’t able to visit – you were with me in spirit and I felt your support throughout these last five years. I hope our paths will cross again soon in the States or elsewhere. Now it’s time to pack my bags and prepare to chase the sun across the Atlantic on the solstice. До свидания, Москва.
“Well, there it is. It’s about what we went for. We found, as we had suspected, that the Russian people are people, and, as with other people, that they are very nice. The ones we met had a hatred of war, they wanted all the same things all people want – good lives, increased comfort, security, and peace.”
Spring is coming to Moscow! The crocuses are peaking up, the snow is finally melting, and the days are rapidly getting longer. As the colder temps disappear, it’s a great time for touring the city.
Last weekend, I organized a tour with Bridge to Moscow for a group of friends. The tour took us from Patriarch’s Pond (of Master and Margarita fame) to the Gorky House, an Art Nouveau dream residence near Moscow’s Garden Ring.
Built at the turn of the 20th century by Fyodor Schechtel, the Gorky House has been on my bucket list for years.
Commissioned by the wealthy Ryabouchinsky family, the home was gifted to the writer Maxim Gorky by the Russian government in 1931, as a ploy to bring him back from “exile” Sorrento, Italy. Honestly, this house might convince me to leave Capri, too.
Moscow’s treasures never fail to surprise me. Considering the strife of the 20th century, it’s amazing that these gems still remain intact.
I checked another item off my bucket list just yesterday – the Novodevichy Cemetery. The second most famous cemetery in Moscow (Red Square being the first), Novodevichy is the final resting place of over 27,000 former Moscow residents.
Notable entrants include Anton Chekhov and Boris Yeltsin, among many others. Bulgakov and Brezhnev. Gorbachev and Gogol. You name it, they are resting here.
We had a beautiful day for it and our guide (also from Bridge to Moscow), Lena, was a treasure trove of information. Interspersing love stories, military triumphs, and tales of the gulag, she eloquently explained the Russian mindset. Championing contributions of science and the arts, while acknowledging the historic truth (“he did a lot of good for our country but also a lot of terrible things”), she took us on a journey through time.
A interesting note about Khrushchev. It’s said that he despised conceptual modern art and once went head-to-head with Ernst Neizvestny, the famous Russian sculptor, debating its lack of merit. Years later, both the sculptor and Khrushchev’s son were living in New York City and became acquaintances. When Khrushchev died, his son sought out Neizvestny to design his father’s gravestone. Seems that art (and Khrushchev’s son) got the final word.
We toured the cemetery for nearly two hours as the skies turned from bright blue to grey marble. As a chilly snow began to fall, we took our leave. Moscow’s cultural treasures are endlessly engaging and there are so many more to explore. Until next time…
Moscow has been blessed with sunshine and warmer temps as of late. I’m becoming hopeful that spring will soon be on its way.
I had the chance for a unique Russian experience this weekend when my school organized a trip to the Chaika Outdoor Pool. The pool is heated (28C/82F in the water) and within walking distance of my house.
With a beautiful day ahead of us, our small group headed to the pool. After nearly an hour of bureaucracy, paperwork, and a medical check (’tis the Russian way), we found our lockers and quickly made our way towards the pool entrance. The process would have been pretty tricky without a Russian speaker among us, despite the signs in English.
To enter, I had to climb into a small pool and dunk under a carwash-like flap. Popping up outside, the sunshine warmed my face and I made my way into the lap lanes full of swimmers.
Owing to the 5C/40F temperature outside, steam rose off the water and gave the pool a bit of an ethereal feeling. The majority of the swimmers were babushkas, all adorned with swim caps (required), many with black and white flowers sewn on. I made my way into the center lanes and enjoyed the bath water temperatures.
It’s February in Moscow and the snow is upon us. We’re currently in the middle of a two-day snowstorm, not that you’d know it from all the people out and about. Nothing stops Muscovites, especially not the weather. There is no such thing as a snow day here. This city is clearly not intimidated by winter.
From plows like these:
To shovels like these:
Here’s a little advice for surviving the Russian winter…
Get outside whenever the sun dares to shine – no matter how cold the temperature.
Have the right gear ready – what would I do without my Sorels?
Cultivate a good group of friends – Happy Hours, book clubs, do what you will but always get out and about to socialize. Laughter keeps the grey away.
Use a blue light everyday + take Vitamin D regularly, too.
Hop a plane to the nearest sunshine whenever you have the chance. Professional development in Oman? Sign me up! A long weekend in Cyprus? I’m there! Those kind friends in Dubai? Prepare to find me on your doorstep! (Seriously, Ward and Leslie, any day now!)
In taking my own advice, I embraced a frozen but sunny day last week and walked the half hour through the forest to the metro station.
I am not kidding when I say nobody embraces winter like Muscovites! In the forest I found entire families on cross-country skis, mothers and daughters sharing sleds, and old couples strolling the seemingly endless paths with no particular place to go. And it was 15F out! Everyone is bundled, appreciating the beauty of the forest after a snowfall. It was a gorgeous and peaceful walk, I will give them that.
Another fun winter activity in Moscow is the theater. Ballet, folk dance, musicals – Moscow has it all. I had the chance to take in a show by the Igor Moiseyev Ballet Company recently and it was incredible. Igor was evidently the inventor of something called character dance, close to folk but more exaggerated. The bright colors and spirited dancers certainly lit up the stage. How high they could jump!
Fun tidbit – in Moscow you wear your boots to the theatre and switch into your nice shoes when you arrive. You check your boots and your coat together. The long coat check line after the performance is worth avoiding freezing toes and turned ankles outside!
Another must-do in Moscow this time of year is the Christmas Market down at Red Square. The neon lights of the carousel and the children’s shrieks of laughter light up the night (below and top, outside GUM department store).
Of the many lessons I’ve learned here in Moscow, I think Kerouac captured it well when he said, “While looking for the light, you may suddenly be devoured by the darkness and find the true light.”
So clearly this has been quite a summer for Russia in the US news. If I’ve been lucky enough to see you this summer, I know we’ve discussed it. Thanks to those who listened to me proselytize about the differences between people and their government (more true day-by-day).
I’ve had a wonderful couple of weeks in the States filled with a lot of laughs. My time with these guys above was a particular highlight. I’m thankful to be headed back to Moscow to begin Year 2 shortly.
One thing that has me especially enjoying my time in Moscow is my newfound appreciation for Russian art. It is so rich – in color, in technique, and in history. I like it so much that after arriving back in Boston, I plotted a visit to the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, MA.
Just a quick 1-hour drive from Boston, the museum boasts the largest collection of these Russian art gems outside of, well, Russia.
I was drawn to visit not only by these gorgeous artifacts but also by the opportunity to hear the history behind them from an outsider’s point of view. Happily, the museum didn’t disappoint.
A few things I came to understand:
Icons are to be prayed with, not to
There is an M formation of perspective in a typical icon, which accounts for the distorted perspective seen in the buildings below
The word Iconoclast comes from “image breaker”, or the destructor of icons, which occurred during the Bolshevik Revolution
Orthodoxy was spread to Ethiopia, and some truly beautiful African-influenced icons resulted from this
For those of you interested in a deeper dive, check out this article on icons from Russia Behind the Headlines.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this little Art History lesson. I look forward to sharing more with you as the year unfolds. Cheers, everyone!
приветствие from the frozen tundra! Yesterday I had the most amazing chance to get out to the Russian countryside and take a sleigh ride.
We traveled northwest from Moscow for about an hour and arrived at a fairly large farm. Immediately we spotted the horses in the yard, being run by adults and children of all ages. A friendly Bernese Mountain Dog trotted over to greet us and hens clucked underfoot.
Upon arrival, we were seated on benches of packed snow which were covered in thick blankets. Beyond a rickety barrier made of branches, a horse show was put on for our entertainment. Highlights included a horse jumping through a flaming hoop and a couple “dancing” on horseback. My animal rights heartstrings tugging at me, I accepted this as a cultural opportunity and enjoyed the beauty of the animals.
Soon after the show (which came replete with ear-piercing traditional music and an impromptu jig by a member of the audience), our sleighs arrived! The horse pictured in the middle (above) is a Clydesdale.
Despite being packed into the sleigh like sardines, we were plenty chilly after our ride, so we took shelter in a tin longhouse on site. A snack was already laid out for us, warming atop the crude antique stove.
All in all, the trip was yet another once-in-a-lifetime deal here in Russia. I’ve ridden snowmobiles before but nothing compares to the tug of a horse-drawn sleigh as you make tracks across an open plain. It was magical.
Stay tuned this coming week for my school’s celebration of Maslenitsa, the pagan holiday turned cultural tradition which ushers in the coming spring. Cheers to that!
Before arriving in Moscow, I’d been warned about those tough Russian winters. Now that I’ve made it to January, I’m thoroughly enjoying my time here in Moscow.
With the days getting longer and temperatures averaging around 25 degrees Fahrenheit, life is on the up and up! I’ve been spending more time downtown, exploring with friends, trying new museums, and even a few Meet-Ups. I really respect that Muscovites don’t let the winter get them down. Everyone was down at Red Square last weekend, enjoying Christmas Markets, ice skating shows, and the festival of lights.
This past weekend, however, was just icing on my cake. Through one of my school-led excursions, I had the opportunity to try my hand at dog sledding for the first time! And let me tell you, what an amazing time it was…!
We headed south early Saturday morning, before the sun was up. Miraculously, when it did rise, the clouds cleared away and we were greeted with bright blue sky. Turns out I could have used those sunglasses I haven’t used in weeks!
We drove down successively narrower roads until we reached a one-lane road into the forest. Once we’d gone as far as the van could take us, we got out on foot and walked the rest of the 1km into the woods.
We heard the pups before we saw them – a dozen or so huskies clipped to a tree line, chomping at the bit to meet us and mount up. They were sweet dogs, very friendly, and smaller in stature than the size many would assume huskies to be. But they were made of pure muscle, for certain. The dogs were begging for attention and we were happy to oblige.
Storing our bags on low hanging branches, we assembled around the fire to keep warm. The temperature held around 20 degrees for most of the day and in snow pants and thermals, I was quite cozy.
After a Russian-translated demonstration, the first of our group mounted up. Pushing down hard on a metal kick-stop, our instructions were to wait for the head nod from the leader as he took off on the snowmobile ahead. With one foot already a-top a thin ski rail, you release the brake and quickly bend your knees to steady your balance as the dogs take off!
The part they hadn’t mentioned prior to the trip was that we would be travelling solo on the sled – no partner or leader to accompany. This meant once I’d cleared camp, it was just me and the six dogs, riding a snowy path, dipping under fallen trees and around bends in the road, and utterly silent along the trees save for the sound of the dogs breathing.
It was a gorgeous 2km ride. The blue skies shown through the heavy tree cover. I could have stayed on that sled for many more miles. Reminded me of times in Vermont, like the ice fishing and winter hikes. Just an incredible day.
In a few weeks time I’ll have the opportunity to go troika riding – Russia’s version of horse-drawn sleigh rides! I’m so looking forward to another day outside and hoping for more of the those elusive, and so appreciated!, blue skies. Check back for more pictures and stories to come.
Happy New Year, everyone! It’s Orthodox Christmas here in Russia. The stores are closed, families are gathered together, and it’s -22 degrees Fahrenheit! But no need for alarm, all is well here in Moscow. I still have a job, despite the “fake” news reports of last week. To everyone who reached out, I really appreciate your concern. Teaching abroad comes with many ups and some downs and this past week certainly proved an interesting blip on the radar.
No need to dwell, I thought I would share what I’ve learned about Russian Orthodox Christmas on this day of celebration…
The holiday is celebrated on January 7 (December 25 on the Julian calendar).
The holiday marks the end of 40 days of fasting by observant Orthodox Christians (no meat, no dairy, no alcohol). This diet is known as the Nativity Fast.
Since Soviet times, the holiday has split with gift giving celebrated on New Year’s Eve and the Twelve Days of Christmas celebrated beginning January 7 (the true focus of the religious aspect of the holiday).
A huge 12-course meal (to honor the 12 apostles) is served after the first star appears in the night sky. Food associated with the holiday includes that which remembers the ancestors – blini (pancakes) and kutia are must-haves.
Father Frost (Ded Moroz) is the Orthodox answer to Santa Claus. Unlike Santa, Father Frost delivers gifts directly to children on New Year’s Eve with the help of his granddaughter, Snegurochka (snow maiden). Though the connection to Christmas trees was lost during Soviet times, trees are once again connected with this night of gift giving.
There is a fortune-telling aspect to the holiday, with the Twelve Days of Christmas considered to be prime time for predicting the future, particularly big life events (marriages, births, etc.). The practice may use mirrors, shadows, and burning bits of thread.
For Russian Orthodox Christians, Easter is actually the larger holiday to celebrate. More info to come this spring…
Happy New Year to you all! May cooler heads and wisdom prevail in 2017. Wishing you health and happiness wherever this note may find you.