A week in Moscow

I welcomed my first visitors to Russia this past week – my friend Meg came from Korea and her boyfriend Niek from Holland. They were ace guests and we had a fantastic time catching up. They covered a great amount of Moscow while still enjoying a chill vacation. They didn’t even let the lingering snow squalls get them down! Inspired by their wanderings, here is my Moscow Top Ten.

Roll into town on one of Moscow’s fabulous Aeroexpress trains – there’s one from each of Moscow’s three airports.

Make your way down to Red Square fairly quick for selfies in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral (bluebird day on order, of course).

Explore the ridiculously ornate confines of St. Basil’s itself (not what I expected, I’ll admit!) with special ambiance from a men’s choir who just happened to be performing inside. 300 rubles to get in – no line, no waiting.

Book a cruise on the Moscow River out of the Radisson Ukraina Hotel – fine dining and a 2.5 hour tour of Moscow’s sites from the water. Highly recommended: the early evening cruise to watch the lights come up over the city in dramatic fashion.

Not to be missed – drinks at the Mercedes Bar on the 31st Floor of the Hotel Ukraina. Book a comfy couch and enjoy the 360 view of Moscow, including the Russian White House and new Moscow City.

Strelka Bar in the student neighborhood of Bolotnyy is always an exciting spot. From the rich but casual decor to the fabulous food and drink, it’s a stop not to be missed.

After you’ve had your dinner fill, enjoy the breathtaking views across at Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Once the world’s largest outdoor swimming pool, this site has been restored to its original trappings, in all it’s golden glory. Don’t miss the views from the top deck nor the surprisingly cool crypt below – discovered by Meg & Niek!

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Be sure to tour the Kremlin. With a private guide, my friends hopped in and out of the churches on the Kremlin ground. I’m told you absolutely cannot miss the incredible riches of the Armory. PC: @meg_hayne

If the snow is falling, a tour of the Moscow metro is perfect no matter the weather! My four favorite stations not to miss – Komsomolskaya, Arbatskaya, Elektrozavodskaya, and Novoslobodskaya.

Gorgeous stained glass at Novoslobodskaya

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The Khokhloma handicrafts are not to be missed. I just came across this fabulous video about them today. A trip to Izmailovo Market, in all it’s touristy glory, is not to be missed. Also check out the small but friendly Museum of Vodka while you’re there!
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Gorky Park hosts ice skating in the winter, bike riding in the summer (bring your passport to rent!) and is also the home of my favorite contemporary art museum, The Garage.
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A winter palace of lights outside the Bolshoi Theater

And, finally, #10 – a ballet at the Bolshoi. Although I have yet to accomplish this one, I have a feeling that all may change with the arrival of another set of visitors next month… Book your tickets decidedly in advance! In the event they’re all sold out, the theater offers tours of the venue in English on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I’m told the line for English forms on the left. God speed 😉

A few other items of note before endeavoring to visit Moscow…

  • Learning the Cyrillic alphabet really helps – with many letters similar to English, it’s really not hard!
  • Downloading wayfinding apps like Uber (yes, they have it!) and Metropolitan (metro map) will go a long way
  • Buying a SIM card also helps for wayfinding – 700 rubles (roughly $11) for 1 month is available at any airport

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this virtual tour of my current home city – and that my attempts to entice future visitors will not be in vain (direct flights from JFK, just sayin’…)! I’ve really come to appreciate Moscow and all of its wonderful surprises. Please come see what all the fuss is about – I have plenty of room!

Touring around town

The Hotel Ukraine, in all her glory, sits just down the street from my house.

After nearly a month of nothing but grey, drab skies, Moscow has been blessed with a string of sunshine days over the past week! I’ve found that I don’t mind the cold (in the 20s during the the day, about 10 degrees at night) but I can’t live without the sunshine. No amount of my SAD light will replace the feeling a blue sky brings. As a result, I’ve been spending as much time outside as possible, which is great for exploring more of Moscow.

 

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Even a trip to the doctor’s office can feature amazing architectural finds just down the street. The colors just pop against the grey Moscow skies.
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In Russia, Future chooses you 😉

 

My school offers bi-monthly cultural outings to us and I sign up for as many as I can. They often come with English tour guides and offer a really unique opportunity to access parts of Moscow life that are not readily available to foreigners. On the flip side, the touristy nature makes me feel like I’m on a bit of a permanent vacation here in Russia.

The Memorial Museum of Cosmonauts is located in the northeast part of Moscow, near the VDNKh metro stop.

Last weekend a handful of us journeyed to the Memorial Museum of Cosmonauts. I absolutely love outer space, particularly the space program, so I was pretty interested to hear about it from a Russian perspective. Our tour guide was a cosmonaut in training and her passion for the program was evident.

The one that began it all – Sputnik. This is a model as the original burned in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The Moscow Times reports, “At the height of the Soviet Space Program in 1989, over 1 million people were employed in the space sector.”

A wall of all the cosmonauts to have served, two of whom were on their way to the international space station as we toured the museum. Only 4 women have served.
Not sure you could convince me to enter a de-pressurization chamber (at right) dressed in that suit. Both look way too flimsy to support life.
One of the stranger exhibits at the museum featured the stuffed bodies of the first dogs to return from space travel alive, Belka and Strelka. They lived to ripe old ages and were only stuffed A.D. (yikes). A descendant of one of the dogs was gifted to Jacqueline Kennedy during President Kennedy’s term.
Solar panels adoring the outside of the International Space Station model featured on site. It’s truly amazing how space explorers make the most of the space they are allowed.

 

The underside of a landing module, painted bright orange-red to attract the eye of search planes. One such landing in 1987 required cosmonauts to spend a night in the Siberian cold next to their module.

 

 

Another gem of my time in Moscow has been the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art. Located in Gorky Park, just one metro stop over from mine, the museum features top notch exhibitions, up to three shows at a time. I haven’t been disappointed by a show yet and this show below was no exception. Featuring work compiled during Eastern European revolutions and independence movements, the show was a fascinating take on the late 1980s/early 1990s, a time I know little about as I wasn’t old enough to remember the events.

 

Printmaking and poster art have played huge roles in Eastern European history, particularly freedom movements as a call to arms of sorts.

My friends and I all appreciated this modern art which really reminded me of the work of Kandinsky, a Russian born painter who became famous as an Abstract Expressionist. It’s not his work but you can see the influence passed down through the decades.

 

 

These days, with sunrise at 8:30am and sunset at 4pm, I could go the whole day without seeing the sun. Luckily, I have big windows in my classroom and enough downtime during the day to sneak a quick walk in the neighboring gated community. I cherish that time, especially on sunny days, but find it just as necessary on the grey ones.

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Moscow has fabulous sewer caps – some of which would make fantastic prints. I keep an eye out when wandering the city and every once in a while spot a cool new one like this guy.

As a result of all this chilly grey weather, Muscovites make their own fun, refusing to stay home. The arts are hugely valued here and I had the chance to experience Moscow opera first hand last Wednesday evening at a performance of Bach’s Coffee Cantata. A slightly bizarre show, this short opera (the best kind of opera) features a full string ensemble and three opera singers who actually brew coffee as part of their act, serving it to the audience as the denouement. The coffee was delish and warmed us up before heading back into the cold Russian night.

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We toured the Helicon Opera House prior to the performance. Restored since the Soviet Era, the space is elegant and intricate in detail. The performance space was in a small room off of this main hallway.
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Chandelier close up. I couldn’t get enough.
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The entrance to Izmailovo is over the top and ornate – a Russian trend I’m catching onto 😉

With only three weeks left until I fly to Boston for the holidays, it’s time to seek out some fun Moscow tchotchkes to share with the folks back home. Today I journeyed to Izmailovsky Market with a couple ideas in mind. I had some luck now I’m counting the days until break!

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Ingenious coffee-on-the-go stand.
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Catch you next time 🙂

 

 

August, die she must

привет from Moscow where it’s 60 degrees and sunny. Things here are settling into a rhythm, punctuated by new adventures and daily surprises. A good friend wrote that she was enjoying the pictures of Moscow, which she hadn’t had a good visual reference for previously. I felt much the same way before arriving and the subtle beauty of this urban landscape continues to delight.

The view from my classroom balcony after the rain featuring the high school street mural.

The weather here in Moscow is always a topic of conversation. Before it gets really cold, I’m planning to enjoy this beautiful autumn as much as possible. We’ve had quite a bit of rain these past few weeks and this town is so gorgeous after a rainstorm. I’ve mentioned the vivid clouds before and my evening bus commute is repeatedly blessed with these gorgeous views.

Highland skies.
The view from my living room as the rain starts to tap on the windowpane.

As for the air, it is so refreshing to be in a cleaner air environment. I certainly didn’t have it as bad as friends in Shanghai but there’s nothing like clean air to do a body good.

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I awoke to a text alerting me to high winds ~ we were out all day and managed not to blow away 🙂

This weekend flew by but I did have time to explore each day. On Saturday, my friend Caitlin and I checked out Pushkin’s apartment down on the Arbat. For two art teachers, seeing the pomp and circumstance of 19th Century Russian interior design was pretty exciting. It’s so nice to have another art teacher from Seoul here with me.

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My friend Tori takes the cake on the first package I’ve received here in Moscow. I was so touched that she included two of my former homes – Korea and Vermont. Now I can enjoy nights cooking Korean food and dreaming of enjoying tteokbokki with Emm in Sindang.

On Sunday, my school organized an outing for us newbies at Izmailovo Market. Chock full of trinkets and stalls, the market was a fun starting point for our day out. The market comes to my school in December so be prepared for plenty of KGB flasks and t-shirts fronting images of Putin riding a bear in your Christmas stockings this year.

 

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I found the khokhloma charming. It’s a wonderful traditional Russian handicraft and no two works are alike. Click here for a great video on the artisans behind the scenes.

Next up – the Folk Flea Market in the courtyard of the Moscow Museum of Art. A true flea market, the silver plated pieces glittered in the sun as a Russian duo sang Elvis Presley numbers in the background. I remain surprised at how many staples of western culture, particularly that from the States, are seen here in Russia.

 

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Beautiful day for a flea market.

 

The meringues looked incredible but we managed to resist.

In the homestretch of the week, I’m looking forward to the Kremlin Military Tattoo in Red Square on Friday night. Russians really seem to love their fireworks so it’s sure to be quite a display. Pictures to follow…