Postcards from Russia

Moloko’s perch in my Moscow kitchen
Walking with my friend Tammy around Moscow’s Garden Ring
Fili Park (my favorite) – Established in 1812
Looks quiet but actually full of cross country skiers, families, and dogs in snowsuits
The park runs down to the Moscow River, nearly frozen after a chilly week
A bright but bitter day – perfect for puzzling and sunbathing (or both)
Moloko enjoying an empty fridge on grocery day
Orthodox Christmas keeps the lights up longer at the Red Square Christmas markets
Muscovites out in droves
GUM Department Store aglow
Cinderella lights outside the Bolshoi Theatre
White lights make for bright nights
Warm and cozy – Happy February, everyone!

Moscow Visitors

I feel so lucky to have had visitors during my three years in Moscow. There’s nothing better than showing people you love around your new town. I continue to explore Moscow and having visitors is an awesome excuse to get to all those places I’ve put off or haven’t seen in a while.

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In March, my good friend Katie came for a visit. I’m sure her vacation destination was a bit of surprise to her fellow teachers but she made an amazing effort of it, traveling all the way from Minnesota on her spring break. A strong solo traveler, she took in Moscow while I worked and even trekked to St. Petersburg on her own. For those wondering, seeing both cities is definitely doable within a week.

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A Moscow Metro rite of passage for good luck at Площадь Революции (Ploshchad Revolyutsii)

Highlights of Katie’s visit included a brunch at the Metropol Hotel, touring the Kremlin Armory, and a Georgian feast (see below).

Just a few weeks ago, I hosted my aunt Susan for her first ever visit to Russia. Suz is a wonderful person to travel with and we planned her visit over the Victory Day holidays to get in a little extra time together.

When I was living in Korea, Suz gamely hopped a plane and visited me in Seoul. We went to China together, putting in thousands of steps all over Beijing and Xian. There really is nothing like sharing an incredible trip with someone you love and I’m so thankful to have family who are up for it!

Suz and I on a canal in St. Petersburg

We hopped the SapSan fast train up to St. Petersburg for what’s become a bit of a May tradition for me. We traveled on Victory Day which brought a few road closures but no major issues. The coolest, most powerful sight upon arrival was the Parade of the Immortals, commemorating the over 27 million (MILLION) Soviet soldiers and citizens lost in the Great War (World War II). St. Petersburg itself (as Leningrad) was under siege for over 900 days, the horrendous losses reverberating through the crowd carrying photographs of their loved ones lost. This is not a nation that will ever forget.

The Parade of the Immortals. Participants themselves number in the millions.

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg

Suz in the Winter Palace, Hermitage Museum

One of the highlights of our trip was seeing my first ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg’s famed ballet stage. Only slightly smaller in size than the Bolshoi, the venue was stunningly gorgeous with supremely gifted dancers and magnificent stage sets. Made for the perfect birthday present – all thanks to my dad.

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Catherine Palace, St. Petersburg

Another highlight from our St. Petersburg was a trip to Catherine Palace, a spot about 30 km outside of town. A summer palace for the tsars, the place is dripping in gold and excess. Each room is more stunning than the last – there is even a grand ballroom which evokes vibes of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

With the solstice quickly approaching, white nights are coming to St. Pete’s

Back in Moscow, we toured around as much as my school schedule would allow. Something new in the travelsphere is Airbnb Experiences. Many of you may use Airbnb rentals in cities around the world. The website now offers additional experiences at a fraction of the cost of private tours. I found Suz a walking tour of the Kremlin area of Moscow and she had a really nice time with her local Russian guide, Sveta. They traded stories and questions about culture, both in the States and here. I really can’t recommend a chance like this enough, especially for the opportunity to meet someone local. Call it next-level traveling but it truly enriches the experience.

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Suz picked the perfect time of year to be in Moscow – not too hot but no more snow!

As I look forward to two more years here in Moscow, consider this an open invitation! This city is constantly evolving and updating, and certainly has a past worthy of any history buff’s time. You never know – you might wake up to find this goober waiting to greet you 😉

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Moscow Must-Dos

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Having visitors is the perfect excuse to be a tourist in your own city. With my parents in town for a week, I made great headway on my Moscow bucket list and learned a lot more about this country I now call home.

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I arranged a Kremlin tour in English and off we went for a full four hours. Lidia, our extremely kind and knowledgeable guide, gave us a real run for our money. Helping to timeline all of those World History classes (Were Catherine and Peter the Great related? When did the Romanovs first come to power?), she wove us through the wealth of Russian history inside the Kremlin walls.

Much less intimidating inside than the exterior lets on, the Kremlin grounds contain a number of incredibly ornate Orthodox churches, multiple museums, and other government buildings including the Senate Building (constructed in 1776…). With our heads full and spinning, it was time to enjoy another of Moscow’s delights – the gourmand scene.

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View from the bridge above Strelka Bar
Starting at Strelka Bar, one of my personal favorites, we enjoyed plates of cheese, pickles, mushrooms, and other Russian delights. Seafood is prized here, despite Moscow’s inland location, and the port of St. Petersburg plays a pivotal role in Moscow’s foodie scene.

Reservations are key – it’s the first question you’ve asked upon arrival in any restaurant. Most allow you to reserve online through English translation. Little kindnesses await – from locals on the train who volunteer their knowledge of local spots to doting waiters.

We took advantage of Moscow’s culinary delights all over town with dinners at White Rabbit, Jaime’s Italian, and LavkaLavka – a farm-to-table spot dedicated to clean eating.

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While the weather proved challenging (it snowed on May 11) and remained chilly throughout the visit, we certainly made the most of it.

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Taking in my first ballet on the Bolshoi Theatre’s New Stage proved every bit as magical as advertised. I’m looking forward to my next visit already.

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My parents also had the chance to observe the country displaying all its military might. May 9 marks Victory Day here in Russia. Celebrating the end of the Great Patriotic War (known as World War II in the US), the holiday is a very big deal here in Moscow. A huge parade takes place on the day itself, preceded by weeks of traffic jams due to parade practice road closures.

From jet flyovers to the debut of the new Arctic ATVs, Victory Day is intense. The whole event is full of pride and military regalia, made clear as we sat watching the events in Red Square online.

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One of the cooler activities of the day is the Immortal Regiment March, a relatively new tradition in which the people gather to commemorate those who served in the war. In Gorky Park, near my house, the parade ends with surviving members holding their various regiment numbers aloft, allowing descendants of their brothers-in-arms to locate them and pay their respects.

Clearly we packed a lot into our time together in Moscow. But perhaps the highlight of the whole visit was yet to come with a weekend visit to St. Petersburg. Stay tuned for tales from the Venice of the North 🙂

 

From Russia with Love

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St. Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow.

Timing is everything. As I awoke Monday, the day of my flight to Moscow, word that Delta had grounded all flights worldwide gave me a bit of pause. Though I never fly Delta, of course my school had booked me on Delta for both legs of the journey. As luck would have it, I made it to Moscow only three hours behind schedule. Pretty done with JFK Terminal B but no complaints. Many new coworkers had it much worse. One even made the news. In general, I was shocked at the ease of the 9 hour flight from NYC to Moscow.

When I touched down in Moscow, my principal, our HR rep, and a number of other teachers were there to greet me. I couldn’t have felt more welcome and relieved. I also made a quick friend in the Middle School PE teacher, Shin, who knows my good friend Ryan Williams from APIS. Shin, it turns out, knows EVERYBODY, but that’s a story for a different day. There are a lot of connections among these seasoned international teachers. I am probably the youngest and definitely the least experienced abroad so it’s pretty cool hearing all of their stories. It would take a lot to rattle this group.

First impressions of Russia – some very interesting hair styles (designs buzzed into the hair of Russian males) and the airport was no Incheon, but the country’s deep history was immediately apparent. On the way to my new apartment, we passed sculptures marking Hitler’s eastern-most advancement in WWII, the location of the Battle of Moscow. We were also introduced to the Seven Sisters, a collection of buildings commissioned by Stalin made distinct by their “communist gothic” style. One the sisters, the historic Hotel Ukraine, sits just across the street from my apartment building. It is now a Radisson.

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The Hotel Ukraine, one of the Seven Sisters.

More impressive is the White House, which lies just down the street from where I now live. It’s used in the same way as the US White House, with the President spending the majority of his time there.

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The view from my balcony. That’s the Hotel Ukraine to the right and the White House just beyond. Moscow’s modern business district is to the left.

My first days in Moscow have been very calm and measured. My location in the city makes it very easy to get around and I’m finding myself quicker to explore than I initially was in Seoul. Remembering the days when I wouldn’t walk farther than eyeshot of Brownstone… Dinner in Red Square and an IKEA run were the big ticket items so far.

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Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral behind me.

I’m sure you can understand that much of this experience includes me comparing my life in Seoul to my new life here in Moscow. It helps to contextualize the major jump I’m making and it seems pretty interesting, culturally. Alongside the comparison below, I’ve added photos from my grocery store run as I always find the shopping experience unique, country to country.

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The 24 hour grocery store across from my house, translates as the Russian letters for “A” and “B”.

Similarities between Seoul and Moscow…

  • Both have fast and reliable metros. Moscows are works of art featuring mosaics and beautiful lighting fixtures. They are also very deep underground.
  • The everyday passerby on the street probably doesn’t speak English, or enough to feel comfortable sharing.
  • Both are walkable cities – though I’m much more central than I was in Seoul. No one lives in Nowon… 😦

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Fish are plentiful here in Russia. They even get their own counter. A fillet of salmon costs roughly 5USD.

  • I’ve landed in another clearly supportive community – though my school is huge in size, the housing communities are very close – coworkers in mine threw us a dinner the first night we arrived so we could meet everyone.
  • There’s a coffee (кофе) shop right down the street, next to my school bus stop. This one takes the cake over Dunkies SoKo due to its offering of cold brew and the fact that it is randomly located within a dry cleaners.
  • One downside in common is the amount of people who smoke 😦
  • Shopkeepers are very willing to help, especially when they determine you don’t speak the language. I’ve found the Russian people to be very friendly off the bat.

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Korean peeps beware, cheese is no longer scarce… There is also a separate cheese counter for “fresh cheeses”. Mmmmm.

Differences…

  • Moscow has the distinct feeling of a European city. The riverfront apartments near my house could be found along the Seine in Paris. The bike paths are quite beautiful, something I enjoyed in Seoul as well.
  • This one is heartbreaking – there’s little to no recycling here. I can’t believe it. I’m already planning to bring my basic recycling to school where they do their best. It’s almost unfathomable in this day and age.
  • I received a SIM card and internet access at home immediately, making life so much easier. While it took a month in Korea, this change makes an incredible difference in ease of assimilation.

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I’m definitely living in a European country – from the magazines to the ease of eating at restaurants, life is different here. But I still miss Korea!

  • My apartment is much more spacious. I’m turning the dining room into an art studio. I have an oven in my kitchen. My den will be cozy in the winter. And my bedroom has a door (not a loft!). Ironically, I have less storage space than in Seoul. The Koreans for the win on that one.
  • This one is a big deal – I’m rarely stared at on the street or the bus. People mistake me for a local, asking directions on the street. This is probably the greatest change from my time in Korea as there was absolutely no way anyone would ever mistake me for a native. It’s really quite freeing, I must say.
  • I live on an 8-lane road. No frogger here, See&Me people. The traffic never stops so I’m getting used to the din. With windows closed, it’s thankfully quite quiet in my place.
  • The grocery store (AB Mart) across the street is open 24/7. This means no Sunday texts, “Is Homeplus open?” and sadly no need for this brilliant website any longer.

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That honey has my name on it 🙂

  • The Porsche dealership down the block is decidedly different from the Hagye offerings… Also, when I see a Ralph Lauren store, it’s actually a Ralph Lauren store! Not that our old favorite, Abercrombie/J. Crew/whatever behind Induk University wasn’t a classic.
  • The alphabet is challenging in different ways from hangul. It is tempting to try and read Russian words as if they are English. But when P = R and H = N you won’t get very far. Fast forward to me on my nightly walk/study session, reading street signs. I got one tonight! Аэрофло́т, the Russian airline, known as Aeroflot in English. Quizing myself on store signs is helping. The history of the Cyrillic script is fascinating and I’ll definitely be sharing more in the future.

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The Cyrillic alphabet, my current homework.

Tomorrow I’ll get to see my school and classroom for the first time. My school seems to be of the mind that they will ask a lot of us as teachers so they take care of pretty much everything else in our daily lives, from running a bus service that I will take to work in the morning directly from my building to paying our bills to maintaining a housing staff to do everything from install curtains to deliver furniture. They are treating me exceptionally well and I’m really thrilled to be here. More local pictures to come after I explore this weekend so stay tuned…

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One more of St. Basil’s for the road.

Begin again

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Welcome friends. Thank you for joining me once again as I head off on a new adventure ~ this time to Moscow, Russia, where I’ll be teaching Grades 6&7 Art at an international school. As I get ready to head out, much is unknown but excitement abounds. I push forward with fresh eyes and an open mind.

As I did in Seoul, this blog will record my initial impressions of my new home and my travels beyond. I would love to have you along for the journey. Feel free to subscribe to my blog using the Widgets drop down at the top right of my homepage. Click on the WordPress “follow” button and you will receive an email each time I post a new entry. Sit back and enjoy the ride! I’ll see you on the flip side.