Winter Wonderland

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Palace of Lights outside the Bolshoi Theatre

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.

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Entrance to Red Square

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…!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Riding troika

Bring in the noise, bring in the goose step

Last Friday night I attended the International Military Music Tattoo in Red Square. For those of you who have never been to a military tattoo, it’s a display of military bands. In this case, the performers hailed from all over the world.

Red Square bathed in light and song.

Having secured tickets through my school, I made my way downtown with another teacher and we took our places at what essentially amounted to the 50-yard line.

St. Basil’s in all its glory.

It was a crystal clear evening in downtown Moscow. The sun was beginning to set as the Kremlin clock tower struck eight. A spotlight hit St. Basil’s and we heard the sounds of the drums beating in the darkness just beyond outer ring of flag poles.

From the grandstands we watched as a huge band took the Square, marching in formation with gleaming brass held aloft, and I knew we were in for a treat.

Honor Guard.

I was blown away by the diversity of the countries featured – from Kazakstan to Italy, the military bands put on one incredible show after another. My favorite was definitely Mongolia, with their red jackets, navy pants, and sparkling gold helmets, displaying their might as the descendants of Genghis Khan. To see all of the countries in their elaborate dress, click here.

Mongolia – my blurry photo doesn’t do them justice but I had to give them their due!

The Scottish Highland dancers were ushered in on the back of antique cars as the men marched in their kilts, the leader wearing his hackle – a clipped feathery plume of a headdress.

The Russians certainly pulled out all the stops, featuring extra long numbers and one with the military band fronted by an electric guitar playing Zeppelin-esque rifts.

Another setting on St. Basil’s Cathedral.

The goose step, of course, was prevalent across the board, as the military is wont to do. The dramatic lighting achieved its goal in transforming the Square into an otherworldly place and many times throughout the night I was completely transfixed.

The Finale featured all of the bands playing and marching in unison.

The light show on St. Basil’s continued to evolve throughout the night until the clock struck ten. At that moment, a major fireworks display erupted behind the Cathedral – one that would put Walt Disney World to shame – providing the denouement to a magical evening.

Candyland!

There seems to be no shortage of cultural opportunities here in Moscow and my school sees to it that we have all the access possible to experience them. I have the unique chance to visit the studio of acclaimed Russian painter Alexander Aizenshtat. A number of informed historical figures will be speaking, including the former Director of the Pushkin Museum and an art historian who specializes in German Expressionism, which greatly influences Alexander’s art. I’m very much looking forward to the night. You can expect a full report 🙂 For now, take care and Пока!