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

Merry Christmas from Moscow

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Merry Christmas from Aeroflot (and me!).

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.

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No need to dwell, I thought I would share what I’ve learned about Russian Orthodox Christmas on this day of celebration…

  1. The holiday is celebrated on January 7 (December 25 on the Julian calendar).

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    The Julian calendar was created under Julius Caesar in 46 BC and is based on the solar year.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.

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    Kutia is boiled wheat mixed with the ever-present honey, a Russian staple.
  5. 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.

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    Ded Moroz and Snegurochka ride to deliver presents to the children of Russia on New Year’s Eve.
  6. 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.
  7. For Russian Orthodox Christians, Easter is actually the larger holiday to celebrate. More info to come this spring…

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    Ukrainian eggs, known as pysanka, feature traditional folk designs applied using beeswax. These eggs are decorated across Europe to honor the Easter holiday.

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.