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!

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!

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.