Jenny, Brian, and I arrived in Moscow on Monday morning, December 19, after a day of travel from Atlanta via New York. I made it through customs first, and found our driver, who spoke no English whatsoever. There were supposed to be four of us, and when only three of us had arrived in Moscow, the driver became very confused. We couldn’t communicate (despite holding up fingers and speaking English with bad Russian accents) that there were only three of us.
Finally, he walked us out to a van. There was snow everywhere. He started the van, then went back into the airport, while we hoped the van didn’t blow up.
After some time (10 minutes? 15?) he came back to the van, and we were on our way, down snowy roads with slow moving traffic. Stands of antifreeze were alongside the roads.
After over an hour, we arrived at the Marriot Tverskaya, located along the main street leading to the Kremlin. After checking in, we got all bundled up and walked down to Red Square and touring Saint Basil’s, the oft photographed cathedral in Red Square with all the multi-colored turrets. Outside Red Square, I purchased a black Russian hat, which, with my long black overcoat, gave me the authentic look (or at least an authentic tourist look.)
Afterwards, we went to the GUM, a huge shopping mall bordering Red Square and had lunch. I had Gray Soup (basically a cream of mushroom with beef), beef carpaccio, and eggplant stuffed with blue cheese in a wine reduction sauce.
After a while, I realized that I could read many of the Russian words, as they were English words spelled phonetically in Russian. As I became familiar with the Russian alphabet, things got much easier.
We headed back to the hotel for a while before heading back out for dinner, eating at the Pilsner Urquell restaurant. Brian had salmon, Jenny had dumplings stuffed with “smoked product” and I had pork loin with dumplings and sauerkraut. We also had a liter each of beer. We also enjoyed a selection of cheeses meant to go along with the beer.
After dinner, we wandered the streets in the snow, drink beer on the streets, and sang with three Russian teenagers in an underground crosswalk (“Yellow Submarine”, “Jingle Bells,” “Back in the USSR”) before finally returning the hotel bar. Jenny had a flaming shot called a B-53 with Kahlua, Bailey’s, and Absinthe.
Tuesday morning, I started the day with two double espressos downstairs in the lobby bar of the hotel. Afterwards, Brian, Jenny and I headed back down to the Kremlin, this time via the subway. This was more complicated than it seemed, first because we couldn’t find the station. After resolving this problem, we had a harder time finding the right track.
We had lunch at the GUM again, this time at a café which specialized in crepes called Colours. I had one with salmon and caviar with horseradish. A live band in Santa suits played music while we ate.
While we were out, snow began falling. Large snowflakes falling on my overcoat actually had the shape of crystal-like flakes cut out by school children. It felt much colder than the day before.
We met Sheri and headed to our meeting with our driver who was quite late because of the heavy traffic and snowfall. We arrived at the offices just in time. Our driver dropped us off, but we weren’t sure we were in the right location. We walked into one building, handed the security officer the address, and we gathered (correctly) that we were not in the right place. Sheri noted that I had a conversation with him, somehow magically empowered by the Russian hat. In any case, we figured that we weren’t tragically lost, just a building off from our real location.
The ride back to the hotel afterwards was much shorter in duration because of lighter traffic after 10:00 pm. The driver took us by the Kremlin where Sheri finally got to at least do a “drive-by.” He tried to drop us off at the wrong hotel, but Brian was successful in directing him to the right location.
Once inside, I spoke with the hotel bellboy Alexei, who had been a source of advice and guidance throughout the trip. He directed us to a bar hidden on the second floor across the street. Once again, no one spoke English. They had lots of shots listed in English, so we were successful in ordering drinks. I was able to make out the word “quesadillas” in Russian, so we ordered that along with some cheese (which the waitress understood.) Brian wanted to grab his camera, so he and I headed back across the street to the hotel, this time with the Russian menu in hand, so I could seek Alexei’s advice. Coming back, we knew the Russian words for shrimp and calamari (or at least where to point to “calamari” on the menu.) The calamari was pretty good (very breaded, but delicious breading.) The shrimp looked big but had very little meat and even less taste.
We ended the evening there with a shot called “Losted”, which had God only knows what in it, but it was topped with Absinthe. The waitress lit it on fire, and gave us straws to drink it with while blue flames escaped from the cordial glass. I downed mine in time to look up and see Brian catching the table on fire from laughing into his drink.
On leaving, the snow was still falling hard; Jenny found a fresh patch of snow and proceeded to make a snow angel. Brian videotaped the hilarious spectacle as Sheri and I laughed.
The next morning I met Brian and Jenny for coffee at the coffee house beside stairwell to the bar from the night before. Our waitress was delighted to have the opportunity to try her English. It was still snowing pretty hard, with a good deal of accumulation.
Luckily, our driver this time was on time, despite the heavy snow. We made it to the airport in plenty of time to catch our flight back to New York.
The snow, the exotic architecture, the strange alphabet, the difficulties in communication all combined to make this a very special trip for me. At the beginning of this trip, I thought I would probably never again go to Moscow because of the difficulty in obtaining visas, the length of the journey, and lack of a reason to return. But in the end, I was very enchanted with the city, and hope to one day return.