Weekend in Moscow

I’ve returned from Moscow, safe and sound! It was my first taste of travel, and I have to say, I absolutely loved it, and I can’t wait to travel again. Hands down one of the best weekends of my life—not THE best, but it’s definitely up there.

Thursday was a busy day. I intended to come right home after school, but I had a meeting with my RD and I stopped to buy flowers for my host family. Friday, in case you missed it, was International Women’s Day. Yes that’s a holiday. And yes, I will forever celebrate it. It can tend to be a rather expensive holiday, as you’re supposed to recognize all the women who contribute something to your life (teachers, family, etc.) but it’s the greatest feeling in the world getting flowers, just for being you. I bought Babushka and Ira a little miniature rose bush. Babushka has a lot of potted plants around the house, but none of them have flowers on them, and since she loves flowers more than anything, I wanted to get her something that wouldn’t die a week later. She was so happy, she nearly cried.

I had absolutely no expectation of getting a gift, but my host family went all out. I got a beautiful white hyacinth from Babushka (unfortunately, I happen to be rather allergic to it—but there’s no way I’m telling her that), candies and lotion from Ira, and a card. They are honestly the best people I know.

I procrastinated packing until about 8 p.m. Our train left at 1:40 a.m. on Friday, but since the Petersburg metro closes at midnight, I knew I had to be at the train station early. I debated on what to take with me and ended up stuffing everything into my ginormous camouflage backpack. I caught the last train out of the suburbs, and met everyone at Moskovskiy Vokzal. (Side note: Russia has vending machines for everything. Coffee, juice, pocketknives, first aid kits, travel supplies, and my favorite—contact lenses. Anything you could possibly ever need). If you ever travel by train in Russia, I recommend you get to the station early… like 40 minutes to an hour early, especially if you can’t read Cyrillic. Trains here are precisely on time, kind of like the Hogwarts Express. Ours actually left early.

Train travel. Now that was a new experience for me. I don’t want it to sound like I’ve never been on a train before, but I’ve never been on an overnight train. You walk in, and there are just rows and rows and rows of beds. On one side, the beds are grouped into fours, and have a table in the center; the other side is just a long row of bunk beds. Well that’s where we were… in the hallway. Luckily I didn’t have to bunk with a complete stranger, instead, Raymond and I sat on my bunk and watched the Russian countryside fly by while we attempted to make a dent in all of the food my babushka packed for me. (She went crazy, I got a whole bag of fruit, a carton of juice, cookies, a pie, a whole cucumber, you name it, she packed it). Sleeping on the train is a little more difficult than it sounds. The bunks are tiny; my 4’ 11” friend couldn’t even lay flat (I can only imagine what my 6’ 4” cousin would have done…).

Kellie, Kate and I split off from the main group, and headed out to one of Moscow’s suburbs. There are five cities surrounding Moscow, called the Golden Ring. We headed to Sergeev Pozad, one of the stops on the ring. It was an hour and a half elektrichka ride to the town, which was a lot after already having been on a train for 8+ hours, but it was absolutely worth it.

Sergeev Pozad is home to one of the oldest, most important monasteries in Russia. It date’s back to the 1300’s, and is a perfect example of classical Russian architecture, with the onion domes and bright colors. We spent a few hours exploring each and every church, before heading back to the city.
Upon reaching Moscow we needed to navigate our way to the hostel we were staying at via the metro. I’ve heard nothing but terrible things about the Moscow metro. Yes, there are 158 stops, but with a map, it’s really no worse than the Petersburg metro, or the New York metro.

Having never stayed in a hostel before, I had no idea what to expect (bed bugs, dirty sheets, etc.), but that hostel was amazing. The bed was probably one of the most comfortable I’ve slept on, the rooms were clean, and there were real bathrooms! We went out exploring, and saw Red Square at night, which was extremely beautiful—well I have mixed views. It was really pretty, but it also looked extremely touristy. There was a skating rink in the middle of the square, and all sorts of little stands surrounding it. Either way, seeing St. Basil’s and the Kremlin at night was well worth the 1.5-mile walk from the hostel.
Saturday we spent the whole day outside. We met up with three of the Vladimir students and started our day at the Kremlin. Unfortunately we didn’t see Putin, but we did see Cathedral Square, which was pretty awesome (although personally, I don’t understand why they needed so many churches in one area). We even got to see Ivan the Terrible’s tomb.

We didn’t get to see the Armory, but we did get to see the history museum in Red Square. It was two floors, and had a number of interesting exhibits, my favorite being the treasure room in the basement. After the museum, we walked through GYM (pronounced “Goom”), which is the most expensive mall in all of Russia. We had an ice cream cone, since that was the only thing we could afford (I honestly don’t know what flavor it was—although it was yellow, it kind of tasted like vanilla pudding).

Kate, Kellie and I checked out St. Basil’s Cathedral, which although it’s not as grand as the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, it was just as interesting. On the inside, it’s like a maze with all these tiny little rooms. The church looks like it hasn’t been painted since 1300 (although it probably has), but it lent something to the sense of history I felt while walking around. We spent a long time inside the cathedral, admiring Red Square and exploring all the rooms. Eventually we had to leave, because it was just too cold—it hovered around -13 all weekend. Whoop whoop.

Kellie really wanted to see the Tretyakov Gallery, but by the time we got there, the gallery was closed, so we ended up walking to see the Peter the Great monument. It’s constantly voted one of the ugliest monuments in the world. It’s huge and gaudy and just really strange looking. Across the street was a statue garden—another former stop on the Amazing Race. We explored the statues, and found some of the last Soviet statues left over from the end of the USSR.

Sunday might have been my favorite day. If you ever have one day in Moscow, make sure to add the Izmailovski Market to your list. It’s located in the suburbs, so you have to travel a bit, but it was well worth it. There you can find everything you could possibly ever think of. I’ve never seen so many matroshki in my life. The market was never ending—there were just rows upon rows upon rows of stalls. I can’t even tell you what my favorite part was because I loved it all. Around lunchtime, we ate at a little café inside the market, and feasted on black bread, borsch and tea—like real Russians do.

I’m not sure that I would want to live in Moscow, but I’m glad I got the chance to visit it. It sounds funny to say, but I feel like I understand Russia a little bit better after having seen it.

By: Cate Kinlein

Program: Advanced Russian Language & Area Studies Program (RLASP)

Term: Spring 2013


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