I am writing to you as one sick tourist. Alas! Those of your who have known me for a while, though, are probably not at all surprised. A rather nasty cold hit me just in time for our trip to Moscow. I actually missed my placement this morning in order to sleep, and despite that I’m not getting better. I think I may need to miss tomorrow’s placements as well in order to get rid of this thing. Drat. Then again, they probably don’t want me around the kids if I’m hacking and sniffing, right?
Complaining aside, let me tell you about the past few days.
Last Thursday a large group of us (15) went out on the town. The veterans took us to a restaurant above a movie theater in Yaroslavl that serves sushi, and it wasn’t bad, either. I got a cucumber roll and a tempura something roll. I have no idea what the fish was, since the menu was all in Russian, although I have found that navigating restaurants isn’t too bad if 1) you can sound out the words to look for similarities (sushi, tempura, tuna, and miso, for example, are the same words) and 2) you’re willing to take a chance and get something weird or unexpected. Service is very slow, though, so dinner took us about 2 hours.
Afterwards, we went to a bowling alley a few buildings down. It was quite funky - black lighting, disco balls, and lots of animation between rounds (if you got a spare, the screen showed a dinosaur tromping across the pins, for example). You pay by the hour there, so we rented two lanes for an hour at 600 rubles per lane. We also had some fun ordering shoe sizes, which required knowing your European shoe size as well as how to say the number in Russian. I did terribly, as usual, but it was fun. Oh, and we also went to the Baskin Robbins after dinner for ice cream cones (yes, Baskin Robbins.) It was one of those evenings where you do rather American things, but you’re in Russia so it’s all a very cultural experience.
Dima, one of the translators at CCS came with us for the evening, and I think it was more educational for him than for us. He’s this 19 year old boy who’s lived in Yaroslavl his whole life. Very shy, but quite kind and dignified. He had sushi for the first time that night, as well as his first experience bowling. He took third place overall in the group. When I had gotten my third gutter-ball in a row, he told me (in his nervous English), “You don’t have to try so hard. It seems to me that no matter what the ball will go down there, so just send it on it’s way.”
Dima also rescued us by volunteering to help Rose and I get the train tickets we needed. Rose and I were in the CCS office looking up the words we thought we would need to get tickets to Moscow and St. Petersburg, and Dima came in. I guess our Russian sounded terrible enough that he figured we couldn’t do it without him. Which is fairly accurate. So, he accompanied Paul, Rose, and me to the train station to buy the tickets.
Others had warned us about how awful it was, but I must say that I didn’t believe them until I had experienced it myself. It took us over an hour to get through the line of about 6 people. It was a vigorous hour, too, since Russians have no qualms about cutting in front of you, or trying to steal your place. The line is a loose term, to, since it’s more of a mob of people, pushing their way to the front. Dasha, another translator, said today that she thinks Russians do this “because we had to wait in line for everything when we were Soviet”. I think part of the reason it takes so long to help each person is because there is no published schedule anywhere. You just go to the window and tell them where you’d like to go and roughly when, and the cashier looks it up on her computer and you have to negotiate the options. Paul got quite frustrated, and has added electronic train ticket kiosks to the growing list of improvements he will make when he’s elected mayor of Yaroslavl (it also include updating the tram system and repaving the sidewalks).
Once we got to the window, Dima took over. 40 minutes later, we had 3rd class tickets to Moscow. The cashier refused to help us with the other tickets, so we had to come back the next day and go through another 2 hour process to get the tickets to St. Petersburg. But we have them, by golly!
On Friday Nadia took our group to a nearby town called Nostarovoe. There, amid the rain, we toured a small museum about the history of the town (known for the salt they draw from the river), and visited two churches. At one of them, we were met by the priest of the church, who told us the history of the cathedral. He was very kind and said that he hoped we would all be able to “find comfort from the church’s icon, no matter what religion you are.”
Saturday morning Paul, Rose, Allison, Tanya, Lindsey, Yen, and I met in the lobby of our hotel at 6:25 and headed off to the train station. We met Dima there, who was coming with us for the weekend, and boarded our 7:15 train to Moscow. The ride there was pleasant – we had cushioned, individual seats, plenty of leg room, and a decent toilet in the back. Not bad for 230 rubles!
We got to Moscow just before noon and made our way to the hotel. Getting a place to stay was the struggle of Friday night – after two hours of trying to book and/or get through to hostels in vain, I had finally given up and called Marriott. With the approval of the rest of the group, I booked us three rooms for $108 each. The hotel turned out to be rather luxurious – right on Tverskaya Ulitsa, the main shopping road of the town, near a metro, with really nice rooms. Plus, the staff all spoke English really well. A part of me feels guilty for enjoying that last quality so much, as if I’m cheating somehow, but boy was it nice not to struggle for a while.
We dropped our bags off at the hotel and walked down Tverskaya Ulitsa to Red Square, passing Pushkin Square and Tchaikovsky’s statue. It was very exciting to walk around a corner and suddenly there it is – the red brick walls, the brightly colored domes of St. Basil’s. It’s like the excitement of seeing the Eiffel tower for the first time. We were snapping pictures like crazy, but by no means were we the only ones. There were throngs of tourists there – Japanese, Chinese, American, British, even loads of Russian tourists. And tons of bridal parties! It seems to be fashionable to do wedding photos on Red Square – we saw perhaps 20 different brides in the course of the afternoon, all posing for various shots around the square.
We paid to go inside St. Basil’s after taking tons of photos outside of it (I can check off another one of my 63 life’s goals!), and afterwards Dima took us to a cathedral he said would be much prettier than St. Basil’s. So we walked along the road between the Kremlin and the Mosckva River to the Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer. It’s much newer, and the interior was absolutely gorgeous. Then, after a desperate search for a bathroom for Tanya and me, we walked up to Old Arbat, did some souvenir shopping, and then took the metro back to the hotel.
By this time, my cold was getting much worse. Dima took me to a pharmacy and got me some Theraflu drink mix and some kind of lozenge, but I was done for the night. Rose and Tanya were rather tired, too, so we crashed at the hotel. Paul, Yen, Allison, and Lindsey went out to a bar, I ordered some soup and a milkshake from room service, and the others ate some bread and cheese from a market around the corner.
The next day we were slow getting out. Allison and Lindsey had stayed out all night, and stayed in their hotel room until check-out time at 3:00. Yen and Tanya got up early and ran out to the airport to retrieve one of Tanya’s suitcases, which the airline had lost last weekend (they refused to deliver it). I was slow getting up because of my cold. When I got out of the room, finally, I found Dima, Paul, Rose, Tanya, and Yen in the lobby. It turns out the hotel had a computer with free internet access, so there was much excitement all around (except for Dima – he seemed a little baffled by our delay).
We finally headed out, taking the metro back to Red Square to visit the Kremlin. After another stressful round of ticket-buying, we made it in. It’s really rather lovely inside, and I think we were early enough (and it was Sunday) that we avoided a lot of the tourist crowds. We looked inside the three cathedrals, listened to an a capella quintet, sat for a while in the “secret gardens”, and, of course, took a lot of pictures.
Afterwards, we ran into Allison and Lindsey, and went to lunch at a coffee house chain. I had a good-tasting chicken sandwich and some fresh-squeezed apple juice, which cost me about $15. People weren’t kidding when they said Moscow was one of the most expensive cities in the world. There was also some excitement when Rose accidentally locked herself in the bathroom of the restaurant. We didn’t know it until Paul went upstairs to use the restroom and heard Rose through trying to tell two Russian ladies to find her friend Dima to help her. The Russian ladies just kept yelling instructions louder and louder until Paul brought Dima back and he was able to translate the instructions to Rose and get her out. It was rather entertaining for everyone except Rose, actually.
After lunch, the group split up – Yen, Rose, Dima, and I headed back towards the hotel, stopping off at two bookstores on the way while the others went to the GUM department store. We met back up at the hotel, retrieved our bags, got back on the metro, and hopped on the train back to Yaroslavl.
The train back was much worse than the train there. This time, the seats were just benches, with three people to a bench, and three benches to each section. It was quite crowded, and the claustrophobia kicked in when people started lowering the berths above the benches to sleep on them. I was rather miserable by this time, but luckily I was in good company. Once we finished complaining about the seats, we all pulled out our various mp3 players, and listened to our music in silence. Eventually, we started sharing music and soon even the Russian fellow who was laying down above Paul, Yen, and me was passing his headphones across to Tanya to share music with us. We told stories, swapped book suggestions, and laughed in that loopy exhausted way the rest of the way to Yaroslavl, arriving just after 11:00pm.
It was a full and tiring weekend, but fun. I’m glad I got to Moscow, and I’m proud that I finished another one of my goals, but I don’t think I’ll be eager to return to Moscow again soon. There are some museums I missed, and I would love to go to the Bolshoi theater, but I can wait for those. In the meantime, I’m going to try to get over this cold so I can get to my placements again and so I can keep up with the others in St. Petersburg next weekend.
This was a very long textual post, and I’m sorry about that. I’ll balance it by posting some pictures below. Click on them to see them in full resolution if they're too small to see here. Enjoy and thanks for reading!