Moscow in March

Mention Russia these days and everyone shudders, worrying what will be next. Does this mean another Cold War?

Trying to understand it becomes more complicated when actually on the ground, in the country as I am for a week. That Russians support Putin surprises us freethinking Westerners; yet several times in the course of our visit, it was reconfirmed that not everyone in the world admires the ideals of democracy and capitalism.

That said, however, it’s evident a free market is thriving. Moscow is vast, and construction is everywhere. Eyesore concrete buildings, remnants of the former Soviet Union, sit between reconstructed 18th century palaces and tiny, pastel churches. Shopping dominates culture like everywhere. Yet the infrastructure, created during Communism, trumps anything I’ve ever seen. The Moscow metro is fast and clean; chandeliers, paintings and sculptures adorn the walls and ceilings. The train to St. Petersburg is speedy and quiet. And the food, fantastic.

I joined my husband on a business trip mostly because my cousin Francesca lives in Moscow and she offered to be our tour guide. A lawyer with an American firm, she’s carved an expatriate life in a city she has loved since college. She led an inside tour that included parks and neighborhoods, cafes and bars, including one hidden beneath a Chinese take-out restaurant that isn’t named and the bouncer at the door decides who he lets in. We walked and walked and sampled as many types of ethnic Russian cuisines as she could fit in. I savored beet borscht for lunch every day.

Surely this is a nation on the cusp. If the powers that be would only let it alone, make tourism more welcome (it’s a lengthy, expensive process to obtain a visa), people would flock here as they do European cities. The cultural offerings are enormous; we took in a concert and ballet, the language isn’t that hard to figure out a few letters, and in the big cites, there’s signage and menus in English. Though we missed the snow, there’s a ski jump in the center of the city, ice skating and cross skiing everywhere in city parks.

I admit my images of Russia have been formed by “Fiddler on the Roof”- which was my grandfather’s story when he left the Motherland for the US, and by “Dr. Zhivago” and later a college Russian literature course. I’ve see movies made from Tolstoy novels and attended many performances of Chekov plays.  Francesca insisted that the nation isn’t nearly as homophobic as the West maintains, and urged we learn more about the real Russia. I sure hope to.

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About cyclingrandma

I was a journalist (Danbury News-Times, Ct), before becoming a teacher, and continue to write for professional journals. I have written several study guides for Penguin Books and write for Education Update, a newspaper based in New York City. (www.educationupdate.com). I’ve interviewed many authors, college presidents, and scientists. I wrote “The Kentucky Derby’s Forgotten Jockeys” for Smithsonian Magazine's website, www.smithsonian.com. (April, 2009). Two essays have been published in book anthologies; one for Wisdom of Our Mothers, (Familia Books) and the other in “College Search and Parent Rescue: Essay for Parents by Parents of College-Going Students.” (St. Martin’s Press). I was a middle school Language Arts teacher for more than 10 years and have just completed a five year grant position under No Child Left Behind in Newark, NJ public schools. I have three children, two daughters-in law, two grandsons, and one grandchild due in August, 2011. I’m an avid cyclist, knitter, cook, and reader. I love theater, museums, and yoga.
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31 Responses to Moscow in March

  1. Oh wow! What an exciting adventure. Hope you post everyday so I can live vicariously through your travels!

  2. Great inside view! And how fun to have a cousin to give you the tour.

  3. beachbarb says:

    I am envious of your trip. Sounded wonderful. how special to have your own room tour guide specially when its someone in the family.

  4. Drjcwash says:

    It is beautiful. I have always wanted to take in a ballet in Russia and see all the old buildings. Thanks for the pictures. The politics of late often misses the point that like us people are patriotic and supportive of their leaders. I wonder how the vote in Crimea is received in Moscow. Have fun.

  5. Thanks. I think we forget that people are people the world over.

  6. antastic post! I live vicariously through your experiences!!!

  7. It’s funny how we think that what we believe about freedom and democracy would be, or should be, everyone’s ideal. I would love to visit Moscow one day – thanks for sharing your photos and experience.
    Diana xo

  8. Judy says:

    Such a wonderful adventure. I agree….we are short sighted to think that our way is the best. I am sure there is so much to take in! Enjoy every moment. Thanks much for sharing!!

  9. joan turk says:

    Hi Lisa, Loved this post. You have an interesting life and take great photos. Enjoy the rest of your trip. Joan

  10. karen r-w says:

    With a Dunkin Donuts they will be completely Westernized in no time (including things like the prided obesity and diabetes rate haha)

  11. hugmamma says:

    We rarely get an inside glimpse of Russia. Nice to get the lowdown from an American visiting. I would probably have a similar perspective to yours. hugs for sharing…

  12. I’m going there in June for the first time. Thanks for giving me this glimpse ahead of time. Anyone know any good books with Russia, Moscow, or St Petersburg as backgrounds? I’ve read the 19th century classics, but maybe there’s something more contemporary?

  13. Letty Sue Albert says:

    I couldn’t agree more about the unfortunate Visa process…..if it weren’t for that we would be visiting her regularly. Francesca is the best guide, and definitely knows every outstanding place to eat…and to visit. We also visited some wonderful places outside of the city. It is a country that badly needs tourism to rid the many misconceptions.
    On another topic: I never managed to answer you regarding books to read. But in the event there should be another heavy snowfall, here are three I enjoyed tremendously if you haven’t yet read them.
    ” Why be happy when you could be normal?” By Jeanette Winterson
    “Losing Mum and Pup” by Christopher Buckley
    “After Many a Summer” by Aldoux Huxley

  14. ShimonZ says:

    It would be interesting to hear of the culture there these days… and what you find there that you can’t find in the west…

    • It seemed that both Moscow and St. Petersburg are teeming with classical music concerts — every day at several venues. We attended 3 things- all great. It’s not that it doesn’t exist in NY, it’s just that when traveling we have more time to do these sorts of things. When home, we see the family, have work commitments, etc. that make getting to cultural events more difficult.

      • ShimonZ says:

        Yes, what you say is so often our experience… we go to the ends of the world to taste what we could find in our own back yard… I am sure that there are wonderful treasures in Russia too… but I’ve heard of so much cruelty there, in this generation, and in previous ones… and the lack of true democracy, and lawlessness… that I would find it very hard to visit there. But I understand your desire to experience the vicinity of family roots…

      • Really I wouldn’t have gone if my cousin wasn’t there. Nice to have a local tour guide. It is fascinating though I’m in no hurry to return. Very expensive.

  15. Gwen Tuinman says:

    What an extraordinary opportunity! I’m so happy for you. It seems that all the stars aligned. I look forward to reading your further adventures and perspectives. Totally off topic, but it was fun to read that you practice yoga. (I’m a yoga gal as well.) I wonder if Russia has embraced yoga with the same zeal as North America?

  16. My cousin said it is popular, though I didn’t have time to indulge! Great spa/pool at one of the hotels. I’m not sure I have much more to add, but seems there’s interest so might try to squeeze another post in about St. Petersburg.

  17. Proud Parent says:

    Thanks for sharing your insight and experiences. Reading your post and looking at the pictures has kindled within me an urge to travel. Of course, my very practical son is trying to convince me to save our money. In this instance, I am not heeding his advice. I have every intention of taking a trip soon.

  18. Pingback: Russia #2: Wandering The Hermitage & Mom’s Borscht | cyclingrandma

  19. You are fortunate to have a guide who is familiar with the culture. I have met several travelers who have run into bureaucratic corruption and had to pay a lot of money to petty officials who took away valid traveling permits and demanded money–hundreds of dollars for their return. I have also heard that they are still very antisemitic there, and would be curious about your perceptions of that. I look forward to reading more about your trip. I have an interest in going there one day and to the Ukraine as well (once things quiet down there), as that is where my father’s people were from.

  20. I didn’t get a sense of any Jews around though there is a “Jewish” tour offered and a listing for a kosher restaurant in St. P. My husband’s office arranged all the visas, etc. so it was legit. I wouldn’t be in a hurry to go as a tourist without some sort of infrastructure to back you up. It’s very expensive too. I don’t understand how people can live there.

  21. Enjoyed both posts about Russia and also the one about the gxreen goo.It is a shame that the poitics in Russia discourage tourism. Very rich culture and a beautiful country, too. Would love to see the area where my father’s family were from. Your pictures are gorgeous. We had the borscht for dinner. It was fantastic. Your recipe sounded even better. What time is dinner? We had “barscht” in Poland and “borscht” in Kazahkstan. All different than “ours”. Keep travelling!.

  22. Mom, that’s your recipe! Written by hand years ago on a 5×7 index card.

  23. susanissima says:

    Refreshing to hear something positive about Russia for a change, cg. Thanks for writing so elegantly about your visit.

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