In which a friend comes to visit, giving us a chance to see Russia from the perspective of a visitor, from the Bronze Horseman to Lenin’s Mausoleum (with apologies to Martin Malia).

Morning fog at Domodedovo Airport.

Morning fog at Domodedovo Airport.

Because of the nature of visit Russia (i.e. the obnoxious visa process that demands a lot more planning than your ordinary weekend getaway), Brittney’s trip to Russia was highly anticipated and long-planned. Her visit followed literally on the heels of our February sojourn to Karelia and Murmansk. I mean that quite literally, too. We flew into Moscow at 8:30 in the morning, and just a few hours later, Brittney arrived on a flight from London, where she was spending the quarter doing a business school exchange at LSE. Since this was her first trip to Russia, we wanted to be sure to give her a good introduction, so we planned several days of activities for Moscow and St. Petersburg that would give her a good sense of the two cities and also gave her a good sense of our lives.

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This meant that our first walkabout, which was ultimately towards Red Square, went straight past one of the archives I had been working in, including a stop for coffee at the combined hipster-barber-shop-and-coffee-shop (because: Moscow) I frequently stopped into for an afternoon pick-me-up when the documents couldn’t keep me awake. For this first day, we made sure to cross off all the major things, so Red Square was first-up.

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As you can see, we were there on the eve of the anniversary of Boris Nemtsov’s assassination (363 days before we were there).

I’m not sure how Brittney managed to get quite so lucky, but the weather we had during her long weekend was just perfect: although pretty cold (late February, after all!), the sky cooperated and produced some truly stunning sunsets.

Sunset over the Moscow River.

Sunset over the Moscow River.

We continued down the Moscow river, taking in the sights and eventually warming up over cocktails in the shadow of Christ the Savior Cathedral.

Photographing on the Patriarch's Bridge.

Photographing on the Patriarch’s Bridge.

Once we had warmed up sufficiently, we headed onwards down the Old Arbat and meeting Maki for dinner along the New Arbat, where we introduced Brittney to a vast array of Russian food. Our phones recorded quite the day of walking, so we were pretty happy to return home and call it a night. The next day, after Brittney and I made a pilgrimage (or trip, more accurately) to see the wax man in Lenin’s Mausoleum, I sent Brittney out for assorted adventures, and she hit up some museums while I headed off to the archive to get some work done.

Reflections in the archive courtyard.

Reflections in the archive courtyard.

After I finished my day at the archive, Brittney and I met up outside Gorky Park, and we stopped en route to visit the sculpture park outside the new wing of the Tretyakov Gallery. I introduced her to some of the less savory figures of Soviet history, preserved in this graveyard of Soviet monuments, and then we enjoyed another lovely sunset as we headed towards the skating rinks.

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Obviously ice skating was high on our priority list — a real must if you visit Moscow in winter. The skating rink did not disappoint this time.

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This was followed up with a healthy dose of khachapuri and other Georgian specialties, which made for a filling, delicious dinner with friends.

On the following day, our last in Moscow, Brittney had an ambitious plan of museums to visit, so she went about her business while I headed to the archive, and we met up on Red Square afterwards. We debated whether to use our remaining time to visit the Tretyakov Gallery, which was open late, but decided instead in favor of watching the sunset with cocktails at Time-Out bar, another of my favorite places to go in Moscow.

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Another day, another perfect sunset, this time with Mayakovsky!

We returned home from there, where Maki had prepared a veritable feast of plov (so we could introduce Brittney to Central Asian cuisine as well), and we invited friends to come and join us. After we had had our fill, we stopped by a local craft bar to continue our conversation until the time came for us to catch a cab and head to the train station to catch our 1 am train to St. Petersburg. After a night on the train, we found ourselves much further north, with a new set of adventures ahead of us. First stop (after breakfast and dropping off our stuff at the place we were staying): the Hermitage.

I love this photo I snapped in front of the Winter Palace.

I love this photo I snapped in front of the Winter Palace.

As usual, it did not disappoint, though I was sad that the Peacock clock was not on display and that the 19th century impressionist art had been moved to another location. Oh well, I guess we will just have to stick with these beautiful rooms.

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It was a museum-sort-of-day, so from there, after we had eaten a bit, we crossed the river to make a stop at the political history museum. We figured it was time to cover war and revolution after all that tsarist splendor.

Banners in the museum and Lenin's office.

Banners in the museum and Lenin’s office.

We headed out just as the sun was setting over the Neva. Seriously, what a roll these sunsets were on!

Petersburg by dusk and evening.

Petersburg by dusk and evening.

From there, we headed to yet another museum, this time to lighten the mood. The Museum of Soviet Arcade Games, with branches in Moscow and St. Petersburg, is a lovely stop to include in an itinerary. Before we headed in for the games, we warmed up over coffee.

Maki over coffee. Because I like taking photos of him.

Maki over coffee. Because I like taking photos of him.

Caffeinated, it was time to play!

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Brittney took the circus very seriously.

Pinball wizard!

Pinball wizard!

From there, we headed onwards for dinner before completing the checklist with a stop at the banya to get clean (washed down with some craft beer afterwards). A perfect, exhausting day.

And then, the next morning, we were at it again, with a stop by the Bronze Horseman and a trip up St. Isaac’s Cathedral.

"I love you, Peter's Great creation..."

“I love you, Peter’s Great creation…”

St. Isaac’s didn’t disappoint, either!

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And from there, after a stop for excellent coffee and at Dom Knigi for books and souvenirs, we headed back to our hostel so that Brittney could collect her stuff and head onwards to the airport, her visit complete. Maki and I, however, had time for a few extra adventures. First up, a visit to the Museum of the Arctic and Antarctic, a museum that I had been dying to see for years, ever since I lived in the neighborhood and never made it. I was expecting to enjoy it ironically, but it was just a good museum.

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I wanted to take the penguins home with me — especially the little one in his Pioneer necktie.

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I also especially loved many of the small details — the various scientific instruments, the beautiful paintings, the glorious architecture (it was a converted church taken over in the 1930s for this purpose), and most particularly the plethora of hand-painted maps that must have dated to the 1960s.

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It was awesome. Once we had sufficiently geeked out (fondly remembering the previous week’s trip to the Arctic! We saw pictures of the Lenin Nuclear Ice Breaker, too!), we headed onwards for dinner (at the Israeli street-food café Bekitzer), and enjoyed lovely cocktails as we toasted (with free shots!) to Leonardo DiCaprio’s presumed (and achieved) win, at the pharmacy-themed bar Apoteke, where Zhenya, the bar-tender served up the most delicious take on a bloody Mary I had ever tried.

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And then, we caught a taxi to the train, and then caught our train back to Moscow. After so much excitement over the past week, it was hard to return to our regular grind, full of extra slush and gray skies.

Moscow in February... le sigh...

Moscow in February… Le sigh…

But really, we were just counting down the days, because we were really only a week and change off from the next adventure: our highly anticipated trip to the Caucasus, full of sunshine, warmer weather, and good company. Next time, whenever I get a chance to keep writing.


One thought on “Russia Under Western Eyes

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