I have suddenly come to the realization that I have only one week left in Russia, and that although at the time of the last few weeks I have felt like I’ve been participatory and active in touring Moscow, there are still approximately 80,000 things left for me to do/places to see.
On Sunday I was in rather a foul mood because of our monumental failure in attempting to find, well, anything really.
Mary was very tired and did not feel well, while YaMila woke up angry and couldn’t seem to shake it, so we did not go out. I was disappointed, but have since decided that if nobody wants to join me, I know my way around and how to figure things out decently enough now that I can travel alone, so we’ll see if things come to that at some point.
Tuesday I went with YaMila and Juan (Mary still felt ill) back to the VVC exhibition center, which is the park across from the Cosmonaut Museum, to ride the monstrous ferris wheel and take pictures of the city. Carnivals work a bit differently here than in the States, however; as in, when you “get on” the ferris wheel, you are actually “jumping on” because they do not stop the ride. I thought I was going to brain myself on the glass encasement, honestly, but luckily, my nimbleness saved me some pain.
Afterwards we ate in a small café in the park, where we were completely and totally cheated. For all three of us our meal should have cost around 2,000 rubles, but instead she charged us nearly 6,000. I wanted to contest it, but none of us know enough Russian and so we had to pay up. I’m pretty sure it was because it was obvious we were American and they took advantage, but we’ll never know since I do not intend on ever returning for more of that service, thank you.
Wednesday was our last culture class of the program, because next week we are visiting the Izmailovo fair, which is supposed to be huge, quite cheap, and varied. Our last day was spent discussing Russian poetry, which was quite interesting, and a little more interactive than usual. This was a welcome relief! Three hours of a lecture with no participation can get quite long very quickly, I assure you.
Although this doesn’t concern poetry, an interesting thing our professor told us about was a rather large and absurd scandal recently in Russia concerning a patriarch and a watch. Apparently, because he is a monk, he has to take strict vows to not have many material possessions, but during a service was seen with a huge gold watch, the sum being somewhere around 30,000 euros. The media was instantly forced to convey a cover up, where the watch was photoshopped off of his wrist, but sadly they had forgotten to photoshop away the shadow it had cast upon the table he was leaning over. So ridiculous! It is really no wonder the Russians have such black humor. If not, what else would they laugh at?
After the lecture, Mary and I met up with Juan (quite by chance, but we forced him along) in order to make our way to the Moscow Zoo. I had read a lot about it prior to our departure, and was fully prepared for whatever horrendous state the animals and exhibitions may be in. I was quite surprised upon arriving there.
First of all, we got in free because we are students, which was awesome, and it was actually quite large, much larger than I expected considering it is not very far from the heart of Moscow itself. The entrance is very impressive, and upon walking through the gate there is a gigantic pond around which all the exhibits circle around.
Many of the exhibits were birds, which honestly I was not expecting, but that was quite interesting considering in the States’ zoos are not necessarily heavy on the avian species. Quite a few (especially in the “cats” section) of the exhibits were completely empty, with no explanation of where the animals had gone or why they were indeed missing.
Mary and Juan were quite depressed at the state of things, because although the animals didn’t look starved or mistreated, per se, they typically were caged alone and the cages themselves were not very clean. But because I had read so much about it, it was actually a bit more optimistic than I anticipated. Plus, I completely love zoos. I do want to be a zoo veterinarian, after all, so could it be that my life calling is to return to Moscow and renovate/improve the state of the zoo here? Who knows? It could happen.
We had a lot of fun though, and stayed well over three hours. We ate dinner at a well-known buffet-style restaurant called Moo-moo, which was ridiculously delicious and only cost me 200-something rubles. That is a steal for eating out here! After dinner we topped off our night with some incredible dessert at the one-and-only Shokoladnitsa, where I had a pretty unbelievable banana-caramel latte and hazelnut-chocolate filled crepes. All in all, maybe my favorite day yet!
Thursday was an excursion to the ballet, once more, this time to see Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.” Can’t go to Russia without seeing that performed! I was very excited, because it had been years since I had watched any form of the story, and to see it performed in its homeland, so to speak, was pretty awesome. The performance was held in a tiny concert hall literally right beside the Bolshoi Theatre.
Friday was a very, very important day for our dear foursome (we have dubbed ourselves the Random Crew. Respect.), because it was Juan’s last day with us. He was to leave campus here at 2 a.m. to make his 5 a.m. flight back to the States. He needed to buy souvenirs still, so YaMila, Mary, and I joined him in going to Izmailovo fair, which as I mentioned before, is supposedly the best place in Moscow to buy souvenirs as they are both diverse and cheap. We were not disappointed!
Because it had been raining and was not a weekend, some of the usual vendors were not present, but there was still quite a selection of gifts to choose from—billions (literally) of matrushkas (nesting dolls), jewelry (amber from the Baltic Sea is EVERYWHERE), shawls and scarves, real-fur hats and jackets, old cameras, shot glasses, and the list goes on. We stayed there for two to three hours checking things out, and we all left laden with new gifts for ourselves and friends/family back home.
Beside the souvenir fair is the “wooden Kremlin,” which houses the vodka museum and other historic-museum-type buildings and halls, along with a park and scenery in the back. Sadly, pictures were prohibited unless one paid, so I had to be content with taking pictures of the outside of the building. All too soon, it seemed, our bags became heavy and our stomachs empty, so we ventured to a nearby shopping center and feasted on some extremely ethnic (well, maybe not) KFC and Baskin Robbins. I will have you know, though, that the praline and mocha ice cream I bought was far superior to any ice cream I have ever had in the States.
Not long after returning to the dorms YaMila, myself, and Juan decided there was no need for Juan to try and sleep when he had to leave at 2 a.m., so we bought some vodka and beer and decided we would stay awake with him until he had to leave so we could say goodbye. YaMila talked up a funny storm (she is known to do this), Juan packed, while I managed to squeeze in some history by reading a book Juan brought: “Pizarro, Conqueror of the Incas.”
We recorded ourselves toasting Juan on his departure, and then stayed up talking life and love, and many other things that serious adults talk about (serious can be used loosely here, if you wish). I thought I would be okay with it, but when Juan hugged us good bye and then got in the car and drove away, I really wasn’t okay. We managed to joke a bit for maybe the first 30 seconds after he left, then it was time for tears. It really is hard making a friend, hanging out and talking with them almost 24/7 for a few weeks, and then having to say goodbye, knowing you may never see them again. It really does hurt.
That is probably the reason Saturday was kind of a drag. It should have been completely awesome, and normally I would have been on cloud nine on such an excursion. It was a program-led excursion to Kolomenskoye Estate, which was the official summer estate of the tsars and tsarinas in Imperial Russia, so as you can imagine, it was very extensive and very impressive. It is a park/museum now, for the most part, and is kept in pristine condition.
Sunday, Mary and I were determined that this Sunday we would actually succeed in finding both Café Pushkin and the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. No surprise, we got lost. Again. We had decided to lunch at Café Pushkin, but to our great surprise, this famous and posh café does not proclaim itself loudly; instead it is a stately, but ordinary looking façade, with a tiny plaques saying in tiny letters “Café Pushkin.” I mean, really? One of the most famous tourist attractions, not to mention a wildly popular hob knobbing place for the rich and important in Moscow, and you can’t even tell what it is when you walk by it? Typical Russia—eclecticism is a virtue!
The food was stupendous; there really are no words. It may have been the best meal of my entire life, barring when I go home in a week and I eat some of my mother’s barbecued ribs once more. I ordered veal cutlets with mashed potatoes and vegetables, pistachio cake covered in crème brulee, fruit jelly, and icing, and a refreshing mojito cocktail to top it all off. Not only was the food delicious, but the presentation was also amazing. If any of you go to Moscow in the future, definitely check out the Café Pushkin!
The Pushkin Museum was easier to find because last week, if you recall, we had found it but by then it was too late to enter. Today was our lucky day! Apparently today was the 100th anniversary of the museum, so all people who had a student ID card got in to both buildings for free! And thank goodness, because after that lunch we were scraping kopeks off of the streets.
And so ends my fourth week in Moscow, Russia. I cannot believe that this next week is my final one! Literally cannot believe it. This week is so melancholy that I would really like to just sit in my room and sleep, trying to forget the world and how I must leave this beautiful and eccentric place all too soon. All my friends will soon depart as well, maybe to never see me again. The thought is so sad I can barely function. But hopefully, if nothing else, we will always stay in contact with one another! Until next week, lovely readers, до свидания!