Monday, March 13, 2006

If someone had told me that by the middle of March the daily high would still be below freezing, I probably would not have come to Russia. Yes, ignorance was bliss. Currently, however, it is the farthest thing from that. So this is Russia.
This past weekend I went with two of my friends, Amanda and Erica, to Moscow. We had our first experiences of Russian trains, which went much smoother than we expected. We even got complimentary candy and soap on one train. The weather this weekend was very Russian: cold, snowy, and greatly dominated by the color grey. This fact didn’t keep us from seeing a few sights, like Russia’s biggest toy store, the former KGB headquarters (strangely enough, right across the street from the toy store), the Mayakovsky Museum, Red Square, and a giant souvenir market. The Mayakovsky Museum (Vladimir Mayakovsky- revolutionary Soviet poet and propagandist, committed suicide at the age of 37 because of a lost love and disillusionment with communism, though I think it was mostly due to overly bleak Moscow winters) was one of the more bizarre things I’ve seen in my life, but if you’ve read any Mayakovsky, you couldn’t expect anything less. More deconstructivist industrial art exhibit than museum, it was uniquely Russian. Red Square was also amazing and increased my obsession with St. Basil’s and its fairy-tale-like quality, which was only made better by the heavy snowfall.
The souvenir market we went to on Sunday was absolutely incredible, but extremely geared toward foreigners, especially Americans, which gave it a strange feeling. Most of the vendors could speak some English and I saw Americans everywhere (Russian are right, we do really stick out). Beside that oddity, the market had just about everything a person could ever want to buy, including a Gary Potter matrushka doll (sadly, Neville was not one of the little figures inside).
Perhaps the most exciting part of the trip was the food, which included pizza, Tex-Mex, and Ethiopian food. Now, I’m sure I’ve gone eight weeks without Mexican food, but there’s something about the utter lack of spice or strong flavor in cabbage that makes you crave Mexican like a pregnant woman craves pickles. The Tex-Mex restaurant we found near Red Square was absolute heaven- they gave us menus in English, there was a Britney Spears music video on the TV, and the waiter spoke to us in a very sweet attempt at English. The food was pretty bad by our standards, but for Russia, it was a tear-jerking event. The three of us were literally gushing the entire time; it was an incredibly beautiful thing. My tequila sunrise literally made my heart smile. Then we paid our huge bill, and walked outside into the snowstorm and back into reality. The Ethiopian cuisine was a similar experience, with the same atrocious shock at the end.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m really glad Moscow is so close. But when it comes down to it, it is a dreadfully ugly and drab city. Bleak winter weather aside, the buildings usually mirror the Soviet utilitarian style and though they have somewhat better upkeep than in Vladimir, they lack the tacky, randomly bright colors. Especially at this time of year, everything is covered in a mixture of ice, snow, and muddy grey slush. Personally, it makes me pretty glad to be in Vladimir.
A word of advice- don’t bother buying a guidebook for Moscow unless you need something to shield your face from the razor-like snow. Most things it lists will either have closed as soon as the book was printed or changed locations approximately twelve times. Out of the three restaurants we tried to find, we found one successfully, and the bar we tried to find on Saturday night resulted in an hour and a half long walk on a very abandoned island in the center of Moscow (it was not a fun experience, and no, I don’t want to talk about it). So do yourself a favor, and spend the money on a Gary Potter matrushka doll instead.
We leave for the group trip to Petersburg tomorrow, which I hope proves to be a more upbeat, bright city.


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