Russian Travels Week 2: Moscow

Previous recap posts:
Russian Travels Week 1: Saint Petersburg Part 1
Russian Travels Week 1: Saint Petersburg Part 2
Russian Travels Week 2: Nizhny Novgorod

When we last left off, my parents and I parted ways with our lifetime friends in Nizhny Novgorod. We were taking a speedy train to Moscow where a true family reunion would take place. My aunt/uncle/cousin (maternal side) would greet us and transport us to a small “suburb” of Moscow where my paternal grandparents now live. We took a train called Sapsan – essentially a high-speed rail train that shortened the commute to Moscow by hours.

One of the best parts was the free WiFi! I spent the majority of the three hours catching up on blog-reading, drinking tea, and snacking.

As the train pulled into the station, those pesky butterflies started fluttering in my stomach again. I hadn’t seen my aunt and uncle for years and was naturally nervous.

All fear washed away when I saw my aunt and cousin standing on the platform, eyes darting in every direction searching for us. My mom and her sister were reunited at last.

We walked to the car where my uncle patiently waited, piled in, and drove one hour to my grandparents’ apartment. My cousin, Kostya, and I chatted away about America, my new electronic gadgets, and work life. He visited us twice in America, but it was a good 3 years since I last saw him.

(Do we look alike?)

Soon enough, we arrived. Let me preface this by telling a quick story. Prior to moving into their current apartment, my grandparents lived in a small town called Dzerzhinsk. In fact, the town was less than an hour away from Nizhny Novgorod by train, and my parents would often make the commute to see each other when they started dating …awwww! Anyway, a little over a year ago my grandparents decided they needed to move closer to their other child (my dad’s brother) because they were getting older and needed more care. It was extremely sad to hear this because I had many memories in their old apartment. Coming to the new home just wasn’t the same.

Walking into the new apartment was….weird. It still held remnants of the old home – the carpet, chair, decorations – but everything changed. In all honesty, it felt cold and slightly uninviting. I won’t go into details, but there is quite a bit of drama on my dad’s side of the family. It’s sad and unfortunate, and it has prevented me from attaining the sort of grandchild relationship I’ve always wanted to have. Regardless of this, I was happy to see my grandparents.

The two sisters and their families chatted away….

Meanwhile, my grandparents prepped lunch:

I must say, grandma’s cooking rocks! Galubsti (meat+rice wrapped in cabbage leaves), kapusta (equivalent of sauerkraut , and cake. Heaven! Sadly un-pictured though.

After lunch, our relatives set out to make the drive back to their small hometown, Tulsa, but not before our gift exchange! I’m not sure I mentioned this, but we dragged ridiculously heavy suitcases packed with gifts to give to our friends and relatives. We handed over clothes, shoes, and nice American liquor while they gave us Russian candy, Tulsa pryaniki, and a huge jar of honey (!!!) in return.

And then my relatives were gone. The remainder of the day was spent walking around the small town of Lytkarino, exploring the new neighborhood. It certainly wasn’t Dzerzhinsk and I was sad…

Thanks to the early wakeup call that morning, we crashed early in the evening. A trip to downtown Moscow was on the agenda for the following two days! I’ve been to Moscow many times before, so I wasn’t exactly overflowing with excitement. I’ll admit it upfront – even though Moscow is my birthplace, I gave my heart to Saint Petersburg the moment I stepped foot there the previous week. Moscow just felt cold and uninviting, but beautiful regardless.

(Posing next to a statue of Fyodor Dostoevsky. Crime and Punishment, anyone?)

We took the bus into the city and set out on our adventure for the day – visiting the Armoury and Diamond Fund in the Kremlin. With some down time before the first tour began, we walked around the Kremlin grounds. It was perfect outside and I took full advantage of it.

(On the banks of the Moscow River)

(Government buildings)

(Summer flowers)

(Rybini – my mom says that she has never seen these beautiful trees anywhere else other than in Russia. They are her childhood favorite!)

(Classic Russian architecture)

Up first was a tour of the Armoury. It was an interesting tour, and while I was bored by all the ancient plates and dishes, I was highly impressed with the collection of real (!) carriages and classic dress from the Tsars. So amazing! I managed to surreptitiously sneak a photo of Peter the Great’s boots:

Umm he was 6’-6” tall and wore a size 14 shoe. Insane!

The tour times were very poorly planned and we had hours to wait between the Armoury tour and the visit to the Diamond Fund. We walked around the Kremlin grounds again while I snapped photos.

(Pushka = cannon. It was awesome to see one so close up!)

(Cracked bell – from my understanding, the bell was cracked while being transported)

We also spent time in the luscious gardens…

(I was clearly a bit bored)

(My gorgeous mom)

…where I snacked on some dark chocolate to boost my energy and improve my mood.

(It totally worked, I promise)

Finally, we got our tickets:

We made our way past guards into the building.

The Diamond Fund basically blew my mind. Absolutely no technology was permitted so I didn’t stand a chance sneaking in a photo. All I can say is WOW. Such wealth, beauty, and so many sparkly diamonds. If diamonds are a girl’s best friend, then this room is equivalent to heaven filled with singing angels.

After our Kremlin excursion, my parents and I set out to the Arbat – a long street lined with souvenir shops, street vendors, restaurants, and street performers.

We weaved in and out of stores in search of souveniers.

(Classic Russian matryoshka doll)

(Some familiar sights – PinkBerry and Starbucks)

I was extremely hangry by this point and as luck would have it we basically ended up choosing a highly overpriced yet not-so-tasty restaurant. I will dedicate an entire post to Russian foods/eating, but I will say that food there is very expensive….like 30 dollars/person per meal on average. Insanity!

I had what seemed to be my first salad in days, topped with smoked salmon. It was simple yet tasty (but overpriced and tiny).

Traditional ice cream for dessert:

Once nightfall fell upon us, we made the trip back home. Our one-day sight-seeing trip was complete! I’ve been to Moscow many times before, so seeing the main popular sights would be an unnecessary repeat.

We returned the following day and began the morning with a detour to a small café. I swooned upon walking in and discovering the tubs of fresh yogurt, warm pastries, and free WiFi!

(Fresh berry-infused yogurt, chocolate croissants, meat-stuffed crepes, mushroom + onion piroshki, and lemon tarts with a side of tea and coffee)

Afterwards, we dwelled next door to the Аптека (Apteka = pharmacy):

Russian medicines rock and we always stock up when given the opportunity.

Since all sight-seeing was done the previous day, the main goal for this day was a bit different. My mission was to find and purchase a Russian rose gold necklace. And so the challenge began. Why Russian gold, you may ask? I personally prefer the beautiful rose tint of Russian gold to the sharp yellow tint of its American counterpart. It took me many years to fall in love with gold after lusting over silver almost my entire life, but Russians value it over silver and I was infected with their love of it.

Gold-dealer stores can literally be found at every corner, and we ended up visiting at least 6 of them. It was exhausting but I knew exactly what sort of chain and pendant I wanted (purchased separately), and I wouldn’t give up until it was found!

I knew I found “the one” the moment I saw the beautiful flowing chain, but the pendant was a bit more challenging. My eyes eventually locked on a lock (no pun intended) and I purchased it.

Isn’t it beautiful? Wearing it makes me feel close to my family and friends. I foresee this piece of jewelry remaining with me through my life as a reminder of my Russian roots.

As the second day came to a close, I noted just how ready we all were to fly back to the states. I felt slightly drained and homesick for the comforts of home. I missed my routine, my food, and my bed. Luckily, only 24 hours stood between us and travel day.

The final few hours were spent in Lytkarino with my grandparents. We walked around the small town and visited the rinik (flea market):

Purchased food and last-minute necessities:

And headed back to the apartment to pack.

My grandma’s parting gift to me (and my sister) was this stunning pair of tourmaline earrings:

We had an early flight the following morning and an even earlier wake-up call as a result. As the three of us drove away in the taxi, a sad feeling washed over me as we waved goodbye to my grandparents. I had no idea when (or if :/ ) I would see them again. With our trips abroad spaced many years apart and time not sparing pity on anyone, the feeling was extremely depressing and grim but unfortunately realistic. Life is a scary thing.

(Airport)

I’m not going to whine and complain about my return flight. I will say though that it was long (much longer than the flight to Russia – damn Earth rotation), delayed, my vegetarian food request got messed up, and the seats were tiny. Gah traveling is so painful sometimes!

It was truly a breath of fresh air stepping back on U.S grounds. While I love Mother Russia more than I can ever convey, traveling there and experiencing the current state of the country truly makes me appreciate my life in America. I am incredibly grateful.

And so, in the blink of an eye, our trip came to an end. As expected, we all instantly felt the travel blues. Returning back to work was depressing…very depressing. It was actually very emotionally tough on me, and I felt worse than I had in months.

This trip made me realize a few major insights:
–  Family > everything. Always. Without family I probably wouldn’t have survived in this tough world. I love them more than anything!
–  The Russian approach to eating and food in general is life-changing. I’m working on a post all about this, but for now just know that it changed my eating habits for the better.
–  Although I am extremely Americanized, my loyalties will always be split with Russia. I love my homeland and would never abandon it. My roots are stronger than I ever imagined.

I try not to predict when my next trip to Russia will be. It’s a thought that terrifies me because so many events – both good and bad – can pull me back. Even so, the circumstances on which I will return are unpredictable, let alone the people I will return with. With that said, Russia is such an integral part of my life and I absolutely cannot wait to visit with my future family to show them who I really am. I can only hope that they will fall in love with the country the way I have on this trip.

♥ Irina

14 Comments

  1. Emily
    October 26, 2012 / 11:19 am

    I absolutely LOVE your Russia recaps. It looks like you had such an amazing time and all of your pictures are gorgeous. Not to mention, you look stunning! I can’t tell you how badly I want your hair…
    Oooh and I’m in love with that pendant. So simple and classy. (:

    • October 29, 2012 / 8:51 pm

      Aww thanks Emily! And trust me…you don’t want that bird’s nest on my head. It’s a mess in real life!

  2. October 26, 2012 / 4:38 pm

    Yay! I loved all the recaps! And that necklace is stunning!!

    • October 29, 2012 / 8:51 pm

      Thanks! It’s my most precious piece of jewelry now 🙂

  3. October 26, 2012 / 7:29 pm

    Wow, I was seriously glued to my screen reading and look at photos. I am with Emily though, your hair is SO FREAKING AMAZING!! #jealousx10000.

    • October 29, 2012 / 8:52 pm

      Thanks! And my hair is not amazing I promise…it’s a bird’s nest in real life!

  4. October 26, 2012 / 9:31 pm

    That necklace is beautiful! Great job picking it out 🙂 I agree, rose-tinted gold is so much prettier.

    Also, all this talk of Russian food makes me really want to try it! Which restaurants do you recommend for Russian food in Chicago? The only one I would even think to try is Russian Tea Time (I think I actually ate their once a LOOOONG time ago, so I don’t remember it at all), but is there anywhere else you recommend?

  5. October 27, 2012 / 8:49 am

    Seriously love all that you experienced on this trip! I think it is amazing how vacations give us such amazing insight into our lives! I cannot wait for the food post because I have a feeling you experienced something like I did while in Europe! I am with you on family, it is so important!

    • October 29, 2012 / 9:02 pm

      Europe, whether eastern or wester, is like an entirely different world with different habits, traditions, and approach to life in general. I think that’s why traveling often is so important – it keeps our minds open and our bodies flexible (not literally).

  6. October 28, 2012 / 10:24 pm

    I love seeing the photos of your family. I can see so much resemblance and the connections that you feel between you even after so many years of being apart. Family really > everything, always. And I love being reminded of how those connections always trump time and distance, too.

    Can’t wait to read your food post!

    • October 29, 2012 / 9:04 pm

      Yes, it’s amazing how the true strong relationships always stand the test of time and space! This also rings true for close friends. You can go months (years!) without seeing each other, and as soon as you reunite it’s as if nothing changes.

  7. November 9, 2012 / 11:28 am

    I’ve been catching up with your blog lately and your concluding remarks on this post really resonated with me: “While I love Mother Russia more than I can ever convey, traveling there and experiencing the current state of the country truly makes me appreciate my life in America.” My feelings towards Russia are difficult to convey; I love it, but sometimes I long for the ease of American life. Russia is difficult and it has truly shown me how fortunate I am.

    • November 9, 2012 / 1:08 pm

      Your perspective on Russia (as someone from the USA) is what makes me love reading your blog so much. It’s easy to say that Russia is a nation of angry individuals, but living/visiting there helps you understand that their bitterness/unfriendliness (at least on the exterior) stems from the difficult lives many of them lived and continue to live daily. We really are lucky to be where we are; it’s just sad that it takes a trip halfway around the world to understand this!