First night in Russia: We arrive at the Domodedovo airport in Moscow at 6pm and take the aerotrain into the city. At the metro station we look for a taxi to take us to our hotel. It’s raining, so we pull our raincoats from our bags, which we drag behind us, and wait. Finally, we see a Fiat pull up, the driver pulls a “taxi” cone from the backseat and slips it on the roof of the car. He slaps a checkered yellow and black sticker onto the passenger door and a cardboard sign on the window that says “Free Taxi.” He looks at us and grins, gesturing to his “taxi.”

We smile awkwardly and shake our heads, turning around, opting for the metro. We lug our suitcases back up the stairs and inside the station and try to make sense out of the words on the signs. I vow to learn Russian. One day soon. For now, unfortunately, I don’t know Russian. Neither of us do. Somehow, though, we find our stop.

We walk through the Red Square, dragging luggage and a map, trying to look confident. Everything’s in Russian. Have I mentioned we don’t speak or read Russian? We’ve heard stories of frequent tourist muggings here. Wide-eyed, we make it to the hotel. Not such a huge deal we tell each other, through jet-lagged yawns. After dinner we collapse in bed.

Day Two: Today we know our English will get us nowhere. We practice “pajausta” (please) and “spaciba” (thank you) and “toilette”(toilette) and “chliep” (bread). “Vodka” we know. We ride the metro, pretending we’re locals, this time without huge suitcases.

We make it to the Patriarch’s Pond, the St. Basil Cathedral and Pushkin’s Fine Arts Museum. Everything is surreal, hyper-colored architecture against gray skies. We circle for an hour until we finally arrive outside Gorky’s Museum to find out it’s closed today.

We use sign language with Russians who are happy to go out of their way to help us find ours. At lunch in an Armenian/Russian hookah bar the waiter tells me I have very pretty teeth; he then asks me if they’re real. I smile wide for the rest of the day.

Phase one of the trip, the general tourist portion, before the heavy, personal portion, we see color everywhere. But then, that’s not a feat here in Moscow.

Love how Moscow manages to be so colorful on the grayest of days.
Love how Moscow manages to be so colorful on the grayest of days.
Colors bleed out to the Porta Potties outside Red Square...
Best looking Porta Potties I’ve ever seen.
Not much for me to add here.
Yes, historic toilet. Not much for me to add here.
Lunch at the Armenian/Russian hookah bar.
Lunch at the Armenian/Russian hookah bar.
I have to finish reading The Master and Margarita.
Patriarch’s Pond, I plan to finish reading Master and the Margarita before I learn to read this sign.
Moscow underground... Bright inside the metro.
Moscow underground…
Mingling with locals in the Moscow metro.
Locals in the Moscow metro.
Change of guards by Tomb of Unknown Soldier.
Change of guards by Tomb of Unknown Soldier.