Train Rides from Moscow

We roll our bags into the train station, go through two security checks and find the fast train to St. Petersburg. Our train is scheduled to depart at 4:30pm and it does. Seats are comfortable and spacious, the ride is smoother than an airplane ride. I nod off watching the countryside.

We're still in the light, tourist-y part of our trip, but I can't help thinking about an 18-year old Jewish boy who took a train from a small town outside Moscow to Dubno, in the Ukraine. It was 1945, just a few months after World War II ended.

It had been four years since he'd left his home. In those four years he'd been a partisan, a decorated Red Army soldier and most recently he'd left a school for officials as a lieutenant. He'd gone hungry, had been wounded and tortured. He'd fought in the Belorussian front, he'd seen indescribable brutalities; he'd killed men. He knew his mother and sister were dead, but he'd heard his father was alive, and he was going to find him.

His train ride lasted a week, during which he sang patriotic Soviet songs with other wounded soldiers and found ways to dodge the military police since he had no documents to travel.

We, however, arrive in St Petersburg in roughly four hours. In the station we're greeted by bright lights, a pleasant breeze and the city's anthem. In a week, we will head to Dubno. The only thing I have in common with the 18-year old boy is I have no idea what I'll find when we arrive.

Train ride
Train ride from Moscow.

10 Lessons from Moscow

It's been an unforgettable three days. Moscow is even livelier than I'd expected and I  learned a few things.

1. In an effort to relieve Muscovites from the traffic jam Putin causes when he rides a car to work (led by an entourage clearing traffic for him), he had a helipad built by the Kremlin and began using a helicopter. Apparently the helicopter caused gold leaf from the church domes and palace tops to break away and sprinkle along the Kremlin lawn. Putin doesn't ride his helicopter to work that often anymore... and our guide claims you can still see specks of gold leaf inside cracks on the ground. I will have to return to Moscow and find some.

2. Women's heels can never be too high. Really, how do these gorgeous women walk?

3. Porta Potties can be works of art.

4. If you like statues, you'll like Moscow. But you better know how to read Russian or bring a guide so you know what you're looking at.

5. I love Gorky. Also, I love Gorky's house. It's cosy, it's funky and I'd like to rent his room. And library. And dining room.

6. Naked-man-paintings are a thing in Moscow. Or I've just been lucky enough to see one a day. Also, Disney-world-like characters are a thing at the Red Square: we've seen a tiger, a princess and a rabbit. Don't ask; I don't know.

7. Moscow's public transportation rocks. New York could learn something about fast, clean cars and stations from Moscow. Sorry, New York.

8. Underground crosswalks are brilliant. They keep you dry, dozens of steps help you burn off the herring and they protect you from cars and bikes. Note: not ideal for heavy luggage.

9. It's not that cold here (fine, it's not that cold yet). Also, it's not that gray in September. Anyway, pack short-sleeves next time I come in the fall. Not that interesting, but practical.

10. There are more carats here than potatoes. If you want to see some bling, head over to the Diamond Fund at the Armory.  It's only fit, I suppose, in a city that collects oligarchs and charges outrageous prices for everything. Unfortunately, no cameras or phones are allowed inside the Diamond Fund.

Moscow, I wish I could stay longer. I'll be back, though. Promise. Next stop, St. Petersburg... In the meantime, I leave you with these...

Moscow on a sunny, blue-skied, short-sleeve friendly fall day.
Moscow on a sunny, blue-skied, short-sleeve friendly fall day.
Moscow statues... If anyone knows who these guys are, please let me know!
Moscow statues... If anyone knows who these guys are, please let me know!
Kremlin gold.
Kremlin gold.
Naked man art.
More naked man art.
More naked man art.
disney in moscow
Disney at the Red Square...
Outside Gorky's house.
Outside Gorky's house.
Surreal staircase at Gorky's house.
Surreal staircase and chandelier at Gorky's house.
Porta Pottie Art!
Porta Pottie Art!

Moscow Colors, First Impressions

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.

First Night Out, Moscow Glimmers

First night in Moscow, a drizzling, glimmering night -- adventures to come...
First night in Moscow, a glimmering night -- adventures to come...
A jet-lagged look at Moscow in a drizzle.