Before leaving on our first trip to Russia in November The Husband and I both read Russia a Short History by Abraham Ascher. We’re both interested in learning as much as we can about a culture / area we travel to beforehand as it tends to enhance our overall experience. Russia is massive and has a colorful history, so much history that we needed an abridged version to simply be somewhat in the know. While this book is written by an American scholar and has the American slant on things it does provide a decent overview (and short one) that helped us understand a lot more about the Russian culture, geography and history. However, I would LOVE to read a Russian history book written by a Russian scholar to compare the “tones”. Anyway, I digress. The point here is that after having read this book we were on a mission to find as many great – and fun – things about Russia to share with our daughters – Princess One and Princess Two. This list will continue to grow but so far:
No Dill Please
I’m not really sure if dill is the default spice in Russia but it sure appeared that way. Similar to how we in the US would put parsley on a dish or dill accompanied most items we ordered. The only time I think I had real issues with this was when it covered my margarita pizza. Yuck!
I knew negative 33 degrees would be cold when we got to Siberia but really, it’s beyond cold. With that said, I was shocked to see birds flying around outside my window. At first I thought perhaps they made a wrong turn but with each trip to Siberia from Nov.-Jan. they continued to grace my windows. All I have to say it that they’re some tough birds in Russia!
Russia have THE best pastries and desserts in the world (truly). I can’t even tell you how beautiful the deserts are at the grocery stores (not to mention Starbucks). I actually began photographing a row of cakes and pastries but in one of the grocery stores in downtown Moscow but quickly stopped when an armed guard approached me and began speaking to me very sternly. While I didn’t understand a word, I got the point. But, I did get some photos. (Ha!)
Grocery Store Security
As I mentioned above, there are armed guards in grocery stores and I went into at least five in two different regions. You must also go through a metal detector when you enter. I found this very strange and the first time we went shopping was a bit nervous. I did get used to it and rather appreciated the level of security, even if it was in a grocery store.
Sidewalk Transit System
Moscow has the best sidewalk transit system. Instead of crossing the street, there are underground tunnels that go under all the streets so auto traffic and walking is far more efficient – and warm. It’s just too bad it took The Husband and I awhile to figure this out. We were seriously trying to figure out how to cross the street to get to the bank for 30 minutes. It made for a good laugh…
Vodka is Better!
Russian Vodka is 100 times better tasting than any other Vodka we’ve ever had and will warm anyone up that is cold…guaranteed. It’s a staple at most meals with locals. Bottoms up!
Beer is Better!
European beer (Stella, Harp, etc.) tastes 100 times better in Russia than it ever did in America. I can honestly say I have never had a better Stella than I had in Russia…
Wine is Bad.
I’m more of a wine drinker if you haven’t noticed from this blog and spending weeks at a time in Russia meant finding new wines to consume. It was difficult. Very difficult. Mainly since I’m more educated on American/Californian wines verses French and Italian, which is what you can mainly find in Russia. I stuck with Italian DOCG labeled wines. Most were OK.
Winter Fashion is Alive and Well
Winter fashion in Russia is awesome! The women are all dressed to a T with their fur coats, hats, mini skirts and stiletto boots that come up past their knees. Walking in these heeled boots is an art and one that I will never acquire. Although, I did try to dress like a local with my lower heeled boots and not-so mini skirt.
Russian Tea is Truly an Art Form.
According to a 2005 study, some 82 percent of Russians consume tea daily. In fact, I learned children as young as one years old are given tea – caffeinated – daily. I’m not brave enough to try that on my girls… It make sense tea is the de facto national beverage given the cold weather throughout Russia. What I enjoyed learning and experiencing was the how they brew tea. They use a beautiful device known as a Samovar, which has become a symbol of hospitality, and comfort. I so wanted to bring one home but they’re huge and The Husband had a bag limit. Next time.
Smoking a Hookah – Not What You May Think
Yes, I made the mistake of asking my Russian friend if marijuana was legal since I kept seeing hookah’s everywhere we went. (Come on, I live in Colorado and have pot shops on every other corner. Give me a break!) I quickly learned that no, it was not legal but it is very popular for people to smoke tobacco though hookas at restaurants, coffee shops, etc. I was relived to say the least and little embarrassed at the same time…
Cash is King
We learned this the hard way… We went to the Temple Bar for lunch a few hours after arriving in Moscow for the first time. It’s across the street from the Sheraton and has a picture menu – essential for ordering! We had a lovely lunch and ate Borsch for the first time but when it came time to pay we weren’t sure how to tip. While we could pay for the meal using a credit card we could not leave gratuity. So, we paid, left, walked four blocks to an ATM, walked back and gave the very surprised server her tip. Apparently tipping isn’t “required” in Russia. In Siberia our friends who live there informed us 10 percent tipping is more than plenty and in Moscow it’s between 10-15 percent. This is of course if we want to tip, as we were told. As a girl who waited tables for nearly 10 years, tipping is a must in my book…
My Russian friends had prepared me for the notorious coat check but I really had no idea… Seriously, you walk into a restaurant, bar or even the doctors office and before you can enter you must check coat. It was rather nice to not have to lug your things around or have them take up space in the booth BUT since I was carrying most of my things in my coat pockets verses a purse (on the first trip only) it became rather cumbersome. Tip: carry a purse.
World Renowned Line Experts
Russians are THE most renowned experts at figuring out how to get through a line (customs, plane tickets, etc.) faster and more aggressively than anyone else in the world. See my last post on my appreciation for roped lines and you’ll understand.
Clapping on Airplanes?
People clap when the plane lands. I’m not sure if this is funny or scarey. On our first flight into Moscow we thought it was strange people were clapping when we landed. I just assumed it was because they were glad the LONG flight was over. But, on our flights into Siberia on smaller, older air crafts, the clapping took on a new meaning…
Flowers, flowers, flowers everywhere.
Ok, not in the ground but flower shops were everywhere! Since we were traveling in Nov., Dec., and Jan. the landscape settings we saw were mainly cold, snow covered trees and parks. The fresh flower shops and women and men carrying massive bouquets along the streets provided a nice colorful splash to an otherwise drab landscape. (From what I’ve been told and seen in photos, Russia in the spring and summer is gorgeous! Next time, I’m going in June.)
The People are Wonderful
People in Russia, as with everywhere, are mostly kind and humble when it comes down to it. For example, I was always embarrassed when someone, say a waitress, would apologies their poor English. I was using a damn iPhone app and book to communicate while they just knew English. I was the one who was apologizing… Just a tangent, more of a gripe towards the USA education system: most countries around the world, minus ours, begins teaching kids a second language in the second grade, if not before. Note, this MANDATORY in Russia. However, in the USA kids only have second language lessons in high school for maybe two years.