by Mei Mei Pollitt, guest blogger and summer 2014 Intern
10. The мороженое (Ice Cream)
Ice Cream stands are everywhere in Moscow, and Muscovites eat ice cream year round – even in the freezing winters! The ice cream is pretty inexpensive (usually less than a US dollar for any treat) and is super creamy and delicious. Choose from a large range of options such as ice cream cones with chocolate at the bottom, buttery vanilla ice cream served in a chocolate tube, or gold standard blackberry.
9. The парки (Parks)
Moscow, despite being a mega-city, is very green. In between the multitude of skyscrapers, shoved together old buildings, and screaming metro trains are vast parks; stretches of breathtaking and towering forests large enough to get lost in. You can visit Gorky Park, which includes a long bike bath with a woodland hill on one side and Moskva river on the other, or Tsaritsyno Park, a lush wonderland where Catherine the Great’s former summer estate can be found, to name just a couple.
8. The метро (Metro)
While the roar of the train and the rush hour human sardine pack-in can be exhausting, almost every station is decadently decorated and the people watching is superb. Most of what I learned about Muscovites today, I learned by watching them on the metro train.
7. The русский язык (Russian Language)
Even if you don’t learn more than a couple of words while in Moscow, being immersed in another language is always an adventure. The new sounds are intellectually stimulating and you get to observe and communicate with people beyond understanding their spoken words. Russian is a beautiful language, rich in consonants and with a vocabulary and structure that lends itself well to poetry and puns.
Some Helpful and Fun Russian words and phrases:
Будь здоров! (Byt zdarov)- “Be healthy” -that’s what you say after someone sneezes, or sometimes during a toast.
можно (Mozhna) – “May I?” – you can say this when you order food or ask for anything.
Tы рад? (Tuiy rad) – “You glad” – this is what you say to check in on your friends when they look down. If you are good, you can answer, “да, я рад” (da, ya rad) if you’re a boy or “да, я радa“ (da, ya rada) if you’re a girl.
6. The блины (Blinni)
Blinni are Russian Pancakes- they are like crepes. They can be filled with sweet things (fruit, chocolate, cream), savory (salmon, meat, cheese, vegetables), or just sprinkled with powdered sugar or spread with butter. They are cheap, too! Mon Blin, a Moscow chain, offers all types of blin for no more than 5 US dollars a blin.
5. The церкви (Churches)
Churches, their onion domes, history, and ornately decorated indoor paintings of saints are to be found all over Moscow! While it can be strange to be a tourist among religious pilgrims, it is also an opportunity to witness the piety, tradition, and ritual of Russian Orthodoxes at worship and prayer. The two most iconic and popular among tourists are Saint Basil’s Cathedral and The Cathedral of Christ the Savior.
Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square: Legend holds that Ivan the Terrible loved this church so much, he blinded the architect after it’s construction so that the architect would be unable to recreate it for anyone else.
Cathedral of Christ the Savior: Rebuilt after the original was destroyed by Joseph Stalin for anti-religious Communist Russia, it stands as the tallest orthodox Christian church in the world. It is also where the punk Russian activist group, The Pussy Riot, staged the infamous concert that got them arrested and sent to Siberia in 2012.
3. The история (History)
Russia’s deep history vibrates everywhere in Moscow. In the historic architecture, the museums, the literary and artistic traditions, and in the characters of Muscovites living today. Talk to a Muscovite and they will refer to WWII as the “great patriotic war”, maybe recommend you some astounding monuments and memorials dedicated to the devastating war. Visit Dostoevsky’s or Stanislavsky’s old apartments. Walk around the Kremlin, protective walls first built for the heart of Moscow in the middle ages. Or talk to any older Muscovite about the recent changes: Moscow has changed dramatically since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and any Russian over the age of 35 will have memories of a different, communist Moscow (and opinions on what has changed for better and for worse.)
4. The Art музеи (Museums)
Of the art museums, Pushkin Art Gallery and Tretyakov State Gallery are the most renowned in Moscow, and for good reason. Pushkin Art Gallery boasts a collection plentiful with works by some of the most renowned painters from the past 2 centuries, including Renoir, Picasso, Matisse, and more. Tretyakov has an entire hall of beautiful Russian icons and is plentiful with famous wall-sized baroque murals that are endless in story and character.
Some of my favorite paintings I saw in Moscow.
However, Moscow is full of art beyond these two museums. Another favorite of mine, Garage, is a contemporary Art museum working to engage public idea and interest in new projects and ideas.
2. The исполнительские виды искусства (Performing Arts)
The performing arts are very important to Russians, and this is reflected in Moscow’s abundant and excellent theatre, dance, and opera scene. Experience the historical Bolshoi by watching ballet and opera at it’s finest, catch some edgier contemporary dance at the Shkola Dramaticheskova Iskustra (The School of Dramatic Art), or stop in at a Ticket Box to purchase tickets for a play at one of the dozens of famous theatres in Moscow (the Satirikon, the Chekhov Art Theatre, the Gogol Center, etc.) You don’t have to have money to experience the performing arts in Moscow though. Free theatre listings can be found online (http://www.nahalyavu.com/msk/theatre/) and street musicians can be found by top metro stations during the day and in Theatre Square in the evenings.
1. The рост душа (Soul Growth)
I spent a month in Moscow this past summer. I saw 14 shows, took language classes, spent days gazing at paintings in Russian museums, hours listening to Russians speaking on the metro, ate blin and ice cream almost everyday, relished in the daunting greenery of Russian parks, lit prayer candles before beautiful gold icons, drank vodka and danced to jazz in an old underground cafe, found solace in the literature of Tolstoy and Pushkin, and saw the sun set and rise again over Moscow’s infinite skyline of skyscrapers, conversing with Russian college students in a broken-Russian-English-hybrid over our differences and similarities as people, as nations, smoking black cigarettes on the 14th floor fire escape of our rickety soviet-era dorm building. However, what I gained most from Moscow goes beyond the stories I can tell and the pictures I can show.
Exposure to a nation so rich with character, story, and soul as Russia causes you to reflect more deeply on your own life, your own soul. And exposure to a place still rebuilding itself from the collapse of a government builds perspective on your own situation in your own country. What is important to fight for, in politics, in art, as a human? What freedoms must be protected? How is Russia like the United States and how is it different? How can we, as a world, work to preserve the right for every voice to be heard and every minority to be protected? How can I, as an artist, give, collaborate, and take risks to make incredible, risky theatre more available and engaging to our public? These are some of the questions that infest me still, 2 months after my return from Russia. They will continue to guide me as I create a life for myself, as a student, and then as a working adult.
And so, to Moscow, to Moscow with love, I say спасибо, спасибо большое.*
*Thank you, thank you very much <3