Sunday, October 25, 2015

From Russia With Love, Part 8

Our day at the dacha began early as we had our last breakfast aboard ship, said our goodbyes and Stan's friends picked us up at 8:00.  It took a bit under two hours to get to the dacha in the country north of Moscow and they wanted to beat the Saturday traffic.  Our guides had told us that about 80% of the people living in Moscow have a dacha in the country as well.  It traditionally started out as a place to grow vegetables with a tool shed added, then a cabin, and now some are very lovely weekend homes.  Our friends have three buildings, one for sleeping, one for cooking, and one for storage and the "WC".  You can see they have electricity and a satellite dish, but the only water was from a hose hooked up at the side of the property - no plumbing.

Stan met Sasha when he worked at Boeing.  Stan was in charge of coordinating the work of a team of engineers in Moscow led by Sasha, and they have authored several published research papers together and have several patents.  (Not to brag, but here's a link if you're interested.)  Stan visited in Russia several times on business and enjoyed spending time with Sasha and his family.  His wife, Lena, is a retired university mathematics professor, and his daughter, Masha, is an oncology surgeon.  Masha was kind enough to give up her day off to drive and spend the day with us.

We started the day with a lunch of crab salad, sturgeon, pickles, bread, and of course, three toasts.  I only drank one shot of vodka, then we ladies switched to coffee  : )

Lena made a cake that she remembered Stan liking from his previous visit - delicious!

We were offered either the opportunity to take a rest or a walk and we chose the walk.  Lena set a good pace and took us on a long walk along the Moscow River and through the woods near their dacha.  It was very peaceful and we didn't see anyone else the whole way.

This is a small market in the area.

As you can see, the sky was getting dark and threatening by the time we got back.  Lena was planning to barbecue and the weather kept switching from sunshine to snow flurries.  We did have a great barbecue of pork that had been marinated in mayonnaise and spices.  Delicious!

Masha speaks English very well and provided much translating.  For words she didn't know (mayonnaise) she had her iPhone translator quickly providing the answer.  Why didn't I think of that in the stores??  (Don't laugh at my outfit - it was cold and my throat was really sore.  Masha lent me the warm jacket and I had bought the fur hat on the first cold day.  The souvenir shops had beautiful soft hats of real fur, but I was planning to give this to my granddaughter Mira and I knew she'd prefer a fake fur.)

We finished our meal with pastry Lena had made, and I'm sure more vodka for Sasha and Stan.  Masha had no alcohol the whole day as she told us there is a zero-tolerance policy for alcohol when driving.

What a surprise when we reached our hotel, the Radisson Royal Hotel Moscow!  The photo at this link is exactly how it looked when we drove up that evening!  It is the most upscale hotel I have ever stayed in.

 Relaxing in the hotel lounge.

A buffet breakfast came with our room, and Stan says it's the first all-you-can-eat buffet that he's seen with caviar and champagne.  We had these lovely lattes.

Sasha, Lena and Masha came for dinner on the "roof terrace" our last evening. 

 Here's the view from our room, and also the lovely view at night.

The next morning we met our driver at 6:00 for our last trip through Moscow to the airport.  Even though we extended our stay after the cruise, Viking still provided transport from the hotel to the airport.  They had a desk at the hotel and one at the airport, which lessened our stress considerably about making our early flight on time.  We felt they took good care of us and gave us a wonderful experience!

Friday, October 23, 2015

From Russia With Love, Part 7

After our cold walk, the next day was supposed to be a free day on our own in Moscow.  However, we felt we'd seen enough of Red Square and GUM, so we opted to take an optional tour (for extra cost) of the Tretyakov Gallery, figuring a warm bus ride plus an indoor tour were worth 44 euros each.  I thought it was one of the best museum tours we had!  The Tretyakov Gallery is a collection by Russian artists, and the guide was our best guide of the trip.  He explained a lot about icons, which we had seen in museums and cathedrals all throughout our tour, and also explained what was going on when the paintings were done.  It was a great tour, and there were several gift shops where Stan was happy to find a print that he had had hanging up at home until it got faded by the sun coming in.

On the left is a very early icon that is a mosaic.  On the right, a painting our guide didn't highlight, but I liked the colors and style - I thought it looked a bit like a quilt.

This painting is Morning in a Pine Forest.  Our guide explained it was painted by Ivan Shishkin as a landscape.  Then his friend, Konstantin Savitsky, added the bears, saying the painting needed something more than just the forest.  Wikipedia says gallery owner Tretyakov removed the signature of Savitsky so the painting is attributed just to Shishkin.  This is a very popular painting in Russia.  All the school children know it because it was used on a package of chocolates.

Our photos of the art in this gallery didn't capture how great it was.  I think we were more interested in just listening to the guide.   Stan did get these photos of school children who were touring also.  Don't they look great in their uniforms?  I don't know whether this was a public school or private.

That afternoon, Stan and I set out by ourselves to find an 'аптека', pronounced apteka, or pharmacy.  I had finally succumbed to the cold and sore throat that was going around the ship, and I wanted something like Theraflu to get me through the night.  There was a nice shopping center a short walk from the pier and we enjoyed looking around in a non-souvenir shop setting.  In addition to some packets like Theraflu and some aspirin, we also bought a hat for Stan and a silver chain for an amber pendant I had bought for my daughter-in-law Alethea's birthday.  It was fun to get out on our own and interact with some shopkeepers who spoke very little English.

On our walk we had to get to the other side of a very wide busy street, and we were very glad of an underground tunnel.  Besides being safe, it was some protection from the weather for a short while.  We found the same thing a few days later near our hotel in downtown Moscow, and felt it makes walking in the city a lot safer.

The food court looked just like ours at home.  This booth is selling sushi.

And of course, this looked the same as at home  : )

You can see why Stan needed a hat!  We were woefully under-dressed for the weather.

That evening we had our last meal on the ship, beef tenderloin and chocolate mousse - we would sure miss those lovely meals and great service!  The next morning Stan's friend, Sasha, and his wife and daughter would pick us up early for a day at their dacha before taking us to our 2-day extension of our tour at a hotel. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

From Russia With Love, Part 6

When we reached Moscow I was a bit sorry, as our lovely cruise had come to an end. However, we would be docked three days in Moscow, with tours every day.  The first day we started out after lunch to explore Moscow by subway.  This was the optional more vigorous tour, most of the guests would explore Moscow by bus.  The subway was much less frightening than I expected.  In fact, it was more clean, calm and lovely than New York, and much less crowded than the Tube in London.  Our guide explained that the goal is for a train to come every 90 seconds, and because they came so often there was no crowd on the platform.  I was pleased and surprised to be offered a seat on a train  : )  After a lifetime of commuting by bus and ferry, I make it a point never to refuse an offered seat, so I sat.  I was a bit worried about making it from my seat in the middle of the car to the door in time to get off with my group, but I managed.  We were warned the doors are only open for a few seconds.  We got off at a few stops that had particularly attractive stations.

Mayakovskaya station
Teatralnaya station

We went above ground at Revolution Square and walked to Red Square.  So hard to believe we were there!  In Red Square!  It was quite a bit more lovely than I expected.  Our guide was a young Moscow woman who knew a lot about the history of the area, and was determined to tell us everything, despite the fact that it was getting darker and colder by the minute.  The lovely GUM department store (that's pronounced "goom" not "gum") was right there next to us, and if she would ever finish we would have a chance to go in for a potty break and a rest.

That young woman in the white hat is our guide.  She really was quite knowledgeable, but we were a bit cold and tired.

Here are the buildings around Red Square.  For some reason, I expected solid concrete buildings without the beautiful architecture.

We were shown a white building like the one below where Putin's office is located.  Apparently he only goes there for ceremonial occasions, but when he does, it stops up traffic all around Moscow.  This isn't the building, but it looked similar.

You can see the sky is getting dark - it was 0° Celsius (32° Fahrenheit) and we were cold!

GUM is actually more like an indoor mall than a single store.  We felt right at home with the names of the stores, although they are not places we usually shop in.  Hermes, Versace, Cartier, that sort of store.  We had a nice cafe latte and a chance to get warm.

That evening we were taken to a concert of the Moscow Folk Orchestra.  Amazing!!  This was worth the entire freezing walk!!  These are students and their enthusiasm and talent is obvious.  It was a wonderful evening.  I am posting a video in the hope you can enjoy a short sample of their music.

We had a very late dinner that night, more of a snack really and I think I just had soup, but the dessert was lovely as always.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

From Russia With Love, Part 5

Another lovely small town was Uglich.  Here's what the guide book says about Uglich:

Though remains of a 10th-century settlement have been found here, the first record of the town dates to 1148.  In 1584, after Ivan the Terrible's death, his son Dmitry moved to Uglich with his mother and was murdered seven years later, probably on order of the boyar, Boris Gudunov.  The resulting uprising caused great destruction, but the 17th and 18th centuries saw restoration when wonderful architectural buildings were constructed.  Among these are some of the most beautiful churches and monasteries in Russia.

Here is the view when we docked.  This is the Church of St. Dmitry on the Blood, where it is said the young prince's body was discovered.  In all the historic stories we heard, it is sad how often a person or whole family was killed to prevent them from claiming the throne, or taking power from an incumbent.  The sight of these cathedrals takes one's breath away, they are so beautiful!

Here is another - the Cathedral of Our Savior's Transfiguration.

And yet another.

In Uglich we were invited to a private home for tea.  We were ushered into the home where a table was set for all of us, with tea, homemade cake, and, of course, homemade vodka.  We toasted the traditional three times.  (I actually downed three shots of vodka - a first for me!)

Our host spoke good English and first he introduced his wife and said they have a 16 year old daughter, who was in school.  They showed us some of her art work, which was good.  He explained they were both jewelers who had worked in the watch factory in Uglich until it closed several years ago, leaving one-third of the town's workers unemployed.  He and his wife found work making silver filagree frames for icons which are used in the restoration of many churches in the area.  They work at home, and in their spare time they are paid by Viking Cruises to host groups such as ours.

The amber-colored liquid in the fancy bottle is homemade vodka.  It must have been pretty smooth for me to get three shots down without choking!  The cake was fresh and spongy and delicious.

I think our host was named Vladimir and I remember his wife's name was Rita, for Margarita.  She stayed quiet and pretty much in the background while he told us about their life.  The paintings on the wall were his.  He said after working on the silver very close up, he liked to paint at arm's length with a long-handled brush.  They were pretty good!  Here is a sample of their work.  It was very intricate and beautifully done.

Before we left home, I had read in the guidebooks that it is customary to give a gift when you visit someone's home, so after much deliberation and Googling, I had bought some marionberry syrup made on Lopez Island and a small package of Jelly Bellies, as I knew we would have a home visit on our tour.  I gave them to Rita as we left, saying the Jelly Bellies were for their daughter Elizabeth.  She seemed pleased and I was glad I had done it.

Here we go into their home, and later, out to the yard, where they had a big garden.  You'll notice the two dish antennas.  They had no running water, but everyone has TV.

They had a big garden in back and canned and made jams and preserves for the rest of the year.

Our ship then went on toward Moscow, with more to see on shore as we got closer to the big city.

I seem to have been remiss in remembering to photograph my meals, but not the desserts, they were so beautiful.  Here are two.  You can see why I couldn't pass them up!