Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The day arrived....

                       THE HAT HAS BEEN PURCHASED! 

When in Rome....and, quite frankly, you kind of stick out if you aren't wearing one of these.  Steve said he'd only wear one when hell freezes over - well, I reminded him where we were and that it's beyond freezing - so I guess there's a chance!!  (By the way - we are not in hell - Moscow is quite wonderful).

We depart today for the trek back across Europe and the pond to Atlanta.  Catch our breath for a day, then on to Snowmass, Colorado to team up with the Moellering clan for a week.  Glad we decided to pick a new climate to give ourselves a break....?  But we can't wait!

Here are some shots we took at Red Square on Sunday.  I was loving the fact the Zambonie and ice rink match my blog design...thank you Red Square!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone!

Monday, December 20, 2010

(To theme of “Annie”) "The Moon Will Come Out Tomorrow...”

Many have asked how many daylight hours we get in Moscow. This video quite sums it up:

It’s actually not nearly as tough as we thought it would be...and so on this, the eve of the shortest day of the year...
Our daylight hours have been in line with what we experienced on the east coast (closer to NY than Atlanta), sunrise at 8:57 a.m. and sunset at 3:57 p.m. (times for tomorrow’s shortest day).  You probably read that tomorrow will be unique in that the full moon will completely disappear from the sky early Tuesday morning for a total lunar eclipse.  The eclipse will begin at 2:41 a.m. and ends at 3:53 a.m.  Should you be out moon gazing at that hour, the moon will have a reddish tinge (not to be confused with Rudolph’s nose, as that will come a few days later).

The good news, from Tuesday on...the days get longer.  Yahtzee!  Now that speaks to actual daylight hours and doesn’t necessarily mean the sun will be shining in Moscow each day.  With that said, please grab ahold of the rope and help pull (we thank you).  ;)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Nippy Dip...

Received a notice today that the expat community is doing a fund raiser to help the homeless in Moscow.  It's an ice swimming, aka "snow bathing", event at the end of January.  I thought Steve would really enjoy this - so I signed him up - plan to share the surprise when we arrive in the parking lot the morning of...  It's my duty to make sure he takes in the Russian culture - is it not?  He's an Ironman for gosh sakes - he'll probably snap off 3000 meters of invigorated training!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Old Arbat!

I have to admit we haven’t felt the complete “crush” of the season - being miles away from all the commercialism of the holiday.  That’s not to say Moscow doesn’t have its share of the same but it has a bit of a different feel over here.  With that said, Steve and I agreed that the time has come to ramp up our Christmas shopping for the family...okay, so perhaps we waited a bit too long to get started - but this girl has been digging a hole to China with the path I’ve beaten to IKEA and OBI, our hardware store.  Side note - also just got turned on to Stockmann’s!!!  Pure heaven as it carries lots of US brands - oreos, ritz crackers, cheetohs (may make a whole dinner out of these little gems as the stove is sill kaput), Old El Paso, cake mixes, Nature Valley granola bars and so much more.  I seriously got a little choked up when I found our long lost friends...it’s the little things that make such a difference over here!
Headed to Old Arbat - a quaint part of town with a pedestrian street full of shops, bars, cafes, pubs, book stalls and galleries.  An artsy area teaming with locals and tourists - lots going on! Here's what I saw:
This is not Big Foot - this gal is uber prepared for the weather - very typical!

"Father Frost" in back of photo on the right and check out all the fur...
Not sure how the street vendors stay outside all day long...it was toe-numbing cold in single digit temps and these hearty souls hang out in this weather without so much as a mini space heater!  Tough as nails!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Shear Beauty...

Delay in blog action as this is week number 3 without Internet access in the apartment.  Really?  Really.  Cross-eyed with frustration but have decided to laugh about it as it is far better than the alternative.  Internet guys are coming tomorrow with new router...

This is in our front yard:

Christ the Savior Cathedral is literally right across from our apartment building and is one of the biggest attractions in Moscow.  Construction began in 1817 and took 45 years to build.   It took one day to blow it up - in 1931 Stalin ordered its destruction.  Some of the remains of the original cathedral can be found in several of the amazingly beautiful metro stations in Moscow (more on this in future blog).  In 1958, Khrushchev turned the grounds into the world's largest outdoor swimming pool.  After perestroika, a wooden cross appeared in the square by the pool, together with a box of donations.  Billions of rubles were collected and in 1995 the cathedral was rebuilt (completed in 1998).  It can hold more than 10,000 visitors at a time.

This is the foot bridge leading up to the Cathedral:

We walk across this bridge and around the cathedral to get to our metro station.  What I love most is hearing the faint sound of the cathedral bells in the morning.   Truly breathtaking...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


My new good friend, Sally, helped my navigate through our little grocery store last night.  As we went up and down the aisles, she pointed out her favorite brands and what to generally avoid.   What a huge help!  So...purchased lots of new and exciting things - went home and prepped for the meal.  Veggies chopped and ready to go, water ready to boil for the pasta...and our stove top decided to take a breather.  Nyet ga-to-vit!  Ergh! 

Found the instruction manual which was written in German and French.  Fantastic!  We were 0 for 3...Know German?  Nein.  French?  No.  Russian to call for help?  Not so much.  Luckily we do have lots of support from new friends and co-workers who have helped us navigate through times like this.  Still waiting for someone to come and look at our stove...

Walked out of our building last week and found a film crew shooting a movie scene outside our entrance.  Huge lights, wires and cameras all throughout our stairwell.  It was fascinating!  The shot included an old, fancy black car with red interior with a driver and another male actor in the back seat with small round rimmed glasses, overcoat, scarf and a newspaper.  If you happen to catch a Russian movie with this scene - you’ll know where it was taken.
Took this photo outside our apartment building - I thought these trees looked so Christmasy.  If you look closely...you'll see a turtle dove (perhaps the Russian version of the turtle dove?)  ;)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Random Observations...

Russia knows snow removal.  When it snows, Moscow turns into a human ant hill of street and sidewalk clearing. It seems like they’re removing snow the second it hits the ground.  This place is hyper-prepared for foul weather and it is quite impressive.  Compare this to Atlanta and the deep south - mere gossip that it might snow or ice 5 days out - schools, airports, stores closed. Bread and milk, not a chance.

3 workers clearing snow in our courtyard this morning - they're on it!
Recycling = nyet.  No such thing here.  There’s almost a pride in how much trash can be accumulated in one day.  Now, I will say Moscow is an impressive early adopter to charge for plastic grocery bags.  When you step up to the cashier you’re asked how many bags you want to buy (at least I think that’s what she’s asking).  You look at your stash and size up the need and hope you get it right, ‘cause there’s no going back once you state the number.  Adien, dva, tri, chateria...and then you bag your own.  All good.  I made the mistake my first time through of thinking I could make it with adien (one) bag.  Note to self:  wine bottle and large water bottles are heavy.  Big rip on the way home and ended up hand carrying the whole lot.  Smooth.  Clearly the new American on the block.

Big purchase day yesterday.  With the help of our driver, picked up a new TV, microwave, 3 humidifiers and an iron.  Interesting note:  there is no such thing as a back door pick up window at stores where you can drive around to pick up larger items that you can’t haul through the mall out to your car.  You just haul them through the mall out to your car.  Here’s the scenario:  you haul the beasts through the store, dodging people through the mall, down the snow covered steps, across the slippery parking lot and slide into home base which is your car.  Perspiration level is high since you have 10,000 layers on.  When this process is over - I refuse to look back to see the carnage and the wake of bodies we’ve taken out along the way.  In situations like this, why do you always feel like you’re the only one who looks like a complete baffoon.  Probably best not to dwell on that too long...
Here's the panel from our new microwave:  Glad to see the buttons are in Russian, as is the instruction manual.  Looks like we’ll just go with the pictures...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Charades anyone?

My world has become one big game of charades.  Since my Russian is limited to about 20 words, I have to act out most everything to everyone around me.  Day after day....charades!
Take, for example....
In IKEA, to tell our Russian speaking driver that I want to look around for awhile -  2 fingers (peace sign) in the eyes - then around the room symbol.  Easy enough.
To tell our driver I’m going to walk into the bank - the “let your fingers do the walking” symbol of index and middle finger walking on the palm of my hand.  Check - that works.
Looking for matches at the grocery store (those who know me well know I’m a fanatic about candles....this girl needs to light her candles!).  I spent 5 minutes with the grocery store manager acting out “matches”.   I found a package of birthday candles and used my hand to make a small explosion at the top of my index finger...clearly the charade for match - right?  After multiple attempts - no clue....I put the b-day candles down and left in defeat.  (For whatever reason, matches are one of the elusive items not to be found in Moscow - my neighbor finally took pity and gave me a book of matches she picked up at a hotel).
Ever thought about how you would charade toilet paper?  I did...and decided to hunt it down on my own...no matter how long it took.
I’ve also found myself in hysterics, laughing, when the charade process doesn’t work after about 7 or 8 minutes.  I have this out of body experience where I’m looking down on the scene and realize how completely idiotic I must look.  What am I doing???  Most of the time, from the “charadee”, I get a dead-pan look back...and finally the shaking of the head that signals....nope...nada...nyet...not playing...game over.  So then you realize you can get along without many things, but tomorrow is always another day!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Chocolate Factory!

"Red October"...pronounced "Krahs-nya Ak-tyah-bar"

We live on an island on the Moscow River, literally.  And...we live near the former Moscow Chocolate Factory - brings a hint of sweet happiness just knowing it’s there. The factory operations were recently relocated outside of town but the building remains.  The former factory, called Red October, has been converted info great restaurants, cafes, galleries, shops and bars.  

This is the island - the black outline at the top is the Kremlin, Chocolate Factory is at the tip of the island in red.

We experienced the bar action first hand last weekend - Steve and I unexpectedly found ourselves with friends “clubbin” at several of the bars until 3 a.m. Saturday night!  What????  - you say.    I know...we can’t remember the last time we were out on the town until the wee small hours...not to mention ever “clubbin” before.  We decided we have to do it from time to time - it’s part of the experience...and the people watching is fantastic.   Moscow nightlife is world class...very loud techno music...everyone, and I mean everyone, is smoking (Steve and I are considering taking up smoking as the first hand smoke is much better for us than the second hand smoke....this can only help our triathlon training - right?).  

The factory in warmer days...

The factory on the tip of the island

Chocolate bear made back in the day - nice gold necklace!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Shoe removal...

Tearing hair out at present...no Internet connection in the apartment!  Beyond frustrating.

Questions for you:   What socks do you have on right now?  Thoughts on their condition?  Upon close inspection, perhaps a hole...or two?  Any chance they are in need of a little Clorox?  
A shock wave of these questions went racing through my brain as I entered the home where the Moscow Christmas Traditions event took place the other day...  

Brain:    “Ut oh....not good...trouble ahead...warning....warning....this is about to get really really embarrassing!”  In slow motion I removed my boots....holding my  breath....eyes darting around sizing up everyone else’s sock situation...............................then a huge exhale when I realized I was in the clear!
  Disclaimer:  these are not my socks, no really.

Proper Russian etiquette, and actually, almost a requirement when entering any home in Moscow, is to remove all footwear at the front door.  This is so second nature to most...shake hands, remove shoes.  Spring, summer, winter, fall - shoes off.  Even workmen, I learned today, enter all homes with special slipper type flip flops.  Boots off, flops on.  It has a bit of a Japanese-esque feel to it but the truth is, Moscow has a bit of a soot issue.  It’s actually more like the fine dust you kick up driving over a gravel road.  It’s not that we’re walking through a constant cloud of this...it just seems to be everywhere.  The entrance way of every home has a shoe rack for shoes during the visit and most people (at least the Russians) offer slippers to wear while visiting.  I’m planning to swap out an old pair of shoes for an upgrade during our next home visit...

How great are these?  Mop the floors in comfort!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas Russia Style...

Today, I attended an event with a speaker who shared Russian Christmas traditions...fairly fascinating.  Here’s the scoop: 
Russians used to celebrate what they call the “old style” Christmas on December 25th which was mostly a religious celebration, (very little commercialism - meaning no singing bass with Santa hat mounted to the wall).  Decorations were somewhat limited to ornaments on spruce trees with star on top.  
During the Soviet era, starting in 1917, all Christmas celebrations (and New Years eve celebrations) were illegal.  Soldiers and guards looked into windows of homes to make sure there was no celebrating.  All production of ornaments and decorations ceased.  
Only foreign embassies celebrated Christmas.  Children grew up knowing nothing about Christmas...until one day...in 1935...Stalin and his family attended a holiday reception at the British Embassy in Moscow.  Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana, asked her father why they didn’t have a huge Christmas tree with decorations.  From that day forth, celebrations were allowed in Moscow, but not to celebrate Christmas....only to celebrate New Years Day.  So, all former Christmas traditions were moved to New Years Day traditions.  And, to this day, the big holiday celebration in Moscow is New Years Day (they do not have a December 25th celebration).  They also have a Russian Orthodox Christmas that follows the Gregorian calendar.  The Russian Christmas is celebrated on January 7th and is mostly religious with a midnight church service (most churches do have trees and candles to celebrate).
Here are a few other interesting tidbits:
  • Russians exchange their gifts on New Years Day.
  • Most spruce trees (“New Years” trees) are sold starting December 25th.  When the holidays are over, some people chop off the branches and carve the date into the tree trunk as a memento from the holiday.  They will collect these over the years.  If you buy your tree at IKEA, at the end of the holiday, IKEA will buy your tree back and reuse the wood.  No wonder that bookshelf is so lopsided!
  • The Kremlin has the biggest and best tree in Moscow (similar to our Rockefellar Center tree) and it is delivered by helicopter.  It has a theme each year and is decorated with ornaments that represent a historical event (i.e. Sputnik space travel).  
  • Their Santa Claus is “Father Frost” (again, no Christmas connection).  He is a grandfather and has an assistant (like an elf) called the Snow Maiden - some say she is his granddaughter.  Parents put all their children’s gifts in a big sack and a live Father Frost visits each house (apartment) on New Years Eve.  The parents like to celebrate with the Father F and offer him shots of vodka....apparently he can hardly walk by the end of the night.  And what child doesn’t like a tipsy Santa to kick off the celebration??
  • From December 20th to January 10th, the Kremlin Palace holds a children’s performance and the audience is children only - 6,000 a day!   The parents must wait outside on the outskirts of a big square, (there are adults inside who help the children with their coats, etc.).  When the performance is over, each child receives a box with a gift inside - usually chocolate.  They then go outside and parade in a circle around the square until they spot their parents in the crowd.  Fairly amazing - don’t you think?  Apparently this was a very special event during Soviet times...now the children are hoping for a video game in their gift box rather than chocolate!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Deck the halls!

We were forewarned....Moscow can be a land of inconvenience for American Ex-pats.  We moved into our new apartment on Saturday and thought we were thinking 10 steps ahead by having the Internet guys meet us first thing.  They did get our Internet up and running...but the minute they walked out the door...not so much.  I found myself scrambling to the window shouting down the street “Wait!!!”.  That apparently doesn’t translate so well in Russian...they were gone.  We now have Internet access for about 32 seconds then it conks out for an average of 47 minutes.  When the Internet is your life line to the outside world - you want the thing to work!  They will be back in the morning...

It brings me great joy, along with glad tidings, to tell you Christmas tress are available in Moscow!!!  Steve and I bought our mini live tree yesterday at OBI, Moscow’s version of Home Depot, (complete with orange decor).  We just had our traditional tree trimming party (it took all of 8 minutes).  The lights are a touch on the florescent side - but we were thrilled to even find lights!  We also found the cutest ornaments at IKEA made out of straw... 

Moscow is beautiful at Christmas time.  Lots of decorations and lights strung across most streets.  Christmas decorations are in the stores along with English speaking Christmas carols....it’s kind of amazing to hear Jingle Bells in a store while surrounded by Russian speakers who have no idea what “Jingle Bells” means. I love it as it makes me feel like home.  I’m attending a “See Russia” event tomorrow put on by the American Women’s Organization.  The topic is Russian Christmas traditions - can’t wait!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

All things fur!

No room for PETA in Moscow.  This place is climbing with fur.  The people watching is fantastic!  What you most likely imagine Russians wearing walking along the busy streets is exactly what they are wearing.  It’s a fashion show of fur...men, women and children.  

The full length fur coats are mostly worn by older women who absolutely have the matching fur hat.  Many women wear the mid thigh fur - in every color combo you can imagine.  Then you have the huge wild fur bomber hats....worn by the category of people who feel the crazier it looks, the warmer you feel.  

Many of the older men are wearing the typical Russian fur hats....as are the police.  Everyone is wearing fur lined boots and their fur-lined puffy coat hoods are in the “up” position at all times.  We’re all running around completely bundled Eskimo-style, with just a little face showing... it’s actually quite charming...until you remember it’s negative 100 degrees outside.  

I’ve seen a handful of men wearing this:

I think Steve would look great in one of these...don’t you?  Perhaps a little something for him under the tree Christmas morning...
I had a few extra hours to kill before our landlord stopped by for a sign off on the apartment.  I thought I would take in a walk around our new neighborhood - get to know the area, the people, make friends.  Ten minutes into the walk I realized under no circumstances should I ever, EVER leave the house without long johns.  I should probably wear them at all times during waking hours, sleeping hours and possibly in the shower.  My jeans felt like a wind sieve and my legs became sticks of ice.  I also remembered I had on thin socks and a pair of dressier boots that had no business walking the streets of Moscow.  I cut the walk short and bolted back to the apartment.  Mother Nature can get ‘r done in Moscow...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Today, a potpourri of observations...
Steve was given our apartment key on his last trip to Moscow several weeks ago.  While finishing our moving prep in Atlanta I asked him if we needed to make a couple of copies.  He said....”well....I don’t think we can...”  Here’s why: This is our apartment key!  

Can you believe it?  I knew we were going back in time - but this looks a touch medieval. At least it doesn’t get lost in my purse.  I almost impaled myself with it when I went diving into the car to get out of the cold.  I like to think of it as the “key to our castle”.  Guess who’s the Princess?  (I also respond to Queen).  
On the nights Steve has been out of the country (three of the last four since we arrived....side note, he’s currently in Baku, Azerbaijan), I have taken in as much Russian fare for dinner as possible.  This is what I order most nights:  

Russian Borscht!  This really needs no explanation since, per the name of the blog, I’m still trying to find out who moved mine.  Simply stated, I LOVE BORSCHT!  Russian beet soup with a dollop of sour cream - complete heaven.  I plan to have it every day.

Salmon caviar and Bellini pancakes!   Another completely melt in your mouth delicacy as far as I’m concerned.  By the way, Steve will have none of the afore mentioned, (I’m sure many of you are saying “smart man”).  I give my amazing mother complete credit for my love of caviar and Bellinis!  She is known for passing this hors d’oeuvre on special occasions and I believe the tradition started with her amazing mother.  The tradition lives on...
The traffic.  Holy smokes.  It took me 1 hour to drive 2 miles from the apartment to our hotel this evening.  Now, I will say, this is a bit unusual as the other nights have not been this bad.   But when it is bad, it is really really baaaad.  It makes D.C. and Atlanta traffic look like childs play.  I just took this photo from our hotel window...

Some big performance must be going on in the center of Moscow tonight - unbelievable.  In the middle of the photo you can see the Moscow River - it froze over last night and is covered with snow.  Quite Christmasy, really.  It’s currently -5 degrees, but only feels like -20, thank goodness!