We found our Moscow joint

M and I are infamously cheap. We went for our morning constitutional and the weather was warmer then we anticipated. By the second mile, the need for water piqued. Last night we had a delightful dinner of shawarma at a street food vendor near our subway stop, Kunestky Moct. The meal of chicken c0st us about $7 American for all three of us and we were stuffed full.

Best part: A liter of water cost 50 rubles.

The man who served us was very patient with each of us depicting what we wanted on our “sandwiches.” Even scraping off cabbage from child’s sandwich and making sure every stitch was gone. He must have children.

So when we wanted water today in one of the pedestrian tunnels, and they wanted 80 rubles for a 16.9 ounce bottle of water, I said no. And we walked an extra mile for water.

The current exchange rate is 64 rubles per U.S. dollar.

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“Our Man” by Kunestky Moct

Kachapuri

During our last visit to Moscow, we ate at Kachapuri, twice, and fell in love. We took my daughter there tonight for a feast of pumpkin soup, tarragon lemonade, lamb stew, a special local cheese cubed and breaded, fried zucchini, and the biggest chunk of real fish I’ve ever seen. And a beer for me. Oh, and I almost forgot… Two kachapuri.

Coffee and St. Basil’s

It is so wet in Moscow today.

We have been drenched to the bone several times already. Sigh.

So after our morning adventure, we decided on a cup of coffee and found a delightful shop with good looking pastry and the word that we recognized as Russian for coffee.

We speak a total of five words of Russian yet someone managed to order coffee and juice and cookies and a delicious poppyseed loaf. And a chocolate muffin cupcake thing.

After that it was more struggling with the rain… And dear daughter losing the hotel room key and the 500 rubles spending money I gave her.

IMG_3968Of course, I took a picture of her in the Moscow streets with her inside out umbrella.

And St. Basil’s was delightful. Gorgeous architecture. Art students drawing in the halls. Ancient coins and tools. Great music. Various examples of metal work and religious art.

 

 

Monday brings Crying Clouds to Moscow

Upon waking, thankfully after a good night’s sleep as the second night is usually when jet lag holds M and I hostage. My daughter slept through the night even though she’s never experiences the rigors of international travel before.

The breakfast at the restaurant was full so the maitre d’ sent us to the VIP lounge on the sixth floor. It gave us a wonderful view of the neighborhood below us. I hadn’t brought my phone so no photos. Sad face.

I had a taste of the pancakes and cheese cake pancake things, a couple broiled sausages, porridge, an aloe vera mango drink, two cappucinos and a bottle of water. For dessert, I had a chocolate muffin with these chocolate crispy balls on top.

Daughter says breakfast had a few quirks. She ate her weight in sausages and bacon, had a couple potato wedges and a little danish. I gave her a watermelon yogurt drink and suggested she try the caviar, but she did not. She didn’t like any of the pancakes or similar items.

We headed into the streets, a downpour out there. We walked down to Red Square but St. Basil’s doesn’t open until one.

We ended up taking a walk and visiting the RYM (I’m not taking the time to use the cyrillic alphabet) shopping mall. That basically became a voyage of escalators and stairs. That’s what the child wanted to do. I gave her 500 rubles spending money.

Throughout the mall, the displays featured a tribute to Russian athletes, of the current and Soviet Union days.

Stopped in the hotel room to dry out. Off to more adventures soon.

 

 

 

Goodbye, Paris. Hello, Moscow.

Our traveling companion M took us on a walk through Barbès where my daughter made some French/Algerian friends in one of the shops. The people there tried to get her to speech French and Arabic and gave her a piece of candy. She noted the difference between standard touristy Paris and the so-called immigrant presence in the outer districts, seeing Africans and Arabs. I use the term so-called immigrants because of how the French consider even second generation citizens “immigrants.”

We walked up to Sacre Ceour. Lil Miss didn’t realize it was on the top of a hill. She just thought it was tall. But she was a trooper walking up the hill. And M showed her the Eiffel Tower in the distance.We wandered half way down the hill and she spotted the funicular. We had a metro ticket for the day so we actually walked back UP to Sacre Ceour and rode the funicular down.

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Funicular to Sacre Couer

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View from Sacre Coeur

Dinner was at Le Magenta, another place where I have eaten before. I ordered a two course meal for each of us, with Lil Miss trying to overcome her fear of using French words. I suggested the restaurant based on past experience and as soon as she saw they served escargot she was in.  She ordered six escargot in a bourgogne sauce. In the photo, she looks a tad intimidated but in reality she was merely focused on getting those snails out of their shells. I asked her why she liked them and she said it was because she loved getting them out of their shells. I suppose she’s like a cat and needs to play with her food.

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She also had a duck thigh which came artfully arranged on potato wedges and slivers of tomatoes that resembled flower petals.

The walk back to the hotel was exhausting, not because it was far but because of the jet lag and the nine miles we had walked. Lil Miss showered, collapsed into bed. In the morning, we were on the RER early returning to CDG-Roissy.

In the Air France lounge, Lil Miss made an amazing discovery. 1. She LIKES croissants. She has insisted for years that she doesn’t like plain croissant. I have countered, for years, that it’s because she hasn’t tasted one in France.

She ate five or six plain croissants and two pain au chocolat. She also learned how to read French jam labels, though she thought the “orange” was orange marmalade and it turned out to be bitter orange. An adjective makes a big difference.

IMG_3928.JPGThe plane from Paris to Moscow was on an Airbus A318, a big change from the Boeing 777. I discovered this morning a lovely note from the TSA that apparently gave my bag a check before it left the States. Not that I noticed.

We navigated the Moscow airport with no problem and child kept trying to compliment the female customs agent on her pretty eye makeup. Overall, she’s a good kid but we’re working on NOT spurting out every thought in her head to the entire universe.

We even navigated the Moscow subway. The majestic tunnels, architecture and details in the stations. Every train looks completely different. Some old, some new. Very colorful.

We had Russian-style beef dumplings with a butter and sour cream sauce for dinner in a little restaurant off Red Square where to Lil Miss’s delight they had American music videos playing. Calvin Harris and the Disciples: “How Deep is Your Love?”

Child compared Moscow to an urban New York feel. Paris seems smaller and offers more recreation. She thought Moscow was more exotic while Paris felt more like an American town.

And the best so far–

“All I know about Russia is what I see on CNN and they don’t have nice things to say.”

That’s my baby. Now when you go back to school, set them straight.

 

 

Hot Chocolate at the Pushkin Café

So we got up today again at 9 a.m. It’s a lovely, sunny Moscow day and the Lenins and Stalins are still hanging out in the area of Red Square, which, sadly is still closed.

I swung into the post office to buy a stamp. Each trip I try to buy a random stamp for my daughter and her teacher. They are usually cheap, unique and don’t take up room in a suitcase. My daughter now has France, Djibouti, Tunisia and will soon add Russia. I walked in, and without having any clue for the Russian words for mailing something, merely said the Russian word for “two” and I suppose she sold me two Russian airmail stamps. It cost me a little more than a dollar. But I paid with the equivalent of a twenty, so the clerk “huffed” under her breath and had to leave the room to make change. She made it a point to huff a second time as she counted it out to me. I was very
pleased with myself.

I went to a souvenir shop to buy a little something for my daughter. I won’t say what because she does like her surprises. It cost 150 rubles. I put 200 rubles up and the clerk shook her head. I sorted through my coins. Ten, twenty, thirty, forty… she counted as I counted. But I didn’t have another. I only have forty. She waved at me and said in Russian that ten rubles was nothing to worry about.

That also seemed like a win.

Red Square will definitely be closed all week. But we have gone down every day to see what we can see.

From there, we decided to begin our daily walk. We tend to wander with a loose goal in mind. Pushkin Café has been on M’s list because of the 1964 French song, “Nathalie.”

Today we finally found it.

This is not it.

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Neither is this, but this was next door.

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And then voilà, this IS it.

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The menu

Of course all we wanted was chocolate. And it was heavenly.

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Khachapuri: More First of May adventures in Moscow

This afternoon, we left the hotel and decided to wander toward Pushkin Café, with its hot chocolate and Nathalie fame. We never made it. We wandered into some sort of children’s shopping center with kids’ activities and just started walking.

We walked the park around the Kremlin, toured the World War II monument (and even watched an Asian tourist hog the monument as we tried to take pictures and my favorite, watched the soldier on guard whistle at folks who sat on the walls), and went for coffee.

In one of the pedestrian tunnels that connects to the underground/metro, I did some shopping. I bought water, a plastic bangle bracelet in leopard for a work colleague, and a small piece of bread with sauce and cheese that tasted a lot like Elios pizza.

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In our travels, we saw some Lenin and Stalin impersonators in full military dress and a tsar. There were also opportunities to wave the Soviet flag.

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But, by far, the real excitement happened in the evening. M had some trouble decided what he wanted for dinner. He had his guidebook (a French tour book on Moscow) and I had mine (a DK book on all of Russia). We read back and forth until he asked about Georgian cuisine and I had a place listed in mine called Khachapuri. He was all over it.

But for some reason, the listing didn’t have a map coordinate under the name. So, we entered the address into google maps. And the directions came up in Russian. And no matter what we did, we couldn’t get the anglicized names to read the map in the guidebook. So M read the names out loud and I marked the map. But some of the streets were too small to be on the map in the guidebook. I copied those (Yes, in cyrillic letters) into my notebook. And off we went.

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With M sounding out the street names and my notes, we found the place with no problem. I have linked to their web site: http://www.hacha.ru/en/menu/6/

I had an incredible pumpkin soup with smoked cheese on it.
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M ordered an herb khachapuri, but didn’t get the traditional one with raw egg on top. So that saddened him a tad, but I think his mandarin lemonade may have compensated. They made lemonade and put large pieces of orange in it. Very delightful.

This man came in and played accordion in front of us, including “Yesterday,” yes, as in the Beatles tune.

Then my dinner came. On that web site, it’s the third row down. First item. Baturi-style beef cooked in Georgian candori spice. Now I had told M that the soup was so good I wanted to eat a bowl every day for the rest of my life. The beef came out in this delicate paper wrapped, and the spices were both exotic and familiar. The beef was perfectly cooked and I cut it with a butter knife. There was roasted garlic and roasted onion on the side. I devoured the garlic. The food was so good I also tried the onion. AND I HATE ONION. It was fairly edible. But I just don’t like onions.

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M and I both knew we wanted to eat here again. So we made a reservation for tomorrow night. I actually mourned the end of my meal, because despite the fact that I was happy and satiated I didn’t want it to end.

We couldn’t believe our bill. Less than 1600 rubles. Or about $30.

There was a downpour on the way home. I ended up hanging my shoes and jeans on the heated towel rack. I can’t stop thinking about that meal.

Rainy First of May in Moscow

So, M was quite distraught last night that Red Square was closed in preparation for First of May today. We woke late. I rose at 8 and studied Russian until 9 when M roused. We headed to the hotel breakfast, which was a strange assortment of items. You could see the hotel’s efforts to serve multi-national fare. We are staying at Hotel Peter I.

I had Russian pancakes, meatballs, yogurt, pastry, cranberry mors, and the best coffee I’ve had in days. Three cups. Water is scarce, which is a tad annoying. Small markets are closed for the holiday, also annoying but bearable. We purchased water at an upscale grocery store in the fancy mall.

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We came back to the room so M could shower. The weather is low 40s, breezy and sporadically raining. M googled the status of Red Square and discovered the worker’s rights parade was going on right now. We hustled a bit and arrived in time to see the end: people dispersing, flags, flowers, red first of May t-shirts (I want one) and the military band playing. (See my Instagram account if you want video: angelackerman.)

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I loved watching these women dismantle their signs.
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We had an amazing time looking at the military folk wandering around and old Soviet pins. We meandered the city, covering five miles. There were many, many people out. I saw blocks upon blocks of portable toilets.
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There’s some beautifully wrapped chocolate, but I’m told it’s not tasty so I took a photo:
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Now we’re relaxing and drying off from the rain, so let me leave you with a shot of Moscow on the river.

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The illiterate have reached Moscow

Before I begin with our adventures in Russia, let me summarize a few things from our last hours in France. I have a habit of following eateries from around the world on Instagram. It usually begins because I make an ethnic dish and post a picture on Instagram. Then, I check photos of other people’s versions of the same dish. On an African food kick recently, I discovered La Riziere in Paris.

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I had a hard time sorting out the menu, but I decided, with much assistance, to have a beef dish in peanut sauce.

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My companion got chicken.

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I had a great night’s sleep and in the morning we quasi-enjoyed our final Paris breakfast. It had started to rain (we had great weather while there) and had decided that the coffee kept getting worse every day. I did enjoy the rattle and hum of the metro train as it passed beneath the building. I have mixed feelings about our hotel room on the sixth floor that was at the top of a spiral staircase. With all the miles we walked yesterday, the stairs were tiring.

We flew from CDG to Moscow. The flight was uneventful. My scarf, MacBook Air and toiletries were pulled aside for a security check. Which is funny when you consider I’m not a big toiletries girl and I don’t wear make-up. Then in Moscow, customs pulled me to the side. Again, a seemingly random check.

We almost thought we broke Russia like we broke France. Oh, wait, France was broken. We didn’t do it. They had technical issues getting the bags off the plane.

And then we decided to use public transport into town. First, we withdrew rubles from the ATM. M forgot their was a terminal-to-terminal shuttle that we could have taken from where we landed to the other side of the airport where the train departed. He had me jogging for about 1/2 to 2/3 of a mile. He has a longer stride than I do. He used the machine to purchase tickets.

And we were fine coming into Moscow. The outskirts of Moscow looked very industrial and full of identical highrise apartment buildings. The initial views of Moscow were basic. We followed the crowd to the subway. We even got tickets. When the seller heard M speak English she even held up a calculator so he could read the price.

But we realized, as we went down this fast and clunky escalator in this gorgeously clean and gleaming tunnel, that we can’t read or speak Russian. I thought I had learned to speak some. He had tried to learn to read some. Our grown up boring lives intervened and we have realized our Russian language skills are useless.

But we did it! We did ask for some help, but I think we could have done it on our own. We also think we’ve determined how the system works. I suppose tomorrow will tell.

We also asked for help finding our street. But we got here!

And the hotel is way fancier than anything M usually stays in, only because of the falling value of the ruble when he booked it. When we turned the corner from a side street into the main area of downtown Moscow, I could not believe how visually stunning Moscow is. Prettier than Paris.

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We’re a tad concerned because it looks like Red Square might be closed for next week’s parade. This was as close as we can get:
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But hey, thank goodness for zoom function on the old iPhone 5c:
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After a brief walk, we went for dinner at an Italian cafe. They did feature Russian food so I had pelmeni (Russian ravioli with meat filling, in a butter sauce with sour cream) and redberry mors (a very tart and sweet homemade juice). It was extremely yummy.

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First flight down

 
We left Dulles on an Aeroflot flight for Moscow around 3 pm Monday. It’s now 2 am NY time, 9 am Tuesday Moscow time. Almost 5,000 miles crossed in 9 1/2 hours. 

I have issues with my ears so descent from 37,000 feet on a A330 can be very painful. I didn’t even notice that we had made it to the ground until the plane bounced that little jiggle it does. The fog was so thick I had no idea there was an airport out there.

I saw the sunrise over some gorgeous snow covered mountains. 

When we arrived at the transfer desk, we discovered our 10 am flight to Paris had been canceled due to fog. I slept about 90 minutes on the plane and will now have an additional 3 hours in the Moscow airport.

Activities in Paris tonight will probably be minimal.