Kicking off my birthday

Many things happen in May that I look forward to, primarily the blooming of my lovely pink roses and Lily of the Valley (both fragrances I adore.)

Lily of the Valley, May’s flower

Warmer weather normally arrives (though this year we had snow). The school year is winding down. And there’s an anticipation akin to the new year that good things are to come.

My birthday arrives smack dab in the middle of this week and I know it’s significance will be dulled by major work deadlines and the pandemic. We do have a three day weekend coming for Memorial Day, all of which was why I had hoped to take vacation the last week of May.

Nala and I: Nala’s New Trick

That issue has not been settled, so I decided to have some mild fun to at least acknowledge to myself my birthday. Which is #45.

I ordered a sit down hot meal last night, instead of my usual stress meal of 2,000+ calories of pizza. My dear friend and editing client William Prystauk of the Kink Noir series suggested that the teenager and I deserved the treat. Ironically, it was the same restaurant my husband picked for my birthday dinner last year, Two Rivers Brewing.

More on Bill and his BDSM-themed crime novels: Sunday evening briefing: My Time of Debauchery Ends

Last time I tried Two Rivers delivery service: Two Rivers Brewing Delivery

I ordered a crowler of the Banker’s Brown ale, the breathtaking peanut butter bacon burger, bacon apple mac and cheese, and Brussel Sprouts. My daughter and I feasted like queens.

Speaking of queens, I started watching Hulu’s The Great, loosely based on the life of Catherine the Great of Russia. The costumes and sets are amazing. The script is witty and allows much thought of life and politics in that time period. I watched 5 episodes yesterday while doing housework.

The teenager had deserved a good meal as she had resecreened one of my bedroom windows.

She’s on the roof

A friend of mine texted early. He said it was a shame that people couldn’t celebrate properly because of the pandemic. But I pointed out that really nothing has changed. The teenager plans on baking me a cake— might be trying lemon cardamom this year. Cards still come in the mail. My friends and family have phones. And most restaurants have curbside or delivery.

I think the pandemic just removes a lot of the pretentious notions of what we need to survive and highlights how outdated the 40-hour workweek is. Employment for a lot of fields could be based on project completion versus time occupied at a desk.

I treated myself to a self-purchased birthday present today and thanks to the pandemic it comes with a free mask!

Dolls Kill

And this morning my mom surprised my with a few fun edibles (not THAT kind of edible) and a pair of tights.

Mom and Nala bonded and she approved of the teenager’s efforts in the garden.

So here’s hoping I can clean up this house and get my spirits to where they need to be to start the work week— and my birthday week— with enthusiasm.

My daughter, magnificent traveler

In all fairness, my daughter may be a kid and an American but she is an amazing traveler. So here is a list of ways my daughter has impressed me:

  1. She has lived for a week out of a very small carry-on suitcase and her school backpack.
  2. She has dragged that baggage through airports, train stations, subway tunnels in two continents when she had never even been in an airport before.
  3. She has kept up with two active adults, walking 8 to 10 miles a day. Often dragging the suitcases.
  4. She has tried really really hard to eat new things and not react poorly to them.
  5. She has been so open-minded and suddenly understands that the world is small, the media is not always accurate, and that cultural difference can be lovely.
  6. She started the trip shy towards other language speakers and she’s opening up. She’s repeating phrases and trying to communicate. And I think she might be motivated to learn another language.
  7. She has not complained. Even when exhausted and hungry.IMG_4337.JPG

 

Calm Beauty in Kazan

Kazan has proven gorgeous, calm, and the perfect blend of urban and small town. The mix of religious cultures is not “in your face,” but the orthodox Christian church and the mosque are side by side. I have seen women with beautiful headscarves covering their heads with color and style. (In general, the women are impeccably dressed and very sweet looking.)

English is rare to find, but we have been handed a few English menus. The mosque was lovely, and a good learning experience for my daughter.

I also smoked some hookah for the first time.

We visited the museum of Islamic history and the mosque. It may have been the first time my daughter saw items about 1,000 years old other than a dusty old mummy. I found a lot of the material interesting, various religious texts, holy books in Arabic and Armenian, photos from the 1917 Muslim Women’s Conference, and a chest with a dowry.

When we stopped for a hookah and coffee, and I got my daughter a ham sandwich and myself something with bacon, pineapple and blue cheese. It ended up being a Russian BLT. A delightful and flavorful thing.

Thank Heaven for Russian Grandmothers

This morning we slept until almost nine which is odd for all of us. We had breakfast in the main restaurant of Peter I. I wanted to get a pedicure (2,000 rubles) but there wasn’t enough time. We walked the child around town until it was time to head out to the subway.

And we not only found the subway but navigated it back to the train station.

We bought our tickets and headed back to the airport where I pointed randomly to some exotic juice for the child and what appeared as a latte with sesame seeds on it. It turned out to be a PEANUT BUTTER LATTE. Why they put sesame seeds on it, I don’t know. BUT DID YOU HEAR THAT, HUSBAND??? Peanut butter latte! PEANUT BUTTER LATTE. I had tried again to give the child 500 rubles spending money and this time she bought the cutest little baby nesting doll key chain for 280 rubles.

And I drank a delicious peanut butter latte.

Did I mention the peanut butter latte?

We flew to Kazan via Aeroflot. The only “event” of our flight was the fact that we all refused to eat the salmon and pickle sandwich on pumperknickel. Okay, so child ate some of it.

We  managed to find the airport express train into Kazan, a bargain at only 120 rubles for the three of us. (The Moscow airport train costs 470 rubles for one of us.) The girl at the ticket counter assured us it was only a five to ten minute walk from the station to our hotel, Courtyard Marriott at the Kremlin.

Except we had no clue how to get out of the train station, let alone find our hotel.

Luckily, a Russian grandmotherly type who spoke no English looked at our map, escorted us out and found us a taxi.

Kazan has some amazing architecture but I’ll get into that in the morning. We decided to go to a kebab place for dinner, writing down the Russian street names. We couldn’t find it. Ended up at a decent place with various foods… but here’s the great part, our waitress spoke English!

The city at night is amazing with its colors and domes against the night sky. More about that tomorrow.

 

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.