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.

Preparations for France and Russia

 
Sunday my vacation begins…

And do I ever need it.

Life has been hectic, and isn’t it always? Daughter spilled water on husband’s laptop and fried it. Husband drove through nasty pot hole and did $1400 worth of damage to the front end of the car.

I can’t find my sunglasses (prescription) and I just got a new crown that the insurance company is fighting. But hey, we’re surviving. 

Then my grandfather died Saturday night. He hasn’t spoken to me in 25 years, but it’s my father’s father and my father is one of the central people in my universe so seeing him struggle is hard.

He had considered not having a funeral, but now we’re having the traditional viewing, funeral and taking Grandpa to the cemetery. It’s going to be a long day, especially since the cemetary isn’t even in this state. 

It will be the first time I’ve ever seen the family plot, as my grandmother died when I was a baby.

And in the midst of this craziness, there’s the upcoming trip to France and Russia. So I’m thrilled to be traveling again, but part of me is simply desperate to escape. 

To Siberia for Pizza

My traveling companion and I started planning our next adventure. Mauritania was on the table, as was a brief discussion of Egypt. We wanted to combine where ever we went with a unorthodox trip to France. (This was before the Charlie Hebdo debacle, not that terrorism influences our decisions.)

Our version of France would include a bad suburb and potentially some immigrant heavy areas… And the military medicine museum at Val-de-Grâce. And the sewers.

My friend prefers to use Moscow as his transport hub. Long story. Involves displeasure with Air France. So I went to his apartment in D.C. to fill out a Russian multi entry visa application. A year or so ago, I discovered a pizza place in Russia that has the most amazing looking pizza, PizzasInIzza. I asked if we could visit it. Turns out it’s in Siberia. That doesn’t deter my friend. When my application was accepted my the Russian embassy, we started serious planning.

Paris for two days. Then Moscow. But we’d land in Moscow on May 1. So we’d have to stay in Russia if it was May Day. History of communism and all that. We opted to stay in Russia instead of heading to Africa. The visa came in, and my traveling companion booked plane tickets. He included an evening in Siberia so I can get my pizza.

He had his doubts. I have an outstanding application for a Ph.D. program in history and he wondered if we should head to Africa in case we couldn’t go in the future because of my schooling. I reminded him that my interest lies in 20th Century French history, African colonialism, and Muslim Africa. In all likelihood, I wouldn’t have another opportunity to visit Russia any time soon.

Of course, neither of use speak Russian. I’m trying to teach myself basic Russian in four months.

Should I not be accepted into my first choice Ph.D. program, this trip could help demonstrate my breadth as a future European history. Let’s face it, the history of Communism and the Russian influence made not only modern Europe but the United States as well.

The Russians are letting me in!

The Russians are letting me in!