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From Russia with Love

I don't know where it comes from, but as long as I can remember I've had a yen for Russia, and all things Russian. Maybe it was their drama, the theatrical quality of their history - The Great Schism, the False Dmitris, the Terribles, the Greats, the Trotskys, Rasputins, the rueful acceptance of serfdom (One grain of wheat for the master, one for planting, and one for vodka) - they all hold a certain amount of romance, for me. [Ed. - romance? really?]

During this illegal, unprovoked, heinous attack on Ukraine it's easy to hate Russians. Let me clarify: Putin is the problem, propped up by the oligarchs he created He will fall [Ed. - is falling?], and Ukraine will be a free sovereign nation without threats. And we'll leave it at that, shall we?

andrea and female friend standing in front of St. Basil's Basilica in Moscow.
Kate became my partner-in-crime when we met up in Nairobi. Thank you for being there, Kate.

I visited Moscow in 1993 during my travels through Africa. How does one end up in Moscow when they were meant to be in Africa? Aeroflot! My dad said to me after I returned home that he was never as scared for my safety than when I said what airline I was flying. It turns out crossing oceans on cargo ships, trekking overland with another young woman, not phoning for months on end - none of these things fazed him. Except Aeroflot.

From my experience:

  • Seat cabins don't really need seatbelts

  • Trays don't have to be stored in the upright position

  • Drinking on takeoff is not only available, but recommended

  • Chickens are extra, and will lay eggs mid-flight [Ed. - plucky little souls. Too much?]

We landed in Yemen and it was disconcerting to be in an airport with bullets in the walls. Finally in Moscow. Our bags are "missing", so we have to go deep into the bowels of the Sheremetrov (sp?) airport to reclaim them. Without paying a bribe. Which turned out pretty easy - we had no hard currency, just Kenyan shillings. No one wanted those or rubles. Us flapping these bits of paper around at them clearly said they were worthless. So I gave the officer a novel (I believe Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again for those looking for my literary cred ;) ) and we make it to our hotel.

The whole experience was surreal, like when you watch old movies and think: is this room bugged? Do they understand English? How about Finnish? Where's the man behind the curtain? Am I going to be arrested?

By that time I was travelling with a friend and another Finnish woman we met along the way, so we looked like stupid foreigners together . I understood enough Cyrillic to make out subway and store signs. (Restaurant for those interested looks like Peckopah). What else to do on a sunny long weekend in Moscow?

Tips for Your Next Moskva Getaway!

Shopping! Buy some bread! In a real line! Pay the equivalent of $0.07 for a loaf of really good hearty bread.

Lonely? Consider taking a new friend home from Moscow's outdoor market, the Puppy Arbatskaya! [Ed. - for pets or meat was a real fear of mine, thanks Michael Moore]

Entertainment! Kick back in your well-appointed circa 1970's suite and watch a few TV shows. We highly recommend Big Brother Poland, where the prizes are high and competition is fierce! [Ed. - 1st place was a pair of Air Jordans, to be fair]

See the Sights! - Moscow's subway stations are gorgeous palaces to the people. Just be careful to stand right and hang on tight on the escalators - these babies can move!

Weather - in June/July you can experience the true White Nights of Moscow. Where the sun *always* shines!

Dining! Don't miss the (once upon a time) biggest McDonald's in the world. And if that's a little pricey for your travel budget, consider buying one of the vintage @20min ago burgers from a Baba outside. Bonus: interacting with the delightful and joyous locals!

History - visit important landmarks, such as Lenin's Tomb, Lenin's Statue, and the Moscow Museum of Fine Arts, where you'll find such treasures not seen since wartime(s)!

In the interests of historical accuracy, this is in fact the only Big Mac I have ever consumed in my life. Ask anyone in my family. I was a pain in the ass as a kid "I want it plain!" So I practiced over and over again in Russian how to say "plain. nothing but the meat and bun." in the lineup, reciting something that looks like "khleb n mrco" in English

and is said something like "myaso e khleb" (thanks Google, for the phonetics). The wrapper is pretty self-explanatory, yes?

This photo is not a fake, I swear. It's a fluke of destiny, taken at I believe 2am in the morning (it being June/July and all). The former Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ohhh, the stories and history those archives must keep.

72 hours on the dot and we were back at the airport. I remember I brought some rubles back, including a couple of plastic tiddlywinks that stood for 1 ruble (price of transit). The rest? I just left them in the airport on a bench. Hoping that someone who could use them would find them.

I've always wanted to go back, since more of the country opened. And then, well .... yeah.

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