Russian Dolls

While we were in Russia, Matilda amassed a small collection of Russian dolls.  These toys are fantastic, and two in particular are so great, they are worth writing about.

The first is your standard Russian toy doll – the Matryoshka doll.  This is the wooden nesting doll that everyone associates with Russia.  I have purchased a variety of these before, both for decoration and as gifts, and our hotel gave Matilda her very own doll for playing with.

russian dolls

According to Wikipedia, the name Matryoshka means “little maiden”, and these dolls were first invented in 1890.  There is speculation that the original nesting dolls were inspired by a round, hollow doll from Japan.

Matilda loves her Matryoshka doll, and her attempts to stack, put together and pull apart the dolls are building great motor skills.  However, she keeps trying to eat the smallest member of the family.  🙄

The other amazing doll Matilda received, this time from a colleague of mine, is Cheburashka.  This doll is very special to Russia and can only be purchased there.

russian dolls

Cheburashka is a confusing little animal, who originates from a 1966 Soviet children’s story.  In the story, Cheburashka is apparently “unknown to science” because he looks like both a monkey and a bear.  According to the story, he gets into a crate of oranges and eats so much that he falls asleep.  Next thing he knows, he wakes up inside of a grocery story in Moscow.

This doll plays music and talks, so Matilda is already practicing her Russian. 🙂  She loves the doll so much, that she dances along with his song.

 

 

Family Trip to Moscow, Russia

A few weeks ago, I took my family on a trip to Moscow, Russia.  I was thrilled to introduce this colorful and magical city to my family.  Truth be told, a vacation to Russia in early March is not exactly tropical, but the cold weather gave us a true taste of Moscow life.  It also made us appreciate its splendor that much more.

Prior to visiting Russia, we had to apply for our visas.  The application form itself isn’t bad, but what’s complicated is the following:

  • you need a sort of “invitation” letter, proving where you will be staying – most hotels can provide this after you’ve made your reservation
  • proof of health insurance coverage up to 30,000 Euros – not always the easiest to get from your health insurance

Once you’ve received the visa, the rest is easy.  Matilda’s Russian visa is just too cute, and I love that she will always have that, even if she doesn’t exactly remember being there.

Swiss Air flies direct to Moscow from Zurich, so the flight was painless.  However, Domodedovo (DME) airport is extremely far from the city center, and our car ride took about 2 hours given the construction and traffic.  Luckily my husband got to see St. Basil’s and the leftover Christmas lights on our way in.  It reignited our excitement and piqued his curiosity at what more there was to see.

After a relaxing evening in the hotel, the next day, we felt energized and ready to explore the city.  Of course, our first stop was the Red Square and St. Basil’s, but not before wrapping ourselves in as many layers as possible.  Poor Matilda looked like the little brother from “A Christmas Story” – she seemed to want to scream, “I can’t put my arms down!”

Being in the cold it was worth it.  As we neared the Red Square, St. Basil’s sneakily peeked through. I never tire of its colorful and candy-like spires and rounded tops.  It continues to feel like something out of a fairy tale, and rivals the Eiffel Tower as my favorite structure. Matilda seemed to like it too.

moscow

moscow

Given the temperature, we couldn’t spend too much time outdoors, so we wandered over to the GUM mall to warm up and grab a coffee.  Just like St. Basil’s, GUM was one of the most colorful placed I’d ever seen.  Inside were a variety of bright trees (faux? real?) coupled with equally bright benches.  Most of the stores were extremely high end, and the Bosco brand was everywhere.  Bosco typically designs the uniforms of Russia’s Olympians, and in GUM, they had a variety of clothing stores and restaurants.  We grabbed a coffee in one of them.

moscow

moscow

After warming up in GUM, we meandered back towards our hotel and took the pedestrian walk way, Kamergerskiy Pereulok.  We continued to marvel at the gorgeous Russia architecture and buildings colored in mint, salmon, and beige.

Dinner that night was at a small but delicious pelmeni restaurant call Lepim i Varim.  Pelmeni are Russian dumplings, filled with all sorts of delicious goodies, and the restaurant was just our speed.  It was like any other “pick up your own order” type of place you’d see in the United States.  Tony was so hungry we actually tried every pelmeni on the menu, including pesto and cheese, standard potato, and venison and boar.  😯

moscow

The next day, we decided to be a bit adventurous and take ourselves on our own tour of the metro stations.  Moscow is known for gorgeous metro stops, and so via the magic of the internet, we mapped it out ourselves.  We were staying at the Park Hyatt Moscow, which was very close to the Red Square and knew we wanted to end up near Cafe Pushkin.  Based on our plan, this meant our first stop was Kurskaya.

This particular stop had tons of bronze statues in between the entrance tunnels to the trains.  They all appeared very militaristic, and one in particular had its dog’s nose rubbed raw.

moscow

moscow

moscow

Stop #2 was Novoslobodskaya.  This was my favorite stop because it had the most beautiful stained glass imagery throughout the station.  I marveled and each and every portrait, mesmerized by the colors.  Clearly, Russia knows that color is the way to my heart. 🙂

moscow

moscow

moscow

Belyruskaya was stop #3, followed by Mayakovskaya.  I didn’t quite understand the fuss about Belyruskaya, but I am sure there is a story a tour guide could have enlightened me with.  Mayakovskaya, our last stop, had stunning mosaics high up in the ceiling – so high up, however, that I couldn’t get a good photo. 🙁

However, Mayakovskaya put us a 10 minute walk away from Cafe Pushkin, so our overall plan worked great.  A colleague of mine had taken me to Cafe Pushkin when I was last in Moscow, and I fell in love with the place.  It felt like being inside of the Russia of Anna Karenina.  We enjoyed a delicious meal, which I knew Matilda would enjoy.  I was pregnant during my previous Moscow visit, and her little kicks inside my tummy let me know she was a fan of Russian cuisine.  When she got fussy, the restaurant even hosted a puppet show near the coat room.  Matilda couldn’t take her eyes off of the puppeteer, and she seemed to understand every word even though it was all in Russian.

moscow

moscow

We spent our last day in Moscow relaxing at the hotel before the long drive back to the airport.  We truly made some special memories in this amazing city.  Russia has yet to disappoint, and I look forward to when I can visit again.

From Russia, With Love – Part 3 – Moscow

My Russia trip ended in Moscow, back to where my original introduction to Russia had begun last year. There is no place like Moscow. It is an incredibly busy and bustling metropolitan city with some of the most gorgeous structures I have ever laid my eyes on.

It was a different experience to be back here in the heart of summer vs. the tail end of winter.  There was much more sunshine and greenery to be found, which only made the buildings look that much more beautiful.

There were two things I did this time that I did not get to experience in my previous visit. One was to visit Café Pushkin for a traditional Russian dinner, and the other was to go inside of St. Basil’s cathedral.  Is Cafe Pushkin touristy?  Absolutely – but the food is to die for, as is the atmosphere.  It appears to be designed in the style of either an old Russian library or mansion.  Dark wood covers most surfaces, from floor to ceiling.  It is the perfect setting for a hot chocolate on a snowy winter day, but even in summer I found it quite enjoyable.  I made sure to indulge in all Russian specialities, such as beef stroganoff, dumplings, mushrooms, etc.  But no herring for me, blech.  My husband’s Polish family has sadly put me off from herring for life.

Cafe Pushkin

Cafe Pushkin

The other thing I did was visit the inside of St. Basil’s.  Last time, I took about a million photos of St. Basil’s, but the actual church was closed for visitors.  This time, I paid my 300 rubles and hopped inside.  My mouth immediately fell wide open in awe.  I have been extremely blessed in my past travels.  There are many gorgeous churches and temples I have had the pleasure of visiting.  But aside from the Kapaleeswarar Temple in Chennai, this was up there as one of the most spectacular I’ve ever laid eyes on.  I couldn’t believe the gorgeous ornate detail and color.  It made being in church extremely enjoyable visually.  If ever you find yourself in Moscow, you MUST go inside St. Basil’s.

St. Basils

St. Basils

St. Basils

Aside from that, I continued a leisurely walk around the Red Square, snapping my photos as the sun started to slowly set over Moscow.  I am so in love with this city and this country.  I find it to be incredibly interesting and different and yet at the same time, absolutely relatable and familiar.

St. Basils

St. Basil

From inside St. Basils

Red Square

Summertime in Moscow

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My husband and I will find ourselves in St. Petersburg at the end of this month and I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to be able to go back to Russia so soon already.

Until next time, travelers….