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.

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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.

St. Petersburg, Russia – Part 2

Tony and I woke up very early on day 2 in Russia for our on-shore excursion.  One of the things we didn’t realize about St. Petersburg is how incredibly spread out the city is.  We wanted to view both of the main palaces, and they were on completely opposite ends of the city.

We started with the palace of Catherine, the second wife of Peter the Great.  Where the Russian ballet theater was lacking in opulence, Catherine’s palace certainly made up for it.  Even walking upon it was an experience.  It was so incredibly beautiful, with its bright blue walls lined with white and gold trim.

Catherine Palace

Catherine Palace

Catherine Palace

Catherine Palace

Catherine Palace

Catherine was the second wife of Peter the Great.  Originally named Marta, she was allegedly a beautiful laundress that Peter fell in love with.  She and Peter had 12 children, but only two of them survived – Anna and Elizabeth.

Inside the palace, we were required to check any bags or coats, and were made to wear shoe coverings.  Throughout the tour, we were allowed to take pictures.  Tony and I snapped away in every room except one – the Amber room.  This was the only room we were not allowed to take photos.

I have to pause to cover off on the most amazing thing about Catherine’s and Peter’s palaces – they were almost completed reconstructed after WWII.  Most of both palaces were damaged after extensive bombings by the German military.  That fact alone made everything we saw even more amazing, because the restoration effort took so much time and care to get every detail correct.  The Amber Room alone took 20 years and $12 million dollars to properly restore.

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The gold gilding that could found in every room was magnificent.  Everything felt so special and superior, and I would expect nothing less for the Empress of Russia.  I tried to imagine attending balls or dinner parties in such a place.  What did the ladies wear?  What type of music did they listen to?  And what did they eat?

After our visit of Catherine’s Palace, we continued through Catherine Park off to where the kitchens used to reside.  This is where we ended up enjoying a very Russian meal, topped off with a shot of vodka.  I of course didn’t partake, but when in Russia, a shot of vodka at lunch seems like a great idea to me!

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The bus ride to Peter’s Palace, or Peterhof, took about an hour.  The sun had started to peek its head out from behind the clouds, and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  We weren’t able to take photos inside of Peterhof, but that was fine by me – the beauty was on the outside.

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Peterhof

My mom said this is her favorite photo 🙂

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I hadn’t yet seen enough gold at Catherine’s Palace, so thankfully, Peterhof took care of that for me.  🙂  The palace is called the “Versailles of Russia” and overlooks the Gulf of Finland.  We were almost able to see our next port stop from the fountains of Peterhof.  The fountains themselves were also pumping via natural pressure vs. electronic which made them that much more impressive.

Given the travel time and the distance between the two palaces, by the time we finished with Peterhof, it was time to head back to the ship.  I didn’t get to see nearly as much of St. Petersburg as I wanted, but my love for the city and the country of Russia was only made more powerful by this visit.  Tony and I fully intend on taking our little baby back to Russia.  There is still so much to see and explore, and I already know the baby likes Russian food.  🙂

The Missus’ Picks:

As I’ve said many a time, Russia is a fantastic place and one of my favorite countries to visit.  If planning a trip specifically to St. Petersburg, I suggest at least 4-5 days.  The city is very large and spread out and if you want to take in a ballet, plus the palaces and a canal cruise, you will need that much time.  My top picks include:

  • Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood – even though I didn’t get to see it, this is built in a similar style as St. Basil’s
  • Peterhof and Catherine Palaces
  • The Russian Ballet – try to see Swan Lake if possible and any theater is acceptable
  • Canal Cruise
  • If you visit in the fall/winter, eat beef stroganoff and sample the vodka…and caviar if you’re brave
  • If you visit in the spring/summer, try kvass – you can find it on many street corners for cheap

Until next time….