I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that our trip to Russia (visiting Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Borovsk) with the HWS Russian Study Tour was the most exhausting trip of my life.
We took an average of 20,000 to 30,000 steps a day, which (I'm told) translates into 10 to 15 miles. Additionally, it was around 90-degrees and few of us were prepared for the heat (exhibit A: wearing long pants in Red Square, above). And I can't effectively convey how difficult it is to navigate a place where you can barely speak or read the language, especially because the alphabet is so different from your own. (It did make me think quite a bit about communications theory, however, especially as it applies to the biblical story of the Tower of Babel.)
Having said that, we had a great time, especially because of the people we travelled with. I'm amazed at how well our group clicked. We rollicked with laughter the entire time -- even in a hostel with only one toilet and shower.
Click here and here for links to our pictures.
Itinerary with Commentary
Day 1 -- Monday, May 21. Afternoon flight from JFK Airport.
I don't remember if I've flown Delta before, but I'll be glad to again. While the seats were a bit small and the flight was long (8 1/2 hrs), the crew was amazing. We were treated well (even in coach) -- I even got three free drinks! (Two passion fruit mojitos and one small bottle of wine.)
Day 2 -- Tuesday, May 22. Moscow: Arrive Moscow a.m. Walking tour downtown.
We arrived at the airport around 10 am and between customs, the drive to the hostel (employees good, accommodations atrocious), and settling in, I think we hit the Red Square around 1 pm. It's between 85 and 90 degrees. The photo above is from this day. We also ate at a restaurant in Russia for the first time. Fortunately, I was able to point at pictures, as the menu was otherwise impenetrable. (Thanks for leaving me high-and-dry, Russian Studies professor and students! You know who you are.)
The seven women roomed together, sleeping on bunk beds. We left the windows wide open, trying to catch any stray breezes that blew our way. We felt sweaty, sticky, and dirty, a feeling that would not leave us until we returned home to our showers and air conditioning.
Day 3 -- Wednesday, May 23. Moscow: Kremlin museums, churches, Armory.
This is where things start to get fuzzy and my recollection of things starts to run together. Is this the day we hung out in the park under the trees, or was it the day before? I don't know. I do know that I liked the Armory with its display of czarist trappings (royal gowns, jewelery, coaches, and the famed Fabergé eggs).
As this was the first day going into the churches, it was also my first day having to wear a headscarf. Not a good look for me.
Day 4 -- Thursday, May 24. Moscow: Red October Chocolate Factory Tour, Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Banya
How sad is it that, out of everything else scheduled on the trip, I most looked forward to the chocolate factory tour? Anyway, it was kick-ass: we walked along the production line, sampling freshly made confections (lots and lots of samples) then retired to an air conditioned room (!!!) for tea and more candy. Awesome.
From there, we headed to Cathedral of Christ the Savior. It's a recreation of the original cathedral, completed in 1881. Stalin had it demolished in 1933 and a swimming pool was put in its place. Reconstruction began in the 1990s and was completed in 2000. On a 90-degree day in Moscow, I would have preferred the pool.
I got my wish, however, when we visited a banya. We had a private one all to ourselves, consisting of a large and cushy lounge area (decorated in a style befitting Hustler magazine) and the "pool" room, which featured a very hot sauna, a large, cool (and green hued) pool, plus a small cedar bath with icy water. I jumped from the sauna to the pool a few times (as is the custom) before deciding to just hang in the pool. Shane ordered a bottle of very crappy vodka, which tasted like rubbing alcohol and smelled like Sharpie markers (tm Mandi). Not tasty, but drinking it definitely put me in the banya mood. I also spent some time photographing the kitschy yet pornographic sculptures decorating the lounge. (Do I know how to have a good time, or what?)
Day 5 -- Friday, June 25. Borovsk. More TK...