I spent a week in Russia and I fell in love with the country and its people. They remind me of the misunderstood big kid in class and I want to take my time to share about my solo travel experience there. I will be posting up a few short write ups about specific incidences and my thoughts about them and my understanding of the culture and the people. So here goes post #2: Feed me Russia!
After arriving in Vagabond Hostel (probably the cosiest hostel I’ve stayed at with the best showers), I decided to take a walk to the Red Square before finding some food to devour. The air was cool and as it was a Friday evening, the streets were filled with beautiful and tall Russians. Like, very tall. I’ve never felt so aware of my stunted growth before this.
Moscow’s bright lights made night look similar to day. Nothing about the night felt scary or dangerous, contrary to popular belief. The walk was lovely. I explored the grounds outside the Red Square and got a glimpse of St Basil lit up at night. I also walked through Alexander’s Garden and strolled past the Memorial for Unknown Soldiers. The night was beautiful and I had to stop myself from crying because it all seemed so surreal yet undoubtedly real. “I am actually here!!!”, I kept saying to myself with my inside voice, yet smiling like a goon on the outside.
I headed to Mari Vanna for dinner, which, according to Trip Advisor, served really good home-cooked Russian cuisine. The entrance to the restaurant was rather obscure and the door didn’t seem to budge when I tried to open it. It was abruptly opened from the other side and there stood an angry looking young woman and a grumpy looking old man. I mumbled something about a table for 1 and she led me through another door into the cosy restaurant. “Here”, she said and I sat down obediently as she walked away without a trace of friendliness. “Maybe I did make a mistake”, I thought to myself.
I sat there for a while, with no menu at hand, noticing all the stylish people sitting around me. It was as though I was surrounded by models from the latest European Vogue, with just the most beautiful, chic and elegant people. (Damn my tired and acne ridden face, crappy hoodie and worn out sport shoes.) Then another waiter came over with an English menu with translations that were worded a little strange but mostly understandable. What I found interesting were the similarities between Central European and Russian cuisines. They both love meat and dumplings and drink a ton of kompot, which is a fruity drink that’s super tasty.
When the waiter came around (this time a cheerful guy, not the scary young woman) I asked him about certain items on the menu that didn’t have translations. He tried his best to explain things to me, bringing out stuff from the kitchen to show me and whipping out his phone to Wiki some items. It was an interesting interaction. I ended up ordering a salmon dish with a glass of kompot and cake to finish. By the end of the meal, I was stuffed and really happy.
The next day, I made a little effort to put some makeup on and dress a little better before I heading out for a free walking tour. For lunch, I went to MyMy (pronounced Moo Moo) as recommended by the guide. I didn’t know that it was a self-service chain restaurant so ordering was a little difficult. I ended up asking the girls in the queue behind me for help and they were nothing short of kind and tried to be as helpful as they could.
I settled for soup, cake and a drink called kvas, something the girls referred to as a non-alcoholic Russian beer (it tasted like sparkling honey water to me). As I was paying, the cashier noticed that I had not taken croutons for my soup. She quickly rectified this by producing a small saucer with croutons out of thin air and set it on my tray. “This, good in soup”, she said without the of a smile. “Speciba”, I replied with a giant grin.
On my last day in Moscow, I wandered the streets with no plans and found myself in Cafe Receptor. I was greeted by super friendly staff and led to a table surrounded by hipster artwork and wooden panelled walls. The menu was filled with asian food like Korean soups and bimbimbap, Indian curries, Japanese sushi and a whole selection of teas to pick from.
While eating, I decided to learn a few phrases in Russian from a site I found and spent the next half an hour learning how to ask for the bill. “MOzhno chek, poZHAlusta?”, I repeated in my head a million times so that when I was done, I beamed at the waiter and said “Chek?” He, of course, looked at me like I was out of my mind. After repeating myself a few times, another waitress came over and now, even the lady at the next table was looking at me. “Bill please” I finally said, feeling well embarrassed at this point.
After paying, I went up to the waitress to ask her how it was pronounced. “Shot”, she replied. HOW ON EARTH IS “CHEK” PRONOUNCED AS “SHOT”?
I decided that the author of “Learn Useful Russian Phrases” was useless and walked out into the breezy afternoon.