Scenes from the 56th parallel north.
The State Hermitage Museum. Somewhere around 3 million pieces of art spread across more than 1.000 rooms, the second largest collection in the world after The Louvre. The National Museum of China; The Met; and the Vatican Museums round out the top five, in case you wondered.
Once again we awoke to a (partially) sunny day, and with a full agenda. Breakfast accomplished in under 20 minutes, we set out for the Peter and Paul Fortress, its highlight being the Cathedral and the burial place of all but two Russian Tsars. Tour group swarms were light, the good part; but they were rather obnoxious in how easily they became agitated with those of us independent travelers who wished to view the highlights of the cathedral.
This first morning dawned…sunny! We put ourselves together and hurried to the morning meal. Breakfast is the one meal I seldom look forward to at home because all of us take a different approach to the start of the day, so it’s either three preparations or someone is left unsatisfied. When we travel, though, I can have salmon and cucumbers; Tony can have fried eggs and bacon, and everyone is happy.
No need for the former, and most glad I brought the latter.
If the post title had not given the answer away, I might pose the question, “Where was this photo taken?” A cosmopolitan square in summer filled with people enjoying the late afternoon hours…could be almost anywhere. It is, of course, Republic Square in Yerevan.
Last month Tony mentioned an upcoming work trip to Yerevan. My ears pricked up. Yerevan, a city as old as Babylon? A country without a McDonalds? When do we leave? Naturally, the same day I purchased my flight, Tony shared a comment from a colleague: “You’re going to Yerevan? Who did you p- – – off?” Meh, I’ve heard it before. A friend’s husband once declared the beautiful city of Sofia a, “sh- -hole,” and not worth visiting. I was unfazed by the colleague’s travel commentary, and set off last week with expectations as high as the forecast 34° temperatures.
Memorable Moment #3 occurred in the Metro system. My rusty Russian could only get us so far; in making transfers we would have to stop and decipher the maps. On one occasion, though, Anna Grace hopped onto the Metro and the train departed, leaving Tony and me on the platform still looking at the map! Throughout our travels across Europe and Japan (especially Japan!) the “Family Separation Rule” has always been to exit the train/tram/bus at the next stop and wait for the family to catch up. The rule was perfectly executed that night!
Some of Moscow’s Metro stations are famous for their designs, so Anna Grace and I made a point to visit Mayakovskaya, famous not only for its 30+ themed-ceiling mosaics of “The 24-hour Soviet Sky” but also because the station, owing to its depth of 33 meters below ground, served as the residence for Joseph Stalin during WWII. The station did not fail to impress.
There were times throughout our holiday, though, when we asked ourselves, “Are we in Paris, or Budapest, or Moscow?”
Because I prepare Polish cuisine at home often, and Polish and Russian foods share many similarities, eating Russian cuisine was not a priority on this holiday. Though, for one grand meal, the Blinis, potato pancakes, garlic-roasted pressed chicken, Pelminis, and a perfectly-presented Kiev filled our table. No converting the Rubles to Euros for this dinner!
On our final night we passed a Russian/Argentinian steak house. Imagine. Tony savored a rare Rib Eye, declaring it the finest he has had this side of the pond; while Anna Grace and I went with steak burgers, wonderfully reminiscent of those in America. Oh, and a starter of garlic and herb-roasted bone marrow. Oh. My. Goodness. I can not wait to explain to my Viennese butcher what I plan to do with the next round of marrow bones I purchase!
While we enjoyed snow and Memorable Moments throughout our visit, the Epic Eye Rolls were entirely concentrated on our departure. Upon check-in, I handed the Aeroflot agent our (American) passports. From that moment she proceeded to ask us each question first in Russian, wait for our blank stares, and then roll her eyes before stating a couple of English words in the form of a question that we could understand. I asked Anna Grace to watch the tags she was placing on our luggage, lest she send our bags to Vietnam and not Vienna, just for fun. When Tony asked for an exit row seat, we thought her eyes would roll out of her head.
Passport control to leave Moscow was unlike any we have ever encountered. Queues were merely suggestions; the elderly felt it appropriate to walk to the front of any queue they desired, and it seemed many others were playing, “Let’s Make a Deal” for a better spot in the line. Eventually it was our turn, and I placed our passports across the window to the Passport Control Officer. The Epic Eye Roll ensued once more, and if only I could have captured the eye roll on video, it would be a viral GIF by now.
Moscow was everything, and nothing at all, that we thought it might be. Until we meet again. With love. ❤️