When the Russians put a beach in at Gorky Park, I knew spring/summer had officially started. There are beach chairs and umbrellas and families who bring buckets and shovels. I’ve been to Gorky Park three times since the beach’s opening and every time, it’s packed, the rest of the park, too. There are bikers and rollerbladers and food carts. The Russians have lost their fur coats and hats, and I feel like I’m looking at completely different people, though the women’s stilettos and panty hose with jean shorts reminds me where I am. SONY DSC

We all wore jackets when I left for Greece the second week of May. I got a sunburn there and came back to a hot and sunny Moscow. Most days were breezy, but if it didn’t hit just right, the office or apartment was stuffy and hot, almost unbearable. The afternoon sunshine that was once my apartment’s best quality now became something to avoid. I tried to develop a system where I could let air in through the windows without letting in the sun; this was mostly unsuccessful.  After sweating through pants and sleeved blouses for two days at work, I declared I would only wear sleeveless dresses. I tried to welcome the warm weather by cutting some new jorts and going to the park after work, where I knew there would at least be a breeze.

Luckily, Moscow’s yearly 2 week hot water shut off happened during these warm days, so my ice cold morning showers were more bearable. Apparently the government is repairing the pipes? Or they’re replacing the pipes? Or they’re saving money? No one’s really sure. Literally, I turned the hot water knob and absolutely nothing came out. I knew this happened in the summer, but I assumed “summer” meant June or July. I’m happy to have it over. SONY DSC

As if blizzards never happened, everything is green again. Leaves fill the trees. I think I see carrots and lamb’s quarters along the sidewalks, in the park. Russians eat ice cream any time of day–for breakfast, after work. I’m told it’s better here because the Russians aren’t really concerned about butter or fat content like Americans. The sun rises at 4:30 am and sets around 10 pm. The cafes have reconstructed their porches and planted flowers in hanging boxes.

Last weekend, Moscow participated in Europe’s “Museum Night,” so museums and parks all over the city stayed open until 5:30 am. It seemed like the entire city was out. We took a candlelit walking tour of one of the city’s neighborhoods and watched silent films outdoors. It rained and the wet pollen painted the streets. SONY DSCSONY DSC SONY DSC

After sweating it out all week, I wore shorts and a t-shirt for Museum Night. But it got cold and windy and stormed and everyone else had jackets and pants. SONY DSCIn the fall, I declared that Moscow never had thunderstorms because for months I saw no lightening, heard no thunder. But now I know that Moscow does get storms, just in the spring. It has stormed almost every day for over a week, sometimes for the entire day and other times for just a few hours, and the weather forecast promises at least a week more. Sometimes it clears off early evening and I catch this view of smoke rolling over the trees when I get home from work.

SONY DSCI caught a break in the rain this morning for a jog. The sidewalks were wet and the lawn mowers threw clumps of grass everywhere. In the park, they were pulling up tulips before they died. I remember this breaking my heart on KU’s campus, the garbage bags of flowers such a waste. I decided that on the way back, I would ask permission to take some. But when I got there other people already were picking them, so I knew it was okay. I picked 13–Russians consider getting an even number of flowers bad luck, just like hugging in doorways or wishing someone Happy Birthday a day early–and jogged back to the apartment. I felt lucky.

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Lawrence buds Ben + Sarah visited me in Moscow and we went to St. Petersburg. I have almost as much to say about the night train to St. Petersburg as I have to say about St. Petersburg itself. Basically, it fascinated me.

The rooms are super tiny and they have two sets of bunk beds. We are Americans, so our luggage was kind of big.  After some struggle, Ben was able to get our suitcases put out of the way. Sarah and I attempted to be helpful, but the room was really too small for us to do much.

Since there were only three of us (and the rooms hold four), we had a Russian roommate, Pavel. After we got our luggage crammed into the storage spaces under the seats and wedged under the table, Ben, Sarah, Pavel, and I all sat on the bottom bunks and looked at each other. He worked for a “military company” and traveled to Moscow often. He was nice enough and quiet. He answered our train questions.

When we tired of looking at each other, we decided to go to bed. This didn’t take long because the train left at 11:59 pm and we were tired. The night train gives you a toothbrush and toothpaste so to keep from having to dig through my luggage, I used it; its plastic bristles came out in my teeth and that was weird. I had dibs on the top bunk, and Pavel had the other top bunk. Before we turned off the light, he undressed modestly under the covers. That was also kind of weird. Ben said he couldn’t relax and sleep with a stranger in the room, but it didn’t bother me, even though that stranger was in his underwear. The train bed was more comfortable than my couch bed and the rocking motion helped me fall asleep.

In the morning, Pavel tried to keep us from looking like complete train idiots. As we neared the station in St. Petersburg around 7:30 am, he woke us up: “Good morning. It is now time to get dressed, use toilet, have a breakfast.”

I heeded Pavel’s warning and went to brush my teeth with the train toothbrush and change clothes. The morning after was quite possibly the most interesting part of the trip, and waiting in the long line for the bathroom gave me time to observe the other passengers. Some of them were already back in their suits/business clothes and some of them were still in their pajamas or shirtless and almost everyone had bedhead. People wore cheap plastic flip flops or house shoes as they stomped through the hallway. Seeing adult strangers in their pajamas immediately after waking feels incredibly intimate. The train stewardess was still working and she could carry four mugs of hot tea in one hand.

And then we were there. St. Petersburg feels much more European than Moscow. Initially I thought “Hey–maybe I should have moved here instead” but then I remembered that St. Petersburg is also  714.9 km (444 miles) north of Moscow and quite a bit colder and wetter.  Highlights included:

1. Beautiful architecture. Canals. Big, open squares.

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2. Cake/pastries and beer, though never together.

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We found our own hole in the wall bakery where we had delicious cheese pastries multiple times.

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We also went to this famous Soviet-style bakery named север. The cakes were delicious but the ladies who sold the cakes there were grouchy. I’ve gotten a thicker skin about stuff like that and didn’t shed one single tear, just ate my cake. SONY DSC

I had my first beer brewed in a Russian microbrewery. In fact, we found two bars that brewed their own beer. This was great, because I was starting to think that “Siberian Crown” and “Zatecky Gus” were the only Russian beers I was going to have. Ben + Sarah also bought playing cards with the Russian oligarchs’ portraits.

3. The Hermitage.

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The Hermitage used to be a palace and now it is a museum and it houses tons of Russian art, European art, and “Russian lifestyle” exhibits, and also there are mummies in the basement. Though the art and mummies are cool, the coolest part is that they’ve kept many of the rooms as “Palace” rooms. So, you get to stroll into a ballroom or stand in the throne room. I don’t typically choose ornate decor and/or gold, but the Hermitage wore it well.

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Sarah + Me in Hermitage

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Ben + Sarah in Hermitage

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As we left the Hermitage, a bike race was ending.

4. I finally went to a Russian ballet. We saw Swan Lake. I was going to try to sneak a photo, but when the lady caught us eating really tiny chocolate bars and said “We don’t eat in here,” I lost my courage.

5. Souvenir shopping. Like Moscow, St. Petersburg had areas filled with street vendors.

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While looking for a hat, Ben became friends with this Russian man wearing a USA Baseball leather jacket.  SONY DSC

When we went back the next day, the USA Baseball guy wasn’t there, but Ben did find a hat. Luckily, Sarah and I were able to talk him out of the one that looked like it was made of gray rabbit’s fur. It was real big.

Because Ben + Sarah had to catch their flight the next day, we took the bullet train back. It was faster, but there were no bunk beds.