Saturday, October 31, 2015

Moscow - Food!

I'm going to be honest - Krispy Kreme is the big
thing that made me stop, gape, and giggle with glee.
Thank you, Moscow, for not burning the Krispy Kreme.

Didn't eat, just liked the sign

Oh yeah... Starbucks.

Georgian food.  SO MUCH awesome Georgian food.

21 - a fast food place that wasn't.  A dozen ethnic food options
ordered at individual stations with general seating in the middle.
Fun, loud, and great food.  Various kids ate pizza, wings, humus, sushi...

Cinnabon.  We did not partake. I regret
passing on the sweetness and calories so much :(

Last night dinner, at Fresh - vegetarian? vegan? - complete
with a white gluhwein.
We were so well fed on this trip, it was ridiculous. The best meal by a smidge (as they were all great) was our very first lunch at a Georgian restaurant near the Novodevichy Convent and Cemetery.Truly, a great stop with foods that warmed and satiated.  It's remarkable how the food had Middle Eastern flair to it, but better.  The only drawback, and I have to mention it as I'm one of THOSE people, is the Georgian need to add cilantro.  Seriously Georgia, of all the herbs to add to your dishes, why cilantro?  But I'll forgive you, because the rest was amazing.

Right outside the Embassy was a little market (and 2 ice cream kiosks - why 2 ice cream kiosks in a city that has 9 months of dreary?) with fruits, vegetables, cheese, sweets, dried meats, a variety of honeys, and more.  We stopped there every day and by the end of our visit their fridge was so full of fruit I don't think there was room for anything else.

They're a crazy family, the Donna crew.  She makes fresh muffins for breakfast. She pops popcorn for an after school snack. He bakes cookies on a whim.  I want to be them when I grow up.

Moscow - Bunker 42

Last Sunday we did an organized tour of Bunker 42.  Unlike Malinta Tunnel or even Churchill's War Rooms, there's really no sense of how people could work and live underground, but until recently, the bunker was still filled with dirt and mud and not much of the bunker can be traversed even today.  It is 18 stories underground, with one narrow staircase shared for both up and down.  That probably should have been in the brochure.  

We watched a rather propaganda-filled video on why the bunker was built in the 50s, then entered a room with models of various missiles and bombs.  Two lucky kids were partnered up at dummied consoles to count down, press buttons, and start WWIII.

Hey Russia... you kind of get the idea of a kitchy tourist destination, but you still need to work on it. Please study Disney Land. GatorLand. Or even South of the Border.

Look boys.... not a church!

Last Interruption and then back to Moscow...

For Consular Leadership Day - the consular team broke into teams for Escape the Room.
Ian's team had an unfair advantage (even though it was a room he's never done, they had him!) and were the only team to escape.  

Moscow Interrupted (again)

Nicholas with Liam and Adam

Becca and the girls.

Friday, October 30, 2015

We interrupt Moscow for some volleyball...

Becca and Nicholas are in the middle of their volleyball tournaments and I only have a few photos of each of them playing this season.  Becca's are from some of her games at King's Academy.  Nicholas's are from King's Academy and this weekend's tournament.

 Photos from Doha later!

Moscow - Required Photos

Jamal Sam finally got in a photo.

You are simply not allowed to go to Moscow and not visit Red Square.  It's in a rule book somewhere. And in Red Square, you are required to gaze admiringly up at St. Basil's cathedral.  That's in the rule book too.  The thing is, it's really worth admiring.  It's gorgeous. And Red Square is a huge open space that in the winter is filled with Christmas market and ice rink and a giant tree...  It's also where military parades are held, marked by the lines and points along the ground. As dark was falling, some of the buildings lit up and gave the square a lovely glow.

Another sign of my ignorance - I never grasped that the Kremlin and Red Square weren't the same thing. Yes, they are adjacent to each other, with the Kremlin wall forming one side of the square, but there's a distinct difference between the two.

Proof we were actually with the Donna crew.

Lenin's Tomb is not open all the time.
We tried to be appropriately sad.
C'mon Nicholas, play along!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Moscow - The Kremlin and Armoury

On Day Two, we did the quintessential tour of the Kremlin and Armoury with the entire Gorman family.  It's fun traipsing about as a group of 9.  No, really.

The embarrassing thing about the visit to the Kremlin is that aside from the word "Kremlin" and the idea that the President sort of works from there, I knew nothing - absolutely nothing - about it.  Now, I know a little more, but there was so much imparted during the 5 hour tour that I couldn't possibly put it into a coherent story.  Read all about it online.  Several churches to mark the stages of the new ruler... a church for baptism + a church for coronation + a church for after dying + more, a display on Boris Godunov, a lovely park with falcons for killing crows that ruin the golden domes, a 2-ton bell that broke before it could ever be hoisted (much less used), an enormous canon built for looks that couldn't actually shoot the canon balls made for it....

I never had even a basic understanding of Russian Orthodox churches, but now I've seen enough to understand that they don't hold services for the people and are largely for icon worship. And they are tiny.  There's no cathedral as I've always known a cathedral.  As huge as the buildings look on the outside, the interior rooms are tiny, the artistry covers every inch of the walls and ceiling, and "going to church" essentially means lighting a candle.

Yes, it's a simplification.

We visited the Armoury (no photos), which is how we coerced the boys. Sad for them, the Armoury is a history of the tsars and had very little to do with weaponry.  One room was dedicated to actual armour and swords and such.  Another room was all about coronation clothing.  Another held chariots across centuries (very cool).  A really large room held silver and gold and painted plates and cups and... well, you get the idea.  The big draw are ten Imperial Faberge eggs.  They are as stunning as one would expect.

Lunch was in a brilliant mall just off Red Square with a restaurant that touted itself as a Soviet-style cafeteria called Stolovaya 57. Seriously quirky, but the food was decently good.  If you go, get the honey cake.

Moscow Hockey - Dynamo vs Locamotiv

Sad Dynamo.

Our first night in Moscow, Donna the Amazing scored us tickets to a Dynamo game.  Nothing is straightforward in Moscow, so we're indebted to her for trekking out to the brand new stadium to buy tickets in person, in a neighborhood she'd never been to before.  The stadium is great, with all the trappings of an NHL building... hot dog stands, gear for sale, ice cream...  She bought great seats, right over the home team tunnel. Dynamo was tromped by Locamotiv, it was a ton of fun.

The stadium was warm, surprisingly so. The rink is roughly the same size as an NHL rink, but felt a lot smaller. There were no fights and far less physical contact, but still some blood due to a high stick. The fans were totally into the game, with bona fide cheering sections for both teams, complete with drums and chants and arm movements.

Yes, Ian was wearing his Ovechkin Dynamo sweater.

Moscow on the Moskva - Novodevichy Convent and Cemetery

Novodevichy Convent

The parks were my favorite part of Moscow.

Novodevichy Cemetery - Gorbachev's wife

Boris Yeltsin

Dude with a dog.


Guy who really loved math.

Guy who built tanks.  Drove tanks.  Designed tanks.
Something with tanks.


Fall cemetery tree stump.

Clown.  With Monkey.
I think his title was actually something like:
"Progressed Soviet Nationalism"
On our first day in Moscow, Donna took us to Novodevichy Convent and Cemetery.  It's a spectacular site, only detracted by the ongoing construction and building improvements.  The cemetery is a fantastic place to walk-through.  Much like our visit to Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris this spring, Novodevichy is packed, particularly with the Soviet Union's favorite sons.  The grounds are vast and each headstone is unique from the last.  Many were confusing.  One in particular was a sculpture of a man holding a naked newborn at arms length.  The descriptor didn't mention anything about his being an obstetrician.

Moscow is a quirky place.

Getting to Moscow was fun too.  Due to a huge price difference in flying from Tel Aviv versus Amman (there are a massive number of Russians in Tel Aviv, and a massive number of Jews in Russia), we took the plunge to do all sorts of new things at once. Get visas to Russia (that took 3 weeks and 3 visits... gotta love being U.S. Diplomats flying on tourist passports into Russia... all sorts of alarms went off).  Cross the border with our own car.  Find our way to Tel Aviv to stay overnight.  Find our way to the airport and long term parking.  Fly out of Tel Aviv.  Enter Moscow.  And do the whole thing in reverse 5 days later.

It's a lot of steps. It's a lot of waiting. It's a lot of nervous twitching.  If the border guards were cranky (they weren't, in fact they were actually helpful)... if the visa was smudged (it was, didn't seem to matter)... if our son no longer looked like his passport photo (he doesn't and he was double-checked at every opportunity)... if... if... if....

And then it all worked pretty much like clockwork.

Except for the time warp.  We still can't figure that part out.

We overnighted in Tel Aviv because we had a 3 p.m. flight out, and being a nervous traveler we decided to cross the border the night before to take our time on Thursday.  Departed the hotel at Noon and arrived at the airport at 12:30.  Headed to the check-in counter only to be yelled at that we were late.  A glance at the airport clock said it was nearly 2 p.m.

Here's the thing, I never changed my clock.  It said 2 p.m. Israel is an hour earlier.

We were pushed to the front of the line, got into a check-in counter line that had our flight number on it, and waited.  Ten minutes later, the check-in counter closed and everyone in front of us shifted over to the next counter... for a 5 p.m. flight.  Continue the confusion.  Told the guy up front that no, we were on the 3 p.m. flight and he yelled at us that the counter was closed now, an hour before departure, and why didn't we say anything?

Glancing up, the counter still says our flight number as do about 3 other check-in desks.  How were we supposed to know that everyone in front of us was actually checking in to the later flight?

So he said we should be glad he was still there, he asked a quick question about whether we're carrying anything sharp in our baggage (that we were trying to check-in), scanned our passports, printed boarding passes, slapped "cabin baggage" on our suitcases, and told us to run.

We ran. To passport control. And stopped. The machine wouldn't recognize Nicholas's face (because hey, it doesn't match his passport photo!). Thankfully a human was there to bypass it and after 4 attempts, we were through and started running again.

And we stopped at security. The lines actually kept moving, they didn't question the bottles of olive oil that were supposed to be in checked baggage, and we kept running.

To our gate which was roughly a country mile away and discovered that no matter how awesome LL Bean medium duffles are, they are crazy heavy when carried at a jog because we didn't get the rolling medium duffles. They cost twice as much. I don't care. The medium is the right size for a 3-7 day trip, and I'm going to get some rolling ones.

Arrived at the gate as people were in line boarding.

Seated and stowed, we proceeded to sit on the airplane. For an hour. I'm sure we're paranoid and all, but we kind of think the delay was our fault. After someone from the Grounds Crew came on and asked to see David's boarding pass and all, it's hard not to wonder.

I never changed my watch, and Moscow is currently the same time as Amman. Israel is an hour behind. When we landed back in Tel Aviv yesterday, the clocks said an hour behind my watch.  I still don't know what happened last Thursday.

None of that matters anymore. We had a fabulous time in Moscow and it was all thanks to the massive efforts of Donna and her crew.

Revolving Door

Last Wednesday, Jonathon flew off to Kuwait for Academic Games.  That evening, Ian, Nicholas, and I went to Tel Aviv to catch a flight to Moscow.  Jonathon returned to Jordan on Sunday.  We returned last night.  This morning I dropped off Rebecca to head off to Qatar.

Lots of stories to come :)

Saturday, October 3, 2015