July 8 - September 28, 2005

Russian flag

Moscow River and Kremlin
Bogolyubovo Church and Monastery, Bogolyubovo

We got to spend three months or twelve weeks in Russia and for that we are very greateful. Nonetheless, our real wish was to spend six months, or if compromise were necessary, four. In the end we happily settled for what we were given, three months.

We had an apartment in Moscow that we should have been in from July 1 to August 31. Things got shifted a bit and we came a week late and stayed an extra ten days: in other words, we saw Moscow from July 8 to September 30, which may be the finest time to see it. In any case the weather was great and the masses were off elsewhere, leaving museums and metros relatively free.

From September 10 to September 20 we spent traveling to the small towns near Moscow that are dubbed collectively the Golden Ring. Then passing by Moscow we went off to St Petersburg for eight days, September 20-28. We admired churches, fortresses, and monasteries and got ourselves a pretty good grounding in Russian history.

We liked Moscow but we loved St. Petersburg, which is, yes, more European with its rivers and canals, palaces and gardens, museums and monasteries. We stayed in a private home and got to sample home-made blinis and pirogis courtesy of our hostess Lydia Nikolayevna.

Throughout our stay in Russia the Russian language was a passion for Jan. While Gerry read Russian history in French Jan struggled with simple romances and the TV news. These three months charged and frustrated her, excited and depressed her, and created in her a determination to finally, once-and-for-all, conquer Russian, a mere 35 years after she supposedly graduated in the subject. Before leaving Russia she bought a dozen printed books and a half dozen audio books and carried them to Greece where she is plowing her way through them. She's gone from reading about four pages a day when she arrived in Moscow to a current average of twelve as the year ends.

Jan writes "Russia left me feeling rather sad. I think on the whole it is beginning to come out of the black hole it went into with its financial crisis, but it is awfully slow and lots of the elderly are pretty poorly provided for. Just as we left, Putin announced rises in the old-age pension paid for by the extra oil money coming into the country. It should solve part of the problem. We got to know and like Moscow, but like almost everyone I've spoken to, we found that St. Petersburg is a city you love rather than like. We were only there a week, but it just has a much more European feel to it, people seem more used to foreigners and treat them better, in that they smile at them more and are more eager to help them out.

We saw it of course at the perfect time of year, with autumn just making its appearance and days still warm and sunny but sans mosquitoes. It reminds one a bit of Venice, but writ large with lots of canals and of course the river. And like Kiev and to some extent Moscow, there are oodles of 19th century buildings just waiting to be restored. With the easier visas (you can get a 3-day visa without an invitation from Helsinki), St. Petersburg is set to become the newest vogue city in Eastern Europe."

Russian Under Construction

We are working as fast as we can to build more of Russia. Please bear with us.

January 1, 2006