Saturday, May 2, 2009

How Many Summers? How Many Winters?

Temperature: 15C/60F, but cloudless, blue skies.
Currently Reading: Russell Brand's autobiography, My Booky Wook. He's an enfant terrible, but very charming. I loved his character in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The book is voyeuristic, addictive, mind candy. I'm loving it.
Functioning Washer/Dryers in My House: None.

I now have a gym membership and said gym has a pool. Yesterday morning I went and swam 30 laps (40 = 1 km). I would have done more, but it was my first day doing anything active since, oh, last August? And I was sort of on the clock because I had arranged for us to take a day trip with a tour agency to a little town called Dmitrov, which is 40 miles/65 km north of Moscow.

The tour consisted of the four of us; a nice lady from Switzerland; Lena, the guide; and Viktor, the driver.

Lena and Viktor's argument/discussions were perhaps the best part of the adventure.

When we all got in the van at the beginning of the day, Lena told Viktor to pull over at the first "magazinchik" (little magasin or store . . . like in French) to get some water for the journey. Moscow streets are lined with little kiosks selling various things. Viktor complies.

Lena: "It's a flower shop!"

Later, he seemed unclear about where we were heading. She said, "I beg you. Don't be difficult. We're going to Dmitrov!"

Ah, Dmitrov.

Originally, I had planned to spend this three-day weekend on a whirlwind tour of Tver-Torzhok-Novgorod. In the end, however, I balked at the $1900 price tag. Yes, it was basically all-inclusive and for four people. But I wasn't convinced I would get $1900 worth of fun out of the project. Perhaps if Viktor drove . . .

In addition, while I haven't done much traveling outside Moscow (indeed, other than a short jaunt to Star City, I have done NO traveling outside Moscow. Unless you count trips screaming to the airport . . .), part of me has always darkly suspected that I have already experienced the world outside Moscow when I explored the world outside Bratislava.

Which, at least in terms of Dmitrov, turned out to be the case.

There's no infrastructure in Russia. Seriously. There are no real highways connecting cities. In fairness, Slovakia also lacked a complete cross-country highway. And even England does not have highways all the way from Winchester to Cornwall. But England does have proper highways connecting its major cities. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Russia does not have a decent highway connecting Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Oh, the weather is lousy, people say. You can't build decent roads when winter lasts 14 months a year. The ground's always freezing and thawing. Rivers of mud. Even if there were proper roads, it's not safe to be out there in the middle of nowhere in Russian winter weather: a breakdown could be lethal.

But somehow Canada manages.

Okay, that was snarky.

My point is that Dmitrov reminded me of Piestany or Pesinok or even Banska Bystrica. Places I've seen in Slovakia.

Dmitrov dates from 1154. Insert my favorite joke here: "I know, because I was in 1155, and the noise kept me up all night." My children just roll their eyes when I do this, but I can't help myself.

Here's the main square. You can see the statue of Yuri Dolgoruki (Yuri, the Long-Armed), founder of Moscow (in Moscow there is a statue of him on a horse on Tverskaya ulica). Yuri's son was born here, and the child's patron saint was St. Demetrius, hence the name. You can also see the earth ramparts that surround Dmitrov's kremlin.

The Spouse and Yuri.

Another shot of the ramparts. The church is the Cathedral of the Assumption (1509-1523).

We saw a very nice little museum that had not only artifacts from the region (clothing, tools, and even an entire wooded house), examples of locally produced crafts (tin toys, glass beads, bone handles, gingerbread stamps, and braids and decorative upholstery trims), but also World War II memorabilia (in 1941, the German army was stopped near here in the Battle of Moscow).

Here is the 14th century Borisoglebskiy monastery in Dmitrov. On the side of the church are Boris and Gleb, the first Russian saints.

On the way to the monastery, Viktor seemed unsure, and Lena was giving him directions, "No, not left! Go straight! Park where you parked before."

Viktor: "I've never been here before."

Lena: "You brought us here before."

Viktor: "How many summers? How many winters?"

Lena: "Last year!"

When we got out of the car, Viktor suddenly said, "How long will you be? Save me a sausage!"

Lena: "I don't have any."

We ate lunch beneath this monument to the heroes of the Battle of Moscow. It was on a hill in Peremilovskaya, a small village outside Dmitrov. It overlooks the Moscow Canal, which connects the Moscow and Volga Rivers. This was a Stalin era project, and, like the Metro, was built with the cheap labor or "golden sweat" of the gulags. The Borisoglebskiy monestary housed a local gulag HQ at one point. Very grim stuff.

This little dacha was behind the monument. The words next to Lenin's picture say "He lived. He's alive. Will he live?"

Survival was front and center in my mind as Viktor drove us back to Moscow in true Russian style. This involves roads with only a loose sense of lanes and a certain careening from the left to the right side of our half of the road. Wheee! He also had a tendency to brake before obstacles like railroad tracks and then SLAM on the brakes right before we crossed causing everyone to LURCH forward. This eliminated napping.

So as a result of my swim and the hypnotic swaying of Viktor's minivan, I was tuckered out when we got home. My darling children took this flattering photo of me and my cat.

At least you can't see me drooling.


Amy Sheaves said...

How on earth do you survive living in Russia? I'm an Australian living in the UK, and thought we had a long depressing winter here in England, but when I read your blog it seems ridiculous for me to complain!

You have my full admiration.

Tina in CT said...

I am still in last minute shopping mode for my trip in a few days to my daughter's in Moscow. Crop or full length pants? Bring both and be prepared. That church is so much like what I saw in Moscow and just beautiful. Red Squre, Kremlin, Victory Park, Moscow Circus, Bolshoi, Gorky Park and blinis, here we come!

The Expatresse said...

Amy: Sweet liquor eases the pain (to quote Homer Simpson).

Tina: Today capri length pants would be just fine!

katbat said...

good for you going to the gym! I just joined our local one and have gone the last three days - I am amazed at the lack of wrapping a towel around ones self in the locker room and number of women who wear thongs. my granny style jogging plus all the walking we have been doing in moscow since we arrived I should be set to sport my own miniskirt/thong soon! ha!

as for the trip - my motto re Moscow is - "even if it sucks, at least we have a story to tell" - well, at least one of my mottos! I have only been here two weeks - so my motto may change. :-)

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