Sunday, January 17, 2010

Moscow Never Ceases to Surprise Me

First, an update on the Mystery Contest over at

It is an odd contest and poorly defined (for example, I have no idea when it ends). That said, their Top 50 Bloggers are pretty well-known and well-regarded around the Blog-O-Sphere. It seems any of these contests could result in an expanded reader base, and, frankly, that's all I ever want from these things. (Okay, and Julia Powell's agent, but a girl can dream, right?)

Anyhow, thanks to you, Loyal Beet-niks, Yours Truly has broken into the Top 100. The ranks are someway fluid, but I'm now in the 60s 30s! That's really, really nice, and I thank you all.

But shameless vote groveling is not why you're here, is it?

No, you are here to read about My Misadventures in Moscow.

I had a minor one yesterday afternoon. Nothing really New & Shocking, but, instead, perhaps a pleasant reminder not to take anything in Moscow at face value.

Skittles got invited to a classmate's birthday party yesterday.

Does anyone else hate birthday party invites? It's awful of me, I know, but I find they break up the weekend so. Weekends are precious because, if I may blatantly plagiarize from a virtual friend's blog, we (this being me and The Spouse) are loathe

to leave the warmth of our cozy little flat . . . anticipating instead a stubble chinned, lazy, booze fueled Saturday on the couch. . . .

Usually we tag team birthday parties: he drops kid off and I collect. But yesterday The Spouse was out of town.

No matter. This was a bowling party, and the lanes were connected to a shopping mall.

I had visions of sitting in an upscale coffee shop, reading a spy thriller on my Kindle for two hours while my kid merrily bowls and celebrates. Perhaps strolling the mall and even stumbling upon a Nespresso outlet. (I just bought a used machine, and have yet to use it because I haven't yet bought any of the coffee capsules.) Most of the malls in the city center are quite up-scale, so this is not an unreasonable expectation.

Have you ever been to the Moskovskiy Shopping Center at Komsomolskaya Ploshad? No? Well, you're in for a real retro treat then.

First, if you are unfamiliar with this corner of Moscow, Komsomolskaya Ploshad is home to THREE train stations. I knew this; I have even gone by in a van on my way to a tour of something or another. But I had not yet had the pleasure of experiencing it from the ground.

Oh, I've been in the Komsomolskaya Metro station. It is GORGEOUS.

But the area above ground is, well, what you expect to find around a bus station or a train station in any big city.

Lots of kiosks.

Lots of somewhat disreputable-looking people.

Lots of cops.

The largest, wildest looking pack of street dogs I have ever encountered in Moscow. Seriously, they played Chase with each other, running through the perehod/underpass, around the square, up and down, barking and leaping. They were not paying the slightest attention to anyone with two legs, but it was a little unnerving.

The cops watched them and laughed.

Then there was the I've-emerged-from-the-Metro-but-I'm-not-sure-which-way-I'm-facing moment. The best reason for having an iPhone-type product complete with a GPS. Which I do not have.

Got myself oriented, and realized I was across the street from the shopping center that I believed housed the bowling mall.

I was still thinking I was heading to something reminiscent of Au Park in Bratislava.

But I wasn't: the shopping center looked like this instead.

Very Russian-y.

Inside is a series of kiosks and stands. Skittles and I wander around for a while, looking for a sign or evidence of the bowling alley. The party was only scheduled from 2:00 until 4:00, it was almost 2:15, and I was starting to feel that desperate claustrophobia that comes from knowing you are on the verge of ruining a kid's birthday party experience. (FLASHBACK!)

Finally, I resolve I would have to rely on the kindness of strangers. I have no choice: the clock is running, and I'm not making any progress.

I decide to ask a woman selling icons.

Me: "Скажите, пожалуйста . . . Bowling Club Globus . . . где? Я говорю по-русски не очень хорошо."
[This is pretty much the limits of my Russian: "Tell me please, Bowling Club Globus, where? I speak Russian only a little."]

Nice Lady: "Sprechen Sie Deutsch?"

Me, sadly: "Nein."

Nice Lady, closing up her kiosk: "Komm mit mir."

She takes me to the service elevator, pressed the button labeled "Office," and explains that I should ask there. No sighing, no eye rolling. She just very kindly goes out of her way to help me solve my problem.

The elevator doors open on a fluorescently-lit hallway where a security guard-type sits at a desk. I repeat my Russian sentence.

"Oh," he says in accented English. "You must go outside this building."

So it is as I suspected: the entrance is on the side of the building.

After that we had only to retrace our steps (Is there really only the one entrance to the "mall"?), go outside, and walk around the side of the building to the bowling alley entrance.

Here, although the place looks a bit dodgy, we are greeted by Doorman/Coat-Check Dude who, although he speaks no English, is extremely nice.

"Are you staying, too?" he asks me (and Skittles translated), offering to take my coat.

I do not stay, but bail out and go to a coffee shop chain across the street.

While I walk over there I consider how I always thought we lived in the ugliest corner of Moscow, but that now I have to revise that opinion. THIS is the ugliest corner of Moscow. It has the ugliest perehod (pedestrian underpass/under-the-street-mall), the saddest shops, the most impressive collection of drunks, and the most train stations in one block in Moscow. The streets are lined with those imposing Stalinist apartment buildings (yellow brick, huge arches), but the street-level shops are all low-end eateries one would associate with a train station neighborhood.

In short, the worst a Big City has to offer.

Yet, inside the coffee shop my waitress is professional, kind, and efficient. One more example of how this ugly corner of Moscow isn't really so ugly once you look beneath the surface.

Skittles has a nice time at her bowling party. She reported they ate unlimited sushi. (I know, I know. Bowling alley sushi. But sushi is ubiquitous in Moscow.) As I arrive back the waitress is serving the kids plates of ice cream in tuile dishes and garnished with whipped cream, lovely fresh fruit, and small flowers. At a BOWLING ALLEY!

In fact, the worst moment of the entire experience comes as we head home.

I cannot find how to enter the Metro station, and we have to sort of circle around a bit until I figure it out.

While doing so, I slip on a patch of ice.

I do not fall down.

But I do pee my pants.


Tina in CT said...

What an ending to your afternoon!

Jean E said...

I was so intrigued, captivated by your tale...then fell off my chair laughing and pee'd in my pants!

hka said...

wow, that's really something, being in the 60s - some of the bloggers in the top 50 blog in the NYT!!! way to go

Jojo, Julz, Julianne said...

I stayed in the Koms area in 2008.
The apartment just beside a metro. There was a restauraunt with a big fanciful cow on the outside. And oddly a Fridays...Is that anywhere near where you were?
I love your stories!!!

The Expatresse said...

JJ&J: I didn't see a Friday's, but I saw a Subway and a Sbarro! The cow restaurant might be a local chain called MY MY (Moo Moo).

Kathy A. Johnson said...

Every day is an adventure in Moscow, isn't it? It is so true that once we look below the surface we can find the good in what seems like a bad place/situation. I hope you felt as calm and go-with-the-flow as you sounded as you figured out where you were supposed to be.

The Expatresse said...

I did "go-with-the-flow." Sorry. I'm a teen-age boy at heart.

Actually, I wasn't really stressed except when I felt like I was ruining the kid's party time.

valentina said...

Yeah, well if I hadn't just peed I'm sure I would've peed my pants after reading this too! Ohhhh your adventures... Makes the bus to nowhere in Torremolinos pale... Hell, all of the bus trips I have had that ended in nowhere OR the bus barn at the end of the line, pale!!

You are a trooper... Of course having Skittles along to translate helps immeasurably I'm sure. You know she told me at Xmas that Russian was "easy!"... I said "How can it be easy, all of the letters are different? " she replied, "Only about 6 of them!" I just sighed. She is her father's daughter although you are no slouch...

Still amazed at the tuile and fruitcups with whipped cream at the bowling alley! We were lucky to get frozen pizzas and Pepsi when I was a kid!

Your kids are going to be soooo spoiled when they move back here eventually... eventually being the key word I guess...

Anyhow you and Skittles were "making memories" to use that old Rosenthal expression...

Glad you are in the 60's... I have been spreading your blog on FB...

Miss you all...xov

Lara said...

Oh my, I can relate to your day! I especially loved the Au Park footage. I spent a ridiculous amount of my time there and in the park behind when we lived in Bratters. And then how quickly I've forgotten it all. That shop called "Spleen"....why!? Thanks for that!

Tina in CT said...

Torremolinos - That's where I got engaged!

The Expatresse said...

Lara: I practically lived in AuPark. Gym, grocery store, coffee shops . . . broke my toe in the Terno by hitting it on a shopping cart.

Tina: Torremolinos? No kidding. Spent many lovely summers there. There's a funny Monty Python/Eric Idle rant about Torremolinos.

TRex said...

Sushi!? Pfffft. It aint a bowling alley unless it's got beer.

That Kind of Girl said...

Oh my goodness, that last sentence made me laugh out loud. Sorry for your misfortune but -- *snicker*

Also, this is the first time I've seen Cyrillic in a while, and dang, it made me weirdly miss the good ol' days when I did nothing but Russian stuff for weeks on end. (That, and I miss the ugly corners of Moscow. Man is it a friggin' city.)

Alison and Larry said...

I remember that station well - my doctor was, according to mapquest, a mere six block away. I wandered around in circles around those stations in the freezing rain. But yes, the station is lovely.

Carol Egbert said...

The life of an expatriate is full of surprises, good ones and bad ones. I traveled in Russia in the 80's on the way home from two years in Singapore. At that time, food in S'pore was a million times better than food in Russia, and since I blog about food that's my primary memory.

Phil Hawley said...

To quote from Billy Madison, "You ain't cool, unless you pee your pants!"

It can certainly be challenging living here, no quite peed my pants yet, so obviously I am not cool, yet!