I went to Moscow for 16 days to visit my best friend Jesse who is living there, teaching English and studying Russian. I met Jesse in Ghana, we both studied abroad there in 2010. But we didn’t really become friends until the following summer, when we were both in NYC and looking for someone to hang out with. Since then we’ve had adventures all over the place: Chicago, Iowa, South Dakota, TJ and all over California. We only see each other once or twice each year, but it’s always memorable and always strengthens our bond. I was really looking forward to seeing him in Moscow and taking a break from all the crazy, jam-packed days I had been having.

Jesse’s Russian homework: Who is Amber? Basically it explains our best-friendness.

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First thing when I arrived? Vodka.

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On my first day in Moscow Jesse took me to The Red Square, of course. The Red Square is where the Kremlin and other iconic Russian landmarks are; like this one:

 

What else is in the Red Square worth seeing, you ask? Lenin. Yes, you can see Lenin. His body is preserved in a glass case and has been on display since his death in 1924. His body is regularly attended to in order to preserve his appearance. Yes, it was weird.No, pictures are not permitted.

After wandering around the square a bit it was time for lunch! Jesse took me to one of his favorite restaurants in the Gum Mall. I really didn’t know what anything was so I let him choose the dishes and we shared them all. Well, he ate them all because I didn’t like any of them and what I did eat had me running to the bathroom. I was doomed, DOOMED! How was I supposed to spend 15 more days in a place where I couldn’t eat the food?

NVM they had McDonald’s on every corner.

Jesse and I also visited the Tretyakov Gallery, which is world famous and holds over 170,000 pieces of art! Some of the pieces are nearly a thousand years old. I really don’t know anything about Russian art or artists but I took pictures of some of my favorite pieces:

The Gallery’s layout was similar to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris in that there were rooms behind rooms, behind rooms, etc. But since I don’t really know anything about Russian art the layout and placement of many of the pieces seemed random. Many of the paintings were also put in frames with glass covers, making it almost impossible to even see the painting past the glare. Some paintings were places so high up you couldn’t see them at all.

I don’t think Jesse meant to take me here, but we stumbled upon a park that had the most bizarre and random statues in it. Russia has a TON of statues everywhere. But this park seems to have been created as a place to just put all the damn statues that no one knew what to do with. A lot of them were really beautiful, I don’t mean to say that the statues themselves where strange, just their placement in the park. Jesse sat on a bench while I wandered around and marveled at the seemingly random placement of all the art.

 

The school Jesse works for and learns at periodically has field trips for its students. They were nice enough to let me join them for a tour of a Cold War Bunker, Bunker 42.  The bunker itself was used an a military communications post during the Cold War. At one time it was the safest place in Moscow, being almost 200 feet below the surface. The tour was…interesting. Honestly, it was terrifying. At one point in the tour, before we entered the room, we were told we were not permitted to take pictures because much of what we were going to see is still used by the country’s military intelligence today. That’s reasonable enough – no pictures.

But I was definitely not prepared for them to take us to a simulation room where we were taught how to blow up NYC. Ok, they told us it was just a random city somewhere in the world, but literally anyone who has ever been to NYC or seen a movie that takes place in NYC will tell you that it was DEFINITELY NYC. So two members of our group sat in two chairs and were told which sequence to follow to detonate and launch a nuclear missile. While they were doing that the rest of us watched the effects of what the two were doing on a big screen. We watched children sitting in a classroom look outside the window as the sky lit up and a giant cloud approached them. We watched homes and vehicles completely disintegrate. The scary part is that this “fun little simulation of blowing up America with nuclear missiles” is usually played by Russian children who are on field trips…WHAT THE FUCK.

The other terrifying part of the tour was when we were walking down a corridor and the light shut off. All of a sudden sirens were blaring and red lights were flashing. The doors in front of us and behind us automatically shut. We were not given any warning of this simulation either. The experience was so weird compared to the war-related tours I went on in Germany. Russia seemed proud of its military capabilities and our tour guide liked to make jokes about how many nuclear missiles Russia REALLY had. Whereas in Germany the tour guides were adamant about teaching lessons about human power and destruction, and how we all must be responsible for ensuring the safety of others.

 

Jesse and I were lucky enough to receive free tickets to the ballet at the Bolshoi Theatre. One of the girls he is dating, he calls her Saturday (I’ll explain this more later) often gets free tickets from work. Since she actually does not like the ballet, she gave her tickets to Jesse and I. It was my first time at the ballet and it was AMAZING. I was so excited I even went out and bought a dress to wear. It was a contemporary show. I won’t pretend that I understood what was going on 100% of the time, but I was absolutely in awe and so moved by the beauty of the dancers and the orchestra. There was even a choir that sang with the orchestra in the last piece. The ballet might be one of my new favorite things.

 

I had a lot of downtime in Moscow, which was great. I worked quite a bit and was able to spend some time catching up with my girlfriends and boyfriends (JK, Reed). I even got to be lazy and watch some Netflix. It was like a vacation on my vacation. I needed it, especially after being sick for weeks

Moscow is super interesting. It is dirty. The air is dirty. The buildings and metro trains look like they are going to crumble at any moment. But at the same time its quite beautiful. The people are so proud of who they are and where they come from. The city is covered in parks and free museums and attractions. After a week in the city I started to understand the city’s charm and soaked it up during my second week.

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