This was an absolutely jammed packed day with one exciting event after another. We began by heading out with the other 8 million people on the Moscow Metro and were surprised to see the Metro nearly empty. Maybe Muscovites were all in church or having a Sunday off. Our destination was the gathering point for the 3rd Winter Moscow Bike Parade. Last year the temperature was -25 C and about 500 intrepid cyclists attended. This year the temperature was -6 and estimates of 2000-4000 people showed up. We arrived early and witnessed the constant swirl of activity as more and more people poured into the closed off street. The pounding of high energy music, the smell of burning fires used to heat up exotic tea and delicious soup, combined with the appearance of more and more outlandish costumes and decorated bikes gave a wonderfully festive vibe.
There was quite a different level of police presence than we would have seen in a similar ride in Saskatoon. Dozens of officers lined the route and enforced the closing of the streets for the parade.
Maybe police everywhere love their coffee and doughnuts (or hotdogs in this case).
Janet Joy had to try one of the green, highly decorated, apparently delicious hot dogs.
Cathy had quite a nice conversation with this lady at the conference where they swapped stories of grandchildren, the need to maintain a vigilant patrol on urban issues, building community in Saskatoon or Northern Russia where she was from and staying fit as an older person. They were delighted to meet again at the parade. Can you imagine two biking grammas?
It is hard to describe the feelings of amazement and wonder we had as we rode the 14 km. cycle route set out for the parade. All of our senses were on high alert as we moved along the banks of the Moscow river, viewing incredible architecture, an ice-breaker boat carrying tourists along the waterway, thousands of fellow cyclists, the walls of the Kremlin, St. Basil’s church, golden domed churches, overpasses lined with banner waving enthusiasts, and a new delight around every corner of the route. If you want to check out a gallery of pictures from the parade you can click HERE.
Our second joy of the day needs some background to understand. When we set foot on Russian soil one of the first comments generated in Cathy’s fertile mind was “I want to find a Russian family where we could sit at their table and share a meal.” Her firm belief is that getting to know individuals from other walks of life and backgrounds is the best way conquer fear and hatred in the world. Even though I have shared 47 years of married life with this woman I can still underestimate her intuitive, gently unrelenting personality. At one of the Congress sessions she spied Sergei and with one look figured he was her meal ticket (so to speak). She approached him and was “just wondering” if he knew of any programs where local people would invite tourists into their homes and share a meal. His immediate response was that his mother loved to have visitors and he would check if she would do that. After all the negotiations were finalized Cathy, Janet Joy and myself were the recipients of the most generous hospitality in his parents home. Sergei’s father is a professor in geography at Moscow University and they live in an apartment in the castle-like building that we had seen on our tour with our previous guide.
We departed the Bike Parade and hit the Metro to meet Sergei at a prearranged station. We arrived a bit late after finding a shop to collect some gift items for his mother. He assured us he and his family would be most embarrassed to have us pay for the experience as in his eyes it was like inviting friends over for a meal. He took us on a bus ride and as we walked to his home it became obvious we were headed onto the grounds of the university. This was were we found out that he grew up on this campus. His maternal grandfather was a mathematics professor and as I mentioned earlier his father a geography professor. These circumstances entitled the family to an apartment in this building which is one of the Seven Sisters. It was constructed in 1953 during a very difficult time in Russia’s history. There were few resources at the end of Stalin’s rule and it seemed extravagant to build such elegant structures. Sergei explained that it gave the people hope and the whole structure was built by prisoners. His parents had lived in this building since it was built in 1953. As we approached the door into their apartment I was seized by the need to metaphorically “pinch myself” to imagine this was really happening.
We met his father and mother and had a tour around their home. The doors were delightfully solid wooden structures leading into rooms filled with a life of living in the same place, traveling extensively and collecting art work, masks, paintings and such. I really enjoyed looking at this Indonesian mobile hanging from the ceiling.
This view from their dining room window looks out over a massive botanical garden humming with life in the summer time and providing knowledge and data for the biology department.
One intriguing remnant from the Soviet era was a garbage chute with an ornate cover opening into a galvanized piping system leading to a bin on the bottom floor. Sergei said you could be startled by the clanging of bottles and cans as they fired down the chute from another apartment.
Irina, Sergei’s mother was a delightful woman with an engaging energy that welcomed visitors to her home. She had prepared a delicious meal of Borsch, meat and vegetable pie topped with cheese, a Korean Kimchi salad and a dish featuring herring all topped off with a coffee that seemed to have roots in a Turkish market. Sergei’s wife joined us part way through the meal so we had another person to meet and engage with. All in all we pretty much rolled out of their home full of food, stories, engaging conversation, a new understanding of one Russian family, and a deep sense of gratitude for their hospitality.
Sergei suggested we go for a walk through the campus to Sparrow Hill and through the park leading to the Metro where we could all return home. This was a particularly lovely walk featuring a beautiful evening marked with soft snow falling on your nose, a meandering path through a snow dappled forest lit with pathway lights helping to identify slippery sections.
We came across this outdoor bar/night club and I was intrigued by the brightly decorated car that was part of the decor. As I was taking pictures of the scene, one of the people gathered offered me a shot of Vodka. I know the suspense is killing you. What did he do.