Friday, May 22, 2009

Moscow Trip 2009

So I was fortunate enough to take a trip to Moscow, April 28-May 3. I was conducting a training at one of my company's service centers and believe you me, I was quite apprehensive about travelling to Russia. My last memories of the country dated back to 1992, which basically meant that I remembered nothing. For whatever reason, Moscow was never at the top of my list of places to visit, mainly due to my constant paranoia of not having anything to eat. However, I was pleasantly surprised by not only the kosher resources available in Moscow, but also stunned by the overall splendor of this ancient and magnificent city.
For those of you who are anticipating a trip to Russia, American Airlines offers non-stop flights from O'Hare to Domodedovo airport, which is about one hour outside of Moscow. However, American does not have the non-stop flights on Mondays and as I was flying on Monday, I did have a layover in London. That worked out to my advantage as it was a good opportunity to stretch my legs and make the commute less monotonous. Upon my arrival to Domodedovo, I was immediately met by a taxi drive from Taxi-Ritm, a great company whom I had used throughout my stay ( The vehicles are privately owned so don't look for a yellow car, and the drivers just rent the radio from the company. The driver assisted me with all my luggage and also served as an excellent tour guide during the drive.  He gave me some useful pointers before dropping me off, including where to rent a sell phone, which in Moscow is a must.
I checked into the Crowne Plaza hotel on Krasnopresnenskaya, which is about 3 miles from the Red Square, i.e. pretty much in the center of town. I was honestly shocked at the level of customer service from everyone, starting with the reception area and ending with housekeeping. All of the staff were beyond helpful and courteous. I am not sure if this applies to all Moscow hotels, but I was very happy with my accomodations
A wonderful resource I found for learning about kosher food in Russia was The website has a full list of kosher products in Russia as well as a listing of kosher stores and restaurants. As far as I know, there are 3 kosher restaurants in Moscow, 2 of which are located inside the Moscow JCC. I had only eaten at Cafe Yael, a dairy restaurant, which was inexpensive and quite good. The menu featured a mix of popular Russian/French/Georgian dishes such as Varenniki, Julienne and Hachapuri. I also enjoyed fresh spring salads with sour cream. It's not like I can't make one at home, but it just tasted better:) The only thing that was disappointing was the milkshakes. I remembered the milkshakes of my childhood, a thin mass with a hint of honey that was a huge treat every time my mom took me grocery shopping. The NEW milkshakes where they no longer steal the sugar or the ice cream or the fruit additives tastes nothing like the one from my childhood and although it doesn't lack any ingredients, I almost wish it did.
The kosher grocery stores around the community have a pretty large selection of kosher foods and their newest addition is the sheets of pastry dough, which is apparently a huge deal (it's the little things that make you happy:)).
I have to say though that the highlight of my trip was Shabbos. After numerous unsuccessful attempts to establish some contacts and make Shabbos arrangements in Moscow, I stumbled upon, a website maintained by Yakov and Rivky Klein, who turned out to be a G-dsend. Both Kleins were extremely responsive and willing to accommodate me in any way possible, so I ended up staying at their house for Shabbos and eating there on Friday night. I can honestly say that being at the Kleins' was the next best thing to being at home. They made me feel incredibly comfortable and welcome. A few things to know about Shabbos in Moscow: 1. There is no eruv, so don't expect to leave the house carrying anything or pushing anyone in a stroller/wheelchair, etc. and 2. Shabbos starts very late and ends very late in the summer. During my trip Shabbos ended at something like 11pm and could end as late as midnight in about a month. For Shabbos lunch I was fortunate enough to visit David and Jenny and I forgot their last name, which really stinks, but they were AWESOME! Once again I felt very welcome, which was great because I am not the best at meeting new people outside of my own house.  Anyway, if anyone is staying in Moscow over Shabbos, I strongly recommend getting in touch with the Kleins to make Shabbos arrangements. For those of you who still remember Soviet housing, seeing these people's homes would be a pleasant surprise, it was for me:)
Of course I could not go home without doing some site seeing. I had an opportunity to visit the Kremlin, the Red Square as well as do some walking around the center of the city on May 1, which as many of you may know is a national holiday in Russia. By the way, I forgot all about the beautiful Russian custom of barely working for 3 days before the holiday, not working at all during the holiday and taking a week to get back into the swing of things after the holiday:) Great Custom, we should adopt it here and then we will all be less stressed. 
I can honestly say that Moscow is just beautiful, truly beautiful with a personality of its own. It's full of life and attitude, but I guess that's what makes it unique. I was also surprised to see so many good looking and well-dressed people in the streets. Obesity is definitely not an issue in Moscow, at least not in the center. People are well-dressed, well-groomed, and for the most part well-behaved.
The only truly negative encounter I had during the entire trip was on my very last day at Domodedovo airport while trying to find the American Airlines counter. I approached an airport employee for directions, and in true Soviet fashion she stated: "Are you blind? Keep walking, that's where the terminals are!" It sounded a lot more threatening in person and I actually found it quite comical to cap off my trip with a brief immersion into the "ways of the old world". 
I would absolutely LOVE to come back to Moscow with my family as it could be a truly wonderful vacation!

1 comment:

  1. can you please tell me how i can get in touch with the Kleins? I will be in Moscow at the end of October. Thanks!