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Our First Russian Winter

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To view any photo at full size, click on the photo. All photos are copyright Wayne and Patricia Primeau. All Rights Reserved.
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troikaFriends at the Embassy organized a group outing on Boxing Day (December 26). The driver arrived just after sun-up, not that early in Moscow in mid-winter, and we all piled into a van and drove up to Sergiev Posad, about an hour north of Moscow, for a day of Russian winter fun.

sleigh First, Yuri our host, gave us all a ride in a sleigh drawn by a troika, a traditional Russian three horse hitch. Snuggled under thick blankets, flying through the snow behind three galloping horses was an exhilerating experience.

sleigh Then we were loaded onto several sleighs, this time drawn by only one horse, and taken out into the forest. In the woods, we enjoyed vodka and champagne, and Yuri's wonderful home made pickles.

snow fight We had snow fights. Everyone got dumped into a snow drift at least once. Yuri seemed to have a knack of catching people when they least expected it, but Wayne caught him unawares and dumped him in the snow too.

covered It was bitter cold, but with the vodka and champagne and running around, no one really felt the chill. When we started to get tired, Yuri took us all back to his home.

birch forestOnce back inside, it was time to experience the banya, the traditional Russian bath house. Everyone got into bathing suits (because we are all wimpy Canadians with very strong body taboos) and first we jumped in the hot tub, with more vodka of course. Then we went to the sauna, very hot, with plenty of steam. When we were nicely done, Yuri ordered us outside to roll in the snow. What a shock to the system. Then it was back into the hot tub, to the sauna, and back outside to jump in a tub of icy water, then warm up in the hot tub again. By the end of the afternoon we were exhausted, but we felt great.

winter sceneWe dressed and trooped upstairs for dinner. Of course we started with borscht, and more vodka and more champagne. We each had to make a toast. Wayne and I attempted ours in Russian. Even with grammar errors the effort seemed to be appreciated. When we had eaten so much we couldn't move, the music and folk songs and dances started. It was a wonderful day, one that we will always remember. One surprising thing, we both had colds on Christmas Day. We thought we'd end up with pneumonia from the snow fights and rolling in it after saunas, but when we woke up on the 27th neither of us had so much as a sniffle. Now we know a cure for the common cold!

St Basil'sOn New Year's Eve we met at the apartment of one of the other Canadian families for a bite to eat. Then we piled into a couple of cars and headed off for Red Square. What an amazing place to see in the new year! We arrived at 11:00 in order to get a good place to stand. By 11:45 the entire square is wall-to-wall people, so it is important to arrive early.

Red Square We found a space on the steps of the place of execution, just in front of St. Basil's. It is, in our opinion, the best place to be. From the steps we had a view of the entire square over the sea of fur clad heads. As the square filled, the noise of talking and hand-held fireworks grew so loud that we could not hear the bells of the Spasky Tower chime midnight. Suddenly the sky was illuminated by a wonderful display. With the Kremlin and St Basil's as a backdrop, it was the most beautiful fireworks show I had ever seen. Alas, none of the photos came out well, the film was not fast enough. Better luck next year.

winter sceneAside from the Boxing Day excursion and Red Square on New Year's Eve, a Moscow winter is not always pleasant. Because Moscow buildings are heated by hot water piped under the streets from huge heating plants scattered around the town, the streets are usually melted and the sidewalks are always slushy and slippery and muddy. The underground heat also creates a mico-climate for both Moscow and St. Petersburg. Skies are usually dismal and grey. Clear days are rare.

winter scene The days are short, street lights don't go off until 9 AM and are back on by 4PM. Winter in Moscow is usually not as cold as Ottawa, but it is far more depressing. Even though it isn't terribly cold, walking is unpleasant because of the mud and the grime and they overcast sky. It is not a joy to walk a dog through a Moscow winter. Poor little Hannah was always dirty, no matter how often we bathed her. In January, in Moscow, Spring seems a long way off.

Kolorit Banya and Souvenir Shop

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You can contact Yuri and Sveta Kurilkin in Sergiev Posad (formerly Zagorsk) to arrange for a visit to their banya. They will also be delighted to arrange tours of the Lavra (Monastery) and other points of interest in the area, lunch, shopping and reservations should one wish to stay in Sergiev Posad. For a fee, they offer pick-up and drop-off in Moscow.

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Links to our Russia section

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This page was updated on 26 November 2007.

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