Free day: The Great Possad, Pushkin Museum, and other adventures

Today was a free day in which we were able to create our own programs and see the parts of Moscow that fascinated us the most. Some of us visited the old courtyards in Moscow’s Great Possad (Великий Посад or Китай Город). One can reach the famous Kremlin (Кремль) from Great Possad by crossing through the adjacent Red Square (Красная Площадь). 

Some students visited Izmailovo Market (Измайлово Рынок), the famous destination in which one can purchase authentic Russian souvenirs. Some of us also visited this location on Saturday. Russian vendors have sold their wares at Izmailovo Market since the seventeenth century, and tourists often visit this locations to score deals on fur hats, hand-painted matrioshka dolls (матрёшки), and even old Soviet posters and military uniforms

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Another location visited today was one of the three Pushkin museums in Moscow: the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. This particular museum features 19th and 20th century art from Europe and the United States. Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, and other eminent artists’ works were featured here. French, Greek, Italian, and other countries of origin can be found in this museum.  

Here is a room of sculptures including one of the Greek goddess Venus.

Here is a room of sculptures including one of the Greek goddess Venus.


A final place we saw was the Borodino Battle Museum Panorama, which commemorates the crucial 1812 victory of the Russian army over the Emperor Napoleon’s forces. During the battle, the Russians burned down Moscow and the French were forced to retreat in the midst of a harsh Russian winter. The panorama was painted by Russian battle painter Franz Roubaud in 1912. The panorama is seen inside the museum, which has a cylindrical shape. 

Cyclorama in Borodino Museum, War of 1812.

Cyclorama in Borodino Museum, War of 1812.

We ate our later meals near our dormitory. Most of us ate at the nearby pizzeria, which features succulent desserts and one of America’s favorite foods with a Russian twist in a pleasant atmosphere. One of our students brought a Russian friend so he could practice his English with us. It was quite a nice experience! 



The Jewish Museum & Tolerance Center

By this morning, we were starting to get into the rhythm  of classes. In our literature classes, both groups finished discussing Anna Akhmatova and began reading verses by Alexander Blok, an important Symbolist poet. In our other classes for the day, 203 discussed genres of art and 303 had a wide-ranging discussion which touched on topics including ethnic tension, the national subconscious, and the Moscow metro.

After classes, we met for another excursion out into the snowy city, today led by one of our professors. After a slightly meandering trek, we arrived at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center. The first thing we saw was the sign in the above photo, which says “Here is the best place to take a free selfie with a background of the Jewish Museum”. The word ‘free’ isn’t extraneous – at almost all museums in Moscow, there’s an extra fee if you want to take pictures.

In a somewhat surprising turn of events, today’s museum was actually more high-tech than the Museum of Cosmonautics (though both had some rather excitingly fancy toilets) – the exhibition space was entered through a “4-D experience” about the biblical story of the Israelites and the origins of Jewish thought and practice which included moving chairs and being spritzed with water during the story of the great flood.

The rest of the museum was a bit more traditional, though there were a number of high-tech interactive exhibits. What was most interesting was that unlike many such museums elsewhere, the Holocaust and its consequences were not the sole focus of the museum. There was a large video exhibit composed largely of interview with survivors – both soldier and civilian – of the war years, but it was bracketed on either side by equally substantial exhibits on the role of the Jewish population in the Bolshevik Revolution and on the lives of Jews in the Soviet union after the war until the perestroika. There was also a large exhibit about life in the shtetls at the center of the museum space.

After our visit to the museum, we ate dinner at an Italian restaurant near the university. Moscow might not be the first place you would expect to find superb risotto and pizza, but we found some! At last, we returned to our dormitory to (hopefully) do our homework, and then to head to bed.



Museum of Cosmonautics

After classes today (including a new class called “Russian Song,” which is exactly what it sounds like) we met up in the lobby of our dormitory with our guide Alex for the last time, and set off on the metro for the Museum of Cosmonautics, a must-see location for any student of Soviet history, the Space Race, or museums.

As we walked through the “inspection” sequence of machinery, space suits, and diagrams, Alex, sympathetic to our small avionautics and space-related vocabulary banks, told us in English all about the first satellite (Спутник 1), man (Юрий Гагарин), and woman (Валентина Терешкова) sent into space (all, of course, by the Soviets), as well as a great deal of information which we may or may not have wanted to know about the construction and operation of space toilets.

The museum also has several art displays, including paintings on space-historical themes, jewelry and glasswork inspired by photographical views of the cosmos, and an entire hall full of propaganda posters.

As we left the building, the associated titanium monument “to the conquerors of space” glittered like a frozen flame in the light of the orange streetlamps. We can only hope, that the rest of our time in Moscow will leave us with impressions that shine just as bright.




Tour of the Moscow Metro

Our second day of classes passed relatively calmly. In our literature lectures, both groups read verses by Anna Akhmatova, a famous Russian poet of the Silver Age modernist school, whose poetry often references the city of Moscow, both as a physical entity and a spiritual idea. In Academic Terminology class, the 203 group practiced vocabulary connected with the circus, while the 303 group learned the history of the Moscow metro.

After classes let out, we all gathered in the lobby of our dormitory building, well dressed for the winter cold, and poured out into the snowy street, following one of our professors down winding streets to Mendeleevskaya Station. Once we had all ducked down the stairs into the warm station and listened to our professor’s brief story about the rather cute statue of a stray dog who once lived there, we hopped on the subway train up to Dostoevskaya Station, a new and contentious construction farther out along the gray line. There we admired the stark black, white and gray stone depictions of scenes from Dostoevsky’s novel “Crime and Punishment” (“Преступление и наказание”) and the massive portrait of the acclaimed author’s face that can be seen on the station walls.

After taking a good, long look into Stone Dostoevsky Face’s soulful eyes, we traveled down to Mayakovskaya Station, a much older piece of architecture renowned for its beauty, named in honor the Soviet writer known as the “Poet of the Revolution,” whose verses are inscribed on the ceiling along with gorgeous mosaic frescos. Standing in Mayakovskaya Station and staring straight up, it was easy to see why the Moscow metro was once called “the people’s palace.” It was also easy to understand why some are unhappy with newer stations like Dostoevskaya, which is decorated in a completely different, perhaps gloomier (or at least less blazingly colorful and optimistic) style.

Nonetheless, we Wellesley students agreed, it’s considerably cooler than any station of the T!

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Sergeev Posad and Rostov-01/06/2016

After having arrived in Moscow the night before, early this morning we headed out of Moscow and to Sergeev Posad, the site of the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. But first, we had a masterclass in the art of Russian Matryoshkas. Here, we learned about how the first matryoshka was made as a toy resembling all the siblings in one family. It was named after the eldest sibling, a girl, whose name was Matryona.

Our attempt at painting our own matryoshkas. I think we did well. In the words of our instructors, "There is no such thing as an ugly matryoshka!"

Our attempt at painting our own matryoshkas. I think we did well. In the words of our instructors, “There is no such thing as an ugly matryoshka!”

After, our successful masterclass in matryoshka painting, we toured the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. St. Sergius supported Prince Dmitri Donskoi in his aim to unit the local Princes against the Tatars. This lead to success at the Battle of Kulikovo in 1380. St. Sergius also made toys for children that were very cute. At the Trinity Lavra, we walked through the refectory with the Church of St. Sergius. In this beautiful church, the current patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church was selected. We saw the Trinity Cathedral which was built in the 14th century and decorated with frescoes painted by the greatest icon painters of medieval Russia, Andrej Rublev and Danill Chyorny. Andrej Rublev’s masterpiece, “Trinity,” was painted for this church but now lies in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. We toured the Assumption Cathedral where we saw the coffin of St. Sergius which he made himself. The coffin is 187 centimeters long, so we came to the conclusion that St. Sergius was a tall man.

Assumption Cathedral-Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius

Assumption Cathedral-Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius

Since it was cold in the Trinity Lavra that day, we warmed up quickly with some lenten pirog which were delicious and then headed to Rostov. Here, we toured the Kremlin which was built in the 17 century by the Rostov Metropolitan of the time, Iona. We toured the Assumption Cathedral which was currently in the process of being remodeled. We then got a tour of the museum where we learned about the Rostov art of enamel. While we were there, we had to be careful not to walk into the paths of sledding children. There was much joy and celebration in the central courtyard due to Orthodox Christmas Eve.

Rostov Kremlin

Rostov Kremlin

We finally made it to Jaroslavl that night where we enjoyed our first Russian dinner. Some of us were even able to make it to church service in observation of Orthodox Christmas Eve. All in all, we had a very busy and beautiful first day in Russia.


Free day at the Tretyakov Gallery

Our first free day in Moscow was Sunday, no tours, no classes, no schedule! It was tempting to stay cozily in the dormitory all day, but we braved the -14 degree weather and headed out to the Tretyakov gallery. The Moscow metro alone was worth putting on many layers of socks and sweaters, but the gallery was truly spectacular.


Ivan Kramskoi, Portrait of an Unknown Woman

The Tretyakov houses the finest collection of Russian art in the world, from pre-Mongol icons to the legendary landscape painters of the nineteenth century. We saw works by Ivan Shishkin, Ilya Repin and Ivan Kramskoi, as well as Andrei Rublev’s famous Trinity icon. The gallery was also free for students, and to celebrate we treated ourselves to lunch in the cafeteria.


Dessert at a Moscow Столовая


There are numerous cafeterias (столовые) in Moscow that serve delicious lunches for bargain prices. The only drawback is the lack of labels, in either Russian or English, so we have been pointing in the general direction of the thing that we think we would like to eat. Some experimental pointing has resulted in surprises like strawberry juice (pleasant) and beef tongue (not quite as pleasant).


Suzdal’ and Vladimir

We are back in Moscow, and have started our classes, but we spent several days on a tour of several cities outside Moscow. We’ll be posting about this adventure a little bit at a time over the next few days, as well as sharing updates about our classes and field trips in Moscow.

We arrived in Suzdal’ in the evening, and checked into our very cosy hotel, that resembled a log cabin from the outside. It was about -15 degrees celsius outside, but we braved the wintry weather and headed down the street for a dinner of moose dumplings and блинчики (Russian pancakes) at a nearby restaurant.

In the morning we went to an open air museum about ordinary life in old Russia, where we saw many historic wooden buildings, including both a summer church and a winter church (usually neighborhoods had both, the winter church was smaller and easier to heat). We also heard the bells ring at a monastery, and ate lunch in the market square.


Winter church (foreground) and Summer Church in Suzdal’


We only made a brief stop in Vladimir in the afternoon. It was only 4 o’clock, but the sun was already setting. In spite of the cold, there was a Christmas festival going on, with a skating rink, a fun fair and many beautiful holiday lights. We briefly toured the Assumption Cathedral, and saw frescoes painted by the legendary Russian artist Andrei Rublev, and then headed back to Moscow in the evening.


Assumption Cathedral in Vladimir


Safety First

This note is for family members who may have worried about our safety here in Moscow. Let me assure you, our dorm is like Fort Knox!
A guard is posted near the outside door, with turnstiles just inside. The guard checks for our dorm pass, which states that we live on the 8th floor in room 8XX. Without that, you don’t get in.
There is a small elevator, big enough to hold two students and their luggage or 4-5 without luggage. When you exit the elevator, there is a locked door to the rooms. This door must be unlocked and relocked once you are inside. And of course every room has its own lock.
There is a sink in each room. Toilets and shower are down the hall. The Emergency Exit on our floor is clearly marked as such on a big red door. I’m hoping we don’t need to use it, because the picture shows something that looks like a long tube, but it’s nice to know there is an exit strategy. Moscow seems to be well lit, which helps you feel safe. In any case, we travel in small groups or at least pairs when we’re not following our guide like a trail of little ducks.

We’re having a wonderful time and have already learned a lot, even though classes just started today.

Женя (Jeanne Palleiko)

Welcome! Добро пожаловать!

Dear Friends and Family,

Добро пожаловать в наш блог! Welcome to our blog!

С Новым годом!

Happy New Year to you from Wintersession in Moscow 2016 group of 10 courageous students and one fearless professor on the eve of our departure from Boston to Moscow!

We will use this blog to post daily reports and photos of our adventures in Russia.

We have a very exciting program this year. Before Russian language classes begin on January 11th, we will take a three-day trip to the Golden Ring, north-east of Moscow and visit medieval towns of Sergiev Posad, Rostov, Yaroslavl’, Suzdal’, Bogolubovo, and Vladimir. In Moscow, we will take a city bus tour, visit the Kremlin, Cathedrals and the Armory, spend an afternoon at the Space Museum and a night at the opera. These are just a few highlights of our upcoming trip.

We hope you enjoy our blogging (almost) as much as we enjoy our 20 days in Russia.

Thank you for stopping in,

Alla Epsteyn,

Wintersession in Moscow Program Director