Gailyn Goes to Town

1998 > Russia

What happens when you let Americans with cash wander around a Russian mall

The glory of GUM (pronounced G oo m)
Shop till you drop!

More shopping!
Check out the glass ceiling!

And more shopping!
Fountains for sale too!
For all the beautiful ladies

And don’t forget the flowers

Gailyn’s Personal Adventures in the Frozen Tundra

Wayan, as you requested I am giving my second installment of my own personal adventures and experiences in Moscow- or
Moskva to the locals. I must first say that things here have been going
significantly better than anticipated.

First, my arrival into Moscow via the international airport. On our
first trip in July, we flew coach so when we arrived and wound around
the entire airport on foot we were confronted with the dreaded
‘PASSPORT CONTROL’. After and hour and fifteen minutes just
waiting to get our passport checked and being pushed and cut in front of
(my husband almost got in a fight with a French woman), we then we able
to get our bags and then stand in line for customs.

This time, since the company paid for us to travel business class, we
made it through Passport Control in less than five minutes. I have also
been informed that for a fee of $250.00, you can have someone meet you
to get you through the Diplomatic line. I prefer business class; you get
a recliner on the plane, your own personal video system, and real food.

After Passport Control we had to make it through customs. This time
we were quite apprehensive since we were carrying 10 bags- yes 10 bags(
we aren’t like Wayan who came with a backpack), plus Scout- our red
Persian cat. We were told before we left the United States that we would
need a Health Certificate less than 10 days old and proof of the rabies
vaccination. We had all of these documents but of course written in
English. We were also told there would be a veterinarian awaiting our
arrival to assure our cat was in good health.

We entered the line ‘ Something to Declare.’ We anticipated
a 2 hour delay with this whole process. Let me tell you that the fastest
way to make it through customs is to have 10 bags and a cat. The woman
customs official looked at the two trolleys heaped with baggage, the
health certificate written in English, and finally the cat, rolled her
eyes and waived us through. We made it from our seats in the plane to
our hotel room in less than an hour and fifteen minutes, which I think
must be a record.

We stayed at the Aerostar Hotel while we searched for temporary
housing. We had stayed at the Marriott on our last visit which was very
comfortable but unfortunately they don’t allow cats. We got a suite at
the Aerostar which was the size of the normal room at the Marriott-
Europeans have a different view of ‘space’ than Americans. We
looked at a number of Russian apartments. Walking into the entry hall
[podyez] was quite shocking. My husband described it as looking like
‘the entrance to a crack den in Harlem.’ I don’t think I would
be quite so harsh but it was rough looking. However, once you get into
the actual apartments they are quite lovely. High ceilings, lots of
windows and quite roomy. Due to the ‘Crisis’, lessees have the
advantage. We were able to secure the presidential suite in a French
hotel- we even have a bidet. Although we are still debating how to use

We have been to a number of restaurants. One included a Russian/Cuban
restaurant- an interesting combination. The food was very good. We went
with Wayan and his friend Jean. We had a great time laughing and being
quite obnoxious. The waitress gave us a 5 % discount on our dinner for
being such joyous people. You’ll never hear of that in the states. After
dinner we asked if the dead animal leg that was sitting on the bar
counter was real. We were informed it was and was deer meat that had
been smoked and apparently a delicacy- to whom we are still wondering.
Anyway, Wayan was the only brave sole. Of course he only tried it after
the waitress ate some. He said it was very salty.

On Thursday we went to GUM Department store (pronounced Goom, I’ve
been corrected several times). Gum is located along the length of Red
Square. At the end of it is St. Basil’s Cathedral. We came out at night
and there was a light snow. The lights were illuminating St. Basil’s and
the street lights made the snowflakes look like diamonds. It was
breathtaking. I have to say Moscow is much prettier in the winter, but
it is cold–damn cold. That Saturday we went shopping at a park in an
outdoor market. Make sure you bundle up for this!!

There was beautiful art work, lots of souvenirs and fur hats. We had
to have one- each of us. My husband purchased a Russian brown mink hat
(like the ones you always see the men wearing on TV) from a outside
vendor. I bought a white arctic fox hat. I look like a Q-tip in it. It
was bitterly cold so odors are not as noticeable. But after wearing them
all day and our heads started to sweat and unusual odor started to emit
from our purchases. In other words, it smelled like I had a dead dog on
my head which is exactly what I had on my head.

Please take note, for the animal rights activists, that at least a
third of the Russian women wear fur coats here. They are a necessity not
a luxury due to the frigid weather. Even some of the men wear fur coats.
When we had concluded our shopping frenzy, we smelled a wonderful aroma.
There were a number of men cooking shishkabobs [shashlik] on a barbecue-
yes outside in -15 C. We grabbed a couple of bobs, some bread and tea
and sat outside at some tables-yes outside in minus 15 C. The food was
very good and the tea kept us warm (except for our feet.) When we were
leaving though we did see a little dog sitting outside a door shivering.
There are quite a few stray dogs that run around in packs. But they
never bother you and usually avoid you at all cost. But it certainly
makes you want to adopt them all.

That evening we were invited to a Russian birthday party. Birthday
parties are big here. We were told an appropriate gift to bring was
flowers. But they must always be in odd numbers never even. Even
numbered flowers are for funerals and are bad luck. Just think a dozen
roses is bad luck here. We easily found a flower shop; they are
everywhere. Russians love flowers almost as much as ice cream. They eat
it constantly. There is an ice-cream kiosk on almost every street
corner. And in -20 C you will see a number of Muscovites walking down
the street eating it. Brrrr.

Well anyway, we purchased some flowers. It was the right gift to
bring. Everyone brought flowers. The dinner was held in a Korean
restaurant. They had traditional Russian dishes with a Korean flavor. It
was unusual but very good. The meal started out with lots of toasting to
the birthday girl. And of course everyone drank vodka. (Toasting I think
is just an excuse to drink as if you need one with the cold weather.)
Only two other people at the party spoke English so there was quite a
language barrier as my husband and I have just started our Russian
lessons. But everyone was so kind and gracious. Especially the father of
the guest of honor. He kept speaking Russian to us even to our blank
stares and smiles but he kept us fed.

They looked after us, made sure we had everything we needed and
stuffed us. There was an enormous amount of food on the table when we
arrived. But they just kept bringing more entrees about every 30
minutes. At one point there was no more room on the table for more food,
so they just emptied the liquor bottles. They had two men and an
electronic keyboard.

They played Russian songs, techno songs- the in thing here, the
Beatles but what shocked us the most was when we heard, and I must say
they did it well, ‘Achy Breaky Heart’. We roared with laughter
to hear country music. God I thought I could at least get away from that
in Russia. Then the father gave us his rendition of a Russian song. I
think it would have been good if the microphone was turned down but it
was on high and he sang at the top of his lungs. I am still in search of
a good ENT physician. There were children present as well. The family
unity is very strong here and lovely to watch.

Sunday was spent in a search for kitty litter. We did manage to
finally secure some. Scout was pleased; the newspapers were getting old.
You can pretty much get anything here but you just have to go to a lot
of different stores. The prices are not as bad as what we had heard they
were before we left. I spend alot of my time just going into to shops to
see what I can find. I’ve got it narrowed down to about 5 stores to get
everything I want and need. Except for clothing.

Women here are so slender. I have the typical American figure- curvy
and a little overweight so I have had difficulty finding anything that
fits me. For men who like long slender legs on women- you will be in
heaven. The women mainly wear mini skirts- and I mean mini- with high
heels- even in the snow and ice. I have yet to find one pair of shoes
that have under a two inch heel.

The other hindrance to my shopping is the use of credit cards and
access to cash. A lot of the stores that advertise they take credit
cards have difficulty connecting to the states to get approval. So only
about a third of the time has my card worked unless we are in a
restaurant or a large store. I have yet to find an ATM machine that
accepts my ATM card. This has proved to be very frustrating. But we are
saving a lot of money as a result.

We have enjoyed a lot of the opportunities that a big city offers. We
went to an art opening by a Russian artist. It was a mixture of Mayan
and Russian art. It was very different but beautiful. We attended a
modern dance recital at the Maly theatre which is directly across from
the Bolshoy theatre. Just as in New York, they have some weird stuff
over here too. But the theatre was beautiful; very ornate with gold leaf
paint, red velvet everywhere and beautiful tapestry rugs. The chairs
were not like auditorium seating like in the states, but separate chairs
with carved wood and beautifully painted. We didn’t know where we would
be in the theatre, so when we were offered opera glasses we rented them-
for only 50 cents I might add. We were in the second row and could see
the whites of the dancers’ eyes even without the opera glasses. We felt
a little foolish. Next week we have tickets to the Bolshoy ballet. I
can’t wait to see that theatre.


Today at the grocery store I saw Kellogg’s cereal for $15.00 a box
and Uncle Bens Rice for $7.50 a box yet I could get a can of Diet Coke
for 25 cents and a huge loaf of bread is 33 cents.


It has been much warmer this week. Only -2 to -6 C. However we are in
for the coldest winter in 30 years and I came just in time. To switch
Celsius into Fahrenheit- take the temperature in Celsius say -2 subtract
2 from it- or a -4 multiply it times 2 or -8 then add 30 to it so it
would be 22 degrees F. Not too bad.


They don’t use dryers here. So as you travel down the roads you can
see laundry hanging outside on the balconies. Since the temperature is
never above freezing I don’t see how the clothes every dry. They must
just freeze solid.

Well that’s it for this installment. I have to study Russian so I can
finally hail a cab on my own.