48 Hours in Bucharest, 36 Hours in Moscow

Recently, I was on two brief business trips. Regardless of how long you’re in a country, it’s imperative to try and absorb something from that place. You never know when/if you may be there again, so you’ve got to take advantage of the chance to learn something new. You may not get a real feel for the destination – after all, 2 days is hardly enough to know a place – but you might still pick up a lesson or two.

In Bucharest

I didn’t interact with the locals or the city too much due to work & weather. What I can say is that the Romanian language is quite lovely. A photographer told me about the roots of the language being a mix of Spanish & Italian with some Russian undertones and a pinch of Portuguese. Throw all those lyrical sounds together and you’ve got something beautiful that is a unique Eastern European Latin amalgam. Besides that, from the streets I did see, the overall city’s appearance has a decadent neglected charm. The architecture is inconsistent in that every street is a mismatched combination of industrial run-down buildings and heavily ornamented Art Nouveau beauties of earthy tones. It’s like seeing a small EDL building next to Miss Havisham’s house. But the thing that made the Bucharest trip hilarious was discovering this show on TV: BeastMaster, the Hercules/Xena LOWER budget version of Dr.Dolittle.

Hotel Ukraina, now the Radisson Hotel, on the Moscow River

Hotel Ukraina, now the Radisson Hotel, on the Moscow River

In Moscow

It seems that Russians have the reputation for being unfriendly straight-faced people. Turns out, this is a cultural misunderstanding. A smile in Russia is not something given to everybody. It must be a genuine smile given to people you know, not just a stranger you’re passing on the street or a customer you’re interacting with. You don’t know them so why should you fake a smile? It’s completely rooted in the historical culture that is reflected in the behavior of the people: old Russian sayings show smiling isn’t encouraged.

Gum, Red Square

Gum, Red Square

The Red Square is a must-see because you get a taste for the grandiose nature of what Russia represents. You’re surrounded by giant churches, the Kremlin, and a Gum (state department store). This Gum has a glass ceiling atrium that resembles the architecture of NYC’s Penn Station in its glory days. St. Basil’s Cathedral, the famous Who-ville cupcake colored church-turned-museum that is a symbol of Russia, is worth seeing even if just from the outside.

St. Basil's Cathedral

St. Basil’s Cathedral

I asked about a famous Russian dish that everyone’s teta would cook in a certain way. Basically, I was wondering what was the equivalent to our kibbeh. For some reason, I thought it would be beef stroganoff but it turned out to be Olivier salad. The basic Olivier salad is potatoes, boiled carrots, eggs, and peas with mayonnaise but it varies and is considered the necessity at the table when having large gatherings (especially New Year’s parties). It’s the Russian tabbouli, if you will. Stroganoff, on the other hand, became popular after a chef of the Stroganov family cooked it up. It used to be a luxury to have because of the price & availability of meat but eventually, it became a staple dish across the country and the world.

Some other tidbits from Moscow:

– Getting from place to place is very time consuming due to the large distances but mostly because of unpredictable traffic. You never know when a traffic jam is going to keep you stuck in a car for 40 min or 140 min.

– Married folk wear their rings on the right hand. Engaged folk may have a diamond involved just to show the difference but there’s no switching hands.

– Alexanders are nicknamed “Sasha”

– Roosters seemed to be popping up in various forms (decor in the hotel, lollipops in stores). My internet digging says they are a symbol of happiness and good fortune to Russians. Please correct me if you know otherwise.

– The Seven Sisters are a group of 7 skyscrapers in Moscow that have the same Stalin-architectural style. The skyscrapers were built in order to compete with capitalist cities. One is the Radisson Hotel, formerly known as Hotel Ukraina, which sits on the Moscow River. These particular skyscrapers are Gothic/Baroque but there’s some Burj Khalifa Dubai-esque style ones coming up though.

– Black bread, or rye bread, is common. It’s a very dense dark colored bread that’s high in fiber. It’s density is due to the chemistry of the rye and how it makes the dough rise. It’s supposed to be healthier than white bread. Personally, I wasn’t a fan. Unfortunately, I prefer fluffy bread that makes you fluffy too.

– Space Museum came highly recommended. I didn’t get to see it but it’s on the list!

Spa-seeba means “thank you”

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