My trip to Moscow started last spring when I submitted my abstract to the SPE Russian Oil and Gas Conference for acceptance. It is possible that my trip started earlier than that, in the fall of 2002 when I took a class in the Russian Literature department at Duke on Dostoyevsky. Or before that when, during my freshman year in high school, I watched President Mikhail Gorbachev dissolve the Soviet Union on December 25, 1991, and we wondered at the implications in history class. Surely, his words breathed in change and exhaled a new age of planetary peace.
It is hard not to be fascinated with a single country spanning the whole of Europe and Asia, has had every type of government, and uses the Cyrillic alphabet. Note for my theological readers, the Cyrillic alphabet, eponymously named for St. Cyril of Alexandria, was developed between the 9th and 10th centuries. This alphabet is used by the Eastern Orthodox faith, and by extension, many countries in Eastern Europe.
Preparing for a trip to Moscow involved more than just buying a plane ticket. When traveling to Russia, tourist visas can only be obtained once the traveler has been officially invited to the country and has pre-arranged, pre-paid lodging. Travel agencies formally invite the traveler and help with lodging. I stayed at the conference hotel for minimal logistical problems. Upon accepting my paper, conference organizers turned my information over to the travel agency, who in turn helped me with hotel reservations and registration.
They sent the necessary travel documents, along with the hotel confirmation showing payment. I sent all documents, plus application, plus money order, along with the passports to the Russian Visa Center. The Visa Center reviewed my paperwork (to make sure it was in order, which it was not), and then sent it to the consulate for visa processing.
I filled out the wrong application, the official passport application because I figured that it if was provided by the US Department of State, it must be official. No, Official Passports are for government officials, which I am not. The woman at the Visa Center called me immediately and directed me to the correct application.
Once my passport returned with my tourist visa, I could finally make plane ticket reservations. My mental bandwidth exceeded, mom made the reservations for us. I secured an official driver to meet us at the airport and drive us to the hotel. I also emailed the travel agent to determine our hotel room’s Keurig status.
Despite a current, vague understanding of US-Russo relations, my mom and I boarded our flight out of Rapid City, SD to Moscow via Minneapolis and Charles de Galle.
At the time I booked my flight, I did not know how the weather would be in late October, nor did I know on which day I would be presenting. With 27 hours start to finish and two connections, one of them quite close, Mom and I built in a buffer day. If we needed it for travel it was there. If we didn’t, we could recover from jet lag and take a tour of the city.
Tour we did. Our guide took us around the city, highlighting important cultural points of interest as one would expect. Unfortunately, with my knowledge of Russian war history lacking in breadth and depth, I missed the significance of several locales. Despite her thick Russian accent, our seasoned tour guide gave us the Best of Tour for Moscow.
We stopped at the Moscow River (see above); drove by the Kremlin; bought a replica of Andre Rublev’s icon, the Holy Trinity, outside Christ the Savior Cathedral; were stopped by police at an unscheduled checkpoint (don’t ask); finally, made our way to Red Square.
To end the tour, our guide told us she had the perfect coffee shop in mind, language I understood. I imagined a luxurious Russian coffee house, brimming with black coffee and delectable, unpronounceable treats.
We walked around the corner and saw our stop:
And yes, mom agreed it was absolutely worth flying halfway around the world to drink that coffee and eat that doughnut.