I stand in in the snow-covered Kremlin gardens with a steaming mug of traditional Russian tea. The apple, honey and ginger flavour warms me down to my toes. Next, come the crispy little dumplings (palmeni) – bite-sized portions to muster up a little more energy for continuing by foot around the fortified complex.
We have explored several cathedrals with gold-plated domes, giant bells and canons, and the expansive pathways that lead you through the red brick walls and out onto the Red Square.
Moscow’s city centre is full of grand, magnificent buildings with bright colours that light up the grey tones of Winter. It is icy cold as we make our way to the entrance of St. Basil’s colourful cathedral. Inside, bold floral designs cover the domed ceilings. The interior is filled with little rooms, waiting to be explored. Upstairs, we hear the deep, booming voices of a four-man choir. The rich tunes fill the room and spill into all the hallways.
We continue out into the main plaza, passing the flashing fairground lights, carousels and old ornate apartment buildings and museums. Now that I have a wooden matryoshka doll nestled in my handbag, it feels as though we have reached a satisfying conclusion to this February day.
We follow the escalators deep underground to the old-style platform adorned with elegant lamps and catch the train out of the city centre to our cosy wooden cottage for an evening of feasting. Shots of vodka and a steamy borscht soup await us. The meal continues with potato salad, barbecued chicken, herring-in-a-fur-coat (a creamy beetroot fish dish), salted pickles and never-ending shot glasses of vodka, which give an instant glow to the company around us. A wood fire flickers in the corner and Russian language becomes easier and easier to interpret.
Later, dressed in heavy jackets, boots and scarves, we head back into the starlit night, the snow crunching under our boots. At the top of the hill, I sit down on the sled and, with a big push, go whizzing down the icy slope, the cold wind blasting my face as I try to hold back screams. The untouched snow sparkles magically under the lights and I wonder what the next day will have in store.
Have you been to Russia? What were your first impressions?