Author Archives: Mariah Astulfi

About Mariah Astulfi

I'm a recent college graduate with a passion for travelling, music, and language learning. I've studied abroad in Quebec, Japan, and Russia, and visited several other countries. Google

Top 10 Literary Travel Destinations for When you Travel to Russia

If you are planning to travel to Russia and are interested in literary history, the places on this list deserve a spot on your itinerary.  Russians are very proud of their rich literary heritage, and this is reflected in their well-curated and oft-frequented museums, houses, and estates dedicated to Russian authors.

Top 10 Literary Destinations When you Travel to Russia:

Yasnaya Polyana - Travel to RussiaTula – Yasnaya Polyana
Situated outside the city of Tula, about 120 miles south of Moscow, this bucolic estate is where Leo Tolstoy was born and spent most of his life. It features a main house, a school founded by Tolstoy for the peasant children on the estate, and beautiful grounds. The house and school are now a museum, with many of Tolstoy’s books and possessions on display exactly as he left them. Opt for a guided tour, available in Russian, English, French, and German, or just wander the four thousand acres of forests, fields, ponds, and gardens by yourself to take in the atmosphere that inspired War and Peace and Anna Karenina.

Moscow – Bulgakov House, Master and Margarita tour
Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita is one of the most widely-loved novels of the Soviet era. It is set mainly in Moscow, and the Bulgakov museum has created a walking tour of the important places in the story. Travel to Russia and enter Bulgakov’s world and see the locations that inspired him, from his own apartment that became the devil’s hideout to the ritzy Patriarch’s Ponds area where the novel opens. On the night tours you may even encounter some of Bulgakov’s characters in the flesh! The museum is easily accessible by metro, and also holds theatrical productions, art exhibits, a café, and more.

Moscow – Novodevichy cemetery
Any travel to Russia is not complete without a visit to Novodevichy cemetery. Russia has produced an incredible number of titans in the arts and sciences, and here is the final resting place of almost 27,000 statesmen, artists, composers, writers, scientists, and cosmonauts, many of whom made significant contributions to their fields and left a lasting legacy. The cemetery is full of beautiful, serene and picturesque sculpted monuments, and feels more like a park than a cemetery. It is also gigantic; a map and basic knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet is recommended. Bulgakov, Chekhov, and Gogol are among the writers buried here.

Yalta—Chekhov’s white dacha
In the seacoast town of Yalta on the Crimean peninsula is a beautiful dacha, or country house, built by Anton Chekhov. He relocated to Yalta because of his tuberculosis (which would eventually kill him, despite the therapeutic sea air) and had this house custom built for him. It was here that he wrote some of his most famous works, including The Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard. The house is pure white (hence the name) and features expansive gardens. The museum collection includes letters, photos, books, and heirlooms of the Chekhov family.

St. Petersburg – Nabokov house-museum
Vladimir Nabokov is most well-known for his novel Lolita. He was also a renowned butterfly collector, who curated Harvard University’s collection of specimens. While he spent most of his life in exile outside of Russia because of political turmoil, the house he was born in in St. Petersburg has been turned into a museum. There you can see his manuscripts as well as his butterfly collection, drawings, and other personal effects. There are also beautiful stained glass windows that Nabokov used as inspiration in many of his works.

St. Petersburg – Dostoevsky house-museum
The apartment in St. Petersburg where Dostoevsky wrote The Brothers Karamazov holds a huge collection of art, photographs, manuscripts, and other memorabilia of the great author’s life and work. The rooms are restored to how they were when Dostoevsky lived here at the end of his life. It is easily accessible by metro, only one block from Vladimirskaya station. The surrounding Vladimirsky neighborhood was his inspiration for the setting of many of his works, and visiting this museum is like stepping into Dostoevsky’s mind. The guided tours insight into the items on display and the stories behind them.

Pushkin Hills/Mikhailovskoye estate
Alexander Pushkin - Travel to RussiaAlexander Pushkin is considered by many to be the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature. Almost any Russian can quote from his novel in verse Eugene Onegin. Any travel to Russia simply must include some Pushkin! Mikhailovskoye estate, part of the area now called Pushkin Hills in the Pskov region (north-west of Moscow), is where Pushkin spent two years after being exiled from St. Petersburg for his critical remarks about the government. He produced a lot of his work here, thanks to the beautiful natural surroundings and idle pace of provincial life. He was in close contact with the estate’s serfs, from whom he collected folklore. The village of the estate now has a living history museum, with open-air exhibits featuring authentic 19th-century farming installations. You can try on period costumes and thresh corn as a peasant would have. The guest houses in the village prepare meals using traditional methods. The estate house itself is also a museum, featuring Pushkin’s writing room and effects. Every summer there is a major celebration for Pushkin’s birthday on June 6. Nearby, still within the Pushkin Hills area, is Sviatogorsky Monastery where Pushkin is buried.

Boldino—Pushkin State Memorial Museum and Natural Preserve
In 1830, Pushkin left Moscow for a short trip to his estate Boldino, outside of Nizhny Novgorod, but ended up staying there quarantined through the autumn months because of a cholera outbreak in the capital. This time became known as the “Boldino Autumn,” the most productive time in Pushkin’s writing career. It is easy to see why—the estate is gorgeous, providing poetic inspiration. Now it is a state museum, open to the public and attracting devoted travelers each year. The main building has a restoration of Pushkin’s study, copied from a sketch he did of it, and the log outbuildings have been restored exactly as they were in the 19th century. While the estate is a bit hard to get to, the cultural significance is immense and it is a wonderful trip when you travel to Russia.

If you are looking for a day trip from Moscow, you can travel north-east to Abramtsevo. In a beautiful natural setting, tucked away in the forest (about half a mile through the woods from the nearest train station), this historical artistic and cultural preserve is a lovely estate that became an artistic colony in 1870. The first Russian nesting doll was carved here, and some of Russia’s most well-known painters and sculptors worked here. But before it was inhabited by visual artists, it was owned by writer Sergei Aksakov. Frequent guests of his included Nikolai Gogol, who wrote most of his novel Dead Souls at Abramtsevo, and Ivan Turgenev. These authors all shared the view that European influences should be rejected in favor of a uniquely Russian style. Abramtsevo continued to embody this idea through the years as it became a center of Russian folk art, crafts, and architecture.

A suburb of Moscow tucked away in a pine forest, Peredelkino became a writer’s colony in 1932. It was a rustic haven far removed from the unrest and fear of the time, inhabited by Soviet writers, poets, and bards. The most noted residents were Boris Pasternak and Kornei Chukovsky, whose houses have been turned into museums. Chukovsky was Russia’s most famous children’s author, and his house-museum features a whimsical tree decorated with shoes. Even though modern capitalist society is slowly taking over, with wealthy bankers moving in and highways springing up nearby, Peredelkino is still an interesting look at mid-Soviet literary life and worth the short train ride from Moscow.

Getting Around Moscow While Learning How to Speak Russian

So, you’ve decided to go to Moscow. Even as a tourist, it is next to impossible to get around without learning how to speak Russian — at least a little!

Subway Station Prospekt Mira

Subway Station Prospekt Mira

Public transportation is very accessible, with many options, but sometimes station names will be written only in Cyrillic and announcements are usually not made in English. However, once you learn to recognize some station names, you will find they are easy to remember. Most are named after important people or places, like the station Biblioteka imeni Lenina, named for the Russian State Library nearby (which used to be named after Lenin), or events, like Oktabrskaya, named after the October revolution. In fact, once you learn to navigate the Moscow Metro (English site is available), you may even find yourself spending a day just riding around to all the stations!

That isn’t as unlikely an idea as it may sound. The Moscow subway, constructed under Stalin, is famous for its stunning Soviet architecture and design. Each station is distinct and represents Soviet values, ideals, and triumphs. Gold-embossed frames around mosaics of important people, rich marble pillars, intricate tilework, candelabras, statues: everything is made on a grand scale, with intent to impress. Stations in otherwise unremarkable places become tourist attractions in and of themselves.

How to navigate the Moscow metro system (even if you don’t know how to speak Russian)

It is relatively easy to navigate inside the stations.  Maps are easy to find and read. Arrows and color-coding will ensure that you are walking towards the correct track in the correct direction—some stations can wind around seemingly endlessly, with numerous staircases and hallways. A common sight along the hallways is old beggar women who stand silently, heads wrapped in scarves and bowed in supplication, holding out containers for spare change. Why are they always old women? This, I never figured out.

The layout of the Moscow subway is logical, with 10 color-coded, numbered lines connected by a ring line. The lines all have names, but it is much easier to refer to them by color or number—even for someone who knows how to speak Russian, ‘Sokolnicheskya Line’ is harder to remember than ‘Number 1’ or ‘Red Line’.

Other public transportation options in Moscow

There are also above-ground streetcar, tram, and bus lines. The most noteworthy of these are the marshrutki, which are small vans that run along a predetermined route. There is usually a sign in the window that gives the route number and some vague stops, but they will stop anywhere you ask them to along the way. There are no tickets, you just pay the driver when you get in. Marshrutki are trickier than other forms of transit; if you don’t know the area or how to ask the driver to stop, you may find yourself lost. But they are certainly a fun and authentic way to get around the city.

Of course, if it is late or if you are too tired to navigate public transit, there is always a ‘taksi.’ Say it out loud … Yes! Taxi. While the word is similar to ours, the system is different. When you’re wandering the streets of Moscow at night, especially if you’re in a group of college-aged girls, you will be constantly assaulted with calls of “Taksi? Taksi?” People who aren’t even near a car will ask you if you need a taxi if you look like you’re going somewhere. Should you accept, you’ll literally just be jumping into some random guy’s car. As an American, this scenario screams “stranger danger” and seems like the beginning of a bad crime thriller. But, in Moscow, it’s a perfectly legitimate way of getting around that is cheaper, faster, and less likely to rip you off than the licensed taxis you can call. Just be sure to negotiate your fare before you get in. Since the subways stop running at midnight and don’t start again until 5AM, you may find yourself making use of this method—unless, of course, you plan to take an example from hip young Russians and party until dawn and the first train.

Learn Russian Culture: Cold & Flu Cures

Wintertime is the season of sickness, when colds and the flu run rampant through the population (the perfect time to learn Russian tucked under the covers!).  With their bitterly cold, endless winters, the Russians know this better than anyone, and have perfected an assortment of effective treatments to ward off sneezing, coughing, fevers, and sore throats without resorting to a doctor or pharmacy visit.  If you are going to learn Russian, knowing some classic home remedies will surely impress any native speaker.

Learn Russian Remedies & Cures

Learn Russian Culture : Cold & Flu Cures

Learn Russian Culture : Cold & Flu Cures

The first thing that everyone thinks of when “home remedies” and “Russians” are mentioned in the same sentence is, of course, vodka—and there is some truth to that.  If you are feeling the beginning of a cold, a shot of vodka with pepper or garlic will help kill the germs. Garlic, with its powerful antibacterial and immune system-boosting effects, is widely used for homeopathic purposes in Russia, helping with everything from colds to toothaches to open wounds. If the thought of straight vodka and raw garlic doesn’t appeal to you, the vodka can also be taken in hot tea with honey before bed. Before you fall asleep, for extra warmth, make sure to wrap yourself in a few extra blankets, sprinkle some mustard powder in your socks, and learn this Russian saying:  derzhi golovu v holode, zhivot v golode, a nogi- v teple.  (Keep your head cool, your stomach empty, and your feet warm.)
If you wake up the next morning feeling crummy despite these preventative measures, it’s time to break out the big guns.  Congested?  Hacking cough?  Get ready for the most tried and true of Russian decongestants: mustard plasters.  Made of a mixture of dry mustard, flour, and water, then spread on a cloth and applied over the chest or back, these help draw out all the gunk in your system, and reinvigorate your circulation.  They do tend to get uncomfortably hot after a while (think blistering), so don’t plan to leave them for more than half an hour.  Fortunately, half an hour is just enough time for you to boil a big pot of potatoes.  Remove them from the heat, throw a towel over your head, and breathe the steam for a while.  Potato steam is better than plain boiled water steam because it gets and stays hotter, plus you have potatoes to eat later on (if you can avoid coughing on them).  After your steam and plaster treatment, be sure to continue to consume vast quantities of tea with honey and lemon.  To mix it up, you can also try hot orange juice- never cold!

With any luck, the cold will have vanished—or at least been scared into submission by these most uncompromising home remedies.  So next time you feel the sniffles coming on, reach for the potatoes and garlic instead of the Dayquil, and heal yourself the old Russian way.