When Tyler and Tara pulled up in their red Corolla, I was glad to see them, and impressed that they'd navigated their way through crazy Moscow traffic to my husband and my apartment. I didn't know Tyler that well. We're distantly related – I think we met at his dad's wedding like 12 years ago or something.
My husband Max and I love having guests, but we were a bit wary after a recent bad experience hosting friends of friends from France this spring—we weren't sure what to expect. We needn't have worried! I hit it off with Tyler and Tara from the minute they stepped out of the car – they were friendly, soft-spoken and energetic – a refreshing combination of super-organized and really laid-back.
We started talking right away, swapping travel stories, and asking about family members back in Minnesota. I really enjoyed hearing their perspectives—I somehow always feel validated when other Americans experience Russian culture shock!
Bags and gear unloaded from the car, sitting up in our apartment around the kitchen table with glasses of water, Tyler and Tara filled me in on their first few days in Russia. I was excited to show them the Moscow that I know – I wanted them to get a good perspective. I wanted them to experience Russia's capital in all its huge, overcrowded, abrasive, and fast-paced glory, brimming over with challenges and opportunities. This place is endlessly fascinating and frustrating to me, and I was looking forward to hearing Tyler and Tara's impressions.
In some ways, it was a really bad time to come to Moscow. The temperatures have been ridiculous – it hasn't been this hot in Moscow since, well, ever. Also, the city has taken on an apocalyptic look with thick black smoke filling streets, buildings, and metro tunnels, and blotting out the sun.
My English class students have been talking about the end of the world and Stephen King horror stories, and we've taken to wearing surgical masks to keep from breathing in the toxic smog. Everyone's complaining of headaches – it has gotten so bad that some of the embassies have begun to evacuate their staff!
In other ways, it was a really good time to come to Moscow. January's freezing temperatures are a distant memory, and the streets are slightly less choked, as everyone's off on vacation or spending the summer at their countryside dachas. The fruit stands are well-stocked this time of year with yummy, fat peaches and apricots from Uzbekistan, and pale green Kish Mish grapes from the Caucasus mountains. Max's busiest summer weeks at work have just finished, and my normally packed schedule was wide open with lots of class cancellations.
After taking a short rest in the apartment, we were ready to head out in the city. We had originally intended on visiting Izmailovo, a souvenir and flea market to the east of Moscow, but after some unanticipated paperwork delays at my office, I only had time for a quick visit to Old Arbat street before my next class started.
Tyler and Tara were relaxed about the change in plans, so we headed off for a short walk in the heat, making frequent stops for ice cream. If there were any doubts as to whether we would hit it off, they were soon erased when they insisted on paying for my vanilla milkshake at McDonald's. Thanks guys! We laughed about suddenly becoming McDonald's fans after living overseas. We never used to go in the States, but now experience frequent cravings for fast food!
Evening was really the highlight of the day. After my class at Moscow International Business Center – widely known as Moskva Citi, and Max's return from his office on Old Arbat, we settled into the living room for a picnic lunch of fresh bread, boiled eggs, Kish Mish grapes, Rossisski cheese and juice.
Hearing Tyler and Tara talk about their trip was SO interesting. I was challenged by their discipline, hard work, and drive. They have a fantastic blog, journal about their experiences every day, and are dedicated to telling the truth in their writing (even when it's uncomfortable or awkward, and may risk offending someone). It makes for fantastically interesting reading. "Going Slowly" is their motto – taking things one day at a time, always pushing forward. Seeing them in action inspired me to take my own writing more seriously, and commit to doing something about my priorities every day.
Here are a few highlights from the rest of their stay:
Having them visit one of my classes. My students were totally enthralled; it was fun to see them talk proudly about different regions of Russia to visit. I'm glad Tyler and Tara got to ask questions and talk about their trip with these fantastic, friendly, intelligent Muscovites.
American night! Tyler and Tara made nachos and brownies for us. It was fun to have a relaxing air-conditioned evening, eating US junk food, and watching a movie together.
Getting a short photography lesson. Tyler gave us the technical aspects and Tara had lots of picture examples. Now we're not just inspired about travel and writing, but also photography!
Being a bit nostalgic about the US, but sharing excitement about living and traveling in another country.
Getting lessons from Tara on how to make incredible brownies and a delicious French salad vinaigrette. Yum! Thanks Tara!
An early morning syrniki frying session—the big, bright sun-colored bowl, kneading flour into the creamy tvorog, and pale yellow eggs. The smell of hot grease, and smoke from the frying pan. Then scarfing our soft treats with crispy orange edges, cool Smetana and sweet apricot jam.
Tyler and Max's Monday night grocery run to Moscow's German version of Sam's Club – Metro Cash & Carry. Thanks, guys! We owe our cheesey nachos, strawberry yogurt, and brownies to you!
Thanks for coming, Tyler and Tara! It was a blast having you!!