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Winter Survival Guide
By Michele Berdy

February is the cruelest month... the holidays are over and there’s not another break for months, it’s bitterly cold and dismally dark, the slush has ruined your boots, you hate your winter clothes, you hate your hat-smashed hair, even your significant other.  Well, relax, every other Muscovite is thinking just the same. The long Russian winters make everyone crazy; why do you think Russian writers penned all those endless novels?  They were just trying to kill time until spring came along.

If writing War and Peace isn’t an option, Passport has come up with the Winter Survival Guide: 20 ways to get through, get past, and actually enjoy the last winter months. 


Get out of the city!  When the city snow is sooty, it’s time for a day trip.  Go to Zvenigorod to check out the magnificent church; go to Klin to see Tchaikovsky’s estate, Yasnaya Polyana to see how Tolstoy lived, Sergeiv Posad for some religious glory (and a troika ride).


Get in shape!  How about this year, just for once, not waiting until a week before the May holidays to get rid of that winter flab?  If you have the cash (or a credit card that isn’t maxed out from the holiday buying spree), join a health club and do it right.  Or enjoy the thrill of swimming outdoors in sub-freezing weather at the Chaika outdoor pool. If you want to start in the privacy of your home, go to one of the sports stores around the city and buy some hand weights. Start slow, but start now.  If you want to lose 15 lbs by May, that’s only about a pound a week.  Even the most dedicated couch potato can manage that.


Get some culture!  You’re living in one of the world’s great cultural centers, and tickets cost a fraction of what they would in London or New York. When was the last time you went to a concert?  What’s your excuse? Don’t know what’s on? Read Passport! Log on to, or check out the ticket sellers in the metro stations.  Before you go to the opera, check out or to find the plot synopsis, so you can enjoy the music without wondering what everyone is wailing about.


Go for a weekend in the country!  Got any friends with a dacha?  Invite yourself for a weekend of walking, cross-country skiing, eating and drinking.  If they have a banya, experience the hedonistic joy of a naked roll in the snow after a hot steam.  If you’ve got bucks to burn, go to the Moscow Country Club for a weekend of skiing and relaxation.  If you have less bucks and no dacha-owners among your friends, consider one of the resorts that dot the Moscow countryside, where an overnight stay costs about 2500-4500 rubles for two.


Go bowling!  Check out Moscow’s chic bowling lanes. Try Boy-Bol or any of the other dozens of clubs for high-tech games, good munchies, and serious flirting opportunities.  Get a group from your office and start rolling those balls.


Get organized!  If getting dressed in the morning means rummaging through over-packed wardrobes and creaky dressers, hit the stores for some closet organizers and spend the weekend doing some serious cleaning.  If you haven’t worn it in a year, toss it.  If the zipper is broken, take it to one of the dry cleaners that do repairs.  If you’ve been meaning to hem up those pants, forget it: take them to an atelier for cheap and expert alterations.


Be charitable!  Give those old clothes to one of Moscow’s charities.  If you need the instant gratification of a clean apartment, just put the bags or boxes on the ground next to your apartment house dumpster: your less fortunate neighbors will spirit them away instantly.  Take piles of books to the Anglia Bookstore: they’ll resell them and give the proceeds to charity. Or volunteer some time; Diema’s Dream is looking for volunteers to remodel an orphanage for disabled children: write  If you have unmet pet needs, check out and find out how to spend an afternoon playing with pooches.


Expand your mind!  Check out the American Center for the edifying lectures and movies.  If your Russian is up to it, take a course at City Class ( or attend one of the lectures in museums and artistic unions around the city.  The Central House of Writers (Tsentral’ny Dom Literatorov) has excellent lectures and readings, as does the Museum of Architecture (check out their elegant site: For the esoteric-minded, there’s Put’ k sebe (The Inner Path) at Leningradsky 10A; scout the bulletin board for talks on the occult and the unusual (or get your aura photo-graphed and analyzed on the second floor).


Rent a dacha!  Every year you and your friends think about a dacha… the last week in April, when all the good ones are taken.  This year, get serious and start early.  Check out the middle section of Iz ruk v ruki newspaper (From Hand to Hand) for simple places, or get an agent to help you find the perfect summer rental.  Once you find some possibilities, get in your car or on the electrichka to check it out.  Make a day of it with a walk in the woods and then sizzle some shashlyk on your portable grill.


Take lessons!
Moscow is filled with qualified, patient instructors who can help you remember those childhood piano or flute lessons — for next to no money.  Go to the Conservatory and put up a note.  Trip the light fantastic: take ballroom dancing classes, or thrill your significant other with belly-
dancing or flamenco.


Start some seeds!  Whether you are planning for a dacha garden, a balcony flowerpot or simply a windowsill of color or herbs, start those seeds in February to get a jump on the short growing season.  You can get pots and soil at most of the flower shops around the city, or check out the seed and gardening stores around the city.  Here’s a simple idea: take a plastic container you bought fruit in, fill with soil, stick four pencils in the corners and cover with plastic wrap: instant windowsill greenhouse.  An afternoon of poking around in loamy soil will convince you that spring is around the corner.


Read a book!  Didn’t you come here with all the Russian classics in your mind? So give them a read; go to Anglia, Bookberry, Dom Knigi or Biblio. Do it right: make a pot of tea, open the biscuits and curl up on the couch. Or do it right another way: buy a six-pack and three bags of chips.


Pamper yourself!  Mesotherapy anyone?  If you’ve got the blues, try a facial, a sea-weed wrap, light therapy, thalaso-therapy — or any of a dozen other bizarre and beautifying procedures.  Moscow has a plethora of day spas, salons, and clinics that will whip you into shape for a quarter of the New York City price.  Ask about services in banyas and beauty salons, or investigate the spa-clinics.


Go to the banya!  There’s nothing like an afternoon at the bath house to soothe your spirits, get the kinks out, and exude some of the toxins you’ve been smoking, eating and breathing.  The Passport crowd loves the Bani na Presne for clean, friendly, serious steaming, but if you want luxury (and to pay with your credit card), go to the Sanduny.  Check out to find the perfect Turkish, Finnish or Russian bath house near you. Bring flip flops, your favorite shampoo and bath gel, and your felt hat (available in most bath houses for about 200 rubles). Plan on an entry fee of 500-700 rubles, and from 500-1200 for a massage.


Go to a museum!  When was the last time you spent an afternoon looking at some art?  Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?  Go to the Tretyakov for Russian art, the Pushkin Museum for western masterpieces, or use Passport’s gallery listings as a guide to the contemporary art scene.  See the rugs at the Museum of Eastern Art, time travel at one of the city’s “house-museums” where Chekhov and Tolstoy lived, or beam yourself into the 16th century at The Chambers in Zaradiye.


Frame your art!  So you’ve been buying watercolors on the Arbat, posters at Izmailovo… and they’re all wrapped up nicely on the top of your wardrobe.  What are you waiting for? Moscow framers are excellent and cheaper than home, so pull out your art, dust it off, and head to the framers (look for signs that advertise áàãåò).  The cost depends on the size of the piece and the type of frame, but a simple job starts as low as 800 rubles; bring enough for a down payment, and pay the remainder when you pick it up (usually a week).


Go to the circus!
  With all the screaming kids, popcorn and elephant mess? No, we’re serious, the Moscow circus is fun.  Bring your digital camera and some extra rubles: at the Old Circus on Tsvetnoi Bulvar you can get your picture taken with a wild animal in the foyer for 200 rubles. Choose a bear, a panther, a lion cub, a couple of pooches in party hats, or a chimp. (We recommend the chimps — they’re trained to give you a hug.)


Go to a park!  Spend an afternoon at the Botanical Gardens, Izmailovo, Sokolniki, or Kolomenskoye.  Rent some cross-country skis or skates. Gorky Park is still the classic outdoor skating rink, with music blaring over the ponds and paths (and skate rentals) throughout the evening.  Krylatskoye has several hills for sledding and skiing.


Learn a sport!  Take up snow polo, or take up tennis. Get your PADI certification so you can scuba dive in the Black Sea.  Or go wild and become a “walrus” — one of those hearty souls who fling themselves into a hole in the ice.  One Moscow group is celebrating “Raise your immunity day” on February 23 with a bracing dip at Serebyany Bor.  Novices are welcome. 


Follow Napoleon!
Bonaparte left Moscow in the winter; here we have a better way for (almost) getting out of Russia…

The Passport crew has been pumping our friends for recommendations and running all over town to find the best bests for February fun. But we can’t control changes in prices or personnel, the weather, or the geomagnetic situation. Check our back issues for more hints.
  1. Out of the city:  In Zvenigorod see the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin; the Tchaikovsky estate is at 18 ul. Chaikovskaya  in Klin, information at or call 539-8196.  Yasnaya Polyana through Patriarshy Dom (795-0927) or individually:  Electrichka to Sergiev Posad from Yaroslavl Station or by car via the Yaroslavl Highway.  Troika rides by Yuri and Svetlana Kurilkin (8-254-21870 or 8-916-692-8094). Zhukovka is on the Rublevo-Uspenskoye Shosse. 
  2. Fitness: Chaika pool: 1/3 Turchaninov per. 246-1341; Moscow pools:; fitness clubs: (924-4315);  (Planet Fitness); (931-9616) Step aerobic in English: 937-9500 or  Exercise videos at M Video, Dom Knigi, Inner Path, and Gorbushka.  Online diet programs:,, or
  3. Museums: full listing on
  4. Moscow countryside: (926-5911); or
  5. Bowling: Bou-Boll (257-0048); Megasfera (755-5500)
  6. Clothing repairs:; (Diana);; Atelier at 24 Bol. Nikitskaya (290-5253).
  7. Charities: (Russian only); full listing of charities in Living in Moscow.  Write to for book or to subscribe to monthly newsletter. 
  8. Lectures: American Center at (777-6530); Inner Path (257-3987); Tretyakov Gallery at 
    lectures (951-4916); Museum of Architecture at
  1. Dacha rentals: (926-4488); (232-6703)
  2. Dance lessons: Ballroom – Nicholas (290-5319 or 151-5115); Belly dancing information at; lessons at Zhasmin (106-0506) or Dzhuneina (550-4358; Hustle lessons at Ostrov Studio ( or Hustle Center (
  3. Gardening shops: Semena 17 Pyatnitskaya; All-Russian Expo Center, Pavilion 8 (181-9504); most farmers markets
  4. Read a Book: Dom Knigi, 8 Novy Arbat; Anglia Bookshop, 203 5802; Bookberry 
  5. Spas: Mone (252-6414); Jean-Claude Biguine (229-5206); Persona-Lab (243-5464); Jacques Dessange (200-5744); Sun City Tanning
    (; Semeiny Doktor (780-0771); Spa Palestra,
    tel 245 6113,
  6. Banyas: Sanduny at 14 Niglinskaya, str. 3-7 ( 925-4631); Bani na Presne at 7 Stolyarny per., str. 1 (253-8690 or 255-5306)
  7. Group tours: Backstage at the Bolshoi, KGB Museum and more: Marina (Russian or English) at 249-1097 or
  8. Framers: Central House of Artists on Krymsky Val (several companies in foyer); Framing shop at 20 Tverskaya Yamskaya (250-4499)
  9. Circus: 13 Tsvetnoi Bulvar (200-0668)
  10. Go to a Park: for skating, Pioneer Stadium, 36 Leningradsky Prospekt, Metro Dynamo
  11. Sports lessons: Tennis – Valentin at 8-903-519-0947; Natasha at
    8-910-467-5805 (in Russian); scuba diving at Sadko (; Horseback riding at Hippodrome (945-5059 Mikhail in English) or Bistia (318-2277). Walruses at or 945-1612.  Check for venues.  Check for complete list of skiing and skating sites in Moscow.

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