Selecting a place to eat is one of the inevitable nightmares of Anderson travel. A disproportionate amount of my life thought On The Border for my birthday as good as life gets. For such an unsophisticated group in which peanut butter and jelly dominates lunch and frozen pizza makes a complete dinner, eating shouldn’t be so difficult. Yet it often results in a dining travesty.
Everyone says they don’t care where we go, as long as the venue has the local cuisine (Dad), can sit outside (Mom), not pay that much (Dad), have Pepsi products (Tim) and vegetarian options (Mom) and we don’t have to wait long (everyone). Other than that, we’ll eat anywhere.
This is why eating on vacation is a bizarre exercise in procrastination, and Moscow was no exception. As usual, we were strapped on time, cash and proper manners. The long day at the museum and our virtual run-in with Putin set us back. To no one’s surprise, it was 6 p.m. and we hadn’t eaten since our hotel breakfast buffet. And as much as we wanted it to be, the day was not over yet. We had tickets to one of the most famous artistic performances in the world, the Bolshoi ballet, at 8 p.m. We decided to walk near the theatre and find somewhere to eat nearby.
I announced to my family that I thought this was a bad idea. My reasons were two-fold. First, time constraints. Two hours was hardly enough time to find a place, eat and be in our seats in time for an 8 p.m. performance. This seemed obvious. Second, as soon as the first ballerina gracefully tiptoes across the stage I was going to instantly regret eating for the next three days.
But I did eat because I was overruled. As we wandered in the cold Moscow streets, we came across a small Italian bistro called Il Forno. To compromise, I suggested ordering appetizers instead of waiting on an entire pizza.
Again, overruled. I gave up in frustration. I couldn’t understand. The only thing my mom dislikes more than eating carbohydrates is being late, and we were about to do both in dramatic fashion. I was taken aback by both my parents insisting on eating. This never happens.
We ordered drinks and asked our waiter the fastest dish to make.
Well, if you all decide to get the same pizza, that will be easier,” he said, not hiding the obviousness in his answer.
Great. That likely meant the Tim Anderson special, a variation of Hawaiian pizza without the pineapple, which is just a less embarrassing way to say an all-bacon pizza. I buried my head in embarrassment. Ten seconds into our dining experience and we are already being judged.
We agree on a large half bacon and a half plain pizza. For a few minutes we relax and recap our day, soothed by the notion that we weren’t calling a Quaker Oats granola bar dinner. Sometimes we eat four of five of them in a stretch to prevent passing out. If you’ve never eaten four granola bars in one sitting, don’t try it. It’s gross.
But then, the moment I was dreading: it so late that we have to ask the waiter how much longer it will be until the pizza is out. I am mortified. He had already brought us two baskets of bread which were long gone.
“Just a few more minutes,” he said, deliberately being curt with us.
Our waiter brings out the pizza. We barbarically eat it in ten minutes, then begin the blatant turning of the head in search of our waiter so that he would notice us and bring the bill.
You would have thought we’d never been to another country. Where did our waiter go? Wait, so you have to ask them for the check? Is tip included? Why didn’t they refill our drinks? The water wasn’t free? What took them so long?
Newsflash, people. You don’t go to dinner overseas if you have some place to be soon after. This is why McDonald’s exists. We should know this.
What we did next was as close as humanly possible to dining and dashing while still actually paying. Already halfway out the door, I turned back to apologetically thank our waiter.
“Spasiba!” We darted out.
We crossed the street and walked up to the theater with about 10 minutes to spare. There appeared to be several entrances, but we figured we’d stroll up, show someone our tickets and figure it out.
We did just that; but when we handed a gentleman our stack of six tickets, the man shook his head, started speaking in Russian and made a gesture in a direction to a place a ways away from where we were, flailing one arm multiple times in one direction which seemed to loosely translate to something along the lines of “this is wrong, go over there.”
“Oh, enter on the other side of the building?” my dad asked him.
He replied in Russian and continued his series of gestures. The theater was enormous, so it seemed entirely plausible that the far-off land he was trying to lead us to was simply the other side of the building.
So we again picked up the pace and hustled to the other side of the building. This time, my dad confidently handed the man at the door our tickets.
Different man, same gesture to a far-off land.
“This building?” My dad pointed behind the gatekeeper.
I’d like to think this man’s reply was kind and helpful. But again, it was in Russian. More shaking of the head and hand motions signifying a place far away from there. Keep going.
We made our way across the street and presented ourselves at another building. Same answer.
In order to keep from repeating myself, this happened a third time. Now we had 5 minutes. And a fourth time. Somewhere in Moscow, the ballet had begun. And not just any ballet, the Bolshoi.
“Great,” my mom said. “What do we do now?” She asked no one in particular.
We had two options: give up, or try the building next door, which also appeared grand enough to host a ballet. I questioned if this venue was even in Moscow, and was beginning to think we’d been scammed and had ordered tickets to a strip show in St. Petersburg. At the moment, no one could disprove my theory because we couldn’t read our tickets. Everyone except Tim is frantic.
These days, it’s pretty difficult to get yourself as completely and utterly lost in an urban metropolitan area as we had found ourselves. We were tangled in a complication that even a smartphone and Google couldn’t get us out of. It’s actually quite impressive, especially when we realize we were only steps away from where we were supposed to be the entire time.
Finally, one of the gatekeepers at the nearby buildings accepted our tickets. I thought maybe he just let us in for the hell of it because he could see how nuts we all were.
The problems did not subside just because we made it to the interior. And believe it or not, we had yet to make our biggest cultural blunder. We scurried in, flying past the refreshments stand and coat check while hunting for an usher to read our tickets and tell us where to go.
Three old ladies at the coat check start yelling at us in Russian and motion for us to approach them. My first thought was they were yelling at us for running. Or maybe they just wanted to verify our tickets.
The six of us walk to them and they start violently motioning for our jackets. What?! Can’t they tell we’re late? I didn’t want to take off my coat. I couldn’t even remember what I was wearing underneath. Did I have clothes on?
Note to self and future travelers to Russia. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES DO YOU WEAR YOUR COAT INSIDE. Of all the signs Russia is lacking to aid tourists, this one undoubtedly would have been the most helpful, as it would have saved us the torrent of abuse we endured for this major faux pas.
A quick glance into Russian history tells us that people have dressed up for the theater for centuries, reflecting the buildings’ ornate interiors and the pageantry of the performance. You are on display as a member of the audience just as the performers are. Therefore, it is compulsory to check your coat at the cloakroom. It is perhaps the one policy that has survived czars, dictators and Putin alike.
We had checked our coats at the museum, but we thought that was simply because we had our large purses and camera bags with us that were not allowed. We hand over our outerwear. These were three old ladies we were not about to mess with. We made our way to the auditorium and handed our tickets to the usher.
“Upstairs,” the man said pointing to the ceiling with his index finger.
Finally! Some directions in English. We gladly found a marble spiral staircase to take. Again, wrong door. We had to go up another level. But who cares! We were inside the building, which felt like a larger victory than it should have.
Only another ten minutes or so had passed, but it felt like the ballet had to have been nearly over by then. We finally arrived at the proper section. We snuck in, hoping to bring as little attention to ourselves as possible for six people who are lost and out of breath.
Someone is in our seats, or so we think, so we try and intersperse throughout the section. Two seats here, another two there, a single there, until the section is full. Everyone is sitting except my mom, who decides to just blatantly stand there at the door for the next two hours.
I motion for Morgan to get up.and let me out. We both go to my mom.
“What are you doing?” I said in an angry whisper. Meanwhile my dad is enjoying the ballet as if he’d been there from the start.
“I’m fine,” Mom said. She’s always such a martyr. I get up and show our tickets to the usher, who is of little help, aside from making that same far off gesture I was so sick of seeing.
There did appear to be an empty pocket of seats on the other side of the stage on the upper level. I pointed them out to Morgan and rounded up the whole group to move to the other side. We all get up. Again. We try not to make a scene, and in doing so, make a scene. It’s effortless. We are those people. I realized that my family was hopelessly outclassed. If the Russians have white trash, we were it.
The opening act was over. We dart over to the other side, found six seats together and finally, finally sit down. Right seats, wrong seats? To this day I still don’t know. But no one could bother us now.
At any given point for the rest of the two hour performance, you could look across our row and see at least one head slumped dramatically downward, completely motionless in slumber. Typically when this happens, one of my parents will either hit us or get our brother or sister to knock us into attentiveness. Not this time. The sweet classical accompaniment had the two of them sleeping like babies. We were tired, jetlag and perhaps still a bit hungry.
Was this all a dream? As my mind danced to and from reality, I convinced myself that this day had just been a bad dream, and the fairies dancing around were my reality. Suddenly I was the prima ballerina princess marrying the handsome pauper. Or maybe I was the wretched step mom. I can’t remember.
I wake up. Flowers were thrown on the stage as the curtain closed on the greatest army of tutus and tights known to man. It’s time to go. We get our coats from the cloakroom in silence, unable to discuss the cultural masterpiece that we had just slept through. We exit the theater, snap a few pictures so maybe someday we will remember where we were and what had just happened.
We make our way to the metro station to head back to our hotel.
A quick glance at GoogleMaps now tells me that we were walking at Театральная площадь, Theatre Square. There are ten theaters within a block of the train station, which I now realize is aptly named Театра́льная, Theater Station.
Our first full day in Russia felt like a week. We only had one more day in Moscow. Or so we thought.