On our very first outing after arriving in Moscow we went to Izmaylov Market. We were initially told about the outdoor market as a good place to buy ‘tat'(souvenirs), WW2 memorabilia and source some ‘locally produced’ DVD’s . Initially the thought of an outdoor market in minus 15 or so degrees Celsius did not sound sensible, but we had duly obeyed when told by our employers to ‘prepare for Everest’ and we were keen to see how we had done. So kitted out in thermal wear, hats, scarves, snow boots, gloves and really big jackets (making it very obvious we’re not from around here,), we set of into the white outdoors only immediately to head back to the drab indoors to rearrange scarves, gloves and cover any bear bits of skin that had instantly reacted to the harsh cold and to catch our breath that had been literally taken away by the severity of the conditions – Everest has to be easier!
Camera in pocket, a small local map of the Moscow Metro and an idea of the kind of hat we were looking for, we set off hoping that the stall holders had made similar efforts and we would not be faced by a seller’s market and taken advantage off by unscrupulous marketeers who knew that after an hour of wind, snow and falling over the average tourist would sell their soul for a something warm.
We made our way along the sidewalks and along the road toward the Metro station, our feet slipping and sliding backwards on the snow and ice increasing the distance between home and the Metro. We again were left almost breathless soon after setting off from home. We have done cross training in the gym, but found making our way through all the ice and snow is the most intense cardio workout we have yet to come across. We made our way down one of the longest and most vertigo inducing escalator to the subway trains and quickly jumped into one of the cars whilst trying to readjust to the very warm temperature below the surface of this visually beautiful, white wonderland.
With a slight jerk assisting gravity and acceleration to mess with your balance, the subway car set off in the direction of the market which was a few stops away. The underground stations are just so stunning with all the spotless white marble and brass that surrounds you. Despite how many people move through these stations everyday, it is incredibly quiet and hardly anyone talks as they make their way down the very steep escalators and into their subway cars. Even on the trains hardly anyone utters a word and the announcements are almost deafening and startling in the silence.
Once we arrived at the Partizanskaya Metro station, we made our way up the stairs past the peasant family, cast in finest concrete, standing armed and ready in perpetuity against the foe. Reaching the summit we began putting all our layers back on again as we braced ourselves for the very cold chill that inevitably awaits us. on reaching the exit we fought our way through lots of busy people scurrying around and making their way in and out of the Metro station. We turned to the left and trudged through even more layers of ice and snow as we made our way down to the market. After paying a ten Rouble entrance fee, we entered this huge market where vendors were putting all their goods on display and tried to grab people’s attention by cutting all sorts of deals. The prices here for souvenir-shopping are quite low and reasonable in comparison to tourist prices closer towards the center of Moscow. Most vendors are willing to haggle and always try and make you leave with something, even if it is at a lower price. We reached a consensus beforehand that if we feel any item is worth the price,then we are happy to pay for it without feeling the need to negotiate (but this turned out to be a rare occurrence as ‘haggle room’ had been included in almost all the prices offered). But in some cases, there really are people that just try to yank the dam from underneath the duck. Don’t be surprised if they ask you ‘How much are you willing to pay’…. be prepared and have a rough price in mind – then halve it!
The market is filled with all kinds of beautiful and in some cases, one-off items that you will never find again. Everything from decorative plates, cushions, tapestry and Matroyshka dolls, to DVD’s, jewelry, handmade boxes, hats, T-shirts and to eating freshly made and delicious Shaslik and flatbread cooked right there on the sidewalk while you wait. At the north end there is an upstairs section, which, to the untrained eye, seems like a mish-mash of car boot sale left overs, but to the more refined expat it is a cornucopia of antiques waiting to be discovered (antiques which, apparently, we have no room for at home!)
After walking around and having a quick look through the market, we made our way to ” hat man” – who turned out not to be mild mannered Bruce Wayne but simply a man selling hats (This expat really should listen more carefully before agreeing to venture into the cold whiteness). With the weather so bad there were few customers and many hat men, they seemed so keen for our business it looked like they’re about to engage in an fisticuffs for your business. After trying on various fur hats, I finally found one I liked. The first vendor was not willing to haggle so the man right next to him (about five feet away) pitched in and was willing to offer us the exact hat we wanted for the price we were willing to pay. A verbal altercation in Russian ensued with us playing no part – the end result? This expat walked away with a beautifully soft, deep dark black,(apparently) Sable fur hat for about $50.
Unsure whether we were numb from our haggling expertise or just from the cold, we walked up to a very friendly and eager market woman. A fur lined leather coat we liked was pointed at using our best Russian digit and we asked if she had a ‘balshoi’ (bigger) size – no one tells you before coming to Moscow that they don’t sell clothes in any sizes above a zero (yes, the people here really are all this thin!). With our basic knowledge of numbers in Russian from 1 to 10, this expat tried telling her what we were looking for whilst she pointed at some of the most beautiful coats. Trying to overcome the language barrier, and hitting a word we knew – “Etta” = ‘It is‘ – she tried various gestures and things to mimic and describe what type of fur each coat was made from. By the time she started bleating and pointed whilst saying “Etta baaa; etta baaa” we just could not contain our laughter anymore. We figured we’ll go back (..and we will) once our ability to speak Russian has improved – or we fancy another round of guess the farmyard sound; this expat was hoping to contain the laughter just long enough to see the international mime for rabbit!
Halfway in between the market and the Metro station, we passed a small shopping center on our left and decided to get out the cold, grab a bite to eat and use the toilet there as there are none inside the market area you would want to use. (To our dismay, the lavatory and sanitary systems here are nothing like back home!) We came across a shop that only sold genuine fur coats of all lengths, shapes and sizes. The shop assistant was kind enough to let us try on a few – all costing in the region of about $ 4 500+. They had mink; rabbit, chinchilla and an unknown fur which I would not like to guess at – all absolutely gorgeous and, rightly, an animal activist’s worst nightmare.
We made it to the food court and approached a KFC counter since it was the only brand we could recognize and had photos of the food we could point at. As we made it to the front of the queue, we suddenly realized ordering something in anything other than Russian might prove to be problematic. Suddenly this expat was having flashbacks to the woman with the coats in the market, and began to wonder if it would be useful if we made clucking sounds, flapped our arms like a some deranged person dancing to the birdie song whilst holding up three fingers to the cashier and if so whether we would get a tasty snack or arrested. Thankfully, neither expat had resort to that but we were given a broomstick and while one expat was giggling (that would be this expat), the other had to point at the pictures above the counter to indicate what we would have to eat.
Surely the most bizarre and challenging ways of placing an order at KFC. But at least all the Russians enjoyed this unusual entertainment by two ‘tourists’ trying to order chicken! This would probably be the kind of story they would tell their children about in years to come and so are we.