10 Things I Miss About Winter In Russia

It’s hard for us to believe that it has been just over 13 years since our return from Russia.  It really does seem like just a couple years ago.  It sometimes seems strange to me that just over a couple years  of our life could have had such a big impact on us.  But, as the other missionaries on our team would tell you, too, it was a very special time in our lives, seeing God do some awesome things, working alongside some very special friends, and seeing new people come to Christ.  It was quite a roller coaster ride, and like a roller coaster, you’d find me gladly getting back in line to do it all again (well, that’s actually what brought me to NY, a chance to plant a church and spread the gospel).  To this moment, not a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of people I love back in Perm, and that I don’t draw on lessons learned there.  With that in mind and a fresh foot of snow on the ground that always brings me to such nostalgia, I thought I’d share some things I miss about wintertime in Russia (in no particular order):

  1. Russian hospitality. I don’t see how anyone, anywhere on the planet could surpass the hospitality we received in so many homes.  Warm smiles, warm homes, warm food, hot tea.  We keep a Russian samovar in our dining room to remind us of the kindness so constantly shown us there.
  2. Ill-fitting slippers. When you enter a Russian home (usually a flat), you first remove your shoes (a habit we’ve retained) and coat, then the host gives you a pair of slippers.  Most of the time they fit just fine.  If most of the other guests arrived before you, you may end up like I did once, wearing a pair of women’s purple house shoes that end just before the heal.  She meant well.  More than once I saw the host take off their own and give them to a guest–quite a symbol of agape.
  3. Being able to wave down any driver and hiring them like a taxi (but cheaper). I don’t know if this is still the case, I know some cities were considering outlawing it when we left because of lobbying by pro taxi drivers, but this is one thing I loved.  Taxis were expensive, and there were times the public transportation wasn’t going to be fast or convenient enough.  In that case, you could simply stick out your hand and flag down any driver and negotiate a deal.  They got gas money, you got a ride (sometimes in a warm car!).  Classic win/win.  We met some great people that way and had some good conversations.  I once got a ride from a biathlon (ski/shoot) olympian whose only English was (with a thick Russian accent) “Smith & Wesson.”  Great guy, terrific sense of humor, and this is the cool part, he competed in the Olympics against a friend of my grandfather who was in the Olympics that same year.  Small world, indeed.
  4. Shangi (aka ватрушки с картофелем).  It’s a simple thing, bread dough topped with something akin to garlic mashed potatoes and then baked.  Ina Kuznetsova (we miss her!) made them often for our home Bible studies.
  5. The slide downtown made of ice. Every year at the city center they built a huge slide (wide enough for a few at a time).  Especially at New Years, I think there may have been as many adults as kids.  Good times.  Now days they go further, having more elaborate ice sculptures and even an ice cafe.
  6. Sitting at my kitchen table with a cup of hot tea, looking out our fifth floor window at the snow falling, listening to the BBC in the morning.
  7. Coming in from the cold. I’m kind of strange in this, from the looks I’ve seen when I’ve said it before, but one of favorite things about the cold of winter is how much more it makes you appreciate the warmth of your home.  I loved that moment when I’d just shed a coat the size and weight of a Buick, a scarf, a wool hat, gloves, boots, etc. and could feel the warmth of the heat from the radiators.
  8. The bread from that lady on the corner with the hotbox. My fellow teammates know which one, and they just went to drooling.  Nothing like seeing the steam of that fresh (best on the planet) bread rising from the box as she got you a fresh loaf.  Parisian bakes can’t touch that.  Man cannot live by bread alone, but with a steady supply of that ladies bread, he might happily die trying.
  9. Getting сосиски в тесте (Russian pig-in-a-blanket) at the Central Market. I didn’t really like going to the outdoor market in the winter because vendors would sometimes pour water on the snow to make ice so they could more easily pull their sleds of goods.  You can immediately see the problem with hundreds of people shoulder to shoulder suddenly hitting those ice paths, right?  But the сосиски в тесте at least provided a moment to stop, chat, and enjoy a quick bite while recovering from the fall.
  10. Professional hockey games for $2.00. Yep, you read that right.  Back then you could still go for $2.00 and see a great game of hockey.  That might get you a pack of gum to chew out in the parking lot at a hockey game these days around here.
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