I include the above picture as a bit of light relief. The snow is well set in to Russia and for the last couple of days has been coming down fairly thickly. This should just remind all of us that the weather in Russia isn't all snow! Although, I think that those in the UK would appreciate it more at the moment: it sounds as though they are coping with the cold weather less well than we are.
Having said that, the cold weather was to our advantage in the middle of the week. The combined Barnes-Drozhzhin family went for an icebreaker cruise through the middle of Moscow. Yes, you read that correctly. The Radisson Hotels group have fitted out a couple of former icebreakers and beginning this year, are making use of them to offer round-trip cruises, including meals: sailing to and from the Hotel Ukraine (now the Radisson Royal Moscow). So we decided to book up and go on one of these, seeing as we were all together.
The evening before the cruise, only half of the 140 seats were taken through the online booking system. However, all of the seats were taken on the day! There's still a lot of suspicion about giving out your credit card details over the phone or Internet - or indeed about having a credit card. Many will have just come and paid in cash at the hotel. Not that it matters.
We all boarded the 'Ferdinand' and in true Russian fashion, handed our coats into the garderobe (cloakroom) and went to sit at our table. The sides of the upper part of the ship were glass so we were able to see outside all around us, which made it all very impressive. 20 minutes later we were on our way, heading through the centre of Moscow.
Out of all our photo albums, the one from today has far and away the most photographs. It includes pictures of MGU, Sparrow Hills, Luzhniki, Kievsky Vokzal, the Russian Academy of Science, Gorky Park, Christ the Saviour Cathedral, the Kremlin, St. Basil's, the Novodevichy Convent, the Peter the Great monument, the Krasny Oktyabr factory, the apartment building on Kotelnicheskaya Naberezhnaya (one of the Seven Sisters), the British Embassy and the Ambassador's Residence.....and so on. Not to mention all of the photographs that we took of ourselves!
Normally there are no boats moving along the river as it's frozen. Our boat therefore attracted more than a few looks from the shore! People were stopping, looking and pointing, from bridges and from the embankment. It was quite something to be the centre of attention.
The views along the river were quite something. I've been on a boat trip before but not for a few years. Certainly, I can't remember the day being quite as bright and sunny (albeit not as cold either - it was about -15!)
Two and a half hours passed surprisingly quickly - aided by good food and good company. We docked once again next to the Hotel Ukraine and disembarked. From here, Sasha and I walked over to the cars and turned the engines on to get them warmed up - at present, the climate dictates that car engines need about 10 minutes to warm them up before you drive off - and everyone else took photos for a few moments before climbing into the cars to warm up again. From here, it was back to our apartment for coffee and nibbles. This would be the first time that anyone from the Barnes side of the family had visited the Leninsky apartment and we were looking forward to hosting them.
Sasha and Tanya dropped Olga and Nataly off and then continued south to collect Grandma Lidia from Belyaevo, returning shortly afterwards. The rest of the family came in and made themselves at home. Everyone was very impressed with our little place. It isn't big but it's certainly homely! Tea, coffee and various fruits and cakes came out of the kitchen shortly afterwards, followed by the arrival of the family matriarch in the form of Lidia Vasilievna Rogova.
There's something about an older Russian lady and the way that she carries herself. Lidia Vasilievna just has a wonderful air of grace and dignity. She was delighted to meet Mum, Dad and Alice and to get to know some of the English side of the family. Through translation (Nataly or Olga) she was able to converse with them, and they with her. She sent greetings to everyone in England and looked forward to seeing all of the family again very soon. Mum, Dad and Alice were also very pleased to meet her, especially as she wasn't able to come to our wedding. Unfortunately Grandpa Drozh wasn't well enough to come this evening: hopefully they'll get to meet him next time.
And that was it - the end of another lovely day. Tomorrow the Barnes' would be leaving us. "Safe flights and soft landings" were the wishes passed from our Russian family. Everything was prepared.
But someone had other ideas...