Taking flight to Russia on Thanksgiving

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According to Lonely Planet, you need “a sense of humor and bucket load of patience” when visiting Russia. By the same token, both traits are equally important waiting for this stateside Nor’easter to pass. To help defuse the stress of international holiday travel, I overdosed on an early turkey dinner today. All this tryptophan should kick in around the time I board.

ATA board member Jack Aernecke and I are flying to the Russian Federation as chaperones for two Capital Region high school students who won an essay contest earlier this year. The Albany-Tula Alliance or ATA, for short, is a sister-city organization between Albany, NY and Tula, Russia. Each sister city holds a student essay contest every other year, on a topic related to the other country. The two winners of each year’s contest travel to the other city and visit a bit of that country. On this trip, we will be staying with host families in Tula and hotels and hostels in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Next spring, two Russian students will win the essay contest and come in the fall to visit the Capital Region.

For travelers brave enough to visit Russia during the coldest time of year, there’s plenty to embrace. Not only are the flights half as costly, but the Winter Wonderland evokes festive activities in the imagination: horse-drawn sleigh rides (troika), ice breaker cruisers on the Neva River, or ice skating in a Gorky Park, all the while bundled up in traditional fur hats (Ushankas).

And, while it’s cold in the streets, it’s warm in the Slavic banyas. For centuries, bathing has been a vital component to surviving harsh temperatures in Russia. The ritual includes swimming in an icy-cold swimming pool, hopping into a steam room and receiving a soft birch leaf massage. The health benefits include increased blood circulation and softer skin.