I am writing my inaugural blog post as a blizzard rages outside, on a -25C night. It’s March 22nd, and this isn’t some freak storm. It has been snowing for a few hours almost every day for the last 2 weeks.

The walk to my metro station in central Moscow.

The walk to my metro station in central Moscow.

For the last month, the first webpage I visit when I wake up is’s ’10 Day Forecast’, looking for a sign of Spring. April 1st is supposed to be the first day since October that temperatures do not dip below the freezing mark. Of course, that might just be a particularly cruel April Fool’s joke.

Anyone who’s ever been to my college dorm room or my apartment knows that I like it warm. I am happy to keep my thermostat set at 85F. Indoor air conditioning is the bane of my existence. In NYC I wore my fur coat from October through April. If New York was too cold for me for six months a year, how was I going to survive Moscow? In other words, I knew that adjusting to Russian winters wasn’t going to be easy.

The first Winter, 2011 to 2012, was hard. Anything below -5C (15F) rendered me practically catatonic. A standard list of what I’d wear to go out in this kind of weather included: t-shirt, turtleneck sweater, thick-weave wool sweater, wool tights, leggings, knee-high wool socks, regular short rough-wool socks, thick-weave cords, a shearling or a fur coat, a scarf, a fur hat, fur-lined boots, cashmere-lined elbow-length gloves and wool mittens, over the gloves. Yes, all at the same time. When the thermometer dipped below -20C, I refused to leave the house and canceled job interviews. Had I actually been employed at that time, I’d have had to take a sick leave.

I thought this was as bad as it got. -30C – the final frontier of Surviving the Russian Winter.

View from my kitchen window

View from my kitchen window

This winter, 2012-2013, I am gainfully employed. And in the second half of December we got our first really cold spell – two weeks of daily temps around -27 to -32C, and nighttime ones ten degrees below that. It was FREAKING COLD.

But surprisingly, the second time around it was …not bad? The clothing layers were halved and even though I was still impressed with the Pretty Young Things strutting down the icy pavements in 6” stiletto booties, mini-skirts and uncovered blow-outs, I felt invigorated, rather than paralyzed, by the frost nipping at my cheeks as I marched toward the trolley stop on my morning commute.

When in early January we got our mild spell, our ‘thaw’ of -2C to -5C (high 20sF), it felt downright springy and I would leave work early for long walks in the park with an uncovered head and a cold beer.

‘Russian winters?!’ – I scoffed. ‘Piece of cake!’ I thought this was as bad as it got. Ok, so it took me a year to adjust to the harsher climate, but this was gonna be just fiiiiiiiiiiiiiine.

It is not fine.

The worst thing about Russian Winter is not that it is really cold. It’s that it doesn’t end.


Icicles on a shed

Icicles on a shed

By the middle of January we’re only half-way through the Russian Winter – except that it’s already been going on for nearly three months. In Moscow the first snow usually falls in October and stays on the ground well through April; even in June it’s not unusual to find unmelted piles in the more shaded groves of the surrounding countryside.

I mean, really, right now – I am honestly not sure there will be Spring. Or Summer. Or Fall. We’re about to get a record snowfall this weekend and then the snow might or might not melt, and then there will be the Next Winter.

It’s dark, and there’s snow, and ice and slush always and everywhere, and you forget what colors other than white, brown and gray look like, or what it feel like to wear a dress. It’s trying. And that’s a nice word for it.

Ok, so it’s not ALL bad. It can be crisp and cozy, pretty and whimsical in that sort of Winter Wonderland way. But after six months you really just want it to end.

So here’s to hoping that soon, or at least at some point, there will be Spring. And then Summer. I hear those are really beautiful in Russia. I mean, it’s not like I can remember. It’s been so freaking long.



  1. Minneapolis is not Moscow (we’re quite a bit warmer) but I hear you about the sheer length of the winter. Spring here is a mathematical average between winter and summer, with a duration of about 15 minutes. But summer — oh my, summer is divine, and it’s what hooks us and keeps us here, so the notion of balmy climes where it’s 70 F all the time is inconceivable. The contrast, the drama, the never-failing topic of conversation: how could I leave all this?

    There are certain crops (kale for example) that are sweetened by that first touch of frost, and so it is in the (misnamed) Temperate Zone. The summer wouldn’t taste so good if we didn’t have the winter for contrast.

    And hold on — Spring will come.

    • April 7th. It snowed this morning. It’s not even funny any more – for a while all the comedians were making jokes a la ‘Hello, today is February 58th’ but I think everyone’s pretty much done by now. We’re all really grouchy 🙂 My ultimate dream of moving to the Scottish Highlands is relocating to Tuscany.

      Interesting that you bought up agriculture…April is this zone’s prep-season, and in May all the planting takes place, except this year, because of the continuing frosts, the ground might not be ready in time.

      So we’ll see, we’ll see…

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