For my best friend Josie’s 21st birthday, another friend and I (who incidentally is also called Josie) decided to treat her to something a little bit special. Perhaps an ex-communist, ice-box of a country isn’t the first place you’d think of when you consider an ideal location for a weekend with the girls. But apparently, we like to do things differently. Unfortunately Josie (the one who bought the present with me, affectionately nicknamed ‘JRow’ to make things easier) wasn’t able to come in the end, so it was up to Josie and I to take on Russia’s capital city together.
All in all it was a great weekend. We left at the crack of dawn on Friday morning and came back mid Sunday afternoon, meaning that in theory, we should have had a half day on Friday, all of Saturday and a nice lie in on Sunday before heading back to the airport. However, if you’ve been following my travels for any length of time you’ll be aware that things never quite go to plan when I’m around and this time, we got to play a wonderful game of hide and seek with our accommodation which I’d booked through airbnb. Turns out without any real directions and literally 0 ability to understand Russian, it’s very easy to end up in a sign language battle with a small Russian man who is trying to tell you that the code for the gate is scratched into the metalwork (oooo secure), only to discover that you’ve entered the wrong apartment block and are now stuck on the inside of the gate rather than outside. Lucky Josie is still slim enough to wiggle under fences, eh?
Eventually, after another hour or so of searching one street we managed to find the apartment, dump our stuff and stuff our faces before heading out. The pace of the trip swiftly went up a notch as we wanted to fit a lot into the short amount of time we had. In just two days I clocked in nearly 30,000 steps on my pedometer as we tried to visit some of Moscow’s best bits, without rushing so much we couldn’t take anything in. Oh, and of course we did this dressed like proper tourists.
Winnie the Pooh infiltrating Russian culture.
Poklonnaya Hill Monument.
It really is a beautiful city. From the Kremlin with St Basil’s Cathedral and Lenin’s Mausoleum to Poklonnaya Hill and the HUGE Imailovsky Market, we learned so much about Russia’s rich culture in a way that you only can if you visit a place. And there was so much more to do that we simply didn’t have time to fit in.
We also had a meal at a place called Кафе Пушкинъ (Cafe Pushkin) i.e. the fanciest restaurant I’ve ever been to, where they put your coat in a cloak room and give you a fancy brass token to claim it back with – none of this paper lottery ticket nonsense like clubs in England. The waiter pulled out our chairs and there was a little stand for our bags and when you go to get your coat they came round and put it back on for you. I felt incredibly under-dressed in my big, black Doc Martens, but the food was divine and although a bit of a treat in Rubles, it was about the price of a normal meal out back home.
All the yum.
It’s safe to say that we managed to do a lot in a very short space of time. By Saturday night we were so exhausted and it was so cold (I now understand the vodka thing) that we decided to just stay in and watch our favourite Hamish and Andy videos on Josie’s laptop. For me, the down time in travelling is just as important as the running-around-soaking-up-the-culture part. We got to enjoy our lovely apartment over a glass or two of champagne, accompanied by some tasty Russian sausage and crisp, fresh bread. At the end of the day, going away with friends is all about spending time with them, experiencing new things together and enjoying each other’s company. So it was really nice for me to have some quality chill time with my bestie who I no longer live with, removed from the stresses of our daily lives where we could just relax and be ourselves. It all sounds very cliché, but one of my favourite parts about a getaway really is the getting away.
Although we knew we’d have a fun, girly weekend regardless of where we went, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the city itself, as it’s a part of the world I know little to nothing about. I’d mostly had reactions such as, ‘Oh, well, each to their own’, or, ‘Your poor mother, she must be worried’ when I told people about our plans and hadn’t really done much research myself. I realise that you shouldn’t take the political situation of a country too lightly, but I also think it’s important to remember that there is so much more to a place than those who rule it or the laws that are imposed upon it. Whilst I obviously don’t condone or agree with a lot of what the Russian government do (and, of course, some of the citizens too), I learned from my stay in Mexico that although some stereotypes are true, many aren’t. Just as there’s so much more the Mexico than drugs and a corrupt police force, during our short stay I found that there’s more to Russia than homophobia and Putin with his shirtless, bear riding ways (see below).
This is a mug we found of Putin in all his glory.
Moscow is definitely a city I’d like to visit again when I have a little more time to spare. It’s incredibly affordable, but not surprisingly, it’s SO BIG that you spend half your time travelling from one place to another through their very ornate underground metro system. Seriously, it’s so gorgeous that it’s listed in tourist guides as one of the top 10 things to go and see. I’d like to see more of the rest of Russia too, a country whose history and culture I know very little about. I’ve now bought books to do a little more background research before I go back and perhaps I’ll get my tongue around one or two useful phrases so I don’t feel completely useless on the communication front (a feeling I loathe as a proud linguist).
First though, onto preparations for my next trip, which I’m planning to do in January or February with my friend Gordon. It’s another cold one (actually, much, much colder) but involves snow and *fingers crossed* some beautiful bluey-green lights in the sky. I hope you’re ready for us, Norway.