Work in progress: My trip to Russia 1997
 
Trip to Russia 1997 In 1997 my grandma and I decided to go to Russia. It was in the summer. I had just died my hair acid green and my gran insisted that I have it died back to the usual brown in order not to upset the Russian authorities.  We flew from Manchester airport and I can’t remember much about the flight apart from other passengers commented that the plane was very old and dillapidated. The hotel we arrived at in Moscow was a huge one that had been built for the Olympics. It was definitely ‘Soviet’ era with lots of mahogany coloured wood and big heavy curtains. On each floor was a woman who was employed to look after you during your stay but it was more a case that you had to bribe them. I brought them a packet of Bic biros but I think they would have been more pleased with dollars.  Outside the hotel was a huge railway goods yard where extremely long trains went throughout the night to and from who knows where. Sometimes they would take over an hour to pass. You could see the skyline of Moscow and the network of huge water pipes that pumped hot water direct to homes and factories. Outside the hotel was a huge plaza which led to the Metro station and there were people, workers, tourists and business people of all nationalities. I was surprised to see lots of Africans many of whom speaking seeming fluent Russian.  At hotel the breakfast was black tea with lemon and a kind of black bread. The service was kind of abrupt. In the hotel dining room I met an Azeri software programmer who had trained in the USA. Inside the hotel was also a Japanese restaurant which was incredibly expensive and decorated in a minimalist form with blue neon lights. Although it was pricey we ate there because the set menu food was so poor and left my 16 year old self hungry.  Moscow impressed me. We went to red square and the GUM department store. Moscow is kind of organized in concentric circles or rings with these huge hulks of Stalinist skyscrapers, seven of them squatting at different points in the city. One of them was a university, another a hotel. They had been built when Stalin was trying to compete with the USA in terms of economic development.   Me and my gran explored the city on the Metro. I loved transporztation systems and I managed to navigate me and my gran around this underground maze. It was hard to read the Cyrillic names of the Metro stops so you had to try really hard to get off at the right stop. I remember we got to one area and I asked a man the way to Mc Donalds. I was surprised to realise that we just could not communicate. There wasn’t much of a crossover between Russian and English like there is with French or Spanish and I was surprised that the guy did not understand me. We went to a huge post office and a man outside sold me some postage stamps which I still kept until recently. The stamps depicted Soviet Architecture.   I can’t remember which city it was in but I remember passing an old looking Street and someone telling me a certain house was Chekhov’s house. I didn’t know who Chekhov was apart from that he was an important Russian writer. In later years I have become interested for a while in Chekhov and bought, read and watched several of his plays and short stories and went to talks about him at the Russia-GB society in Bloomsbury London.  I kind of liked the gothic grandeur of Moscow. Everywhere there were roads full of Ladas and also expensive Mercedes and 4x4s with mirrored of blacked out windowd. There were virtually no pedestrian crossings and crossing any road was kind of a free for all. Sometimes you had to cross twelve lanes of traffic in the briefest of intervals with dozens of revving engines from the cars and Jeeps.   My gran and I went in the Kremlin. Really I was surprised they let me in. We saw collections of priceless Faberge eggs and ancient gilt carriages made for Russian monarchs. Inside the Kremlin there were lots of churches and we had a guided tour. There were cannons and huge old iron bells. There were little old ladies in pinafores sweeping the road with bunches of twigs. Occasionally guards would appear and then a mysterious fleet of Mercedes would sweep past and then once they had gone the ladies would go back to sweeping the streets.  After a few days in Moscow we caught the train to St Petersburg. Although the train travelled overnight, from what I could see of them journey the landscape seemed to consist of endless forested flats. Arriving in St Petersburg we found our guides and they took us to our hotel which was on the edge of the city near a huge roundabout with a gigantic bronze statue depicting a victory possibly in WW2. It was kind of in a residential neighbourhood and in both Moscow and St Petersburg there were endless row after row of mid storey apartment blocks on seemingly endless boulevards. At that point there wasn’t a great deal in the way of shops other than small kiosks selling vodka and tobacco. At certain Metro stations there were lots of people selling their possessions or trinkets such as commemorative badges, flags and other Soviet era memorabilia at the sides of the road. I was only 16 and none of it really phased me but probably if I saw the same scenes now I would feel more of a chill of fear and desperation.  The Russian people were kind of mysterious to me and I did feel a certain attraction to them. The influences on Russian society seemed quite different to those of Britain. My gran felt at home because there were lots of auburn haired people. There were lots of soldiers and sailors in their uniforms and every now and again someone would get on the metro playing an accordion type instrument or clutching a sick looking child and asking for money for medical treatment. I noticed that Russians seemed to read a lot. Virtually everyone on the Metro, man and woman was clutching some unfathomable book. Inside the Metro I liked the statues of the heroic workers cast in brass.   Toward the end of our trip our tour guide who also doubled as an English teacher (everyone has two jobs) introduced to a boy of the same age as me named Sergei. We were invited to their family home in a tower block nearby. We went there with a little trepidation. We entered the block full of neo-nazi graffiti and went to a small two room apartment. The apartment had the same hotel mahogany look and was stacked wall to wall with VHS cassettes. The mum was an engineer at a local factory and the dad was unemployed. They gave us the usual tea but because we were English they provided some condensed milk from a tin. Sergei was very friendly and showed us round the neighbourhood and to an old Orthdox church. The meeting was kind of awkward but maybe it helped Sergei with his English. I wonder what he is doing now.null

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