This is a part of a mini-series of independent posts, starting here
Well, things keeping me busy. So I am taking a teensy shortcut today. I recently got back from a family trip to Russia (Day #0 had been written on Gate B1 at the Dubai International Airport) So today’s post is my first day’s experience straight from Moscow:
“Back in the USSR!”
Day 1 – 4 pm :
Hell-o, Mosque-o! As the plane lands after a smooth 1.5 hour journey from Helsinki into the dense fogs of Moscow airport, a different excitement that includes some dread seeps in. Going from a Scandi to a Russia is not going to be pleasant, after all. Some more evidence to this effect is apparent right out the plane door, as the aero-bridge shows signs of planks coming loose in more than a few places. But, forever the optimist, I march on. A few pretty girls were sitting in the plane after all, and the race to Passport control thus intensifies.
Therein comes Russia as acting chaperone. Passport control has 6 counters, with 5 counters displaying “For Russian Citizens” signs, and the last one displaying “For Passengers with children”. So the universal set seems pretty well-defined, and I am not in it. Turns out after 15 minutes of family panic, that in Soviet Russia, none of the above really matters. Each line is everyone’s line. Welcome.
The lady at Passport control happens to be Mr. Orange’s lookalike. While she takes her sweet time in letting me pass through into the Motherland, it slowly dawns on me that I could be detained at the airport just like my first trip to Hong Kong. She is going about her job furiously, typing away at her keyboard, calling people from her old landline, zooming into my visa with those tiny eyepieces diamond expert-looking people use (I kid you not). After a few more minutes of this madness, she gives me a document to sign and I almost shit my pants. But I do it nonetheless and come out unscathed into the legal borders of Russia!
First order of business – get a Russian hat. I wanna look like a Sergei Ivan Ivanovsky after all, and what better way. My plans go to the backburner however as my chicken self decides to go along with the family flow and the irritation of a hungry baby. The airport is apparently pretty far from the main city and we get a peek into the dreariness that form the Moscow outskirts. It is pretty stark, the difference b/w these two neighbours, when it comes to the outdoors. This scenery of shrubs, grass, half developed buildings, huge empty billboards, car showrooms, and a thick fog/smog is a far cry from that of sunny Helsinki with its perfectly curated forests. As the traffic on the highway chugs along, we try and decipher any connections b/w the Russian and Roman script. It seems like a “P” here means “R” and they seem to use “phi” as a substitute for “F”. Hmm, boring.
Meanwhile, an hour and a half later, the traffic doesn’t show signs of abating. We are still half an hour away from the hotel, but at least now we are seeing the Moscow city sights. In one word, the city landscape can be described as “supermassive”. Be it gargantuan government buildings, or 8 lane roads or the grand domes of Orthodox Churches.
Checked in now, crashing on bed. Tale to be continued.
Day 1 – 11.30 pm :
A preliminary visit to the Red Square. We are greeted at first by the sight of the brick-walled State History Museum, which forms a part of the Square’s border. Inside the square, and lo and behold. The other sides of the square are adorned by the St Basil Cathedral, the Kremlin and a large beautiful palatial architecture, which turns out to be (surprise, surprise) a shopping mall called the “Gum”. The initial skepticism I had post the sobering up from the Scandinavian high gets satiated to some extent as I soak in the vibe of the place where I stand. The centre of world power stands to my right, all pale and yellow in its glory, proudly adorned by the national flag and a 60 foot brick wall, to keep off those prying eyes. The St Basil Cathedral (yep, the one with the different flavors of softy serves atop its pillars) looks just the bit as it does in its stills. But since we are travelling as a family, my sister prevails and we end up in (surprise, surprise) the “Gum”. Yep, the building _has_ to be referred to from hereon in quotes, lest we confuse it with its more useful common noun. The next few hours are best forgotten.
Meanwhile, I notice some interesting things around me. For instance, the female population of the Motherland seems much luckier than their male counterparts when comparisons are drawn in the looks department. On hearing this, my girlfriend points out to me that it is simply my selection bias, and that I need to stop guising ulterior motives as “noticing interesting things”. So… that’s the end of that section.
As we are about to exit the square after having spent the north of 5 hours, it is still twilight. The crowd meanwhile hasn’t thinned much, but somehow the atmosphere is much more… tranquil. The “Gum” is shining brightly, with the Nikolskaya Street alongside lit up to match, bustling with activity, populated by tourist and native alike, listening to a busking baritone, taking in the sights, sipping on their wines. The architecture around us seems to take another form as the evening progresses thusly, and from our vantage point on a nearby bench, with these moments in our kitty, I believe we have already broken even on our Muscovy trip!
(As an additional benefit, my 2.86 year old niece just learnt how to take pictures on her phone! Mamu’s (uncle’s) DP slot on whatsapp just got booked for at least a week!)