Saturday, 28 June 2014

Russia: Moscow

 Well it's been a crazy last month since I last had time to write a post…wow! I made it safely to Russia and back home in one piece, and started work back at Maja's House on Wednesday. I'm getting back into the swing of things in the 612, most significantly, legally purchasing alcohol at East Lake Liquors. But to recap: I had my Polish exam on June 5 and celebrated one last night out in Notts with my Polish family! It was so great to see everyone and have fun before I left. June 6 I managed to (somehow) pack up my entire room aka everything I own, get to London via train, and crash at my friend's flat before repacking most of my stuff, so that I could be all set to go to Russia.

Russia was an absolutely amazing trip! To sum up, I've never felt so brave and so happy. I faced a lot of setbacks, harsh criticisms, negativity, people telling me I can't go because I'm a woman, etc. with this trip. While Russia is no place to mess around, people seemed to have this idea that since I was a woman traveling by myself, I shouldn't go to Russia—despite the fact that I have traveled by myself many, many times this year already (and had two solo trips to Eastern Europe already under my belt). Of course I appreciate the concern, since it is RUSSIA. But once I got there, it really was the same as any other trip to any other foreign country. I was always extra cautious, which maybe was unnecessary, but as a confident solo traveler my plan is always rather be safe than sorry. Russia is NOT an unsafe, scary, horrible place for tourists/women/Americans. Granted, I wasn't running around shouting USA everyday, but still. To anyone who is reading this and considering going to Russia: please go. Even with the visas. Even with all the negativity you will face. It is one of the most fascinating places I have ever been, and you will not regret it. Be smart and safe and enjoy your time.

So to go day by day of the first week of my adventures…

June 7: I got out of London to Gatwick airport, got to wait in the bag check queue for 45 minutes even though I didn't have a bag to check so that I could get my boarding pass printed, waited at the airport, waited at the gate, and then boarded my flight. Unfortunately, my Transaero flight was operated by EasyJet. For my feelings on EasyJet, please see my blog post about Paris. (Fuck EasyJet.) My flight was 3 hours and I got to Moscow Domodedovo airport a little after 9:00pm. My first impression of Russia: an airport worker lying (possibly napping) on the conveyer belt that transports the suitcases to the trucks. You know you're in Russia when… I got through the passport checks just fine and my visa cleared, turned down Cinnabon since I was tired and wanted to go to sleep, got the Aeroexpress (Аэроекспресс) train into Moscow, and successfully transferred to the right station for my hostel (Tsvetnoi Bul'var). My Russian professor once made us spend over an entire class period going over the Moscow Metro map and asking each other how to get to different stations. This is my sincere thanks to her, since seeing a Metro map I already knew was a huge relief. I managed to find my hostel (thanks to their stellar directions) going through a back path and showed up around midnight. Success! Just kidding. I had to pay in cash (rubles) of which I had like 100 (I needed like 6000 to pay for my hostel for the week) so I had to go run around Moscow at midnight by myself to find an ATM. I found an ATM, only to realize that my US debit card wasn't working aka I had no money. I was able to withdraw some of the money I needed via my UK debit card (which still had a bit of money on it), ran back to the hostel, and was able to pay for two nights, so I could at least sleep safely until I figured out my card. Since it was now past 12:30am and I was completely exhausted, I got to my bed and went to sleep.

June 8: Spent the morning trying to figure out my card—luckily my parents had been able to unblock it, which was good, since I was unable to call my bank due to the whole being-in-Russia thing. I was able to get money and buy food!!! YPA!!! I set off for Red Square, and wow. Just wow. Seeing it and finally being there…it's the stuff I've been dreaming of for years. The Kremlin, St. Basil's Cathedral, Lenin, everything…the stuff of dreams. Since I had 5 full days in Moscow (or so I thought! LOL #gettingsickwhenyou'retravelingaloneinRussiasucks) I really wanted to take my time with things and not rush anything. So this day I just went to St. Basil's Cathedral. It was amazing. The (medieval) wall paintings were incredible, I've never seen anything like it. The individual chapels were all beautiful, the towers seemed so high, wow. I got the cheapest food in Red Square aka McDonalds (Макдоналдс) and had my first ever Big Mac (Биг Мак) since I couldn't figure out which one on the menu was a double cheeseburger. I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the Kremlin walls and getting sunburnt in the boiling sun. I also made my best/favorite purchase of the trip, a set of nesting dolls of the Romanov family. Greatest thing I have ever bought. The biggest one has Nicky, Alix, and Alexei on it, and then the next 4 (decreasing in size) were of Olga, Tatiana, Marie, and Anastasia. So wonderful! I walked back to my hostel down Tverskaya, one of the main streets, basically pretending that I was an extra in the final scene of one of my favorite Russian movies, Stilyagi (Стиляги). Had a resting period and successfully ordered food for myself in Russian.

June 9: I went to both the Kremlin (most importantly, the Armoury) and the State Historical Museum today! The Kremlin/Armoury ticket was super expensive, but sooo worth it! The Armoury was absolutely incredible. Definitely worth the extra money. First it went through a bunch of religious stuff (gospels, icons, etc.) from around the 13th century? Then it went through all these gold/silver works including…the Faberge eggs!!! The real ones!!! The ones that Nicky gave to Alix in real life! The ones I've only ever read about and only ever seen in pictures! The one with the working model of the Trans-Siberian Railway, the one with all five kids…they were there! I saw them! Definitely a highlight of my time in Moscow. They had a room of silver gifts to Russia from other countries, section on arms/weapons/horse armor, a huge selection of royal carriages, thrones and crowns/state regalia, and last but not least, clothes. Catherine the Great's wedding dress, her coronation dress, Alix's cornation dress, her shoes…wow. Wandered around the Kremlin more, saw the Grand Kremlin Palace and the three main cathedrals, as well as Ivan the Terrible's Bell Tower (here comes the cat!). The State Historical Museum was huge and a bit overwhelming, they take you through Russia's history from the Stone Age to the 1900s, so there's quite a bit to cover. The building was really interesting, since it was built in the late 1880s and each room was built and designed specifically for the exhibit that it housed. Saw my first portrait of Nicky!!! I succesfully bought a map (using my Russian #skillz) and got blini for dinner. Oh my god, I love blini. Blini all day every day. Blini for days. #datyungblinilyfe

June 10: Started my day off by seeing the man himself—V. I. Lenin. Lenin's Mausoleum is free, you just have to wait. I walked past a bunch of graves of people buried in the Kremlin walls, then go through this creepy ass dimly lit have-fun-tripping-over-your-own-feet-and-nearly-falling-down-the-stairs building to see a waxy Lenin in his tomb. Crazy to think he's been dead for 90 years!!! He looked really lifelike, I almost expected him to sit up or blink or start breathing. Walked past a bunch of other graves on the way out—Brezhnev, Stalin, Yuri Gagarin, etc., then headed to the Tretyakov State Gallery. Even though I hate art, I am SO glad I went! It wasn't very expensive and it was sooo great! There were several portraits that were highlighted in the book I was reading (Natasha's Dance by Orlando Figes, highly recommended to anyone who is interested in anything to do with Russia and Russian culture) which was awesome, they had a portrait of Nicky (!!!), AND they had the portrait of Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on November 16, 1581, also known as one of my favorite Repin paintings due to this tumblr 'Ivan the Terrible Killing Things He Shouldn't': Walked halfway through the rain back to the hostel before I decided fuck this shit and took the metro. Blini again!

June 11: So for those people who did not have the lovely opportunity to talk to me during or immediately after my trip to Russia, I'd just like to give a notice that the next few days will be very short due to the fact that I got very sick with a UTI and several other types of infections during my time in Russia. And there is nothing that will make you feel more alone than being a single woman traveling alone in Russia and getting sick. Bonus points if you get to talk to a plethora of (Russian) men about these types of problems. I started off the day not feeling the greatest, but still went out and saw the Lubiyanka building (KGB) and the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. I started to feel really not good, nauseous and a bit feverish, and headed back to the hostel. The good news is that you can buy literally anything over the counter in Russia—the only thing you need a prescription for are controlled substances. I was able to get antibiotics after a great conversation at the apteka (pharmacy) with a man who spoke English and was trying to help me out, and once I told him what I had, he awkwardly laughed and said 'oh I'm so embarrassed.' You're embarrassed? YOU'RE embarrassed?? Dear everyone: if you can avoid getting sick in Russia, please do so.

June 12: I spent most of the day lying in bed resting, since I just wasn't able to get up and go do things. I was able to get to the minimart for food and water, and got myself to my blini place for dinner—breakfast blini this time, aka blini with bacon, egg, and cheese. Three of my favorite things, all together!!!

June 13: I was hoping I would feel better this day, as I had a 7 hour train ride to St. Petersburg. I did not feel better. However, I was able to get sufficient train food and embarked upon my horribly shitty trip. I made it to St. Petersburg, alive, only to get off the train and they were playing some Soviet-esque heroes welcome song, which did not make me feel better considering that my family wasn't there/no one was waiting for me, and only served to remind me that I was sick and alone in Russia. #спасибоРоссия I was able to get to my hostel in one piece, after a half-hour walk down Nevskii Prospekt (!!!!) and check in. Then I had the chills so bad I was unable to get out of bed for the rest of the night. Again, if you can avoid getting sick when you're a single woman traveling alone in Russia, do it.

I'm going to cut my post off at the half-way point of my trip because 1. It's a nice stopping point and 2. I really want to take a shower right now! For the record, I am feeling better since (spoiler alert!) I was able to get new medications in St. Petersburg that helped. Writing this post has made me super nostalgic (minus the sick and in pain part), since Russia really was the trip of all my dreams. I got to do and see so many things I've only ever read about or dreamed about! And I got to use my Russian in real life situations, which, considering it's my minor and everything, I think is pretty cool. Next post to come soon!

Red Square
St. Basil's Cathedral
Kremlin walls
Grand Kremlin Palace
inside the Kremlin
Ivan the Terrible Bell Tower
graves along the Kremlin walls

my favorite Repin painting in real life!!
Cathedral of Christ the Savior

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