I spent all of last week in Russia, mostly in Moscow, but there was also a jaunt out into the countryside for a day or two. I didn't really have any expectations for the week - coming after the UK, US, India, Poland, etc, it was just one more trip abroad amongst many.
I actually ended up really enjoying Moscow. The people we met with were overall much friendlier than I was expecting, and the hotel receptionists rivaled the Thais in niceness. It may have helped too that I blended in much more than some of the other places I've been lately, so I could just go about my daily business without people giving me some serious side-eye. I often even had people trying to speak to me in Russian, even though my vocabulary is limited to four words: hello, thank you, goodbye and cheers. One day, I should count how many languages I can say those four words in now...
As far as English goes, it was pretty much all or nothing - people either spoke fantastic English or not a word. A lot of restaurants didn't have English menus, so we (tried) to rely on my phone for translations, with some pretty hilarious results. I put a few of them on Facebook, and they still make me crack up:
The city itself is beautiful - extremely clean and well-maintained, with lots of lovely pastel-colored buildings.
And of course there's the famous Red Square - something I never thought I'd see again:
The dollar was king back then, and it was a great trip, though a lot of my memories are seen through a vodka-induced haze. It was also only a few short months after my father died, and I think a lot of my memories from that time have been made cloudy by grief. I do remember snippets here and there though, and last week's trip has amazingly brought some of the back. I'd see a building, or a familiar monument, and all of the sudden a memory would break through the fog. Like "Hey! That's where we got chased out of the Russian biker bar".
It's funny though how much things have changed in such a short time. Back then (at least in Minnesota), besides those who made one-off 'pilgrimages' to Scandinavia to see where their family came from, I didn't really know anyone who traveled abroad, and I was a bit of an odd-duck going to all these far-off places at such a young age. Nowadays, it seems to be quite common for young-uns to travel to Europe or elsewhere even in high school. I've been a bit disgusted as of late to see how so many countries (US, UK, France, etc) seem to be turning inwards, and I can only hope that the early exposure to other cultures will turn the tide in future generations.
And now I'm off to pack for my trip to Italy tomorrow...