After the sedentary madness of the train, Moscow was an intimidating place in which to find ourselves. Our old friend John held our hands and took us toward the metro. Showed us how to get a ticket and bid us farewell. A nice bloke was John. I hope he becomes president. We navigated the metro, which thankfully wasn’t too complex, and had a good old stare at some real Russians. From a single train carriage I counted:
3 women in headscarves
1 USSR badge (pinned on to a girl younger than me, no less. Do Russians ‘do’ irony?)
4 KGB spies
1 woman holding a bear
The first three are true.
But not to let archaic stereotypes win the war, I also saw a girl proudly wearing a badge which had the pride colours painted over its original design. It was inspiring for me to see someone in a country with such an appalling contemporary record of human rights violations having the energy and willpower to affix any kind of symbol of protest without fear of suppression. I would like to think that if I were a gay, left wing, angry Russian (though I assume if I were a gay Russian, the others would take care of themselves), I would be out there fighting the good fight. Not sure though.
Youngja was feeling more and more at ease in Russia. Her worries amounted to the belief that skinheads were abundant and an asian girl on the street could well be subjected to a brick to the head. As we fluttered through the subway on our way to the hostel it became increasingly clear that most Russians were, actually, quite normal. Who’da thought?!
“I can’t see any skinheads.”
“It’s 2:30. Time for skinhead sundae.”
“Russian racists always have an ice cream sundae after lunch. It’s been like that since the eighties.”
“What kind of ice cream do they eat?”
“Isn’t that obvious? Vanilla! You wouldn’t catch any self-respecting skinhead eating a dark coloured chocolate. What would their skinhead friends think?”
We got ourselves out onto the mean streets of gentrified Moscow and spent a good 20 minutes looking for our hostel. You may be thinking to yourself ‘bloody idiot of a man, can’t read a map!’ Well I’ll have you know that my map reading skills border on excellent. The problem with this hostel was that there was no sign and the directions were deliberately confusing. I looked into this after I finally got inside and cursed the world, apparently it’s some kind of tax avoidance scheme. For this reason I’ll leave the name off bloggy.
In the hostel we met a Korean pair basically at the beginning of a year-long trip. I say ‘pair’ because it is a man and his mother. His name is something and hers is something else. Being the first Koreans we’ve seen, besides the one from the North, Youngja got acquainted. It turned out that far from travelling together, the son was practically dragging his Mum around the world.
“She’s not enjoying it.” He told us
“What’s not to like? She’s seeing the world, it must be amazing!”
“She’s never been away for so long. She feels scared and misses Korea. South East Asia wasn’t the best choice to start the trip.”
“Also, she can’t speak English. She can’t talk to anyone but me.”
“And her Mother is sick.”
“I’m surprised she’s stuck around this long.”
After this tale of woe we asked one of the hostel girls where a nice place to eat would be. She pointed to a restaurant across the road, which turned out to be a market-style, open kitchen restaurant. All the products were pre-cooked and you just had to choose. It was delicious. Great value, too.
Our hostel is very conveniently located on Tverskaya Street, a 20 minute walk from Reed Square. Through foolhardy time management we only have a day and a half in Moscow so we’re only going to be able to see the main sights. We strolled down Tverskaya towards the red stuff but then decided to wait till tomorrow to take it in. Instead we swung left and visited the Bolshoi Theatre, an incredibly beautiful building, and rightly so after the half billion pounds they recently spent on it. It was also here that we saw the first of many (and I do mean many) weddings. Perhaps the Russians enjoy getting married in April, all I know is that you couldn’t move in the city for wedding gowns and a cameraman snap snap snapping.
After this we doodled around for an hour or so, mostly people watching. And if there is a good place to watch people, Russia. Is. It.
A quick note on Russian women. Much has been written and read on Russian females and from walking down a normal street in Moscow I can attest that they are at once beautiful, startling and unbelievable. They seemed to be almost alien-like in their proportions. Never have I seen such long legs, such tiny wastes, such big eyes. It’s as if the editor of Vogue designed a women to fit their description of perfection. Now, perfection is relative and they weren’t at all my type. To be honest I couldn’t really see them and me as the same species. The best way to describe them is if you could mix a ballet dancer, a supermodel and a daddy longlegs into one astounding anthropoid you would doubtless get a Russian woman.
On our way back to the hostel we saw a middle aged woman holding a magazine in front of a crowd. Also present were three armed Russian police. As we tentatively got closer and saw her up close we noticed she had wrapped herself in the Ukrainian flag. What was clear was her opinion to the current situation, what was less clear was how strongly she was permitted to voice her protest. There was certainly an unsettling and unnerving atmosphere. It seemed that even a protest as vapid as holding a magazine in the middle of a public thoroughfare was enough to warrant an armed response.