Sunday, October 19, 2003

Oh....Those Russians

I hope you are all well and my updates aren't getting too long for you. I can't help it!

The time has come to leave Russia and give you all a wrap up on it. It has been a ride, I've felt like I have gotten to know Russians: lived like a Russian (on top of each other), eaten like a Russian (you cook at home), looked like a Russian (covered head to toe in leather), mostly only hung around with Russians, and, of course, drunk like a Russian.

The bulk of this experience is due to extreme good luck and a man called Boris. Boris, an enigma of a man in his middle age, and his young wife and little boy offered me a ride to Volgograd. Two weeks later I said goodbye to them. I could write an essay about Boris' numerous business dealings, complicated family intrigues and commanding personality. He says he was one of Russia's first millionaires. But, perhaps an overview will be to describe all the times I woke up with a "where the phark am I?" thanks to Boris.

Boris, his son George and me at a lunch stop at the Volgo River on our way to Moscow

In Volgograd, the site of 3 million deaths from one of the worlds bloodiest battles marked by a 72 metre statue of mother Russia, we stayed with some family. I was welcomed in, stuffed full of food and poisoned with vodka then passed out (tad embarrassing). I woke up on a mattress on the floor and got lost trying to get out of the room.

One thousand kms later, I spent the night in Boris's tiny apartment (even though he is a millionaire, he doesn't like to spend it on showy things - he says) on the outskirts of Moscow where I found two more kids, and discovered I had taken the girl's bed when I awoke to her trying to rest half of her on a corner of it.

I woke up the next morning in my own apartment. Without discussion I was taken to Boris's Moscow apartment and given it for as long as I wanted. Wooooo hooooo. It was a communal flat, a hang over from the Soviet days where four rooms share a bathroom and kitchen. I lived for about 10 days with the intrigues of my flatmates who have been here for a long time I think.

Boris tells you what you are doing. He took me on two whirlwind tours of the magical Golden Ring, the heartland of Russia dotted with golden domed churches and monasteries. On both trips I woke up under a vodka cloud in a dump of a Soviet-era hotel. The second stay was in some town he had business dealings but foreigners were not supposed to be. I forgot to keep my mouth shut while on the street after the second bottle.

In both Moscow and St Petersburg I have seen world best art galleries, observed the tourist hordes in the Hermitage that made it feel like a metro station, vulgar displays of wealth in the palaces, marvelled at the irresistible beauty of St Petersburg and at the jigsaw car parking in Moscow. The colourful autumn leaves all over the country are just stunning. I went to the ballet in Moscow and St Petersburg and it was absolutely magic. My Russian friend (another new one) Nadia took me clubbing in Moscow where everyone danced on the tables and they had a strip show. I went clubbing here in St Petersburg and made new Russian friends where we seemed to hang out at the 24 hour bottle shop longer than in the club.

My Russian look that got me into the Catherine Palace (behind) at the Russian price!

Thus, I have enjoyed finding breaks in all the stereotypes of Russians, even though they can be true too. They do get around sour faced and provide infamously bad service; but I have experienced extreme hospitality and generosity. The girls are still vain; but I have made down-to-earth friends who also scorn other's sledgehammer approach to sexuality. The men, however, are all short.

But, the most common catch cry out of me has been "For pharks sake!" for quite sometime now and I am looking forward to (hopefully) losing it.

I am now going to Estonia, a country that has no visa and an alphabet that doesn't look like hieroglyphs. NO VISA! After the king daddies of visa pain, this feels like an impossible dream come true. I love the place already. All you heading into summer think of me as I head somewhere rather....well...Baltic!