My Bhutan Travelogue is almost nearing completion (maybe another 4-5 posts) so I have decided to start narrating about my trip to Russia simultaneously. There will be some overlap but I hope you don’t mind! 🙂
Where did I go?
The adjacent picture shows my travel map (click for details). I stayed overnight only in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Sochi. All other places: were day trips – Dmitrov, Suzdal, Vladimir, Sergiev Posad, Istra, Pereslavl-Zalesky from Moscow and Vyborg and Pushkin from St. Petersburg. Overall it was not only a good travel across European Russia but also gave a a sneak peek to the Black Sea. I was in Russia for about 3.5 weeks.
Tons of reasons. There was lot of Soviet influence on India until we liberalized in 1992, so my first 11 years were in typical socialist settings – ration lines, months before you get a telephone, no product choices, USA is evil, etc. Later, I read about WW2 history and works of Tolstoy, Gorky, Dostoyevsky, and Ayn Rand that sparked intense curiosity in my mind. The collapse of USSR and resurgence of Russia were also interesting phenomena. Thus, I always wanted to visit Russia, but didn’t know how or when.
Then lady luck smiled. I was looking for a ticket from Toronto to Mumbai last year and I was about to book Toronto > Istanbul > Mumbai (Turkish airlines). But then I saw a better Toronto > Moscow > Mumbai (Aeroflot) deal and before I could think about it, I made a decision… lol
So I booked a ticket to Russia without knowing how, why, when, where, etc. 🙂 Things fall in place automatically once you decide to do something. Isn’t it?
How did I prepare?
Fortunately, I had a good friend in Moscow who helped me a lot with visas and invitation. Then I extensively researched information about the country. At one point, the scary stories outweighed the good ones and I wondered if it was the right thing to do. But Aeroflot levies a hefty cancellation charge ($250) so there was no way out. I found that the biggest hurdle travelers faced was the language.
So I went to the library, borrowed several books and CD’s and started teaching myself Russian. 🙂 I think this was the most enjoyable part and I discovered that it was easier for me to learn the language for several reasons. Russian is an Indo-European language and I already knew Marathi, Hindi, Sanskrit, German and English. Secondly, the complicated sounds, accents and tongue-twisters in Russian were very similar to Marathi language (my mother tongue). I was actually enjoying learning Russian.
I also started talking to some friends and eavesdropping on conversations in subway. There is a huge Russian-East European diaspora in Toronto and it was kinda strange – suddenly a large number of hitherto alien sounds started making sense. I almost felt like a child who recently learnt how to read and speak (further exemplified in Russia where I read each and every sign on the road with excitement, much to the annoyance of others!) I had 3 months to learn the language and in retrospect, I could have done better…
I also started eating a lot of meat to prepare my body for heavy non-vegetarianism.
I was going to be away from Toronto for 3 months, so I quit my apartment and moved my meager belongings to friends’ places. I got on the plane to Moscow, armed with a fresh new language and filled of excitement and anticipation.