Sit right back and you’ll hear a tale of raccoon street performers, sketchy hostels, a bus accident, and snow in May.
All of which added up to the crossing off of my top travel bucket list item.
I’ve wanted to go to Russia for forever. Driven mostly by my deep love of ballet, Russia and its cultural history, vibrant colors, architecture unlike anything in the rest of the Western or Eastern worlds, strange (to me) alphabet and language etc. called to me.
It always seemed like a pipe dream. A “I’ll do this when I marry rich and am 50-years-old” kind of dream.
In August, though, I saw the school calendar and realized I had a week of vacation in May. And as I always do prematurely every August, started scouting out cheap flights to see where I could go that year. On a complete and total whim, I looked at flights to Moscow.
……There were direct flights. Within my budget. On another whim, I looked up visa requirements.
…..There were visa companies that could help navigate the complicated process. Within my budget.
I gave it approximately two more seconds of thought and texted Casey, who I met when I studied abroad. Over the years we’d talk about Russia or tag each other in posts like, “haha wouldn’t it be nice.” But this time I was serious.
“How’d you like to go to Russia with me in May?”
As luck/unluck would have it, she just had cancelled a separate planned trip so she was free.
And thus began our journey.
About nine months, a mountain of paperwork and reservations, and an even bigger mountain of money later, we were waiting in the Madrid airport to board our flight.
Once we got past the border agent questioning Casey’s choice of hair color and thinking that glasses made someone unrecognizable*, we were officially in!
Day 1 consisted of being jet-lagged around Moscow and the first of our weird travel incidents. We took an overnight flight and arrived around 5am. By the time we caught public transportation to our hostel (consisting of a train to the center and then about a 15 minute walk) it was around 8:30. We had notified our hostel of our arrival time and there was supposedly 24 hour reception.
Narrator voice: There was no 24 hour reception.
We got into the building (which, first of all, was down a very sketchy looking alley and involved ducking past a security rail), but reception was closed up tight and no one official was in sight. Someone finally showed up after maybe 45 minutes of waiting and calling the posted number, but after grilling him about being able to check out by 7am the next morning to catch our train on time, we didn’t trust his reassurances, so we cancelled on the spot and booked another hotel.
BTW, the language barrier is very, very real, especially once you venture outside of the Latin alphabet. Translating from Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet, and then from the Russian to English was a P.R.O.C.E.S.S and it often did not go well for us.
Exhibit A: We went to the wrong hotel because of a misspelling on our part when booking the taxi.
We regrouped and got our second taxi of the day. We struck gold. The woman at the new hotel spoke approximately 2 words of English, but she was super nice and let us drop our bags with her so we could go get breakfast and walk around until our room was ready.
We are beyond grateful we had the chance to walk around during the day even after all our troubles. It ended up being our first and only chance to see Red Square, as when we returned to Moscow, it was closed for Victory Day activities.
Right off Red Square was GUM Department Store, full of shops we could barely afford to even look at.
We finally had a moment to breathe, have a snack, and enjoy being in RUSSIA.
For dinner that night, we went down the street to a Georgian restaurant with outdoor seating, and in a brilliant move, they offered us each a blanket so we could comfortably sit outside.
If you’ve never had Georgian (the country not the state ok? ok) cuisine, you’re missing out. It was divine.
NEXT UP: St. Petersburg, home to Zarina, everyone’s favorite hostel owner
Moscow accommodation night 1: Fligel Hotel (great staff, easy on the budget)
Food: Khachapuri (Krivokolennyy Pereulok, 10, строение 5, Moscow, Russia, 101000)
*Joe’s choice of disguise in “You” seems farfetched but I’m telling you this guy made her take her glasses off so he could closely examine her passport photo