So it’s past midnight. I’m waiting anxiously at the Airport for the ticketing official to approve my Turkish e-Visa and hand me my boarding pass. You would think they’d know all the latest rules, but well, that clearly ain’t the case! My mind is starting to innovate all kinds of options. What if the e-Visa was infact not valid! I’d have to cancel my trip to Turkey and go back! Nah..I could never do that. I’ll simply head to some other destination..I couldn’t possibly go back to office once my holiday was approved. But wait, how can it be invalid?! I called up the embassy specially to ensure that wouldn’t happen. But then why is it taking so long for the Aeroflot guy to confirm the visa from Turkish Airlines people! God..what a bunch of idiots!!
And then suddenly I spot him in the distance, scrolling through all the sheets of papers i’d given him, including the Transit visa for Russia. This was the part I was excited about more than anything else, especially because I was going there all alone; no Russian language classes or anything, no laid out plan for one whole day and a budget to meet. Boy! I couldn’t wait.
So, this fellow comes to me and says, “I think you are good to go” and I’m all You don’t say!! But well, I was going there after all. I head to the Immigration counter and jeez! Please kill me..i don’t wanna live here anymore. They are immigration people. They’re supposed to know the rules, but No! I’m asked to wait again for another 20-30 minutes, by when this guy asks some of the senior most people in his team and says, “Woh..rules change hote rehte hain na!!” Ofcourse, I have no option but to pretend kiss some ass. I really don’t wanna be left here.
By the time, I get all the formalities done, it’s time for me to board the plane. I get in and what the F?! Indians here also?! I didn’t frankly expect to see many Indians on board a Moscow bound plane. But well, we are a diverse and well spread group..haha
I sit quietly in my seat, hoping someone nice would sit by my side. And just then another desi comes up. I don’t wanna sound too biased, but one wouldn’t hope to meet desis on a trip..I thought that was the whole point! Alas..no choice..after some basic pretence, I get back to my reading. I had noted some basic language tips, so I wouldn’t get lost that easily. I was kinda scared though!
Fifteen minutes into the flight and this guy starts pretending he’s all American…Yeah, pretend all you want sucker! I manage to ignore him successfully though and finally doze off. Sometime later, I open my eyes and it’s already day outside. I can see only greenery far beneath me. For a moment there I thought, I was flying above Canada, given the tall green coniferous growth and the beauty of the place. Well frankly my research says there are only three most beautiful places on this planet..keep guessing the other two!
So, after much wait, I finally land on the Moscow terre, and for the first time, I notice everybody working on the ground is white. Not to sound too racist or anything, but that’s not something you see daily, coming where I where come from. I get off and the airport is almost empty. Again, something rather unusual for an Indian.
At the immigration counter, I pass through the VIP counter (a dream come true), though it was mainly coz there were hardly 30 people and they wanted us to pass asap, but who cares!! I was a VIP!! Anyway, let’s get past the moment..
Now first thing, I need to get the Russian Rubles. Find an exchange counter. Fortunately I travelled when India’s currency was still tolerable and got a decent deal. Actually at the time, 100 INR meant around 56 rubles. Not bad eh?!
I move forward and woah! what’s with the changing language?! I look a little more and it does infact start changing to some weird drawings, as I called it then. This might be difficult than I thought!! A little fear of getting lost starts piercing in. For the first time I felt I was in a different country. Sauntering at my own slow resistant pace, I reach the Aero-express. The ticket checker tries to tell me something but she’s speaking Russian and I don’t really get a word.
Panicked, I start asking random people if they speak english (ofcourse after judging their worth by looks..lol) Fortunately, I find this girl, she tells me where to buy the ticket. And in no time, I’m moving across Moscow’s wilderness. The thick forests that I had seen from above is now on my side. Wow! This is a beautiful country. People should come here more.
I remember sitting with my camera in hand, and people staring at me, not coz of the camera, but coz up there, even I was a site! No kidding, after than plane, I hardly spotted an indian that day.
But this was not to keep me from looking outside. I was loving every bit of that 30 minute ride to the central station. This was the place where was supposed to change trains. Ofcourse, I have no idea where to go, so I start following people. Not something I usually do, but they seemed to know where they were going for a change!!
Turns out, I was correct. They did know where they were headed! So, I keep following them and to the huge escalator. The largest one I have seen till date. You couldn’t spot the end of that thing from the top. And so many people. Finally, some tourists..Phew! After a rather exciting long escalator so-to-say tour, I reach the end, and cold wind is blowing. The atmosphere feels nice and comfortable, a little windy though. I had read about Moscow’s legendary metro stations, but this is what would be it, I hadn’t expected. It didn’t really feel like a metro station. It was more of a museum with trains coming in and out of it. After ten minutes of gawking the murals like a kid, I realise it’s time to head to the red square. But the map I took with me is lost somewhere and I can’t find another metro map in English.
Surprisingly, I don’t panic as much as I had thought I would. I try to recall the map like Sherlock Holmes and compare it with the Russian language map that I could see. Then as soon as I spot
a train going into the direction I should be headed, I jump into it, only to realise 2 stops later,
One of Moscow’s Metro Stations!!!
it was taking me away. I hop off immediately and start looking for signs of English speaking population. Fortunately, I find this girl, who’s staring at me like a lost puppy. Turns out, she was lost too. My gain!! After some serious discussions we board the train going in the other direction.
Now we’re back to square one. So we’re both officially lost in a zoo of weird language speaking people and have zero clue of where to go next. I finally muster the courage to ask the local guard. Well, no surprises there..he doesn’t speak English too, but someone finally notices a lost alien and directs me to the right way. What a relief! If he weren’t a guy, I would be thanking him over coffee..that’s for sure!! haha
By the way, for your reference, I’m attaching a section of the map below. Try making sense of the words or even the pronunciation!! Anyway, so we finally get off at the station which I knew was the one. Phew!! What a relief! We start walking and after some 5-10 minutes, I start noticing the huge huge buildings. I mean I have seen tall buildings, I have seen big buildings, but these were just gigantic!! Windows were the height of one floor and everything lay so quiet as if it had been there since Adam and Eve lay foot on this planet. Finally we start spotting tourists, all queued up waiting to enter the museum.
I personally am not a huge fan of exhibits, so I opted not to go, but umm..ok..let’s call her X, so, X was interested in seeing all the “whatever” things were there, so we had to part ways. Ofcourse, we headed for a coffee (breakfast mostly) .Beside this beautiful long flowing stream of water, in the middle of the town we sat. It seemed as if everybody was just out celebrating after some kind of an apocalypse, so much enthusiasm, people kicking each other in the water, small kids playing around, big kids too…haha..parents shouting out (random russian words I wanna say!), restos on the side and we were sitting right in the middle of this!
We sat there eating and experimenting with some random russian food, for about an hour or so, soaking in the sun on the chill morning. After we split up I headed to the Red Square, and the first time i saw it, I realised it was only going to get better and bigger from there. I mean you’ve seen the Red Square in most of the famous movies and read about it in textbooks, but until you’ve actually visited the place, you will not see why they were fighting all the time! I felt like I was a part of the latest MI flick in which they blow up the Kremlin amidst the sea of tourists!!
There was some celebration that day…huge circus setups, cheerleaders performing miracles, guys playing basketball, Victorian war arenas, Bentley and what not displaying cars and in the middle of it all, people doing yoga!! wow, now that’s a rear sight to behold, just outside the huge Red walls of the Kremlin (or Kremal..as i recall some Russians pronouncing it.
Pushing past like a small kid in the world of strangers, I was torn between a desire to stay there and enjoy, and see more places! It’s ironical how at one point I picked up my camera
and thought of shooting the whole place, but then I realised it was just too awe inspiring. In a distance, I finally spotted the great Basil’s Cathedral. This was it! She stood all alone in the huge open field, as if announcing her beauty to the rest of the world. Clearly she was winning..I mean..look at her!
I must have spent an hour or two, clicking pics of the beautiful cathedral, when I finally decided to head over to the next huge building where people seemed to be entering, but no one was coming out. It was the Gum Mall. I had read about it surfing about the Red Square, but it’d be that big, I couldn’t have known. As far as the eyes could see, the mall actually stretched! The mall reminded of a movie where they show the world ending and last few survivors are hanging around this place, with aliens trying to butcher them, Crappy movie, but awesome mall!
I was in a whole new world for once; the idea of being near the Red Square sounded absurd. The displays were so quaintly set as if Angelina Jolie herself was coming to shop. Children were playing games on every junction in the mall, people were dressed on all possible cartoon suits; the mall was decorated like something I had never seen before! All the huge brands, reminded of the most famed Rodeo Drive of Los Angeles! I had hardly heard of any of the brands, the showrooms were huge and it was rather obvious the owners had spent tons of money just setting up the showrooms (I wouldn’t exactly say Shops here…I don’t wanna insult the showrooms…). Finally I sat down at the food court.
After savouring on some fresh smoked salmon, Russian style and a local dessert, my tummy was full. I wanted to sleep there itself, but I chose to dash out for a last random walk, amidst the historic streets of Muscva! It was about nearing 5pm and I had to head back to the airport in another 2 hours. So, I started following random strangers to see where they were headed; I followed a group of lost Europeans, who were guiding themselves with a local map, only to realise some time later they were themselves lost..idiots! Fortunately though, I had an idea how to get back though. So after a bit more sauntering I came back to centre of the Red Square, sat down to rest my ass a bit and tried to soak in as many of those last minutes as I had there, until it was finally time to head off to my next destination….