The reason why this post has taken me so long to write is because I couldn’t think of a good name for it. Voronezh to Vladimir just seemed a bit boring and we were meant to go to Volgograd this weekend, which I thought might spice it up, you know? Voronezh, Vladimir, Volgograd – so many V’s! But then we didn’t actually end up going and I was left with no more ideas – so the boring title won and now, here we are. This is all completely irrelevant information and I’m probably wasting your time, but if you would like to waste even more time then go ahead and click ‘Continue reading’ to find out all about my trip to the Golden Ring!
After an early 5am rise on Wednesday morning, I grabbed my backpack and began the 40 minute walk to the train station. I could have gotten the bus, yes, but some freezing cold wind and a teensy bit of exercise was exactly what I needed to wake me up from my unconscious state. The train to Moscow wasn’t very interesting but I did trip over thin air on my way back from the bathroom smacking my face off the floor (nobody helped me, thank you Russia). I then scurried to my seat and started panicking that all my stuff had gone missing (I was frantically looking everywhere) but finally I realised that it wasn’t actually my seat and I slinked away hoping that no-one had noticed me (everyone noticed me). Once I’d finally got settled, a Russian guy about my age sat down next to me. I was doing my homework on the train and was actually pronouncing words out loud so it was 700% obvious that I was an english foreigner. I noticed him side-eyeing my work, so I side-eyed his kindle right back and I noticed that he had switched his Russian book to an English one. I’m not sure if this was a secret way of communication like; ‘Hello, I also speak English too’ but needless to say, neither of us acted upon this discovery. I was also kind of intimidated by him because I didn’t know what half the English words he was reading actually meant – it appeared to be Shakespearean or something! But then again, he could have been doing the thing that I sometimes do on trains in the UK where I flick through a Spanish novel without actually understanding any words just so that I can give off the illusion that I’m exotic/intelligent. No? You don’t do that? Never mind.
Back to the point, I arrived in Moscow with a few hours to kill before my train to Vladimir but my first challenge was to tackle the metro. I must admit that it’s a lot easier to do this alone than with other people because you don’t have to spend 3 years discussing the most appropriate route or waiting around for people to catch up. I guess that’s just the case with solo travel in general though, it’s always nice to do your own thing and that is exactly what I did! I trundled around a few shopping malls, took a few photos of the city and soaked up the electric vibe of Russia’s capital once again. Before I knew it, it was time to catch my next train. I had a lot of trouble trying to locate the right platform and everyone I asked sent me in a different direction but eventually, all was good and I was on a high speed ‘Lastochka’ to the Golden Ring!
When I arrived at Vladimir station, my old friend Beth was there to greet me with chocolate and hugs! It had been years since we’d seen each other, and we were never really that close when we were at school together but that just goes to show how much travelling can unite people! We had never made the effort to reunite in the UK but as soon as both of us were studying in Russia at the same time, travelling half way across the country to see each other didn’t seem like such a bad idea… I love how life works out sometimes! We caught a taxi to a place called British House, the place where Beth works as an English teacher. The employees are free to use the social areas whenever they wish which is super cool because it meant we could hang out there, shower there, eat breakfast there etc. without any hassle.
Whilst I was there, I was lucky enough to get a private tour of Vladimir from Beth. She showed me all the main sights and we even managed to discover some new gems! It’s safe to say that this is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve seen yet in Russia. There are churches and cathedrals everywhere (I hope you don’t care about the names of them because I’ve forgotten them all), gorgeous landscapes, cute walkways and it was all made that teensy bit more magical by the layer of frosty snow on the ground. I was really impressed! Plus, we had so much fun too… we had some lovely meals out with Beth’s friends, we danced around the living room in the morning to Christmas songs (never too soon), we went to the cutest coffee shops and, finally, I tried to get rid of Beth’s hiccups by screaming ‘DANGER’ and grabbing her on a late night walk home, but instead I traumatised her and she was very shaken up afterwards. The hiccups were gone though.
Yeah, I’m just really glad I got to visit even just a small part of the Golden Ring! I’d love to go back one day and do it ALL – who knows, maybe I will. Huge thank you to Beth for hosting me! I think the most interesting part was actually being able to compare our experiences, and talk about the taboo subjects that Russians always shy away from. Beth teaches English to adults and she invited me to help with one of her classes. I asked the class where the best place they had ever travelled to was and one woman said Germany. I asked why she thought this and she said she liked the culture but that there were too many ‘geese’ there. I thought to myself; ‘I’ve never been to Germany, but I didn’t know there was a geese problem’, so I wanted her to elaborate. I said ‘Geese? Are there lots on the street?’ and she said ‘Yes there was a big festival for them while I was there, so many on the street, it was terrible’. It was only then that I realised she was talking about ‘gays’, not geese and suddenly my faith in humanity was lost (for the millionth time here in Russia). She continued to say that it shouldn’t be for the public to see, that they would never do such an awful thing here in Vladimir and homosexual people should instead be locked away in a room. Obviously me and Beth were both affected by the comments, and it prompted us to discuss other controversial conversations that had arisen during our time here. Sadly, this wasn’t just a one off experience for either of us.
It’s been really hard to hear this kind of stuff in Russia (I know you can hear it in the UK too, but it’s more prevalent here). The thing is, I don’t even think it’s entirely their fault – it’s almost like they’re programmed to think this way, like the government, religious leaders, their parents and any other leading figures in their lives have tainted their minds with these toxic beliefs. I so strongly believe in equality regardless of gender, sexuality, race or class and for me I find it very hard to bite my tongue and keep my mouth shut for the sake of being a ‘teacher’ or ‘not wanting to cause trouble’. I prefer to be honest (maybe sometimes a little TOO honest), which can alienate me from people but in this circumstance – I couldn’t really care less. This poisonous propaganda needs to stop. It’s always going to be a tough thing to write about and so I shall just leave it there but I can’t tell you how hard it is to fall in love with a country that places sexism, homophobia and racism at the forefront of it’s beliefs.
Back to the positives, though! There is a small surprise involved in this adventure – I got to return to Moscow one last time for a few days of wintery fun. Of course I was ecstatic when Beth suggested the idea (it’s the most amazing city) so we booked our tickets online, secured a hostel and we were off on our way. During the train ride there, Beth’s friend Freddie was telling a story, when suddenly an old Russian lady interrupted her and said ‘SSHHHHH’. We all were a bit surprised but realised that people probably wanted to sleep, so we just decided to relax. It turned out to be pretty difficult though because the woman who’d just told Freddie to shut up was speaking SO loudly to her friend that it was impossible to sleep – talk about double standards! She also rudely gestured to me to move out of her way before tutting about ‘foreigners’, to which Beth suddenly snapped: ‘We understand everything you’re saying you know, and you should really say excuse me’. She then muttered the word for hypocrite (лицемер) under her breath, which I thought was a great touch.
Feeling sassy, we strutted off the train feeling totally ready to begin our Moscow adventure. First stop: Safari Hostel. This hostel was awesome and I would totally recommend it to anyone needing somewhere to stay for a few nights in the centre. We managed to bag ourselves a private room which meant Taylor Swift could be sung loudly and we could stay up all night plaiting each others hair – perfect. We had so much fun over the weekend that we were there, I’m not even sure how to convey it’s awesomeness in words. So I shall try to bullet point some of the key events!
1) Great Restaurants
The food was SO ridiculously good. I was introduced to the world’s most magical restaurant ‘Anderson’. Based on the fairytales of Hans Christian Anderson, the interior decor is like a story book and the menu is pretty magical too! We had the most delicious breakfast for the equivalent of just a few english pounds. What a dream! We also visited an american diner called Porky’s, where we ended up ordering 3 desserts instead of 1 dessert and 3 spoons… (Russian ability = still questionable).
2) Ice Skating
Yep, you heard me. Ice skating. Anyone who knows me will be aware that I despise ice skating. Mainly because I can’t do it, and my only child syndrome causes me to have a major strop whenever I can’t do something… For some reason, I still attempt it every year thinking that it will be easier. Well, long story short – I still suck. But on a more positive note, I can now say that I’ve ice skated (been pulled along by others on ice) in Gorky Park, Moscow! How cool is that? The park has been transformed into a massive ice rink with tracks that weave between the trees – 10x more interesting than the generic square ice blocks I’ve been on before – and even though I spent most of my time gripping the side in sheer terror, there was such a Christmassy, wintery, mystical vibe in the air. Pretty sure Santa Claus was actually there at the time, there doesn’t appear to be any other explanation for why I was so happy! Cheers to my first year of enjoyable time on ice.
3) Kremlin in Ismailov
A friend recommended this place to me once I’d returned from my first trip to Moscow and I thought I’d never get the chance to actually see it in person so I just admired it on Google images. Naturally, when we found ourselves back in the capital it was one of the first things I thought about and I’m so glad we got the chance to visit! It’s ranked 80 something on TripAdvisor which means not many tourists know about it but it’s actually the 2nd kremlin of Moscow, located in the middle of nowhere! It looks like a magical fairytale village and inside it really is one! There’s shops, spas, restaurants and of course it’s a top spot for wedding photography! A truly Russian sight to behold – we took lots of photos and bought tons of souvenirs. All in all, a MUST see whilst you’re in Moscow even if it’s just for the stunning Instagram-worthy picture 😉
4) Beauty and the Beast
This was the highlight of my entire week. You know what? No. It was the highlight of Russia SO FAR! That’s right, we went to see the Beauty and the Beast musical in Russian at the theatre on Tverskaya street and it was so incredibly, fantastically, awesomely, magnificently wonderful that I don’t have a word to explain it. We had the cheapest, back row seats but I think they were secretly the best because we could see the entire stage! I fell head over heels in love with the actors and their singing (‘Be our guest’ in Russian is a million times more enjoyable) and we all understood every word too, which was amazing. It’s a great feeling when you’re laughing along to Russian jokes and crying at the end of the show because you were genuinely so involved – I’ve come a long way over these last few months considering I started off barely knowing how to say ‘hello’! I’ve already recommended it to my friends here in Voronezh who are planning to spend some time in Moscow when I’m back home in the UK, but seriously if you speak even the tiniest bit of Russian and you want to see an amazing production then this is the one for you!
Красавица и чудовище – Вы наш гость! – Watch this!
So, that’s that. I could not have imagined a more perfect final visit to Moscow and to be able to experience the quaint, snow topped city of Vladimir as well was a total bonus. The train back to Voronezh was an emotional one – I didn’t want to go back to learning verb prefixes and being invited to ‘drink beer’ every night (shout out to Beth and Freddie for reminding me that there is fun to be had without standing around a bar). But I have to admit, now I’m back here snuggled up with my amazing host family I’m actually starting to feel sentimental about leaving in 2 weeks! Ahhhhh, I can’t believe how fast time has gone.
Once again, whoever you may be, thank you for reading my blog! I’ll write soon about what I’ve been up to in Voronezh this month, plus I’m heading to the Caucuses on Monday with my university so I will have loads to tell you about – the adventures aren’t over just yet!