i have adventures (sometimes)

Friday, 30 March 2012

In Soviet Russia, This Guy Looks Like You

The Russian visa people had told me that I could come in any time on Tuesday to collect my visa. Being one of those smug British passport holders and being therefore unaccustomed to applying for visas, and being unfamiliar with Russian bureaucracy, I decided to trust them, and merrily arrived at the visa centre at 3.30 on Tuesday afternoon, to discover that "any time" meant "between 5 and 5.30", which is one of the most specific definitions of "any time" I've ever encountered.

So I found a church garden and lay there in the very pleasant spring sunshine for an hour or so until I could actually go and pick up my visa. Once I was there at the right time, it actually went smoothly enough, which was a relief, and so I could set off for Russia the next morning without fear of being deported. Or arrested. Or sent to Siberia. Or whatever it is they do if you don't have a visa.

Ali likes not being sent to Siberia. And also trams.

Emily and I endeared ourselves to everyone around us on the flight by spending most of it practising my IPA flashcards ("velaric ingressive voiceless dental click! a|a!"), and before we knew it we were in Moscow, where it was no longer delightfully warm and springy, and everyone had their grimmest faces on to brave the freezing sleet.

And then it was time for the food to start.

Em had warned me that her gran had been planning to feed me ever since she first saw a picture of me, and I was not disappointed. We arrived to find a massive table spread with food (ALL THE FOOD), and we were instructed to eat ALL THE FOOD. Em spent most of her time translating, and I was reminded strongly of Anny's translations on tours in China, where the guide would speak for five minutes, then Anny would turn to La and me and say "The Japanese invaded."

Only this time it was more a case of "We're talking about you." "You have to eat." "You have to eat more." "You must be hungry." "You have to eat." You have to eat now." "They're happy to have you here." "Now you have to eat."

The food was amazing - Emily's gran is my new culinary hero - so I was happy to oblige, since I could eat as a sport at Olympic level. It took a while to impress Emily's gran, who took a day and a half to be won over to the idea that I don't eat like a bird. I think she may be thinking of pterodactyls.

Since Em and I were exhausted, we decided to have an early night, so obviously we stayed up talking until morning, which is probably the sort of thing sensible adults and good tourists do all the time. Not coincidentally, it was after blunch* time when we went out the next day, with Em's grandfather (and his Russian grandfather beard) as our tour guide(s).

Snow! Snoooow! Sneg!

We first visited St Barbara's church, which was small and domed and quite beautiful inside, but we were severely snooted at by the old lady there and had to leave. Apparently we weren't welcome there because we were disrespectful enough to talk in front of icons (maybe all the saints were trying to take a nap), and Em's grandfather should feel ashamed of himself for bringing disrespectful women there, and it was on his conscience. I suspect that our sinful knees didn't help.

So we said rude things about her and grumpy old church ladies in general, and set off for St Basil's Cathedral and Red Square. We couldn't go into the Kremlin because Putin was there, no doubt being charming and delightful and legitimately elected (please don't deport me), but we got into St Basil's, which is actually 12 churches built on the same foundation, and which is full of paintings and singing.

St Basil's. He was naked a lot, according to the pictures.
Kremlin jazz hands. We love Putin (please don't deport me).
In Soviet Russia, this guy looks like you.
Red Square.

Next we went to the Pushkin Museum, which we treated with all the gravitas we usually devote to cultural monuments. By which I mean we played some more of our favourite game, Russian style.

This guy looks like Emily.
Mary Magdalene rolls her eyes like me.
"Give back my crown, Philip."
"You can't make me."

This one's called "Allegory of Justice". Because justice is just like when you want a bowl, but a naked woman stands on your throat and Jesus laughs at you from a rainbow.

We only made it around the first floor before we got hungry, because, despite the epic blunch, it had been five hours since we'd eaten, and we risked descending into the blood sugar grumps. Had this been allowed to occur, there would have been no survivors. We munched on transferred epithets and sullen oatcakes at the bus stop for twenty minutes before we decided the bus wasn't coming, and then crammed ourselves onto the metro instead with every other person in Moscow. Even having survived China and London and that time at the Rise Against concert when I thought I was going to die, I can say I've never experienced a crush of people quite like it.

These are the only people not on the Metro. Also, this says "stardogs". Oh, transliteration.

But we survived, and, well-fed, today we went to the biggest flea market in the city, where everything was crazy expensive. In our opinion, this thoroughly defeats the point of flea markets, so we spent our time mocking the ugly dresses instead. Good times were had by all (except Em's grandfather and his beard, who didn't particularly enjoy traipsing along behind us as we pulled faces at garmentry).

Since neither of us could eat another bite after having had breakfast and second breakfast just before going out, we excused ourselves (with much fussing over scarves, hats, and the surprisingly many ways we could possibly die) for a walk around the park. Since we were allowed out on our own for the first time, we were thoroughly rebellious, and walked through puddles, took off our hats, and sometimes even jumped in the snow. If Russian grandparents are to be believed, all of these things lead to pneumonia and death, so if this is my last blog post, that'll be why.

gif maker

Then we came back for MORE FOOD. ALL THE FOOD. EAT. EAT NOW. (This is the one phrase I've learned in Russian so far: Jesh! Jesh sechias!)

Tomorrow night we're going to St Petersburg with Em's uncle, but don't worry - Em's gran has promised to send us with food. Because apparently there isn't any in St Petersburg, and we might get hungry.

I'm not sure I'll ever be hungry ever again, but I guess it's best not to risk it.

*The meal you eat when you wake up so late that your first meal is lunch.

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