Back in the USSR

Moscow, USSR – 1990

Sat on the train into Moscow I felt really dazed; as if I was in a little bubble. I seemed to be going the right way, getting on the right trains but my brain was just going ‘what the hell are you doing here? what the hell are you going to do here?’ Still, I was smiling.

The metro was pretty simple; took time matching up the various
12characters on the walls with the ones on my printed google maps. My guide book maps & downloaded Moscow map were entirely useless in a city that doesn’t really use the Latin Alphabet. Well done Lonely Planet. I arrived on the first platform just missing a train; thinking ‘ahh crap.’ At this point I didn’t know that trains arrive on every platform in every station every two minutes with a timer at the end of each one counting the seconds since the last train left.

Made my way to my hostel, dumped my bags and took a long detoured walk before meeting my Communist Tour Guide. The sun was shining and I was starving, a sensation I would become accustomed to over the next few days. I came across a free outdoor art exhibition before sitting in the sunshine with a beer and salad watching the Muscavites go by, wondering, hoping that this would not only be an interesting weekend, but a fun one too.




I met my guide by the Solovetsky Stone, a memorial to political victims, which is placed outside the Ex-KGB Headquarters (now Federal Security) and directly in front of the largest toy store I have ever seen.  No one else turned up so I had my own my very own private tour guide. Young (early 20s), patriotic but fairly grounded. She was generally open to my questions, but seemed unknowingly contradictory, mainly in regards to the USSR. For example, the great education and equality of the masses, yet how many were starving and had no personal or political freedom. Of course it’s not black and white, but it was that she didn’t pick up on these huge discrepancies or seem willing to engage in a discussion on the imbalances and issues, not out of defense, but because she just didn’t see it. On top of this she told me stories of her family outside of Moscow and their hardships, during Soviet Times, and also acknowledged how outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg most in Russia still had quite harsh living conditions.

FSB Building, formally KGB Headquarters


She stated enthusiastically what a great leader Putin was; strong and fearless, but had the world fearing him, which was a good thing. I questioned if she was part of Nashi (Russian Political Youth Movement, pro-Putin), but I got the impression then that she wasn’t actually that political. Perhaps a lot of this was lost in translation or her feeling she needed to paint a good picture of Russia?

17We walked around the main parts of the city walking past murals, statues, the Bolshoi Theatre and a couple of museums, talking all the while. A lot of it seemed to awaken some corner of my memory. I’d forgotten how much Russian history I’d studied at GSCE and A-Level. There was SO much money around. In concentrated areas, but more extravagant than I expected; not entirely sure why. The tour was great, and I’m so grateful it was just the two of us as we could properly converse, not just about Russia, but about our lives, which for me, not knowing many Russians, was great.

At the end of the tour she pointed me in the direction of a typical soviet restaurant. Though I was hungry I was more concerned about making sure I had some beers for what could be a night alone in a hostel, or preferably hanging out with others. I’d read about how it was a super sociable place and already been shown the BYO alcohol fridge. I headed to a fairly upmarket supermarket we’d already visited (not sure why), bought some beers, rye bread (which I love) and some cheese curd… (I thought it seemed suitably Russian) just in case I didn’t find food.

My issues with food were:
1. I don’t like being in a country and not being able to say anything. I mean ANYTHING. I tried to learn a few words but they wouldn’t stick in my brain.
2. Menu’s were all in Russian, which unlike French or Spanish I couldn’t even attempt to navigate or make out using my guide book (as menus were in the Cyrillic alphabet and guide book ‘translations’ in the Latin Alphabet.) Due to issue number 1 and being a vegetarian I didn’t want to go in and ask in total English.
3. I don’t like tourist places, which normally solve issues 1 & 2, but I’d rather eat rye and curd.

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