This is Part 2 of Linda’s Travel Series. Read Part 1 first.
Now for some of the memories of my trip to Istanbul, Vienna and Moscow – some funny, some not so much. Of course, travel to a place with a different language always adds adventure. Throw in a different alphabet, and you have a wonderful recipe for fun and disaster. I talk about Russia. After arriving, we spent the good part of three hours just looking for our hotel/apartment and trying to find someone who could speak enough English to help us make the necessary phone calls to raise the landlord to let us in!
Travel to Russia is not for the fainthearted, and, yes, I did suffer a few panic attacks. Funny how they hit you in the middle of the night, usually around 2:00 am or so. And just to add to the atmosphere, in a concrete fortress of an apartment building (built in the Soviet era), living with the locals. No friendly English speaking hotel desk service to help you out here. I kid you not, the walls here were 2 feet thick – no one would even hear me screaming for help.
Here’s the corridor to our apartment in Russia.
I cannot say if one particular attack was brought on by my husband trying to step out onto the very rusty crooked veranda that jutted out precariously – 8 floors above a Russian suburb, or the dingy, grimy tile worn corridors we had to flee down and the minuscule elevator we hurtled ourselves into, all the while covering our faces with our hands, while choking. All I can say is, at the time, I was convinced that someone had died in their apartment, and now a few days later, lay festering in their bed. The smell was that bad.
I mean, hubby can read the Cyrillic script and has a rudimentary knowledge of Russian. So we needed him. The thought of being alone with Mbali in this city, where almost no one speaks English, and definitely no one in our building. Well yes, that would explain the panic attack. But if it was a body, we decided our best policy was to leave it to the locals to deal with. We couldn’t smell it on the eighth floor, enclosed in our code operated locked apartment. After all, it was their mess. But still, not a good thought to ponder on at 2:00 am. All turned out well in the end. Sleep finally came, another day dawned for us to pound the Moscow sidewalks for 12 – 14 hours and perhaps the smell was just someone’s dinner, as it was not so potent the following day.
One of the most fun things to do in Moscow, is to walk around trying to read the signs, and it is so exciting when you manage your first one. Mine was Stalingrad!
This is what Stalingrad looks like in the Cyrillic script.
I highly recommend travel to some foreign place. After all, it gives you a sense of yourself. How really insignificant you are. And this is important because as “privileged Americans” we tend to usually think otherwise. Not only this, but it widens your outlook on life and you discover other ways to view things. We all have preconceived ideas of people and places, no matter how vehemently we deny it.
Take Istanbul, for example. It is a Muslim city. I found it to be very welcoming and very tolerant of whatever dress you wear, unless of course you are visiting a Mosque. Throw in a Turkish bath experience as well. I mean lying there completely naked on a warm marble slab, looking up at an ancient dome above you, while being completely scrubbed with a Brillo pad, slathered with masses of fragrant bubbles and then doused with a bucket of water by an female attendant wearing nothing but her panties, will give you a new outlook, at least for the moment. And after all, no one who sees you like this, will ever see you again. So there you have it – freedom.
You can just see the Turkish Bath sign down this alley.
There is freedom while traveling, and it is one of the great pluses you will soon discover. In Vienna, you could do what I did. While walking down the road in absolutely boiling weather, you could walk into a roadside sprinkler and cool off. Who cares what it does to your hair or make-up? They were long gone in the heat anyway.
In Russia, you can talk in English as much as you like, knowing no one will understand you. Especially on the metro, where you literally risk your life. Not the worst thing by far, you could go around and around all day because all the stations’ names look alike. There is no posted metro map and very little signage on the train or stations. The trains are from the 1930’s, still running, and they rattle and squeak and feel like they are about to fall apart at high speeds.
These trains are amazing. They rush into a station at full speed, slam on the brakes, stop for a few seconds and then hurtle off again at breakneck pace. The sound is horrendous. You can even be the typical loud obnoxious American traveler, no one will hear you, not even yourself. But then you probably are already speechless. Perhaps from sheer fright. No one hurries in the Moscow metro – or metpo as it is called. There is no need, for the next train will arrive in 45 to 50 seconds. We have proof of this on a video. What I can’t figure out is how they avoid crashing into each other. Russian technology at its finest I guess. Or, you may be speechless because of the sheer beauty of the stations, especially if you are on the circle line.
Photos do not do these stations justice. Each is a unique masterpiece.
Read Part 3.