Russia had long been the pipe dream on my list of travel goals,the white nights of Saint Petersburg,Transsiberian Train and its candy-colored cathedrals taunting me with their unreachable points. It seemed so unattainable—I’d only known a few people who’d gone, none of them traveling solo, and the winter looked brutal. I’m a notoriously independent traveler with little patience for the cold, so I knowing that I couldn’t handle a Russian winter, I made plans to visit in April’19. But the solo travel seemed more difficult to wrangle.
I remember falling in line at Russian Consulate in Kolkata very early in the morning without even brushing as I reached by train that day to apply for visa. The officer looked at me as if I am some kind of weirdo dropping by chance but she was generous.”So,you are flying by Aeroflot”, She asked and I nodded in a yes to which she said,”Have fun”. I smiled and submitted the fees for Visa and left. I received my Visa after 10-15 days and was ecstatic about the trip. But the dark shadow was waiting to test my will to travel.
6th April,2019- My train was late from Jharsusguda,Odisha,India. I had taken 5-6 hours in advance to catch my flight from Ranchi Airport. The train delayed further and I started with a delay of 5 hours hoping to get to airport soon. As soon as I was one station away from Hatia Railway station(from where I was supposed to catch a cab/auto and go to airport), the train stopped and it remained there for 50 minutes and I felt like running away well knowing inside that I was gonna miss my flight to Delhi. Moresoover I was worried because missing this flight means I am gonna miss my flight to Moscow too on 7th April. My flight was scheduled at 8:25 PM and I reached railway station at 7:50 PM. Soon I was in an auto rickshaw asking him to drive as fast as possible. I reached the airport at 8:10 PM and the counter was closed…hurriedly I went to their office to check with departure to which she sweetly replied-“sorry sir, we can’t let you in now” and I felt like my heart choked. Then I decided to ask for help and went to every counter of Air India,Vistara,Indigo,etc. to let me in(didn’t even got for Kolkata from where I thought to catch another flight to Delhi) but all I received was a sweet sorry from all of them and I was helpless. It was 9:10PM all flights had left and so were my hopes of flying off to Russia. I almost had teary eyes when one of guard asked me to leave as the autos and cabs would not be available in another 15-20 minutes. That’s where the magic happened. I got up and then sat again…something struck me. I saw an option for rescheduling my flight while checking in for Moscow but the option removed as I had alreadycheckedin and so I mailed them waiting for a reply but I could not hold long enough and dailed the helpline number to aeroflot Moscow. I told them about my situation that I am gonna miss my flight and want to reschedule to which she replied-“sir, let me check”. Meanwhile I received an email saying they can’t reschedule my flight as I had already checked in but the next instant I received a call from Moscow and she said-“sir, your flight can be rescheduled without any extra charges.Can you please tell me the date to which you wanna reschedule it?”. I felt as if life returned to my body, I was breathing heavily and the joy in me had returned. I changed my flight dates,thanked her numerous times and booked a cab to nearby hotel in Ranchi to stay the night only to take another flight next day to Delhi. I was excited,nervous and afraid to go alone now sitting at the airport waiting for departure.I imagined every worse possible scenario and then I thought,Oh man…Just Go! It was a 9 hour flight from Delhi and all I did in flight was made friend with a Punjabi guy who was going to Greece and listened to songs and watched movies.
It was freezing when I landed at Sheretmetyevo Airport and we got ourselves transferred to the inside of the Airport via a bus. My body froze as the customs officer’s words resonated in my ears. “Are you meeting friends here in Russia or are you traveling alone?”
I stood there with my passport and paperwork clutched between my fingers at that little counter in the Moscow airport, it finally hit me: I didn’t know a soul within thousands of miles from where I stood. The reality quickly sank in that I was truly on my own … alone in the former Soviet Union. Oh that feeling…I miss that a lot…the uncertainty of anything and everything.
Same day I took a flight to Saint Petersburg,one of the most beautiful cities in the world, to Pulkovo Airport and met a really sweet lady named Olga sitting by my side telling me stories of Russia and Saint Petersburg and meanwhile I told her my stories of travel from India. She would sometimes make faces making me laugh when she won’t get me. We bid good byes at the airport and I thought….oh these goodbyes…I hate them.
As I walked out, It was snowing and my hands stopped working and I somehow got my hand gloves on soon. I had my room booked at a hostel in Saint Petersburg.Its better to use an online app to book a taxi and I used Yandex taxi to get to my hostel in that freezing night. I checked in and there I saw it….The White Nights of Saint Peretsburg.It was amazing…it was an indescribable feeling.
Next day I was ready to explore the places- The blood spilled church,winter Palace,State Hermitage Museum,St. Isaac Cathedral,the shopping streets,Palace Square,Peterhof,etc.I made quite some friends from Uzbekistan,China,Russia in hostel and they were ready to show me around. A walk around the exuberant city of Saint Petersburg with classical European architecture and colorful buildings is a must,where you can spot street band performers at every 100 meters and walk with the locals to the actual russian feel. Russia is heaven for meat lovers(I am) and if your are one then do not forget to treat your taste buds with super amazing chees and beef/chicken burgers and the traditional solyanka soup which is meat lover’s dream come true. Also,you can’t miss the Russian Vodka,draught beer and Nevysky beer which costs less then water.
The rest of the time in St Petersburg was spent sharing snacks from each other’s backpacks, laughing through happy hours at places like Dreamer’s Café and doing vodka shots at lunch before heading to classy evening ballets together at the Hermitage Theatre. Although we had free time at night and during some afternoons, we found ourselves choosing to share those free time together, gleaning collective knowledge about Russian history, food, and culture.
The next thing was my dream- to catch the Transsiberian train to Irkutsk from Saint Petersburg. I was jumping with joy when I saw it arriving more so also because it would generate heat as it was too cold. I went inside and Gosh….I felt wonderful,warm and welcomed. I went around to places like 130 Kvartal and cathedrals,bought the russian rum to have a taste with a friend called Slava from Russia who was visiting Thailand next day and you know the talks when two strangers having same taste of travel meet like this….it brew memories. We talked about both countries,food,life ,aspirations and ambitions…Oh I like these little life talks. Again a goodbye and I took my flight back to Moscow for a 3 day tour.
There is a lot to love about living in a big bright city.People,culture,food and the night sky. Moscow,a city full of great architecture and history with pleasant weather.There was everything nature could bestow and walking around the lanes of Moscow was an amazing and breathtaking experience. My personal favorites being the St. Basil Cathedral,The Kremlin and the Red square. But not to be left out….Gum,the oldest metro station and the Sunset from the top of Moskava River is something I would cherish my lifetime. Someone told me- “Go see a sunset from Moscow and you will know things”, and he was right.
I met Dimmik through Showaround App and he walked around with me telling me the wonderful history about kremlin and red square.The history that I came to know was was so much wonderful that I would love him to teach me history…it was fun learning from him and I hope to meet him soon someday…a little old and a little wise.
When in Russia,I felt like I am one among the crowd. This trip rather a voyage to a totally new country where my life was working on a series of interesting guesses was a part of my life where I would always long to return because there I have been and I miss the kind of person I was at the moment.
Russia is a place to get lost in the right direction and a place of churches and minarets filling the skyline.A place of great culture teaching you about war and peace. Now I think,I didn’t choose Russia but Russia Chose me.I had been fascinated from the early age by the culture,the language,the literature and history of the place(Mostly haunting).