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November 5th 2008 by Tina
Russia Concluded

Posted under Russia

Vast and mysterious, rough and raw, with searing cultural intrigue and political history, Russia is endlessly captivating, an appropriate finale to our epic adventure. But Russia almost didn’t happen. It was Aaron’s stubborn determination and the hand of fate that finally saw the Russian visa stickers added to our collection.

After failing at our first attempt to secure a Russian visa in Barcelona, my enthusiasm waned when I realized that our next attempt in Rome would cut into an already packed itinerary. But when Aaron fixes his mind to a task or idea, only God Himself can stop him from achieving it, a quality that I find both admirable and maddening.

On our first day in Rome, with my fabulously easy-going sister, Natalie, in tow, we spent the better part of two hours just finding the Russian Embassy. Despite our dismissal from the Russian Embassy in Barcelona, we thought our excessively bureaucratic stack of documents to be in order and we found ourselves waiting behind a solid, closed door. We had arrived during the posted visa application hours and had confirmed that we were at the right office, yet the door remained inexplicably closed for over an hour as we sat there, twiddling our thumbs and cursing the bureaucrats under our breath. A couple of people attempted to poke their heads inside the door but were quickly shooed away with no explanation. As the minutes passed, my aggravation festered and Aaron’s patience also began to fade. At 10:50am, we made a pact to tear up our documents right there in the embassy in a dramatic scene of contempt if the door did not open by 11:00. We sat on the cold stone steps, staring at our watches and growing emboldened with each passing minute so that the resolved Charade playing out in my mind was becoming increasingly animated. Then, almost at the buzzer, somewhere between 10:58 and 10:59, a sudden click…and the door opened. Once inside, the agent was surprisingly helpful and expedited the processing of our request using the exact paperwork with which we had been denied in Barcelona.

From the first day of our arrival in Saint Petersburg to our last day in Moscow, Russia did not disappoint. Russia has a dizzying number of things to see: beautiful baroque skylines, unique onion-domed cathedrals, fascinating museums, and sober Soviet-era buildings across from modern high-end shopping malls. All corners of Moscow and Saint Petersburg are under constant surveillance by an intimidating number of military and policemen and all corners are connected by one of the most efficient (if not foreign-user-friendly) and utilized public transport systems in the world, which is also heavily policed.

While the language barrier proved to be our biggest challenge to traveling independently in Russia, we found that ordinary people would bend over backwards to help us whenever they could. When we found ourselves standing in the wrong ticket line at the train station one morning, the kind gentleman behind us gave up his place in line to take us outside and explain, in very broken English, which way we needed to go. During one of our most confused moments inside the metro station, a middle-aged woman stopped to offer help and guided us through the underground maze to our connecting line. We found that, beneath those characteristically dour expressions, was genuine warmth and caring.

Our last week in Moscow concluded with strange happenings that were apropos of our Russian adventures. We had wanted to attend an ice hockey game on one of our last nights in Moscow and, with our host Tanya’s help, conducted our due diligence for securing tickets. We were directed to a yellow kiosk outside one of the metro stations that was supposed to sell tickets but, when we arrived, the women working at the kiosk were clueless. We managed to find our way to the arena where two ticket windows were open. We bought two tickets for Saturday’s game, ecstatic about our accomplishment.

When Saturday rolled around, we spent the morning indoors, attending to some business tasks, and then ventured out around 2pm, intending to poke around the nearby university area before heading to the 4:oo game. The university area turned out to be gorgeous with wooded walking trails and a scenic lookout over the city. The weather was beautiful and we walked leisurely along the trail with little regard for reaching the hockey arena before the second period. The arena was a single metro stop away from the university and, when we finally surfaced at the arena stop, we were greeted by hundreds of military and policemen, decked out in full riot gear. We could hear the roaring crowd inside the arena but there was little activity outside and the security forces stood in wait. There were at least six different groups, each with their own uniforms. Naturally, the scene outside and the screams of the hockey fans inside prompted us to conjure up visions of riotous scenarios in which we could find ourselves entangled.

We found our entrance, passed through heavy security screening, and entered the arena to find…soccer. When I first glimpsed the green field, I said, “Oh, it’s field hockey.” Then, in a Twilight Zone moment, we walked further inside and realized that it was not hockey at all but rather a professional soccer game between two Muscovite rivals. We looked at each other, dumbfounded, and just started laughing.

This hilarious mix-up, on our last night in Moscow, was symbolic of the difficulty of independent travel in Russia. It was as rewarding as it was challenging. Russia was full of surprises…beautiful, enlightening, funny surprises. The scenery was breathtaking, the culture and history fascinating.

As this epic fourteen-month journey comes to an end, we are both happy and sad. The most amazing, intense, life-changing chapter in our lives is coming to a close. We have come to feel at home on the road and enjoy the simplicity of living out of our backpacks. We find ourselves addicted to the crazy adventures and, even more so, addicted to learning. We have loved spending all of this time together. It has drawn us closer and bonded us tighter than we ever could have imagined. But all good things must come to an end and, as we think about seeing our family, friends and our sweet little dog, we find ourselves as exhilarated as we were on the first day of this adventure. While we are sad to close such a brilliant chapter in our lives, we are excited to start down a new path and wildly curious to see where it takes us. To conclude with the last three lines from my favorite Robert Frost poem:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


2 Responses to “Russia Concluded”

  1. Andrew Leonard on 12 Nov 2008 at 11:43 am #

    I know that you’re sad to get off the road, but I know of a lot of reasons to be happy about coming home……I can’t wait to see my friends again, talk about distant lands and share a nice bottle of wine

    Welcome Home!

  2. Anonymous on 18 Nov 2008 at 2:51 pm #

    Glad to see you two are home. let me know when you are coming to Ft Worth. I will check on the availability of activties for nudists.