My capital

The way to the dream wasn’t going to be a short one… First we needed to take a train to Moscow which is about 500km away from Voronezh. In the capital we would meet our travelling guide and the rest of the tourists who would join us on our journey. We would then set on a train trip from Moscow to the city of Brest, Belarus which would take us about 14 hours. This is where our coach trip would get underway. If all went as planned, then we would cross the Belarus-Poland border and… would actually be in the dream (i.e. in Europe)…

Actually for me the trip started as we got on a train to Moscow… This was when it finally dawned on me that that was it, there was no way back and what seemed an alluring dream, then a beautiful plan was now my reality… It felt really scary to get on the road, to feel the way travellers do, experience life in the way they do… As I was looking at my city through the windows of the train, I was wondering whether I would be ever coming back again… It wasn’t that I felt homesick before I actually left but the thought of going on such an extensive trip for the first time ever was incredibly overwhelming… Maybe in moments like these you really need to be secure in the knowledge that there is a place where you belong and you would definetely be back whatever trips and journeys life takes you on… Anyway, firsts always feel scary and cause one to think in quirky ways…

I always feel uncomfortable and quirky on trains (which might effect my thinking as well)… I was on a sleeping car only a couple of times and I knew this could well be my least favourite part of the trip… I just hate to be on a sleeper with a bunch of other people… It feels much like an invasion of privacy (in Russia we don’t make much of it, though) with all these people going about their daily routine in the space of a small sleeping car… It might look like the Big Brother Show or something… It’s just something I can’t explain because even though I’m not used to having a lot of space to myself in my day-to-day life, being on a train and sharing this space with other people makes me sick… More like emotionally sick with me having to watch these people and them watching me… It just makes you wonder how fate works bringing together all these different people travelling for their own different reasons… It feels like so many lives and fates are cluttered here… Were we all really meant to be at the same time in the same place like that?

So our trip officially started as the train set in motion… The only thing I like about trains is to hear the sound of a train’s wheels touching the rails… This rumbling sound alone is so serene and calm and so Russian to me… (I know it should be pretty much the same in the rest of the world)… So here we were listening to this sound and basically doing nothing apart from playing cards (this is what Russians do if we have some time to kill time on a train…). I was getting my head around how on earth I was going to sleep on this terrible, revoltingly pristine lining on this bunk bed a countless number of people had laid in… On the plus side, I knew I was this one trip away from coming back to Moscow… It’s been a long long time and I was eager to experience my capital again… I was on a brief visit there about twelve years which was actually the only trip I had been on… So coming back to Moscow was like revisiting this time (not that I miss it but I just enjoy letting my brain take me down a memory lane which is always an interesting and in a way self-indulging experience) and see how the city had changed or I had changed in the way I see it… Lying on a bunk bed felt like lying under the train itself with the wheels beating in my temple… I was tossing and turning and let my imagination take me far far away, to all these places where a dream becomes a reality, where I see, feel, hear in a new way… I was wondering where exactly we were as the train took us further and further away… I need to remind myself that I was still in Russia and my actual trip hadn’t started yet… But our country is so big and diverse that travelling from its one end to the other would be a journey in itself and who knows – it might even teach one to see, hear, feel differently… I might someday find that out but only after I get this dream of mine come true. I was certain I would change in the process…

As a matter of fact, a trip to Moscow might feel as a trip abroad for some. It’s a fact that a capital and all its grandeur and magnificence don’t really sum up the country… Neither does Moscow sum up Russia… If Moscow is the heart of Russia, it means that it has so much more different kinds of blood pumping through it thus making it work with twice as much effort… This is how I see this difference between Moscow and the rest of Russia… It’s like Russia on an exaggerated scale blended with glamour, prosperity and pursue for the dream of prosperity for thousands of people coming here daily… I know it’s wrong to begrudge Moscovites their right to take this place for granted because it makes us seem truly provincial and makes them treat us in a patronizing way but it’s something that we can’t help really…

This is how I felt as I got off the train after a sleepless night and started taking in the capital and listening to the big heart of Russia beating with twice as much effort. I was ready to experience new things and even my bag that was heavy as much as I tried to empty it of all the things that I decided I could do without as I was packing back home did not stop me from feeling all these emotions… To my disappointment, things seemed the same as I left them back at home – people, streets, even the overcast sky seemed to follow us all the way from Voronezh…

I was terrified about the trip on the Metro (underground or tube depending on where you are in the world). We don’t have it here in Voronezh and the thought of travelling from home to work which seems so habitual to many people in the world was overwhelming…. But it wasn’t that bad after all and I even managed to do some people watching and wondered whether they could say that we were not locals or not and whether I could guess which of them were locals…. It was again fate bringing people from different background and sometimes places together in the same space… The Metro proved to be a quick and comfortable (something we are not used to here) way of travelling which took us to the centre of the big heart of Russia… I felt like the grandeur and beauty of Russia’s large heritage was within an easy reach as we were approaching the building of the Bolshoy theatre and seeing to the monument to Karl Marx on the way (which I remembered seeing in a travel guide book when I was small).

 

It felt like some opera music was about to play with people in fancy clothes and big smiles appearing from everywhere to get swept away by the power of art… I wanted to take a mental picture of everything – fountains, people, the vibe of the early morning capital.

I felt my heart trembling as I saw a glimpse of the Red Square from far away. This is sure the place not to be missed if you are in Moscow. It’s like travelling to London without seeing the Big Ben. The hotel where top celebrities stay at, the building of the Duma – everything felt surreal… The highlight of the trip was definitely the Red Square. The word “Red” means “beautiful” in old Russian. I virtually had to hold my breath before actually stepping in on the Square… It was like getting ready to take a dip into the ocean of emotions… Standing there I could actually feel the sound of blood pumping through the heart of Russia… It’s the image of Russia that we are grown up… It’s not the Russia that we see through our windows, it’s the Russia as an entity, as something massive both politically and geographically. It’s the place we remember from historical footages where so many crucial decisions were announced to the whole country listening in…

And, of course, it is the place for Victory Day parades with soldiers rumbling across Red Square bringing together people with a living memory of the devastating war and the emotions of people like myself who were lucky enough to be spared the sufferings of the time. There was so much history there that it made me want to cry… As I was walking down the square, I felt like it was a safe place to feel proud to be Russian and embrace a Russian in me. I felt privileged to be standing there and to be a sort of a memory card connected to all the variety of the feelings ranging from joy to sorrow felt here, all the events taking place here. It was a vague feeling but intense enough to make me emotional and say to my sister and friend who didn’t seem to be as impressed as me “Look around you!”. I felt incredibly proud to see all those people from around the world (especially from Asia) taking a guided tour of the square. I couldn’t believe that all these people came such a long way to experience the capital. It was incredible to look at their faces, hear them speak other languages. I knew I would be like one of those tourists the next day if (fingers crossed) I arrive safely in Poland. I had a feeling that here (in what I had to remember what was my own country) my first international got to a good start. It felt like Russia on the grandeur scale with me suffocating with history and seeing Russia the way people in the rest of the world see it. It was an iconic image of Russia. It was like a mirage to me which I felt physically. I wanted to come up to these foreigners and say “Love or hate it, this is Russia. We are ready to share it with you!”. I really felt like sharing just the way I’m sharing my feelings now…

I remember throwing a coin near the monument to Zhukov when I was to Moscow twelve years ago to come here again… And I did… I remember taking pictures of these places on our old photo camera which is now history… A lot has changed in the city itself or it’s rather me and my perception of the world around that changed…

I have one more thing to remind me of Moscow… It’s my Cheburashka T-shirt. Cheburashka is a character in a very popular Soviet cartoon. I have several Cheburashka toys at home as well. Cheburashka always brings out a child in me. And it was how I felt in Moscow, like a child who was so excited to see, feel, hear things…

It was an emotional day in Moscow and I think that it really got me ready for what would be my first trip abroad… It made my feelings more acute, enhanced my vision (the contact lenses were on of course). I was longing for more and said goodbye to Moscow only to come back here again as I got on the train to Brest… It was all REAL…

 

Introduction (Before it all started)

INTRODUCTION (JUST BEFORE IT ALL STARTED)

 

Travelling abroad has long been something I really wanted to do. For a number of reasons… First off, I have a strong belief that every person in this world needs to get around and explore the world. There is a German expression that comes to mind when we start elaborating on the educational value of travelling. It is “Reisen bildet” which means “Travel broadens the mind”… There’s no doubt about that really… But to me it’s not education in the classical sense, not the one that we can get at schools (for free if we’re smart and lucky enough to get into a nice school). It’s not education that makes one put an all-nighter and slave at books… There’s no need to sit exams and impatiently waiting for the results to come in… It’s not an obligation after all… A university education can potentially open up our eyes to the world and open the door into this vibrant world to us… But, likewise, it might not… Much depends on how one’s life works out… But travelling, which is to me a complementary form of education, does wonders for people… It makes you feel, see, hear… All of the things a healthy person can do at birth but… DIFFERENTLY… It can make you feel, see, hear in such a new, intense way that you may end up feeling you weren’t able to feel, see and hear before…

Ok, this is how I felt about travelling and the role it played in an ordinary human life. The bottom line is that I reckon one’s life ceases to be ordinary after they cross the border… And what’s across the border? This question got me wondering since I was a young kid. There’s this thing about growing up in this country. I guess it all goes back to the times when there was the so-called “iron curtain” when people were not free to get around. I don’t know exactly how people of other countries felt about this obviously dramatic situation but in this country even people like me who don’t have the memory of the iron curtain were born with the lasting notion that there’s something completely different, new, vibrant right across the border. I have to admit that somewhere in the back of my young mind I thought even the air abroad was different from ours… It might sound like a really stupid thing to assume as the air is not geographically confined… It is something that we all share… But what is truly different is its quality… We naturally find it easier to breathe in the countryside than we do in a sprawling city… It’s the same thing with life… It’s a gift we are all granted at birth but we all choose or have to use this gift differently… Some mess it up while others make the best of it… Sure, there’s a multitude of ways to live your life…

So, growing up I knew for sure there was something different somewhere outside this country where I was born… I had no clue whether I would ever get to feel, see, hear it… Or would it just stay a sort of a forbidden fruit I’d never have the privilege of tasting? Yes, here it is considered a privilege to go to another country… Well, there’s traditionally a list of countries that few people would like to go to… But Europe and America have always been a sweet paradise to us… I know this might seem like a very limited and foolish view… I guess it is the media that do a wonderful job giving us the impression people are more well-off in these regions of the world… This is what lures hoards of people into this heaven on earth… But the sad truth is that life is not that easy and the media often turn out to be highly biased and tend to twist the facts to suit their political agendas… It is up to the way one feels, sees and hears to make the right assumption and hence read between the lines or see beyond the screen (reading declines in popularity so this newly coined expression to me best describes this ability)…

So how do we think of things that are brand new and things we might never get to experience? They are all like a part of a FAIRYTALE… The one that ignited our imagination, nurtured a DREAM and took us far, far away (to what seemed a different country even if it was a classical Russian fairytale)… It’s something that we used to be read to sleep as we were lying tucked in warm nice beds of ours… It’s something that had the voice of that someone so close, so dear (one is so lucky if they have a person like that reading sweet fairytales to them)… And what if it is the right way to learn to feel, see, hear differently? I mean as sweet and tempting as a fairytale is, it’s even sweeter to be secure in the knowledge there’s that person or people who used to read to you to sleep now waiting for you to go back from this fairytale (it might eventually not turn out to be a fairytale) … It’s just a thought… I’ll be coming back to that later in my story which kicks off as soon as I set on my trip to a fairytale (or what might not turn out to be one)…

So after I had all these fairytales lovingly read to me and had my inflamed mind take me incredibly far away, how could I know I would ever find myself in a fairytale and have my innermost dreams ever come true? Eventually one of such dreams I wanted to see become real was seeing what was across the border and learning how to feel, see, and hear differently (well, I might have to learn to breathe differently as you remember I was on a mission to try whether the air abroad was different)…

I chose to pursue a career in foreign languages which obviously could be of help if I ever got a chance to go abroad. Basically my job is to teach others to use a foreign language in their daily life and make the best of all the opportunities it offers. Anyway, that’s what I’d like the ultimate goal of a teacher of a foreign language to be… So since I got into the University I knew I was compelled to develop a burning passion for travelling and was yearning to see more of the world. Actually my daily routine (almost my whole life really, except that incredibly brief trip to Moscow I was on when I was 11) was confined to the area between the place where I was born and the place where I moved to study. That was not the geographical scope of life I was dreaming of… My feelings, my vision, my hearing were longing to be enhanced, become more acute by what I thought could be the most amazing experience in my life.

Well, I AM a dreamer (I don’t even need people telling me this time and time again) and a part of me still childishly believed in fairytales and I sought to find out how much the media twisted the facts (both positive and negative). At that point I was educated enough to realize people abroad were not all naturally more well-off and had their problems to deal with. What I wanted to see is how different these problems were and how differently they were dealt with…

I was desperate for a breath of fresh air and wanted to get a taste of an education I was talking about in the beginning. I know too well that a University degree does not suffice to make a person really sophisticated and open their eyes to the world beyond. I had a physical and mental feeling it was not enough for me anyway… So it all came down to whether I ever got a chance to experience the diversity of the world…

Fairytales like that are not for free and one needs money to buy them a ticket to see what’s across the border. Sometimes I get way too pessimistic about life (is it about Russian people generally having a grim outlook on life?) and thought I might have to face the fact I might never get to live this dream of mine… I knew there are fairytale-like things life within the borders has to offer but I set my mind on travelling and wouldn’t let go of my dream…

I remember getting terribly jealous of people who were on a magic trip abroad… Some of them didn’t really care, I mean it wasn’t even a dream come true for them – they just wanted to have fun and perhaps show off and say they had money to spend… I mean they weren’t even transformed by this experience… Did they really learn how to feel, see, and hear in a different way? Or was it possible at all or was it just something I imagined in my dreamy mind? Well, there certainly was something magical about abroad that kept almost all people I know who had a ‘privilege’ (as I still think it is) of travelling abroad coming back for more… Whenever I asked them to tell me more about their trip(s), all of them struggled for words to describe it and there was something about the way they spoke, some glitter in their eyes that got me thinking there might be no words to describe these overflowing emotions so all I could do was get away and feel, see, and hear it all for myself… At least not all of these people were dreamers like me so there was a huge motivation for me to travel… Besides, there was no iron curtain to keep me from getting out of the country… Well, let’s admit which is in itself a dream for lots of Russians….

So here I was, really determined to go on a trip abroad. I knew I was going to book it with the money I’d earned myself without asking my parents to give me some extra money I lacked. Besides having my dream come true, going abroad with my own money would give me a huge confidence boost. It just makes all hard work and effort more worthwhile, not just something you have to do to survive. The time of anticipation of the fairytale is probably the longest but the sweetest. Whenever I felt down and drained, I looked into some trips on the website of the tourist company a person I know working for a tourist agency recommended. In an odd way all these tempting alluring descriptions of trips to different countries of Europe drew such bright, colorful, stunning pictures in my mind that I couldn’t wait to hit the road…. Other than that, it seemed to give my life a huge purpose…. At some point it really turned into an obsession, I could go on and on about my future trip and all the things I would be seeing and experiencing…

Choosing places to go to is next toughest thing after earning money…I heard lots of positive reviews of coach trips. It’s a relatively safe and comfortable way of travelling which offers a good value for money. It is reassuring to know that in order to get the privilege of travelling one does not have to be rich anymore. So fairytales and new countries are so much easier to reach and discover. As I said, after I chose the trip that looked interesting and affordable, my imagination ran wild. Virtually not a day went by that I didn’t fantasize of what it would be like to find myself in a completely different country. What will I be feeling physically and emotionally as I will be walking the streets of the cities I previously saw only on TV? The anticipation took over my mind completely. If I had the time, I think I would sit down and write a book about the trip I hadn’t even been on….

After the trip was booked and paid for, I got a quirky feeling that there was no way back and there was no changing my mind… Why would a person in their right mind be thinking like that, working hard towards his goal and then getting doubts about whether it was a right thing to do at all? I guess it was because the dream was so massive and so unlikely to ever come true (so I believed) and I relished so much just fantasizing about it that when it was actually to come true, it ceased to be a fairytale and became a plan. But I absolutely loved this plan and was hoping nothing would stand in the way of me staying true to it. It was a massively beautiful plan that really made me not care at all about some stupid and small things and people in my life. I was proud of myself for actually going along with my dream and not giving up on it despite of being told how dangerous it might be to go to a different country. There are certain risks involved in getting any dream come true really. But the biggest risk for me was that I might get disappointed with my trip and maybe I was mistaken when I thought that was the glitter in the eyes of the people who had travelled abroad? Or maybe it’s just a thing with every dream that it’s much sweeter as something you fantasize about than something that is true?

As I was just a couple of days away, I started getting really panicky. I hate packing even though I know it’s an indispensable (and the least fun) part of travelling. I was sitting staring at my suitcase having no clue how on earth I was going to pack all the stuff I wanted to take with me. I knew that all the things I would finally squeeze and force into my suitcase would be a part of this dream and will always remind me of this trip and my big dream for many years to come. At that point I got really sentimental. The thought of me being away from this country gave me a chill (?). What will be happening here as I will be away? All these questions and doubts kept bugging me. I guess it’s all part of our love-hate relationship with our country. We want to get away and afraid we’re going to be missing it after we do…

I knew that just in a couple of days I was going to see it all for myself. It’s actually a hard task trying to put this feeling into words. It’s like finally getting to meet your dream man, the one you’ve been longing to see which you thought would change your life forever. But as soon as you realize it’s just a human, you might be afraid of actually facing him. What if he turns out to be just a man but not the one you’ve been dreaming about? What if this date turns out to be a complete disaster with all your dreams come crashing down? Well, it wasn’t my idea of a perfect date anyway as I was paying for it all by myself and it wasn’t my dream man (countries in this case) wanting to see me, I was the one who wanted to go and see them. I had two options anyway – either I get utterly disappointed and find myself something else to dream about (I’m a dreamer so I shouldn’t have any problems with that) or I fall in love like mad and will be devastated as I know this date won’t last long and will have to wait and hope for another chance to go there again)…

Ok, I was all set to go, all my things packed. Needless to say, deciding on the wardrobe was the hardest thing to do as even though I knew my dream countries wouldn’t give a toss about the way I would look, I wanted to look my best (or as good as my suitcase will allow me to). I was hoping I wouldn’t leave anything behind because I wanted it to be a perfect fairytale and was ready to forget about the world I used to know and make a memory… Ok, I made sure I had taken my contact lenses (I was ready to see differently). Feeling and hearing shouldn’t be a problem either. I was wondering – will I be the same again? Is the air going to be different? Bon voyage to me anyway!