My first adventure into European travel came in 2005 after my Headmistress invited me to accompany her to Moscow on a Recruitment Programme. I was so thrilled that I almost hugged and kissed her in response to the invitation.
We flew through three time zones, although the flight was only four hours. We eventually landed and made our way through immigration to find our taxi which was previously ordered by the school.
I was greatly surprised at the poor quality of our surrounds. Hundreds of cars were parked in a disorganised car park and each one was FILTHY!!! And as we progressed through the city I realised that no one in Moscow cleans his car and each vehicle carries the dust of weeks and probably months. The city was in its spring thaw so everything was bleak – no green trees or grass or emerging spring buds.
The rivers were still frozen solid and the thick piles of snow were covered with a black ’scum’ which must indicate the level of pollution in the city. Our hotel, like all American hotels, was very comfortable and Rosemary and I both had single rooms. After we had settled in, we were whisked off to a restaurant where we enjoyed an excellent Russian meal.
Sunday was our ‘get to know Moscow’ day. After an enormous ‘Southern style’ breakfast, we hired a taxi to take us to Red Square. Now, hiring a taxi is a supreme art. Using the hotel taxi was out! Far too expensive! As we were close to the station, we went down to the parking area and found something which looked a likely vehicle. Then the bargaining started. Eventually, when a price was agreed, we bravely entered the dilapidated car, which was slowly falling to pieces. The driver then merged into the swiftly flowing stream of traffic and wended and wove his way along the crowded road. Although white lines indicate the lane in which you should travel – this means nothing to the motorist. Four lanes of traffic quickly become six or eight as the need arises. If you sit in the front next to the driver, you experience a James Bond chase to your destination. On one of these exciting journeys, billows of smoke burst out of the engine and we came to a halt, stranded in the middle of a bridge. The driver cursed and indicated that we should not move. I had to restrain Rosemary who was determined to leave a vehicle which, she was convinced, was about to blow up. He proceeded to open the bonnet of the car, produced a bottle of water from the depths of the engine and poured the liquid into the radiator. Miraculously the car started and we resumed our journey. Thankfully we arrived safely at Red Square.
We entered Red Square from the moat end and went through the Cathedral of St Basil the Blessed. Although not a large structure, Rosemary and I kept walking around in circles until we eventually found the exit. It was a strange and exciting experience to stand in the middle of Red Square. Of course I had my photograph taken, toasting the local inhabitants with a tot of Vodka. We were approached by a guide who offered to take us through the Kremlin. Because Lenin’s tomb is only open at certain times, we were unable to see his ‘embalmed body’. However, she took us on a two hour tour of the Kremlin where we saw the Grand Kremlin Palace, Terem Palace, the State Armoury and numerous beautifully decorated Cathedrals.
On Monday we started the serious work of interviewing agents. In two days we spoke to 48 agents and both Rosemary and I were so exhausted at the end that we could hardly speak. Wednesday gave us a little more time to explore. While Rosemary was busy with further interviews I visited the Tretyakov art gallery. It lays claims to being one of the most famous galleries in the world and covers a whole millennium of Russian cultural development. I was intrigued by the beautiful icons which dated back hundreds of years. I was also moved by the many paintings which relate to historical events throughout the centuries and showed the intense suffering and sadness of the people. Our work culminated in the exhibition which was held for two days at the British Council. And here we interviewed a number of prospective pupils for enrollment at the school.
On Saturday we had time to go to a tourist market where, after much bargaining with the locals, we were able to purchase some memorabilia and souvenir gifts to take home. We also managed to get to a supermarket to buy vodka and Russian chocolate!
On Sunday we entertained by a diplomat from the British embassy who took us sightseeing. He showed us the imposing Moscow University, the Olympic Stadium, Novodevichy Convent and its cemetery in which Khrushchev is buried and the impressive newly restructured Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.
It was here that Palm Sunday was being celebrated and we actually saw the Patriarch of Russia conducting the service. Did you know that this cathedral had been abolished by Stalin and ended up as an outdoor swimming pool? The new building was completed in 2000. Did you also know that everyone stands all the way through the service???
I think that one of the highlights of the trip was to go to the Bolshoi Theatre to see the Ballet des Sylphes on our last night in Moscow.
Of course I ate far too much during the eight days in Moscow. Every breakfast was a banqueting feast. I would start off with champagne and orange, move onto muesli, strawberries, apricots, and melon. For the main part of the meal, I would have pancakes and syrup, egg, bacon, caviar, smoked salmon or sturgeon, sausage, tomato, sauté potatoes, grilled tomatoes, toast and preserves. I would finish with a good cup of hot tea and was then ready to face the day. I so enjoyed my Moscow experience—and I hope you have too.