This post is copied from the journal I kept while traveling in Russia with the intention of being able to look back at it years later and be able to remember small, long-since forgotten memories of my first international trip and dream come true.
It is raw and unedited with the exception of changing my husband’s name. Some posts in this series may be very short, some may be too detailed and some may be flat out unentertaining. I may interchange past and present tenses, have run-on sentences, have strange wording and just generally not meet my usual writing standards.
The experiences and thoughts I share are those of a sheltered, small-town southern girl, and what I mean to relay by this statement is that my observations while traveling to, in and from Russia may not be specific to the cities, countries, cultures and/or people I mention.
The FIFA World Cup is the largest sporting event in the world and therefore brings together people of different races, nationalities, cultures and backgrounds. I may reference these races, nationalities and cultures when talking about people and situations I witnessed and do not intend to stereotype or offend anyone.
Today was such a blur.
We woke up this morning and went out to meander around. We skipped our hotel “breakfast” and took the metro to Театра́льная to look for somewhere to eat. We spotted an English Pub that would open in about 15 minutes, so we went to the souvenir shop next door to wait it out. It was fun looking at the Matryoshka dolls of all different sizes, old Soviet Army gear and propaganda posters.
We could have spent a lot longer in there but we were starving, so we went back next door to eat. We were seated close to the door by a tall, unsmiling waitress who acted like she had much better things to be doing. I ordered three small hamburgers and Ron ordered the fish and chips.
After we finished eating and finally flagged down the waitress so that we could pay, we left and wandered around. I looked down at my phone at one point and saw that I had no service, and I had a text from MTC saying I didn’t have enough money on the card anymore. At least the SIM card lasted through Samara.
So, we started hunting for an MTC. We stumbled across an underground mall and entered through a clothing store that catered to women, and with really good prices, it was packed full of them. It had a lot of the typical dresses in pastel colors that I see the women over here wearing. I wanted one but wasn’t sure that I would be able to pull it off at home where no one really dresses up.
We spent a lot of time there, going from store to store and finally found an MTC on the lowest level next to the food court. We purchased another SIM card for ₽300 and hoped it would last us through the rest of the trip.
It was during this conversation that I had some confusion. I thought we had two more days in Russia, but Ron told me we would basically be heading to the airport right after the game tomorrow. I freaked out, feeling that I had somehow been cheated out of the extra day I thought we had.
We had been talking the last few days about getting a massage while we’re here, and since this was our last day to do it, I called and scheduled one for this afternoon. We went with a Thai place that had really good reviews, and I was excited since we hadn’t had a Thai massage before. The couple’s massage we chose is called “Together with the Nature,” which made us laugh.
We walked out of the mall and walked around small exhibits nearby that showcased each stadium of the host city. I was in a daze having a hard time accepting that this is basically our last night here.
Our massages were scheduled for 4:00, so we started trying to find the nearest metro station at 3:00. When we arrived at the last station, we walked to the bus stop thinking we could use our red metro passes for busses too. We weren’t completely sure though, so I walked over to the two individuals sitting on the bench at the stop, an old lady and a teenage boy, and asked, “Вы говорите по-английски?” They both raised their heads and stared at me. A little embarrassed, I asked, “да, нет?!” while raising my hands and got no response. I offered a sarcastic “Спасибо” and Ron shook his head as we walked back to where we had been standing.
We watched while others boarded the bus and saw that they had blue passes. Assuming that our red ones would not work, we arranged a Yandex Taxi instead and waited. And waited. Finally he arrived, we got in the back seat, and he zoomed all the way to Thai Pattara Center.
A lady held the door open, waiting for us as we got out of the car. We walked through, telling her thank you, and she motioned toward a couch. We sat down, and she brought us hot tea to drink while we filled out paperwork. I took a sip to be polite as she returned, carrying a platter of assorted essential oils, instructing us to choose one. After smelling all ten, we made our choices and I laughed about how opposite they should have been, for I chose Fire and Ron chose Lavender.
We were led to a room in the back. I was handed two small white bundles of material and Ron was handed one blue bundle. The therapists pointed to the robes hanging by the door, bowed and walked out. Ron and I looked at one another before I told him I had to pee like crazy and walked out to find a bathroom. He passed me on the way to the bathroom as I was walking out and glared at me. I’ve never seen him look so mad. I looked at him quizzically but he just shook his head and kept walking.
I went into the room and started taking my clothes off as he came back in. He closed the door and said, “I have to wear that,” and pointed to a royal blue paper thong lying on the bed. I died laughing as we both put on our thongs, and I wrapped my hair up into the white hair net. I asked if I could take a picture of him, to which he replied, “I am so pissed at you.”
We put on our robes and waited for the therapists to return. They told us to sit down and pointed at chairs set up with tubs underneath them, and they directed us to put our feet in the tubs. They washed our feet and dried them, and I purposely didn’t look at Ron because I knew I would laugh out of awkwardness.
The therapists told us to lay face down on the beds and held out their arms for our robes. I felt so awkward as I moved to lay down on the bed wearing nothing by my hair net and thong while the therapists watched.
We received deep tissue massages, which is what Ron always gets, but I had never had one before. It lasted 90 minutes and was pleasurable at times and excruciatingly painful at times. I thought I was going to die when she was massaging my arms, shins and feet. I fell asleep at some point and woke up to her pulling both of my arms back behind me. “Relax!” she said, but I was a little disoriented, and she asked, “Do you want stretching?” and I replied, “Sure.” She proceeded to bend me in all sorts of ways, then bowed, and they both walked out.
My head was fuzzy as we laid in our beds in the dark room. I asked Ron if that was it and he said surely not. I looked at the time and saw that we had been in that room for an hour and a half, so I told him that had to be it. We raised up groggily, and I walked up to the door to turn the light on. We were absolutely drenched in oils, and I glanced toward the shower and asked if Ron was going to take one. It was spotlessly clean, but we just didn’t feel comfortable showering, so we used towels to try to pat off as much of the oils as we could, and I took one of the packaged plastic combs from the table and combed my hair. I felt disgusting.
We walked out of the room and wandered down the hall toward the lobby. We noticed a room with a full-size bed as we passed. The main woman greeted us in the lobby, told us to sit down on the couch again and gave us more hot tea. It was scorching hot and burned my tongue. We sat there for a minute not sure what to do. The lady called for a man named Mr. Anderson who looked as if this was definitely not his first time there, and I whispered to Ron that the full-size bed must be for him. We walked out, hollering “Thank you!” over our shoulders as we closed the door.
We decided to walk and took off in the direction of Новокузнецкая, discussing our massages all the while. It was a long walk, and I was extremely thirsty. We found a gas station with what looked like a vending machine behind it. We approached it and found that there was a window beside the machine, and a man pulled the window back as we walked over. We struggled to open it but finally pulled out a water and paid the man for it. It was very strange.
I enjoyed walking past all of the apartment complexes and listening to the game playing through so many of the open windows. We passed a lot of women walking alone. Ron wondered aloud if they ever get nervous walking by themselves everywhere, and I told him I guess they don’t have much of a choice. We talked for a little bit about how there seemed to be so many more women than men over here, but we wondered if that was really the case or if we were just not thinking about all the male security guards and cops we constantly passed.
We walked by a middle-aged woman whose strap on one of her shoes had busted, and she shuffled along trying to keep her shoe on her foot. The heels were at least five inches. I don’t know how they do it over here; I’m miserable in heels after 20 minutes.
We took the metro back to Новокузнецкая and went to the Irish Pub we had gone to the other night to watch the game. We watched Spain and Morocco while I ate the best quesadilla of my life. It wasn’t spicy at all, so I’m surprised I liked it so much.
We left and took the metro back to Технопарк. I pulled out my tactical pen and handed it to Ron as we started walking down the dark street. It hit me that after tomorrow we’ll be heading home, back to work and to our normal routine, and I started crying as we walked, telling Ron I’m just not ready. I just want to keep going, visiting different cities, places and countries until I feel like going home. I’ve never felt so free in my life as I have in Russia.