On Tuesday 23rd October, 2012, after a month of Russian language lessons, wisdom tooth extractions and panic-buying thicker and thicker socks, I finally set off from Scotland for a two-month-long working vacation in Syktyvkar, Russia.
Beginning not with quiet preparation but a mad-dash taxi-ride to Edinburgh airport following a heavily misjudged detour into the city centre, my trip quickly quietened down as I navigated the three flights and 27-hour journey to the capital of the Komi Republic.
Flying first to Charles De Gaulle, I landed at Terminal 2E just in time to watch the shops close and the restaurants empty. Having somehow made it to my departure gate without a boarding pass, I backtracked to find someone to assist me, and set about my dinner of £5 Pringles and a bottle of peach iced tea.
I didn’t realise that a meal had been included in the cost of my Aeroflot ticket, and so when the stewardess passed with newspapers and luncheables I turned away — ever the cheapskate — and tried to placate my rumbling stomach with crumbs and chewing gum. I wouldn’t be making the same mistake twice.
Once in Moscow, and with 17 hours to spare, I caught the Aeroexpress to Belorussky train station near the city centre where I had planned to meet an acquaintance of my Russian language teacher. After breakfasting on blinis and tea, we travelled by car — an adventure in itself — to the Red Square.
No adjective can really do the Red Square justice. It’s sprawling, vibrant and genuinely breath-taking. This is in stark contrast, it must be said, to the rest of Moscow. While Western signs advertise McDonalds, Subway and G-Star Raw, the decadence and draconian architecture of the outlying streets has been allowed to dull almost completely, while unseasonal snowfall and giant, distant factories contribute to a city-wide smog.
My hosts were very kind and knowledgeable, however, and together we visited the Kremlin museum, Moscow State University (which shares Sparrow Hills with two of the most precarious elevated ski-slopes I have ever seen) and their own home for a dinner of soup, chicken and vodka. I will forever be grateful for their hospitality, as my experience of Moscow wouldn’t have been the same without them.
Checked back in to Sheremetyevo airport for my final flight of the day, I duly dug into my processed portion of cheese, ambiguous animal matter and apple juice as I replayed The Grey in my mind in case I ended up fighting wolves in the Arctic circle. Fortunately, approximately two hours later I was collected from Syktyvkar airport safe and sound by a welcoming party, and taken out for introductions and a much-needed drink.
But while the journey might be over, the adventure is just beginning.