From Russia With Love: Part 3

ALEX BOWER tackles Russia’s problem with alcohol, and yet another unappetising breakfast.

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Click HERE and HERE for Alex’s first two columns respectively.

FRIDAY (evening)

I finally arrive. The Metro gates look like they’re open. Being in such a rush, I obviously don’t scan the ticket properly. It takes a good few seconds, and I can see the train arriving. I run straight through the gate, and get taken straight out by some heavy, metal plates that hit the front of my knees at a velocity that would be illegal in basically all of Europe. Pain. Ignoring the shouting woman at the gates, I scan my ticket properly and limp towards the train, which I narrowly miss. Obviously.

Upon returning home from the day from hell, I really craved some quite technical translation work. Luckily, this is just what I got. Babushka found out, during a scintillating discussion about the school system, that I spoke German, and insisted that I check her translation of a German lab report about gas purity. It was a long report, and it took me a long time, especially because I didn’t know many of the technical terms for dealing with impure nitrogen gas in a gas swarm in German, never mind Russian. Babushka questioning every word I said while I was frantically trying to translate from German to English to Russian and back again didn’t help matters.

At this point, it was 1am – the perfect time for Babushka to type up the lab report on the computer in my room. I debated waiting for her to finish in the lounge, but the cat of death was waiting there for me.

And so, I sit behind her, writing this entry. She types with unbelievable slowness, using only one finger of one hand. There is no noise, save for the light tapping of my fingers on my laptop and the regular thud of her not inconsiderably stodgy finger attempting to ram the keys through the desk. I am very conscious of this, and am making fairly regular exclamations of how late it is/how tired I am, which so far have been greeted by silence. Fingers crossed she’ll learn how to use her right hand soon.

It’s 4am and she’s just left. Bloody hell.


We decide to celebrate our last night in Moscow by getting lashed and going out. Having procured some of the Motherland’s finest £4-a-bottle vodka, we set out, unaware that you have to be 21 to get into clubs here. Having also forgotten that people outside of The Bubble don’t go out at 9pm, we sit in a bar, sobering up because of the sobering price of drinks, considering sacking it all off.

However, possibly because we’re so used to the prospect of shit nights out, we take a stroll into the -10°C beyond. Asking random people where to go, we bump into a group of six 20-year-old Russian girls who are studying English, who keenly agree to show us around Moscow. We spend 45 minutes in the freezing cold trying to find a club that’ll take us. We find one on the rapey side of town. It looks a bit stabby. Even Cindies doesn’t have metal detectors.

Turns out, Russian men are quite aggressive in clubs. We counted that one girl we were with rejected 23 men, while her friend managed a feeble 21. At one point, her hand was literally clamped over her mouth, and a man was trying to remove it so he could kiss her. The situation was eventually rectified by one of the Russian girls who told him to fuck off. I guess subtlety doesn’t work everywhere.

Post club, the Russians took us to a coffee shop to chat and eat. Talking to young Russians is really interesting, not least because you realise that, in spite of claims that matters are improving, there is still a serious racism problem here. They genuinely seem to believe a lot of the comically inept caricatures banded around by older Russians, especially when it comes to Caucasians and people from the –stans.

And so, as my trip reached its end, I reflected on the time I spent in Russia. Sure, it’s a little bit sketchy, and it’s essentially a weird, disorganised mess, but there’s a certain charm to the place, the way of life, and the frankness of the people here.

Everyone I came into contact with during my stay was welcoming and friendly, in spite of their cold exterior on the Metro, and I really believe that in Russia, a friend is a friend for life. After only one week with Babushka, the most resounding memory I have is her crying as I left, inviting me back as she shoved small presents into my hands. That’s the real Russia. It’s a world away from all the corruption and the alcoholism and the rampant disorganisation. It’s a country of genuine, welcoming people – a country I have, in my short visit, come to love.