Russia, a colossal country in the North, relatively undiscovered and labelled “exotic” by many, has always remained, in my mind, a place full of mystery. It is vast – so broad that it takes up almost half the width of the world map, with its borders reaching all the way to Asia and Europe. Of course, we’ve had some sort of exposure to Russia, however limited and whether accurate or otherwise, be it from reading about its history of Tsars and Tsarinas, or gazing in awe at the beauty and intricacy of Fabergé eggs.
In October, I made a rather spontaneous trip up into this somewhat mysterious region, prompted by an invitation to attend the inaugural formula one grand prix in Sochi. I’ve always wanted to see Moscow. I had a friend who did her exchange at a University in Moscow three years before, and she’d told me about how lovely it was. But even before that I’d always wanted to go because I thought of it as an exciting country full of secrecy and spies, and of course, those of you who know me personally would know that I’m fascinated to no end by that sort of stuff.
We’d all thought she was pretty brave because it was rare for anyone to choose Russia. It was also because of the ideas we’d come to have about Russia from all the things we’d seen in the movies – I mean, Quantum of Solace and Die Another Day were both set in Russia, and Jason Bourne went to Moscow in the Bourne Supremacy as well – and sometimes in the news, but of course we made no mention of any of that. And then there was the language barrier, although I did just as well by going to Barcelona on exchange without knowing any Spanish besides Hola and Adios.
We got to Moscow late on a Monday, around 4pm, were picked up by car for the St. Regis Hotel in central Moscow, and for the next two hours were stuck, bumper-to-bumper, in a massive jam all the way in. My travel companion was sound asleep within minutes of the start of the jam, but I stayed awake to observe this new city. It was about 5pm now and we were still inching along. This far out from the Moscow city centre, there wasn’t a whole lot to see besides the buildings in the distance on the left, and the tall coniferous trees to the right, but at this time of day, the setting sun swathed everything in a beautiful golden glow so I kept awake.
I guess I’m weird like that – even the tour guide in Dubai laughed at how curious I seemed to be all the time, and kept making faces at me through the rear view mirror, grinning as I remained wedged in the rear seat of the vehicle between my friends who were fast asleep to both my left and right. I suppose it’s because I like to capture every moment into a distinct memory – all the sights, the sounds, sometimes even smells, and maybe how I might be feeling there and then. Perhaps it’s also because I don’t want to miss a single moment – a moment, which, in a flash, might pass me by and be lost forever.
I knew the moment we were approaching the city centre. The greenery made fewer and yet fewer appearances, and what were previously wide open spaces transformed into buildings on both sides. It was quite a sight. I sat up. Beside me, my companion was still sound asleep, his head resting on the camera bag on the seat between the both of us.
A building shifted past, and in the next moment, I realised we were on a bridge above the река Москва (Moskva river). To my left, a magnificent white dome stood in the distance, with a gilded cross at its summit. Ah, I thought, that’s the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. It was glorious, even from this distance. The sun was setting behind and to the right of it, caressing the sides of the Cathedral in such way that highlighted its design. I sat up straighter and looked on for, perhaps, a hint at the things to come.