When I say Russia, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Be honest! We’re all guilty of allowing preconceived notions to dominate the our judgment process. It is difficult to avoid stereotypes, especially as they are perpetuated in mainstream news and on social media.
When people hear Russia, they automatically think Bratva (Russian mafia), rivers of “haram” beverages, and other not-so-pleasant thoughts. Current international sentiments also do not paint a pretty picture.
This could not be farther from the truth. The largest landmass country in the world, Russia does not disappoint by being home to over 20 different ethnic groups, practically making it the melting pot of the world.
As the entire world has enjoyed Russia’s hospitality, thanks to hosting the 2018 World Cup, I too sought to get in on the action. However, just like Internet Explorer, I was late to the party. Four months late. Having recently made the trip, I thought it best to bring the news from the horse’s mouth to the pages of bazaar:
Applying for a visa is a “relatively” easy task. It took me three 1.5KM walks to get it right, as I had to park my car at Green Island and walk into the Ministries zone. In the height of summer. Be wary, as different nationalities have different processing times (mine took 21 days). Special tip: the website says light background picture, but they mean white. You’ll also need an invite from a travel agency that can easily be acquired online.
Arriving at the airport:
Landing in Vnukovo international airport was an adventure unlike any I had previously experienced. I’d just returned to Kuwait at 7 PM and had to prep for a 2 AM flight. In my sleep deprived state, I forgot the cardinal rule of travel: always print/ save your documents. When you approach immigration, they have around 10 or so stalls with a gate beside them, little did I realize there was also an iron shutter above.
After I failed to produce printed/ soft copies of my documents (as the internet was very slow), I was asked to wait on the side. Slowly but surely, the airport emptied until it was just me and a dozen other visitors bearing a resemblance to me. The shutters suddenly came down, and my first thought was, we’re going to be herded back to the plane! By that time, I had downloaded all the necessary paperwork and thankfully, one gate opened. I was in. And it was cold.
Moscow on foot:
The first thing you will notice in Moscow is that the city is very pedestrian-friendly and wheel (stroller/ chair) accessible. All entrances to the metro have a narrow lane where you can roll down. All roads have ample pedestrian paths and drivers stop at pedestrian crossings. Parks are a plenty and a great place to have a leisurely walk, a relaxing sit by a miniature lake, or a rigorous workout at the free open-air gym (with boxing bags and monkey bars to boot).
Their underground system is immense, and built in circular fashion (ode to our Ring Roads here). Some boast art and décor reminiscent of the renaissance era, and are an absolute wonder to experience (the long escalators however are quite disconcerting, especially if you are looking behind you thinking, domino effect).
Food from all over the world is available on the streets of Moscow. You can try authentic Russian cuisine, or you can enjoy meals you are familiar with, but with a Russian twist (for me it was a chicken schnitzel with cowberry courtesy of Dr. Zhivaro and a succulent, juicy steak thanks to Voronezh).
Earning in Dinars? You are in for a treat! Russia is surprisingly cheap. You’ll be filling your luggage with everyday items such as instant coffee and groceries, as opposed to gifts and clothing.
The metro has English voice overs. The road signs have subtitles. It made the time I spent learning the Slavic alphabet almost obsolete, however I enjoyed standing like an awkward 5-yearold trying to spell out a word they’re reading. It was only confusing when the Russian word is read in English, for example, BEHOM (this is not a code, it is the name of a comic book movie currently in theaters).
Contrary to popular belief, a culture is not representative of its geopolitics. Instead of building walls, we should be boarding planes. This was my first, but definitely far from last, trip to the largest country in the world, as there is still much exploring left to do.
Like the rubix cube, Ayman Nassar is multi-colored in his interests, from running to organizing races, stand up comedy and internal audit, plus a little writing on the side. You can find him on youtube.com/lordaymz or follow him on Instagram @lordaymz.