Only the coldest I've ever friggin' been.
Russia will host the 2018 Football World Cup. As an Englander, I'm not thrilled about this - I would have loved for it to be in my motherland, the home of football, before I've reached some form of mid-life crisis.
BUT I'm not all bitter; like a Russian Liqueur Coffee, there's a little bit of sweetness accompanying the kick
in the teeth.
Russia is a really beautiful country. Yes, there are flaws, there are destitute, decrepit buildings - but that's all part of the charm of the cities I visited a few years ago - St. Petersburg and Moscow. It's like being in Anastasia or something!
Russia really has that old-world charm; there's the beautiful architecture, the phenomenal palaces, and the embalmed former leader (Lenin, duh - although apparently he's gone now). There are plenty of interesting, touristy things to do and see:
A selection of the palaces, sights and decorations in Russia. Including myself and my friend Jeremy, and Emily and I dancing around the most beautiful, gilded ballroom ever - reminded me of Disney's Beauty and the Beast. They made you wear the plastic blue shoe-covers to protect the floors; we weren't making a fashion statement. The red brick building with the yellow and white building in the background is Lenin's mausoleum, btw. We went inside; it was a very unusual experience but one I'm very glad to have had.
We also went to a traditional Russian show and to the Russian ballet (incredible!!) to see Cinderella.
Traditional Russian dancers and the exterior of the ballet (I believe; could be wrong - sorry!)
Yes it's cold, but yes, there's some fun ways of keeping warm. The Russians have a great party atmosphere and some great alcohol to match. (Be sensible now, kiddies!). And cold always means some beautiful snow-scenes, and the most epic snowball fight I've ever been involved in.
Some of us had a horse-drawn carriage ride through the snowy landscape.
One of the most fun experiences I had in Russia was taking a sleeper train between its two cardinal cities; it was my first sleeper train experience (I've since got them around Asia) and was pretty unforgettable.
Clockwise from top left: Laura, Emily, Vicky and myself with snacks - ready for our sleeper train journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow.
Overall, my trip to Russia was alcohol-fuelled (it was the last school trip of my academic career; we were all 18 and preparing to spend the rest of our lives missing our schooldays), a lot of fun, but also really special. There were some really touching moments.
My close friend Emily (R) and I (L) on one of our many coach journeys. Clearly in high -ahem- spirits.
I remember looking out of our hotel window at the snow falling and all of us fell silent for a moment and just watched.
I remember walking through Red Square on Valentine's morning with the people I'd shared the past 7 years of my life with and watching a heart-shaped balloon float away over the Kremlin into the icy sky. I didn't get a picture of that moment but I can still see it so clearly. Mushy, but true.
Red Square on Valentine's Day.
I remember exploring the most beautiful metro stations in the world. Seriously inspiring.
A selection from the metro stations in Moscow. Honestly, no one could get rush-hour-rage with a commute that looks like this.
If you're a football fan (or even if not), go. Seriously! It's a pretty magical place and I can't wait to explore some areas other than St. Petersburg and Moscow. One of my life-long ambitions is to get the Trans-Siberian railway; maybe 2018 will be the perfect time & place to start that particular adventure (for more information on the Trans-Siberian Railway, click here - my favourite site for rail travel tips and what I used for ideas for my big Asian rail adventure.)
Well done Russia for your successful World Cup bid; clearly you captured the imagination of FIFA the same way you did my own 18-year-old imagination two years ago.
(I'm second from the right at the very back - you can just about see the top of my be-hooded head and my shoulder in grey!)
All of the pictures in this post were taken by my friends Josh R and Emily Z as I took most of mine on my Polaroid camera in Russia.
They are currently up on my wall and I don't have a scanner, but I felt the need to share my 3 absolute favourite snaps from Russia (so whimsical), so here you go:
(Snowball fight / Metro station / Moscow hotel view at dusk - we stayed in the Hotel Cosmos)
Ciao for now,