NOSTALGIA: Visits to USSR and Russia and other places of excitement.

I remember my school trip to the USSR. I was at the heart of the "cold war", long before US president Reagan labelled it, " Evil Empire" and before the thoughts of "Perestroyka" or any of those ideas. 
After taking our school bus to the airport, I flew from London to Moscow with a bunch of classmates on Aeroflot. The plane was not one of the more modern planes used today, but an old Alushyn, which was a huge box shape ceiling. It glided like a large boat, making a grinding and humming sound as it slowly ascended into the sky. The flight service was uneventful as service is on the average flight today.
I remember how my feelings were the moment our plane touched down on "Soviet territory". My heart felt a tingle, ( again due to the misinformation which we were indoctrinated by our media)  My classmate in the seat in front of me started shouting, "queue, queue queue- No freedom"!! We were so young and silly. We did other crazy things clandestinely as well which I won't mention here.

Our hotel was in an area called "Kharhovskaya". I had my own room and I turned on the TV to watch Soviet television whilst laying in bed at night. Not understanding anything but enjoying the novelty.

                       me on school trip to Moscow

We had an INTOURIST tour guide which had a brusque way about her, which matched her frumpy uniform. We all knew that we were being shown just what they wanted us to see and went to all the tourist locations such as St. Basil's cathedral, Red Square, The Kremlin, etc. We tried as best as we could to get glimpses of "real life". We saw nothing in the shops and the fruit and vegetables were ones which we would not buy if we had them in our market. Since I am from Slavic origin the food was familiar but the quality was "so so" and the borshch ( beetroot soup) got monotonous as the tour went on.

A few Russian lads would approach us along the way during our tour. I traded my school pullover with one Russian lad for his Soviet military hat with Hammer and Sickle emblems on it. I felt like I made a small victory in world peace at that moment, as my classmates were watching us trade and they applauded happily.

We took the midnight train from Moscow to Leningrad. We stayed in cozy and quaint sleeping cars, and we occasionally peered out of the window to see the landscape and other towns pass by. I bought a small snack brown bag package from a "babooshka" older women who was selling them on the platform, and nibbled on it's contents whilst lounging on the top bunk in my sleeping compartment.

Leningrad had a  more "European feeling" and had a more grandiose air about the city. It was great fun experiencing what the West called behind the "Iron Curtain". At my age, I took pride at doing something"subversive", and made it a learning experience. 

 That feeling continued to grow inside of me as I travelled around the world, experiencing other "subversive" nations and understanding that people have similar aspirations worldwide.   In my own way, I attempted to break down barriers of misinformation, ignorance, fear, hatred; at least for my own heart. I hope that my learning and experiences reflected in some small way on others, as I learned about them.

I went to Moscow again in 2000 when it is the capital of Russia, several years since the Soviet Union disappeared. I stayed with a nice gay guy in his typical apartment. We did things the way local Russians do, and ate and enjoyed the way local Russians did ( but that time I had absolutely fabulous food made my my friend's colleagues as it was a New Years party- including extremely liberal amounts of very good vodka! ), and not with the tour guide as I had done the first trip with my school.  


My family and close friends began to worry about me when I became notorious for visiting "those kinds" of countries. Their concerns put no damper on my visions.
I remember going on my first trip to Syria, and telling my family that I went there AFTER I had returned from my trip, so I wouldn't give them stress and so that I wouldn't feel their pressure based on misinformation from their society's media.

Travel continues to teach me to experience and live life to expand my own horizons as the world is a giant class room and it's inhabitants our teachers and friends.

When we learn and understand, fear disappears and, hopefully, love is shared. Love is peace, and peace is love.

A photo of me ( taken by my father) on a usual London visit.


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