The cold dark streets of Russia, with shady looking, mud ridden cars wizzing by, interlinked lanes shining under the moonlight, the occasional droning and drudging of the trams.....i felt like i was flying above them all....but this time I wasn't in Aeroflot, instead, I had my nose pressed against the huge, double-glassed windows of room number 6051 in a hotel overlooking an eerie street.
I had risen at around five in the morning [Russia time], taken a bath and was all ready for my [9' a clock] breakfast. my yellow bag was loaded with my camera, passport copies, money and a few creams and balms. everything was so unaturally quiet that i found myself drifting into a fairytale reveire only to be shaken by a gasp from my room mate who came to investigate the rather large shadow crouched behind the curtains.
Breakfast was a variety of cheese and breads and meat slices, omlettes, cottage cheese pudding [a rather sour delicacy], jam and chocolate tarts, muffins, juices, yogurt...cereal, milk.....whew!! [this sounds typical Enid Blyton] i had a little of almost everything, taking care not to load the imp in my tummy as we were geared for a rather long day.
half the schools had not yet arrived as the conference was to begin on Monday. So, all of us, along with our guide Cathy, visited quaint, historic cathedrals, an eerie graveyard with the busts of famous Russians, an expensive souvenir shop [we stopped here for a long time], the jaw-dropping winter palace, the cathedral of spilt blood and several yellow coloured buildings which gave dull, sun-less Russia a vibrant feel.
for lunch we stopped at a pizza place, where no-one [including the waitresses] understood a word of what we said. most of us chose a pizza with what looked like door knobs on them [they were actually pieces of chicken and mutton]. though I'm accustomed to eating veg fare, i was keen to try out new things since this was a once- in- a- life- time oppurtunity [and the veg food was rumored to be awful here] and as our rather irriated teacher told a bunch of fusspots, its a shame to have khakras and theplas in Russia. the pizza with goat cheese [which tasted like omlette according to Vivek, who generously handed me a piece of it] was absolutely lip-smacking.
We then traveled on a 150 m [or longer] escalator. Initially, i thought it goes straight ahead, so my heart skipped a beat when it took a sudden downward plunge. for around five minutes i couldn't see land and had Russian advertisements and smooching Russian couples on the opposite escalator to entertain me. We then stood before two rather large, automatic doors [ I initially thought they were elavator doors] which opened to reveal a train. the train whizzed so fast that i found myself swinging like a pendulam despite clutching on tightly!
we had the whole evening free, so after dinner at the Russian McDonalds, all of us curled up in a common room and watched AliG [wierd!] till we were dead bored and sleepy.
the first part of the next day, the morning, the breakfast, the bus journey was rather the same. two other schools shared the bus with us today and we were taken to another old cathedral, the winter palace again, but this time from the inside. the palace was beautifully done up and also had a throne for the king who died here [after he was assisnated near the cathedral of split blood]. it wasn't a really big room, since the king supposedly had a phobia for open spaces! we also saw the famous Hermitage muesuem which had masterpieces from some of the century's most celebrated artists!
in the evening, we attended a cultural programs, a mix of tradtional countryside music and lively dances, followed by an introduction a representative of each school had to make about the school they came from. each speech was a letdown, except the one made by the representative of our school, Ambika. Her speech was the only well-formed, well-thought out, elaborate one and I felt so proud seeing the Indian flag pop up in a powerpoint introducing each school from each country.
after this, we had an elaborate, four course Russian meal at an old university. all schools were seated at 'hogwarts style' long tables where we were given delicacies made of mushroom, grain, chicken, mutton....hmmm.....delicious. the vegetarians had to make do with rice and boiled vegetables, [but that's what you can expect in Russia, where meat is a real delicacy, and veg food has little or no place.] I was glad that I had experimented with typical Russian meals as there's no point fussing and cribbing about the food, its a part and parcel of traveling and visiting new places.
back at the hotel, most of us were given a dressing down for being terribly fussy and imprudent at dinner, so the day ended rather sourly for the fusspots!