Looking back now on my first overseas travel experience you would think from what you are about to read that I would want to change a lot of what happened in those first few hours. Have a do-over and make the trip run more smoothly. Go back and research things a little better.
But you know what…………I wouldn’t!
This first few hours shaped me into the traveller I am today. Much more resilient, adventurous and a hell of a lot more easy going. I have grown from being a naïve Aussie, thinking that every country in the world was just like home, to a worldly individual who has learnt about so many different cultures and ways of life.
Without that first experience in Moscow I wouldn’t be who I am right now.
Your probably thinking that something really bad happened to us as I tend to be a little over dramatic about this experience. We weren’t kidnapped, held at gunpoint or arrested. To be honest it wasn’t anything near as bad.
Realistically the challenges we faced are just the things that most travellers encounter regularly. But couple them with this being out first foreign country and having only just stepped off the plane, it felt pretty intense.
So here is the story of those first few hours and how everything went wrong.
It was 2010 and we were about to embark on a six week backpacking trip across Europe. Starting in Moscow (yes Moscow!) of all places. When thinking about European holidays and first overseas trips Moscow is the last place that comes to most peoples mind. And to be honest the only reason I can come up with for starting there was that it was a convenient place to start a train trip from east to west Europe. And with Moscow on my list of places to visit one day I thought why not.
A few (smart, intelligent, 100% right) people mentioned that it was a difficult place to visit independently even for the most travelled person but I just brushed them off thinking how difficult could it really be. How naïve was I!
So we landed in Moscow in the late afternoon around 5pm. I was nervous about getting through customs and security as I had no idea what to expect. The process to even get the visa to come to Moscow was tough so I figured getting in was going to be just as hard if not harder.
But really it was a breeze. The stern faced customs officer looked at my passport photo, looked at me, looked at my visa, looked at me, then gave me my first (yippee!!!) passport stamp and sent me on my way. No fuss, no hassle, nothing to be worried about.
At that point I thought “everything is going to be just fine”.
My biggest mistake was realised while waiting for our bags at the baggage carousel. You are going to think I am really stupid but did you know that in Russian they don’t use Latin script? Well I didn’t. Hours of research on Moscow and Russian history and not once did I come across anything telling me this.
Mick, who was in charge of learning some of the language for the trip (his one and only job when we travel) knew that they use Cyrillic script but just figured I knew this too. Who wouldn’t right?
So I am standing by the baggage carousel and it is slowly dawning on me that all of my directions and google maps I had with me to get us to the hostel were in Latin script. This in turn was the start of our adventurous next four hours trying to get to our hostel.
So all of the directions and English google maps that I had prepared to help us find the hostel went completely out the window as soon as we go off the airport train in the centre of town. This resulted in three hours of searching for our hostel on the streets and subway of Moscow in the rain and with night falling fast, completely lost.
After a while we conceded defeat and started asking people for help. First we asked a police office, showing him our directions and his response was to laugh at us. Next was two Russian English speaking local girls in the subway who we think we’re making fun of us laughing and joking to each other in Russian (sensing a theme here). Despite this they did manage to get us on a subway train to the right changeover station before they went their own way home.
And then there was the large group of armed forces men in the subway station who we ran into a few times. They tried in very broken English to direct us unsuccessfully in a full circle back to the same station again.
After a while I think Mick finally got the hang of the Cyrillic writing and got us to the subway station closest to our hostel. Yippee!!!!
Emerging from the subway we wandered around with our English map for a while until we knew again we were completely lost. By this point it was dark and still raining, we were drenched to the bone.
We found a nice looking young guy with a smart phone walking down the street and asked him if he could look up our hostel for directions and sure enough within a few minutes we were checking into our hostel with me vowing that tomorrow we would be on the first plane home! I’m such a drama queen sometimes.
Check in at the hostel was made simple and calming by the very friendly American owner of the hostel. He assured us that after a good night sleep we would be able to re-start our Moscow experience in the morning and start to enjoy ourselves.
After a dinner of vegemite on bread (Russian bread is more like those little toasts you have canapés on except in full bread size), the only food we could find close to the hostel, it was off to bed in the hope that our new American friend was right.
And he was!
After rising late Mick found a Russian (not English) map at reception. I couldn’t face the subway again so soon, so he mapped out an easy walking route to get to Red Square. As the day went on and we discovered Moscow’s amazing architecture, we became more relaxed and started to enjoy ourselves.
The next day we decided to try the subway again but this time we were like pros!
On the day we were (sadly) leaving on a 17 hour train trip to Poland we made sure we had plenty of time to get to the station (too much time in the end).
And the train ride to Poland, well that story is another adventure best left for another post.
Over to you!
What was your first overseas travel experience and did it get off to an adventurous start too?
Let me know using the comments section below or join me on social media to start a conversation.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post.