A 10 year reunion of old friends

Trip Start Dec 28, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Russia  ,
Wednesday, March 15, 2006

It's not without a little trepidation that I arrive in Vladivostok; a previously closed focal port city of Russia; to visit my twin penpals whom I haven't seen for a good decade. Quick background: We were 14 and 12 respectively in Japan participating in a televised International Youth Choral Peace Festival - we have maintained a penpal friendship over the miles and years! Such a rare thing I think.

I arrived wearing every layer I brought looking every bit a michelin woman, prepared for the full force of a Russian winter, but it was a balmy -1C. Well at least my bag was lighter, whose idea was it to backback in winter?! On this note, Vlad (as I affectionately refer to it now) is capable of a complete change of weather in one day - snow/sleet in the am, and + temps in the arvo. Oh and the pavements vary from being covered in powdery snow to slushy snow to hard ice - in a continual thaw frost cycle.

My hosts showered me with hospitality, dinner comprising a banquet of salmon (my fave!), caviar (my first time), homemade chutneys and pickled condiments, notably mushrooms etc. I love that a lot of Russian food is hand prepared. Oh and of course top notch premium vodka shots - surely it's rude to refuse =)

I have seen 2 wedding entourages - interestingly the bride wears a fur coat. Ah the perils of a Russian winter wedding.

I went go-carting - I came second by a mere second! Also pool is a big past-time here and I am proud to say I have held up the Aussie side. Clubbing/pubbing is alive and well in Vlad - trendy lounge bars and one cool cafe where you say 5 words and they make your coffee to suit (hmm...smooth rich dark sweet and with a hint of spicy - ahem enough about my taste in men). Russian women are all so glamorous and slim. I'm the token podgy funny foreigner chick of the group!

Some of the notable sights of Vlad include: a walk-in original submarine museum, oceanarium, monuments eg Lenin, and a pulley cable car going up a 45 degree angle.

I was fortunate enough to be present for a national holiday - Women's Day, where women everywhere are celebrated with flowers and gifts and a day off work to boot. We soo need that one in Aus eh.

Visited my host family's "babushka". Methinks grandma's are fundamentally the same the world over: proferring food, tea and hugs. Just lovely.

I gave a presentation about Australia at a local college. I was questioned at length about slang, even delving into swear words. It was amusing to hear the teachers in the corridors post-class: "My students p*ss me off".

Of Russia so far, as a good friend of mine (thanks Amy!) put it so well, it's interesting being in a country with so many pre-conceptions/stereotypes. Mine obviously need a rethink: not one person has spat on me or tried to steal my money, and only 2 attempts to rip me off to date, pretty good going I thought. Although trying to break a 1000rouble (~$50) note anywhere is another matter...

...It's off to China tomorrow!
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