I spent the night at a Gatwick airport hotel but, needless to say, I couldn’t sleep.
My flight left at 7am. I enjoyed a good breakfast on the plane and wound my watch forward two hours. I had constant nerves and excitement in my stomach. After about 4 hours of flying we began our descent. Domodedovo airport is quite far out of Moscow, so I didn’t get any glimpse of the city from the plane. As I waited for the seatbelt sign to come on, I tried to stifle my paranoid thoughts of the suicide bomber that had blown up the arrivals area in this very airport 3 years previous. The intended victims were foreign citizens like me. However, I now realise how irrational it was to be worried about this; these random tragedies could happen anywhere.
All was calm as I moved through customs to find my driver. This was another aspect of the journey I felt foolish about – I had agreed to get in a car alone with a man I had never met, and he didn’t speak English. I spotted him – a short middle-aged man with a good tan and smart summer clothes, holding my name up on a card, which had the company’s logo printed on it. I went over to him and he phoned the company to tell them he had got me. He was smiling and relaxed. I liked him and felt an instinctive trust and comfort in his presence.
His name was Misha, and he took my suitcase for me and we went to the car park. It was dusty and warm outside. The drive began and I stared out the window at my first glimpses of Russia. We got into traffic on a small dusty road and were stuck for a while next to some roadside shops that looked decades out of date, to my UK eyes. Nevertheless, they had people hanging in and around them, just chilling out.
The whole journey down, Misha and I thoroughly enjoyed trying to communicate with each other. If we understood each other, it was a victory for us both and made us quietly happy. If we didn’t, we tried hand gestures, synonyms and he could use Google translate if and when there was signal. If we still didn’t understand each other, we just laughed. The laughter was of course a successful form of communication itself. Now and then one of us would even attempt to make a simplistic joke. By now I was feeling very relieved and at ease; things were perfect, so far.
We went for some food at a petrol station and he bought me dumplings (pelmeni) and doughnuts. The pelmeni are a typical Russian dish.
About 500 kilometres down, we left the motorway and began driving through derevni – villages. There were lots of coniferous trees mixed with a few quintessentially Russian silver birches. I found it interesting that the pipes ran above ground here, although at the time I didn’t realise they were pipes. The road was a bit bumpy but fine, just like any rural-ish road in the UK. The pavements were just dust.
We began slowly passing entrances to different summer camps, none of which looked active. The light of a warm sunset gliding through the trees was very pleasant. I was full of anticipation, tinted with sadness that I would soon have to leave my new friend, the driver.