Hello Russia. Before we can say that, we have to wait six hours at the Ukrainian-Russian border. The political relations between the countries are tense and they let you know with long queues and waiting times.
Street dogs wander from cars to cars to get food from the waiting people, the toilet house is disgusting and you really want to avoid them, the trash bins are overflowing and the abandoned cars along the side of the road don't really leave a welcoming feeling.
It is already dark by the time we pass the controls. A look under the bonnet and the backdoors. "What's in these roof boxes?" - try to explain climbing gear in ussian.
We have to fill lots of papers. I do speak Russian but I read like a six years old.
„Do you have English papers?“, I ask the policeman.
„Could you help me, I can't read Russian“
„But you can read English?“, he shakes the head disappointed but comes with me to a table.
„Here the name, here the numberplate, there a phone number.“
„Oh, gotta get my phone for that. Can't remember it.“
„Just write something. No one will call you anyway, too expensive“, says the man in uniform and I stare at him with disbelieve.
Note a fictitious number.
„Here the destination.“
„Ehm… we don't have one“
„Where are you going?“
„Russia?“ I say carefully.
„And where in Russia?“
He looks at us, then to the car, be bed inside, the dog.
„And after that?“
„Kazakhstan!“ I say, and he points to the paper.
„City!“ I write Astana, and he grins: „ You're not up to date“
Astana was just renamed in Nur-Sultan, in honour to the last president. I heard my parents complain. The 4th name change in 30 years.
„Street and number of the house“, he says and points again, I stare at him. How do I know? He interprets my face right and says: „Just write something, no one actually cares!“
Nur-Sultan Road 15 is what I write. I bet there is one. So clever.
He tries to look strict and respectful but I can see that he is actually a very nice guy. Passport control, one last look at the car insurance and ready to go.
We spend one more day here than planned, because we fight so hard that the travel almost finds an end here. Two people stuck in the van during 3 weeks of rain is a challenge for every relationship. Our Instagram photos are all harmony and we always smile. Who likes to take photos while fighting?
The truth is what we are world champions in fighting. Antonio always says that inside of me there is already second world war because of my German-Russian roots. Paired with a temperamental Spanish we are an absolute explosive mixture.
International couple or not, a longterm trip in a camper is a hard test for every relationship.
In Moscow we park at family. They live in a pretty neighbourhood, double secured. It is normal here to have little districts watched by a guard that you have to enter through a gate. It takes some time to convince my aunt that we are sleeping in the van. I can imagine how hard it is for her to understand. The big villa is empty, the feather-bed is ready made, but we are sleeping in a car with a dog. The dog is not allowed in the house, that's normal here. Instead the is watching the workers, building a new terrace floor.
One day Moscow is enough for us. Last time I was here it was 12 years ago and since then the metropolis changed.
Everything is WOW and BOOM! Big, loads, magnificent.
It seems to have everything in abundance. The architecture is stunning. But also statues, monuments and parks have enormous dimensions.
A walk through Moscow
Antonio is in love.
Moscow is the most beautiful city, I've ever been to. I look at it more critical. Beautiful - yes. Impressive - for sure. But is this necessary? Who can afford this abundance? Where do they take the resources from? How much steal was needed to build this nonsense statue of Columbus, where does all that trash go? Plastic everywhere. The millions of lights, that light up the city during the night, decoration. Packaging wastes the shopping road every morning until the waste collections cleans it for another day of consumption. One shoppingcentre next to another. Consumption is the word that I can't stop thinking about here.
Some get all shiny eyes from this, but it gives me the creeps. What is the value of this society and who is paying its greed? On whose cost do they live and for how long can this keep going?
I don't know if you understand what I mean. Fact is, that my thoughts about sustainability, minimalism and consumer society get as much fed here as my lust to travel.
After Moscow, we drive to Riazan. My parents finally realized that we take this trip serious and their resistance changes into joy. A cousin is living in this city, why don't you visit some distant relatives there - call my old friend! The further we drive, the more people they remember that we have to visit now.
My uncle Sergej I meet here the first time. He is a real Russian. Patriotic, do-it-yourself-man and works in a big oil-company. He built a little house with veggie garden. Three generations under one roof.
I translate while he speaks with Antonio about military stuff
They drink Samagonka - something like home made whiskey.
While they drink more and more, their conversation gets wilder and I don't really know if they are fighting or becoming friends. „The Russian/Spanish army is the best!“ „When my country goes to war, I will defend it!“
At some point I leave, they arrived to a level where they don't need a translator any more.
Where in most countries people stop to drink and go to bed, Russians heat up the Banja. Russian Banja is incomparable. A mixture between sauna and bath, hot, wet, refreshing and exhausting at the same time. Drunk Antonio dies a thousand deaths while bathing. Totally destroyed he gets out and - has to keep drinking.
Stop? That is too much? No human ca stand that, you think?
Sergej thinks different about that and forces Antonio to more glasses of Samagonka and another time to banja. With birch branches you hit each other softly. The leaves give a nice sell and the soft massage removes old skin.
But as Antonio told me Banja with Sergej was more boot camp than spa. The birch branches had no leaves left and the massage was more of a beating.
„But I didn't show that it was painful. Not gonna show weakness.“ – Men…
„Did you do it too hard?“ I ask my uncle.
„Noooo“, he answers innocent.
Later, many glasses Samagonka later Sergej sits in his chair, blows the smoke in the clear sky and says: „I gave him a hard time in the banja, but he didn't say a word!.“
This night we sleep with open doors.
Am nächsten Morgen sind beide überraschenderweise fit und waschen das Auto.
In the next travel diary I will write about our trip along the Wolga to the Urals.And this time I will not let so much time pass by, promise!!
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