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I've traveled around a fair amount in my time but this is one of my most memorable travel events.
In 1975 I had the rare (at that time) opportunity to travel to the Soviet Union with a small group of fellow political science students, teachers and business people. The Cold War was still raging, albeit somewhat warmer than it had been, but individual travel was still very restricted and the level of freedom enjoyed by their citizens as well as visitors was very limited. We spent nearly a month there traveling from St. Petersburg to Yalta, Simferopol to Stalingrad and, of course, Moscow. It was actually a very interesting time to be there because the Apollo-Soyuz spacecraft hooked up while we were there so there was a great feeling of camaraderie with Americans, especially amongst the younger people who were seeing some of the outside world on television for the first time. They were very curious and many of them spoke English very well and the vodka flowed freely. It was on our second stop through Moscow that I had the experience of a lifetime.
One evening my friend Richard and I set off on a sort of date with two young ladies we had met our first time through the city at a cultural exchange soiree'. One lady was a model and the other was an artist whose father was actually someone higher up in the party. We were staying at the Rossiya Hotel, which is a massive structure right across the street from Red Square, St Basils Cathedral and the Kremlin. However, we met the ladies at an apartment one of them shared across town near the Moscow (Mockba) Hotel. This was not the first time we had been invited to a Russian apartment by daring individuals so we knew not to speak as we entered and to talk quietly in the center of the room only after the ever-present music was turned up. We had brought a Grateful Dead album and some books and chocolates as gifts and must have sung Casey Jones a dozen times.The girls really didn't speak English too well, but we communicated as best we could. The lady I was with spoke a little Italian, as do I, so we did manage to exchange some ideas.
We ended up going to the nearby American Embassy which had a bistro open to tourists and expatriates and they served cold beer and Jack Daniels cheap. While Russians were allowed in, they rarely did because of the fear factor plus they didn't have access to foreign money to buy drinks. The cocktails soon helped the girls overcome their nervousness about being there and actually improved all our communication skills somewhat.
Several drinks and somewhat later we departed the bistro and Richard and I split up so as to walk our respective dates to their own places. We neglected to make any kind of rendezvous plans for getting back home as that was not foremost on our minds at the time. Thus it was that I ended up alone, somewhere the other side of midnight, on a dark Moscow street with no idea at all of what to do. The only beacons I had were the red soviet star alight on top of the Moscow Hotel a couple blocks behind me and it's counterpart atop the Kremlin across town, where I needed to be.
If you look in the dictionary today, you will see that forlorn picture of me next to the word 'alone'. I wasn't afraid exactly, (no, not me) but I certainly wasn't feeling very warm and fuzzy either. Not having much alternative, I set out afoot for the distant Kremlin star and my hotel next door. It looked to be 3 or 4 miles but because Moscow is built on hills, it turns out it was closer to 7 miles with all the ups and downs.
However, I had only gone about two blocks when the squeal of tires behind me caused my heart to perform a triple lutz and attempt to hide behind my liver. Turns out it was one of Moscows ubiquitous Gypsy cabs that roam the streets at night sans lights looking for fares, trouble, or whatever they can find. Figuring that I was up to no good, or a potential mark, the driver accosted me with a torrent of Russian, but then taking in my long hair and blue jeans, switched to some English sounding patois geared to put me at ease. We negotiated my passage to the Rossiya for $2 dollars American and the 4 sticks of Juicy Fruit gum in my pocket. Not a bad deal, considering the alternative.
Rocketing through the darkened streets of Moscow (they didn't pay to keep street lights or traffic lights on after about 10 pm), the cab possessed no working lights, only marginal brakes, smooth tires that squealed at the slightest provocation and seats that were more spring than cover - but the radio did work at extreme volume alternating between French and Portuguese rock and roll. Oh My! But he did know where the star was. The driver dropped my off a block from the hotel so he wouldn't get in trouble for driving a foreigner or arrested for being an illegal Gypsy cab. But he had my eternal gratitude, lemme tell ya.
Even the disapproving look and lecture (in Russian) from the floor key-keeper Babushka couldn't detract from the memory of that night. I knew this was one I would be telling my grandchildren about years later - although I did not suspect I'd be sharing it on ActiveRain at the time.
Now it's your turn. Help Mirela and her TravelingRainers group get rolling by sharing your best (or worst) travel stories here on the Rain.
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