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Russia & Denmark

It’s odd to be writing about Russia and Denmark at the same time. These two countries could not be more different. The reason for this combination is due to the fact that I got to see Denmark on my way to Russia.

My mom had to make a business trip to St. Petersburg one August in my teens and my father and I had tagged along. My mom’s company did not want her to travel on the Russian airline, Aeroflot as it did not think the airline was safe and worthy enough to carry its employees! So we took a SAS plane, which allowed us to make a stop over in Copenhagen on both ways.

My mom had been to Denmark before through her previous job and told me about the mermaid statue and the Tivoli Gardens. She’s said that she could not truly enjoy them because I was not there with her to enjoy them with her. So then, we had the opportunity to see them together.

Among everything in Copenhagen, the mermaid and the Tivoli Gardens were indeed the highlights and the most memorable sights. I remember the city to be very orderly, clean and typical European to a degree of boredom. I remember being very impressed by the bicycle lanes and by the fact that every single Danish could speak English better than a native speaker.

I also remember that during our second stopover in Copenhagen on our way back from Russia, my parents had a sigh of relief and expressed their gratitude for being back in “civilisation.” I didn’t have such emotions against our experiences in Russia, so I could not quite understand why my parents reacted that way at the time.

Unfortunately, the only place I visited in Russia has been St. Petersburg. I remember waiting a very long time in the queue for customs. Our ride from the airport to the city was typical of what I had seen on TV before: concrete soulless buildings, flat lands with bare trees.

Once in St. Petersburg though, we found ourselves in a fairyland. We didn’t know which way to turn our heads as at each inch of the city, we were greeted by a marvellous statue, building, palace, park, fountain; you name it.

Our hotel was the Grand Europe – apparently one of the best in the city at the time. It is there that we saw Jirinovsky, a Russian MP at the time who was ill-reputed in Turkey for his xenophobic comments. The Grand Europe was truly a grand hotel. It was quite surprising to experience that the sun wouldn’t set until after 11 pm, which had caused us some difficulty in sleeping. I was quite happy that the hotel was right next to the Russian Orthodox Church with the onion domes I so wanted to see.

When my mom was in her meetings, my father and I explored the city through the canals, which were without a doubt much better than Venetian canals. We walked through the parks decorated with the most ravishing statues. My father, being an architect, even managed to find the faculty of architecture where we made a visit. I was so impressed with how the rooms of the faculty were decorated. Each room was like a palace with ornate carvings and lavish paintings. We had difficulty communicating though as no one spoke English or French.

The Hermitage Museum was absolutely ravishing and I would say, probably better than the British Museum.

I recall having dinner in an authentic Russian restaurant, in a windowless dark room where a group of musicians played the most melodic Russian tunes just for us.

During our visit to the city, I remained curious about why there were so many women dressed in business attire with heavy make-up and high-heels running around in the streets even during working hours. I wondered why they weren’t at work and why they had to wear such high heels because clearly they weren’t comfortable in them.

But I guess my most memorable incident was when my father and I wanted to catch a taxi (there were really no taxis at the time, you had to hitchhike), stopped a private car and agreed the price. When the driver took us to our destination, he suddenly increased the price that we had agreed. My father dared to argue that this was not the agreement. The driver became very angry and started driving off with us still in the car. I guess due to fear of being kidnapped; my father gave in and agreed to give him the amount he wanted.

This was Russia soon after the fall of the Soviet regime but long before the richness, development and mafia swept the country. It must be very different now.

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