23 years ago my BF (at the time) and I flew out of Russia after one of the craziest times of my life. We had spent 6 months living in Moscow & working in a Casino in the city, Casino Gabriela. We worked all kinds of crazy hours and had to walk past Red Square every day to get to work. The casino was run by the Mafia of course and was one of the dodgiest places I ever worked, besides on cruise ships for the Indo’s but that’s a story for another day.
I loved living in suburban Moscow, absorbing the culture and architecture of such an old city. Russia was extremely dangerous in the early 90’s and us westerners stood out due to the way we dressed and the shoes we wore, Doc Martins were the boot of choice in the early 90’s. On our days off we would jump on the train and go to all sorts of places & just walk around, go to markets, posh hotels and go to bars (a lot). Carlsberg was the beer of choice.
To say it was a culture shock is putting it mildly. We rocked up less than a year after communism fell so the place was in a mess and living was hard. People didn’t know what to do in a democracy as they had always been told where they would live, work and what they could and couldn’t do. The older people really struggled as they had never known any other way. It broke my heart seeing them selling the treasure just to try and get by. There were empty plinths where statues of Stalin, Lenin and other heroes used to stand & beautiful buildings that were crumbling onto the sidewalks so we always walked on the roads.
You could buy an AK 47 at the markets but you couldn’t buy decent vegetables unless you went to the dollar supermarkets ($US). We had to be careful about food due to the Chernobyl meltdown 6 years previous. For a couple of months we only had 2 light bulbs in our little flat and we had to carry them from room to room so we had light. To buy bread you had to line up and pay for it then get back in another line to choose the bread you wanted. If you missed out on fresh bread you had no choice but to take the days before that had been soaked in vinegar to keep it fresh. The Russian food was horrible so we would eat at the posh hotels.
Work was really dangerous as security was poor and the boss, Alex was an angry man as he’d been kneecapped not once but twice by the Mafia bosses for not doing as he was told. You could hear his aluminium canes clicking around the place as he shuffled around shouting at everyone. The punters were crazy, especially the Georgian Mafia, they just didn’t care. One of then held a knife to my boyfriends throat coz he didn’t spin his number on roulette. Though we were employed as supervisors we used to deal mad games of roulette with tens thousands of dollars worth of bets on the table. I was a gun roulette dealer back in the day!
Things started to get crazy when it began to get cold. A Russian winter is not kind and the government decided to hold off turning the heating on so we were dealing with getting up in zero temps only to find the water in the toilet had frozen. We had to boil pots of water on the stove to have a wash in the morning. It was miserable and I remember how much my teeth used to hurt from the cold while walking to the Metro station to get to work. I’ll never forget the babushkas kicking lumps in the snow, they knew it was their husbands that were passed out sleeping from the night before and they would be out giving them hell early in the morning to wake up and go to work. The home made vodka was lethal. I they called it smagon, it was brewed in the bath from potato peels. I only had it once and that was enough 😳
The beginning of the end was when my boyfriend got mugged one day as he was walking home after going to the local shops, he wouldn’t let me go out by myself after that as it was not safe. Then 2 weeks later I got hassled in the street by some gangsters so he pulled a gun on them and we got into a scuffle with them. As it was happening the Police pulled up and he was subsequently arrested and forced into a police car then taken to Alexander Pushkin Police Station and thrown in the lock up. That was absolutely terrifying for me as they pushed me to the ground and got hold of him, fortunately I had picked up some of the language so was screaming at them who we worked for and they told me to send Alex up there. Thankfully the boss went up and bailed him out the next day. I never asked for details but was overjoyed that he came out unscathed, a miracle in itself.
One week later we flew out as he refused to stay there any longer. I was sad to go but also relieved and we both literally kissed the tarmac at Heathrow when we landed back in England. We lived and worked in England for a while and regained our composure before we flew back to Perth via Thailand. We spent 3 months wandering around from Chiang Mai to Ko Phangan thanks to the money we had smuggled out of Russia in our Doc Marten boots.
Today I start a new diet. A Facebook diet.
I am wasting far too much time messing about scrolling etc. so am limiting myself to 6 posts a day & 15 min periods of FB time.
I am going to devote my time to my new blog & writing up course work for the new intake in February.