What’s life like on the east side of the EU border? Across Russia through the eyes of a tourist.
Our first impression of our neighbor is a little tatty. The scenery consists of a lot of concrete, rusty metal, rotten panels, half peeled paintwork, wonky walls and shaky looking buildings.
Our journey through the bumpy roads across the vast country of Russia has gone smoothly so far. The only things slowing us down have been traffic jams in the big cities and numerous roadworks that have generated queues in which we’ve stood for hours at a time. We got stopped once by a young, baby-faced police officer, but only to ask where we were going and if everything was alright. The road signs are all written in the Cyrillic alphabet, but after roughly a third of our leg in Russia (2000km) , reading them feels like second nature.
In the countryside, even the smallest plots of land within the vicinity of a house are utilised for farming. Potatoes, cucumber, tomatoes and pumpkins are all popular choices. Cows, goats, ducks and chickens are also commonly kept on the yards. Instead of benefits or social security, people make their living out of selling different things in road-side stalls. Sale items include homegrown vegetables as well as woodworks, Russian dolls, wooden icons, wooly socks, fur vests, leather slippers, berries, jams and juices. No huge supermarkets with their mile long trolley queues here! Most sellers can fit their items on the bonnet of a Lada or on little wooden stools.
The golden onion-domes of Russian Orthodox churches glisten in the sun. Even the small villages have their own places of worship. Just outside the cemeteries there are usually lots of bright coloured silk-flowers for sale and we spot quite a few reefs made out of these, decorating graves as well as war memorials and such.
Grannies look like grannies here. They’re not trying to act like teenagers in skinny jeans and fake lashes, but rock the floral dress and scarf combo, have wrinkly skin, grey hair and golden teeth.
The sky is blue, forests and meadows green. The sun is shining. People are going about their daily lives, working, living and loving.
Smiles get returned.