A trip to Russia

I was very excited to be invited to visit the International School Moscow in late October 2015 for a week. I’ve never been to Russia before and it was a great chance to see a bit of this vast and amazing country as well as to to take part in a long and action packed author visit working with ages 6-13.

I went along with fellow UK children’s writer Margaret Bateson-Hill and although we worked at different venues each day it was fun to compare our school experiences at the end of each day and to walk into the city with someone friendly!

ISM is large and a typical international school – full of kids from many backgrounds around the world including many Russian students, of course. They are very bright, responsive and keen to learn as well as enthusiastic readers: a bit of a dream combo for a visiting author… The staff are also fantastic – so much enthusiasm, humour, diversity and talent. Again, it was great to see people from many countries working together.

One of ISM’s many buildings across Moscow
The school is unusual being across three sites in different parts of the city and Moscow is one of the largest cities on earth so there was quite a bit of travelling by taxi involved (an hour a journey each way most days) and every trip was a mini-adventure. For a start the city is dominated by traffic and huge wide highways, some of them 14 lanes in total. Yes, fourteen:
Good luck trying to cross this road on foot…
Very few of the yellow cab drivers speak any English so journeys were on the silent side until we started to get near to our destination each time when the drivers would start firing questions about the exact location of the school. My Russian is limited to about 5 words but it was evident that none of them knew where to find the destination. Lots of stopping and asking and getting lost was involved – quite comical at times, especially when one taxi owner stopped for a pee behind a road sign!
But there was lots to look at – it’s a city of 10,000 tower blocks, wide roads and polite people. There are Red Squares, blue skies and black cars. Oh they love their big Mercedes alright, as long as they are black and huge and intimidating. The other thing I noticed when in the taxis was that it appears to be an offence not to use a mobile phone when driving..
The city is vast and many parts do represent the grey-grim spawn of mankind’s love affair with concrete but amongst the  tarmac, cold steel and cracked verges are magnificent feats of engineering, stylish buildings and startling expositions of technology.
The twisted skyscaper was among my favourite buildings

One of Stalin’s impressive ‘Seven Sisters’ from the 1950s

There are more golden domes around than expected: the lovely Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

 Margaret and I made sure we got to Red Square one evening and stood for the obligatory tourist pose in front of the fairytale St Basil’s Cathedral, although I did spice this one up with a KGB hat purchased at the excellent Soviet goodie shop down the Arbat. The Kremlin was lit up and all the more imposing, but the giant square itself is wonderfully attractive. There’s a real feeling of East-meets-West here. The night was also enlivened when a couple of vodka-happy Chechnyans insisted on borrowing the hat for their own selfies but couldn’t quite manage the phone coordination.

The truly wonderful St Basil’s

 Of course, no trip like this is without hitches and there were delayed flights, long waits at passport control (a Russian Visa is not something you can buy in Tescos…) and the struggles of lugging round brick-heavy suitcases of books because shipping them there is a nightmare. Some kids missed out on a signed book at the school because I couldn’t take enough but we’re still working on sorting that one out.

Then, finally there was the Russian guy in the hotel in the room next to mine who got locked out in his undies when placing his finished room service tray in the corridor. There was a very humorous few minutes where he knocked on my door and with frantic sign language tried to explain his predicament and pointed into my room, clearly anxious to borrow the phone and call for rescue. Alas his glasses were also locked in his room. What a lark.

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