Sunday, March 04, 2018

From Russia with love

In many ways, it is incomprehensible that a city like St Petersburg, with more than five million people and a grandeur that would make any European capital blush, has existed a mere 700 km from Sweden without me ever visiting. But first locked up behind the iron curtain and later remaining oddly inaccessible due to a strict visa regime (which has always just been the flip side of the short-sighted visa regulations imposed by Sweden/Schengen), it did take a concerted effort to finally make the short flight across the Baltic. After a weekend in this magnificent city I can only regret that it took me so long.

As Rut Viking climbs out over Kronstadt, I try to make sense of my impressions. Contrary to what one would perhaps expect, the friendliness of everyday interactions stands out. So does the sheer size of the city and the ease by which I could imagine myself being in a Dostoyevsky novel. Some things were more like I had expected, such as the number of women caring for their kids with no men in sight. The latter made me think that, in certain ways, Russia may be even more patriarchal than the UAE where you often see dads walking down the streets with their toddlers in tow. Of course, a short weekend is far from enough to form any meaningful opinion about anything but I still leave Russia with a warm heart. More than ever, I also feel deeply frustrated by the military build-up in Northern Europe and the lack of imagination on behalf our politicians. If there can be de-escalation on the Korean Peninsula, I just cannot see why the same should not be possible along the shores of the Baltic.

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