My Fabulous Broke Trip To Russia

Highly recommend viewing this full size

It has taken me way too long to write this – hate it when life gets in the way! Warning: this is long.

Russia is a cruel country. I don’t mean that in the sense that you’ll get mugged the moment you step outside (although, like all big cities, it’s possible depending on where you live and if you look like a dumb tourist) but that it’s very sink or swim; nobody is going to hold your hand and tell you everything is going to be ok. I like that; I like the fact that being brought up in that environment teaches you to fend for yourself and to network like a motherfucker (nepotism is alive and kicking). At the same time I’ve lived in the UK for so long that having to constantly manoeuvre my way round complicated social scenarios – because nothing is done by the book – is exhausting.

I had mixed feelings going back to Moscow for the first time in two years. I’d missed the Soviet architecture and everyone smoking and roasted sunflower seeds and pickled herring. But recent news reports made me think it was going to be North Korea with a familiar alphabet. Plus there was my babushka (grandmother), who seemed to have gone senile in the last couple of years.

I flew with Easyjet for a ridiculously low price – I can’t remember the exact amount but it was under £100 not including baggage fees – from Gatwick to Moscow Domodedovo. I prefer Heathrow but would’ve been looking at prices of £250+ if I went with BA or Aeroflot (who fly from there). Easyjet are my homies now.

Did you know: UK and Russia have an agreement where only 2 Russian airlines (Aeroflot and Transaero) and 2 British airlines (British Airways and Easyjet) are allowed to fly between London and Moscow. Until recently the British airlines were BA and BMI but then BA bought out BMI and a ‘slot’ opened up on the British side. Virgin were the main other bidder for the route.

There’s a Domodedovo Express station 30 seconds away from the airport. Tickets are 400 roubles if you buy them on the day (slightly cheaper if you do it online in advance), which is about £7. The journey time to Paveletsky Rail Terminal is about 45 minutes and there’s a Metro station on that end.

Paveletsky Rail Terminal

Paveletsky Rail Terminal

Tip: If you don’t fancy lugging suitcases around public transport, make sure you pre-book a taxi in advance. Do not under any circumstances get a taxi from one of the drivers who approach you at the airport, they will rip you off ESPECIALLY if you’re a foreigner.

Polina met me at Paveletsky. She’s my main Russian bitch; our grandparents own dachas next to each other so we’ve been friends since we were about three years old. We went from fucking around in a sandpit to fucking around in Moscow bars. She and her husband Andrei had a baby six months ago and I was dying to see them.

Love her!

Love her!

We drove to Zelenograd, which I’m sure I’ve written about before but here’s a short summary: ‘technically Moscow’, built to imitate Silicon Valley, a closed city at one point and now a sort of commuter suburb. The ‘technically Moscow’ part is important and here’s why:

Russians have two passports; an internal one and one that they use for travelling. The internal one contains details like their marital status (if you get married, it gets stamped), any children and residential propiska, or registration. I’m not sure what the status of registration is now but it used to be compulsory to be registered at your place of residence, and people who were living in Moscow got better social and health benefits (qualified for more free medication etc) than those with non-Moscow registration. So when Zelenograd was being built, it was given Moscow status to attract new residents even though it’s actually 23 miles away from Moscow proper. In contrast, a city called Khimki which is directly adjacent to the city of Moscow only has ‘Moscow region’ status. Which isn’t the same thing at all; it’s like City of London vs somewhere like Bromley.

The view out of our apartment in Zelenograd

The view out of our apartment in Zelenograd

There isn’t much to do in Zelenograd but there is a great shopping centre called Iridium (Street View link) that not only has a Body shop and a Burger King which serves beer, but also a cafe called Shokoladnitsa which has FREE WIFI! Russia isn’t in the EU so Vodafone’s Eurotraveller sadly isn’t available and roaming costs a bomb. Luckily many places out there have free wifi that’s either an open network, or the password is written in the menu, or you can ask the staff, or check out the venue’s Foursquare reviews.

Shortly before the end of my visit I offered our next door neighbours 200 roubles (about £3) to use their wifi. They gave me the password and refused to take the money which was nice of them.

A school and a residential building across a pocket park in front of our building

A school and a residential building across a pocket park in front of our building

My babushka was determined that I go to the dacha. Coming back in October was strange; I always used to visit in the summer when the whole place was full of greenery and flowers but with the yellow leaves and wilting plants it looked like Chernobyl. The older generation uses these plots to grow their own vegetables, often on the scale of a small farm, and scorns the nouveau dachniki for converting their inherited dachas into log cabins with saunas for parties and weekend breaks. I was handed wellies and a raincoat to plant a bed of garlic in the rain but on the bright side I did see a few other babushki that I knew from when our parents shipped us off to summer with our grandparents as kids.




The next day I ran off to Moscow proper to hang out with Polina. I saw her adorable Yorkie, Yasha, and her adorable daughter Varya, we drank wine in the evening and I slept on the biggest and most comfortable sofa on the planet.

Yasha and his bitch

Yasha and his bitch

My de facto goddaughter

My de facto goddaughter

The next day we went to Gorky Park. It used to be an amusement park but, according to Wikipedia,

In 2011 the Gorky Park underwent a major reconstruction. All amusement rides have been removed in order to transform the place into an eco-friendly recreational zone. In March, the city appointed Sergei Kapkov director of the 120-hectare, or 300-acre, Gorky Park. He canceled the entrance fee and cleared the park of outdated carnival rides and junk food stalls, while bringing back the traditional sport activities: aerobics, yoga and salsa dancing taught by educated instructors, along with creating new spaces, such as a pétanque cafe, beach volleyball courts and an open-air cinema theatre. With free Wi-fi, contemporary public art projects, design fairs and a new cafe policy, Gorky Park soon became one of the most popular places in Moscow.


Nautilus in Gorky Park

The free wifi is fucking awesome, by the way. There are little numbered posts with solar panels, each post corresponds to a wifi name so you just connect to whichever network your phone picks up. There was also a tea pop-up which served hot kvas with ginger that tasted like a savoury mulled wine. Also: amazing.

The park itself wasn’t that brilliant. In the summer it’s full of cyclists, skaters, rollerbladers, people playing football, tennis, BMXing etc but this time it was quiet and there was a giant ice rink being built so we left pretty quickly, stopping to buy a handmade chopping board with a cat drawn on it in the subway that takes people from Gorky Park to Muzeon (otherwise known as the Fallen Monument Park).

Tea hut in Gorky Park

Tea hut in Gorky Park

We saw a tram on the way there!


In the evening we met up with a girl called Ksenia and her boyfriend Kirill and went to a viewing deck in Moscow City, which is a commercial district (basically loads of skyscrapers) in the centre of Moscow. It cost 800 roubles (just under £20) to get in but our guide went through a short history of the complex itself and pointed out notable buildings that could be seen from the deck. The view was breathtaking.


Highly recommend viewing this full size

Highly recommend viewing this full size

We drove round for a while looking for some bar/restaurant type places that were open late but it was a weeknight so we were out of luck. We ended up in a 24-hour Japanese restaurant called Yakitoriya. Later that night Kirill drove Polina and me back to hers and as we bombed down a four-lane road past the Kremlin, with the radio blaring cheesy 90’s pop, laughing at memories of drunk times in the past, I realised that I couldn’t remember the last time I had that much fun sober.

After a few more days with babushka I was back at Polina’s. The temperature dropped rapidly below zero and it was snowing by the time we went for a walk down Arbat. It’s a pedestrian street in the centre of Moscow and looks majestic as fuck with the snow coming down.



We ate at an Italian restaurant called Rucola which brought out huge bellinis in wine glasses and put chorizo in bruschettas, then wandered down to Hard Rock Cafe. I don’t know it’s supposed to be a legendary venue but I found it uninteresting. The wifi took ages to connect (these things are important!) and the people seemed kinda pretentious. On the bright side, the potato skins were tasty as fuck and the salad Polina ordered was gigantic.



Snow on Arbat

Snow on Arbat

The next day it was time to leave. Polina drove me back to Paveletsky (we decided that was easier than driving all the way to Domodedovo; last time her parents went to pick someone up, they got stuck in traffic for four hours). At the airport I saved a child whose shoelace got stuck in the escalator and helped an old woman who had never been abroad find her way to her flight, and then it was back to Gatwick, back to Kent and back to my old life.

Moscow ring road

Moscow ring road

But I felt different coming back. When I was leaving, my head was a mess for a whole amount of reasons. I felt sad and tired and confused. My comrades helped me recharge my batteries with their advice of the ‘get your shit together’ rather than ‘u ok hun’ variety. I remembered that despite all the shit that the government was doing to their people, the people were still fun and interesting and determined to swim rather than sink. I remembered that I was one of them – you don’t get this shit for nothing:


My Fabulous Broke Trip To Croatia


I would have a breakdown if I didn’t get some sun and sea at least once a year. This trip was long overdue.


A. and I flew with Easyjet (of course) from Gatwick to Split. The flights cost us about £150 each, which wasn’t bad considering it was August Bank Holiday weekend. The flight was only two and a half hours too. On the downside, in order to maximise beach time our outbound flight was at 6 in the morning, so by the time we finished last-minute panic packing we got a grand total of about one and a half hour’s sleep the night before.

EZY to the JET

Obligatory plane shot

We got the bus from the airport to Split, which cost 25 kunas one way. The airport site lists two bus companies; I can’t remember which one we used but either way the bus stops to the right hand side as you come out of the airport terminal and goes non-stop to Split Harbour.


Speaking of kunas. You won’t need to worry about them for much longer because Croatia joined the EU in 2013 and will be adopting the Euro soon, but keep in mind that converting kunas into sterling in your head can be a bit of a nightmare. One pound is worth about 8 kuna (depending on the exchange rate that day) so we normally divided the kuna amount by ten and added on another couple of pounds to that. Unless you’re great at your eight times table, in which case you could have just skipped this part.


A. found the accommodation: Villa Simoni. It cost just under £300 altogether for four nights, but we did share a room. The photos on the website are a bit misleading as the place is bordering on shabby but the mattresses were comfortable and the shower surprisingly powerful. There was a fridge and a two-ring electric hob in our room, but we didn’t really use either because we mostly ate out. I would stay there again just for the location; it was a five-minute walk to the beach and a two-minute walk into Split town centre. It was also facing Split Harbour train station but noise wasn’t an issue; all the time we were there we saw maybe two trains, both at night when we were returning to our room.

Split Harbour Train Station

Split Harbour Train Station

When we got off the airport bus, we saw how convenient it was to just cross the platforms and get straight to the hotel but were worried about jumping the tracks and getting electrocuted – becoming human bbq is a pretty shitty way to begin a holiday. So we looked up at the power lines and saw none, then we looked down at the third rail but didn’t see one either. Then we saw the crossings and later on found out that Split Suburban Railway isn’t actually electrified! That was so weird because a train without electric power seems like chips without ketchup (it should be illegal to have chips without ketchup) but the diesel engines we saw were actually kind of charming and the people leaning out of the windows of sleeper cars looked like they were off to a really exciting adventure.


The closest beach to us was Bacvice beach.


First of all, the majority of the beach is a pebble beach. So bring those ugly rubber shoes you wear in water or be prepared to get little cuts on your feet. I wasn’t too bothered because I have a relatively high pain tolerance and a limp is sexy anyway, right?

Second, the water is amazing. It’s the clearest sea I’ve ever seen; I went in all the way up to my shoulders and could still see the bottom. A., who’s a better swimmer, went quite far and said it was the same further out. Which means you can see the seaweed when it touches you on the foot and don’t have a panic attack thinking it’s a hungry octopus.



On the first day, after falling asleep and dribbling on my beach towel I got woken up by loud topless French tourists, went for a dip in the sea – FYI, the Adriatic is much less salty than the Mediterranean – then started to feel a bit like a rotisserie chicken and convinced A. to go into town and find some sun lotion. Weirdly, the higher the SPF, the more it costs.

The sandier (and busier) part of the beach had sunbeds but we didn’t want to pay for them and wanted to find somewhere quiet so we walked around until we saw a quieter area and just put our towels down on the ground, which was what everyone else seemed to do. Everywhere got pretty packed by midday but our spot was bearable.

The town

I didn’t do much historical research before coming to Split, mostly because I knew we were only there for a long weekend and really wanted to relax after a generally stressful year. So I knew there was something called Diocletian’s Palace but had no idea that it was a 4th century Roman fortress and most of the shops, bars and restaurants along the harbour were actually part of it. There were some cute souvenir stalls too, ranging from standard tourist tat (mainly shot glasses, owl- and donkey-themed stuff, and lavender sachets) to artwork by local artists.


One of the coolest unexpected things was the flea market. We found it completely by accident and struggled not to get a Wonga loan. To be honest if we’d had hold luggage I would’ve seriously considered borrowing money from somewhere but only walked away with a vintage-looking magnifying glass (which I don’t need but as Bernard Black said, whores will have their trinkets) and a wooden owl box. A. bought a brass teapot and some antique scissors, then spent the rest of the trip panicking that the scissors would get confiscated by airport security (they weren’t).


We did quite a lot of my favourite type of exploring, which is wandering off down little side streets and looking at all the quirky narrow houses with shuttered windows.


There were people hanging out their washing next to places that looked like national monuments, which was like seeing a totally normal non-toff living next to the Houses of Parliament or Buckingham Palace or something.


The only slightly upsetting thing was the amount of skinny cats with kittens who looked hungry and scared of people, although we saw a lot of tourists feed them scraps of meat from their plates at restaurants.



As was my experience with Moscow and Paphos, if you want good food for reasonable prices and great service, stay away from the waterfront. My Greek salad at a harbour ‘restaurant’ had one green olive in it while my tuna steak at a family-owned side street place was giant, tasted amazing and came with a smile from the cute (A. disagrees but we hate each other’s taste in men) waiter.

There were only two exceptions:

A place called Luna near the entrance to the harbour which calls itself a pizzeria but does pretty decent fish. The food was nice and the waiter kept plying us with on-the-house rakia. Rakia is Croatian brandy and if you haven’t tried the honey or walnut stuff then you haven’t done Croatia life properly.


Gelato lips

A gelato place (can’t remember the name, it’s in an orange building that’s part of Diocletian’s Palace) that does the most amazing ice cream I’ve ever tasted in my entire life. The chocolate stuff was so thick it was like eating an ice cream version of a gateau and nearly sent me into a sugar coma.


There was a bar quarter which had hideous modern buildings but the rest of the town was nice – the buildings were old and shabby enough to have character but not crumbling so much they looked like slums.

Drinks-wise, Ožujsko lemon beer was amazing – the most refreshing thing I’ve tried in ages.


The atmosphere at night was pretty lively but not rowdy. A few sleazeballs came over to say hello but they weren’t pushy and overall the crowd was pretty varied, from groups of teenagers who just hit 18 and want to drink ALL THE COCKTAILS to families having a walk around. Most tourists were French and German; I only heard English being spoken several times.

A lot of people didn’t understand the appeal of Croatia but it’s a lovely location with tons of character – and has managed to improve while remaining laid back and unpretentious. The standard of service (they won’t dance around you like the Americans do) and relative lack of beach comforts would seem a bit strange to some people but if you keep in mind that not everything is like what you’re used to in Western European resorts, you’d have a great time.

And just to sum it up, because everyone likes photos of girls in bikinis:


Volimo Hrvatsku!