At a time when the western press reads more like the backdrop to a Cold War spy thriller, it was with a sense of some excitement and perhaps a little trepidation that a group of 17 boys studying Russian headed out to Moscow at the start of the Easter holidays, accompanied by their two Russian teachers, JG and JMB.
After a brief stop to see Lenin in his mausoleum, we visited a number of significant sites around Moscow, ranging from Red Square and the Kremlin to Moscow State University and the Cosmonaut museum. Our local guide made sure that we sampled the best that local food had to offer and that we had the opportunity to “support the local economy” in our souvenir shopping.
The highlight for many was the opportunity to see the sharp contrast between the frequently icy hostility of the political world and the warmth and hospitality of normal Muscovites during our visit to one of the city’s secondary schools. Even in the face of the remarkable English skills of the pupils there, our boys, all of whom began to learn Russian from scratch in F Block, took the opportunity to try out their Russian and get to know Russians their own age.
A trip on the 2355 Red Arrow sleeper train, which has run continuously since the end of the Siege of Leningrad, resulted in rather more memories than it did sleep, nevertheless, our arrival in the beautiful showcase city of Saint Petersburg, formerly Leningrad, formerly Petrograd, formerly Saint Petersburg, was a welcome relief from the bustling streets of Moscow.
In Saint Petersburg we toured the enormous Hermitage, enjoyed a ballet performance of the Sleeping Beauty and experienced an armed babushka stripping and assembling a Kalashnikov faster than one can say Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
The trip remains one of the great highlights for those boys who opt to study Russian and I do not doubt that the experience is one that these seventeen boys will remember fondly for years to come.
John Greenwood Head of Russian