Staring at a metro map in the crowded railway square of Belorruskaya, we’re trying to decipher a series of Cyrillic alphabets bearing an accurate resemblance to mirror images of R’s, and N’s. And even the number ‘3’.

Under normal circumstances, we’d have had two choices – one, stop a passerby and ask him, or her, for directions to Arbatskaya, our intended destination. Or two, go in search for an Information Center to seek directions, for which, as we realized much to our disdain, we’d still need directions. Less than two percent of the Russian population, we later gathered, speak English.

We had, so far, inferred a few definitive impressions of Russia: anyone who frowns at you is Russian, anyone who stares at you with a look of ‘you don’t belong here’ is Russian, and anyone who does neither is a foreigner lost in cluelessness as we were. Our views, however, would change for the better, with time.

After all, it had been hardly a few hours since we landed in Moscow Shermetyevo via Aeroflot, an Airline that exceeded expectations despite being the subject of jokes targeting their vodka-swilling, street-signs reading-and-navigating pilots. Aeroflot’s most infamous disaster had taken the lives of all 75 aboard the Airbus A310 flying to Hong Kong in 1994, when a pilot allowed his 13 year old son to take controls.

Plans for any budget trip usually start with booking the cheapest flight available to your destination. Despite concerns over one of former Soviet Union’s most drab and lumbering institutions, it was a quick glance at our shallow bank statements that had forced us into booking our tickets without further thought. At least we didn’t end up flying the ox carts fitted with jet engines – Ilyushins, as the Russians call it.

“May I help you?” we heard a voice from behind us in an accent that starkly sounded east European.

We turned around and saw a fairly well-built fellow, a bottle of beer in his right hand drawing greater attention than his light brown hair, which was drawn back into a stumpy pony-tail, and formidable eyebrows. His intent, however, made us feel welcome – the entire picture camouflaging the fact that we were lucky to have had an English speaker run in to us.

“Yes, we need to take the metro to Arbatskaya, and we have no idea how to read this,” we said, desperately pointing to the map in front of us.

“Ah, Arbatskaayaa,” he stresses, and takes out a crumpled map from his pocket. He opens it, swigs down a fair quantity of beer from his bottle, and in an apologetic tone, adds, “I don’t speak too much English, but I try.”

We assure him that his English served as a relief, and had it not been for his timely assistance, we might have headed back home with a briefer travel diary than that of Snowden’s tales from his days at Shermetyevo transit.

“Okay, we are here,” he mentions as he runs his index finger through a word which referred to our current coordinates – Belorruskaya. We mentally take note of how the Cyrillic alphabet transliterates. “And to get to Arbatskaya, you first go to Kievskaya via the Brown Line, and then take the Blue Line to Arbatskaya.”

How easy, we think to ourselves as he traces the path along the map. In truth, the Moscow metro map appears to be as detailed and comprehensive as its London counterpart. It is just a matter of getting used to the Cyrillic alphabet.

“I am from Moscow,” he says. “What about you?”

“We are travelers from India,” we tell him, a statement that clearly seemed to fascinate him.

“Very far away,” he replies, awe-struck, gesturing with his hands pointing towards the sky. He seemed pleased to understand that a bunch of tourists from ‘as far as India’ had an interest in visiting Moscow. “Let me show you to the metro,” he adds, indicating that we follow him. We duly followed him under the afternoon sunshine, rather hurriedly, for we had little time to lose.

Huge Gothic style buildings, painted in mint green, constitute Belorruskaya station. We passed through columns carved with intricate symbols, beautifully plain, none of which, though, were decipherable. We noticed a few tourists around taking pictures, mostly Chinese.

He leads us along a path that takes us past the railway square and into a parking lot where taxi drivers eagerly wait to poach on tourists. A tour bus unloads a set of passengers at a distance.

“You see that, M,” he says, pointing towards a symbol atop one of the structures, “that is the entrance to the metro. And if you’re going to be in Moscow for some time, come to the Karaoke night on Friday,” he adds, as he takes out a phone from his pocket, and plays a video of a scene he’d recorded the previous day.

We disappoint him when we tell him that we don’t plan to spend more than three days in Moscow. “All right, enjoy Moscow,” he says, shrugging his shoulders as he throws a smile and waves goodbye. We turn our attention back to the surroundings, under the assurance of having the route traced out in a map.

Moscow’s metros are an illuminating sight, perhaps more than anywhere else, to those who enjoy their art and architecture in the most unlikely of places – a good fifty meters below sea level, like an underground museum that has no entrance fee. Stalin’s vision, a local later admitted, was to design the metros as structures that citizens could look up to and admire. Marble walls, grandiose chandeliers, bronze statues and numerous mosaics made with every material available under the Soviet sun constitute those that remain intact. The paintings on the walls reveal the ideas, faiths, crests and troughs of the times during which they were sketched.

Within the next fifteen minutes, we’d read every signboard, every display in the hope of making an educated guess as to what word would read Kievskaya. We continued to look lost, and by time I took out my Lonely Planet to do a quick check on the Cyrillic alphabet, a woman, presumably in her mid-fifties and asked us the question we’d get so used to being asked every time we found ourselves in crowded areas looking completely clueless: May I help you?

When in Moscow, and in doubt, pretend to look around as though you’ve landed in a different planet all together – someone’s bound to help you. We thanked the lady for her assistance once she finished explaining the directions in broken English.

We found ourselves outside Arbatskaya Metro, twenty minutes, a line change and four stops later, with our 50+ liter backpacks and the additional luggage bearing their brunt on our shoulders, exhibiting every sign of us being the only readily identifiable foreign tourists. Our wallets and passports are comfortably tucked in a layer beneath our shirts. Surely we aren’t far away, we think as we browse through our accommodation slip that read Bear Hostels Arbatskaya.

With the help of a policeman who spoke English in monosyllables, we are directed towards a road that would take us to the hostel. On the other side, one of the red Kremlin buildings stands atop its neighbors. Not bad, we think as we congratulate ourselves for having zeroed down on a hostel in Central Moscow that came at a reasonable price of 450 RUB a night.

Unless you had a fairly certain knowledge of the locality, we reflected once we reached the hostel after thirty minutes of nomadic wandering – through subways, narrow lanes, broad lanes and anything that seemed like a path that took you from one point to another – you would not reach the premises of Bear Hostels.

An unintentional turn off Arbat Road could bring you here, although you might not if you intended to reach it in the first place. The road keeps splitting itself further with every few meters covered, lanes branching out behind buildings, car parks or any structure that stood up.

You climb a flight of wooden stairs to reach the upper floor of Bear Hostel, where there dorm rooms are spread across a common pathway that houses a washroom on one side, and a common area with tables, maps scattered across, on the other. We are put in a ten-bed dorm, which comes at a lower price than an eight, six, four and the expensive privates. Fortunately, our room has only one occupant – a middle aged British, we presumed, fast asleep. The other rooms are fully occupied.

We take turns freshening up, for there are any only two showers in the washroom, as our unknown dorm-mate continues to engage in his perpetual sleep. I grab a map, and make my way downstairs in the hope of grabbing advice from the hostel personnel on activities and sights nearby. I notice other backpackers absorbed in their own routines – a few of them browsing the internet, a man in his fifties reading a book (I distinctly recall from the cover that it might have been a biography), and a Chinese guy sorting out his rubles near the vending machine possibly trying to grab a Mars bar. Not one of them notice the Indian with a map in his hand, confidently striding towards the reception – full of excitement, questions and a fair degree of doubt.

We notice a different team sitting in the reception, as against the two we’d met when we checked in. I wonder how the shift patterns are, before saying hello to a woman, possibly in her early thirties and explaining the purpose of my being there.

Arbat is a lovely, uptown area she tells us, as I’m joined by the other guys shortly. We gather that it is one of the older settlements within Moscow as we browse through the map – a central locality popular for it being home to a number of embassies, Old Arbat Street, one of Stalin’s Seven Skyscrapers (the Seven Sisters, as they call it) and it being walkable distances from both the Kremlin and the Moskva River.

“There are plenty of cafes and restaurants along this road,” she says as she traces a line along Arbat Road, the lifeline of our neighborhood. “And you could visit the Stalin Skyscraper here; it is my favorite amongst the seven”. It was close to the Moskva River, we noticed while guessing that it might be a good twenty minutes by walk from where we were.

We thank her for her advice and make our way outside. Our hopes slowly gathered wind when all of a sudden, with the map in our hands and the advice clearly registered, the neighborhood seemed familiar enough to navigate. It can’t be all that hard, we think as we make our way towards Arbat Road.

An artist’s attempt to sketch the view Arbat Road gives on his painting would be rebuked for exaggeration. But reality, having no such paroxysms about disapproval, stands still. We walk towards Moskva River, baffled by the numerous cafes, theatres, supermarkets, and the odd gallery that crowd Arbat Road. We turn back to see how far we’ve progressed. The Kremlin is lost in the dusty glare of Moscow’s afternoon sun.

A brief stop for a late lunch at Chilli’s rob our pockets off an astonishingly high 3000 RUB (USD 100), a sum that we continue to rue about till date. Moscow, undoubtedly, is one of the world’s most expensive cities. It would take us another day to understand ways to mitigate the risks of menu prices showered. After cursing ourselves for a poor choice of lunching, owing to the price and not the quality of vegetarian food we managed to lay hands on, we recommence our walk towards our destination.

Ten minutes pass. Twenty. Stalin’s skyscraper seems as far as it was twenty minutes ago, like a mirage in a desert that sketches a tree, adjacent to a lake that never was.  It is easy to look stupid in a foreign country, let alone one where English is quasi-nonexistent. But the map never lies, we tell ourselves, as we continue to walk towards the river, and the skyscraper. The map becomes a source of hope when you explore the unknown and of despair when you start guessing the scales to which they’re sketched.

We are briefly distracted by a Hummer Limousine that speeds past the road, followed by a truck that sprayed water on the road, with precise uniformity, with the intent to clean it. How innovative, we think, before getting into a discussion on whether such an approach would be feasible back home.

We continue to walk and recall a brief sample set of Russian words we’ve become familiar with: Spaciba, Ye Nye Ponimayotranslating to Thank You, and I don’t understand respectively. And a few more, none of which would suffice to engage in a conversation lasting more than a few syllables, often ending with the Russian stranger shaking his or head with an honestly helpless look in the eye.

We reach Moskva River, subsequently as evening dawned, with the Radisson Royal Hotel, also one of Stalin’s seven sisters, standing tall on the other side of the river bank. The map indicates that the Kievskaya station, where we’d switched train lines earlier that day, was within the vicinity. We continue our walk along the Moskva River, stopping to take pictures of tourist boats and bridges that connected the banks.

The reception lady’s favorite skyscraper, understood to be the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, at Smolenskaya-Sennaya Square, appears to our left behind significantly shorter structures. We take the road left, continuing to keep our cameras busy and keeping an eye out for the speedy pedestrian cyclists who never seemed too far away from knocking us out, or at least we felt.

Stalin’s iconic skyscrapers were built to send across the message on how strong the Soviet state was. Stalin’s belief in astrology convinced him to re-build Moscow to make it look like a Zodiac table – a metro line with 12 stations, and nine skyscrapers, each one representing a planet. Only seven would undergo completion.

The foundation for all the initially planned nine skyscrapers were laid on the day Moscow celebrated its 800th anniversary, in 1947. A communist decree was passed in 1955, two years after Stalin’s death, in order to ban architectural extravagance. There is, however, a lesser known theory that the seven skyscrapers were designed to form a crown around the Kremlin.

By the time we retire back to the hostel, it is well past 8 PM. We surf the internet to discover that there is CouchSurfer’s party at Kitay Gorod, near the Red Square at 10 PM. Once again, we find ourselves in front of the reception desk seeking directions, much to the delight of the lady who seemed to recommend Kitay Gorod as a locality where there’s plenty to do.

An unsurprising detour follows. We meet Sam Omoso, a Kenyan who has been living in Russia for the last three years, and understand that the venue didn’t serve food. We gather that there’s a Subway nearby, and with Sam’s assistance – he speaks good Russian – we manage to grab our veggies and coke, and head back to the venue for music, dance and more.

Sam’s interest in football glues our discussions for the next few hours, as a repeat telecast of FC Porto vs Napoli runs on the television. We spend a considerable amount of time discussing formations, managers, Neymar-Messi and potential transfers. He knows his football, and much to my amusement, said he didn’t rate fellow countryman Victor Wanyama, who’d completed a 12 million pound move to Southampton from Celtic, amidst interest from the likes of Arsenal, very highly.

We’re joined by other Couchsurfers – I vividly recall a Mexican bloke, a couple of Swedish students from Malmo, an Austrian and a Latvian, among others – who convince us to head towards the ‘more happening’ joint – Kamchatka.

Kamchatka, after a fifteen minute walk under the night sky, greets us with a bar fight that ensued outside. Ostensibly, as Sam mentioned, such fights are uncommon to the native Russian. What started off as a rather disturbing wrestle turned out in to an act of comical pretentiousness. It keeps us amused as we continue to chat on travel experiences, the history behind Kitay Gorod – which I will later narrate, and the ridiculously expensive cost of living in Moscow.

It is 3 30 AM by the time I hit the sack. At 6 30 AM, I wake up to the news that a couple of familiar faces, who wish not to be named, had rubbed shoulders with a Moscow cop at 5 AM in an intoxicated state near Red Square, demanding that they be paid 500 USD to take a picture with him. One was subsequently fined 1000 RUB for not carrying his papers.

It is easy to look up at the walls of Red Square and infer that they’ve always been there – eternal and unbreakable. In one sense, the Red Square is just another one of those sites which is as neutral and open to interpretation as any other. However, a common misnomer – perfectly excusable if you’d ever thought so- is that the word ‘Red’ refers to Soviet Communism.

It doesn’t. The origin is believed to have been the word associated with St. Basil’s Cathedral, standing outside the walls – Krasnaya, which means beautiful in traditional Russian, and the meaning Red a more recent derivative – an unexpected offshoot that gelled well with the communist zeal. And so it goes.

A slow drizzle hits and we ponder over huddling under one of the two umbrellas the four of us had carried. Our eyes are still fixed on the queue outside the Kremlin, growing longer with every passing minute. There’s something peculiarly relaxing about watching crowds wind their way around the ticket counter and the baggage deposit center. The towers of the Kremlin, within the walls that forms a perimeter around over 800 000 square feet of land, have now become a welcoming sight.

We don’t watch the proceedings for too long though. Too crowded, we think. It is, after all, a Sunday.

We open the map and try locating points of interest in and around Red Square – St. Basil’s Cathedral, Lenin’s Mausoleum, State Historical Museum and a few others, all located diametrically opposite to where we are. An itinerary for the day is quickly drafted, one which would end with us dropping by Gorky Park to round of proceedings for the day. Good enough to keep us occupied for the best part of the day, we think as we start walking, anti-clockwise, around Red Square.

One of the proudest buildings in Moscow city is the St. Basil’s Cathedral, built by Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century, pictures of which adorn every piece of travel literature featuring Moscow. The cathedral stands out among its neighbors owing to its theme-park looks, although the original intent was to have the church surrounded by eight chapels aligned to represent the points of a compass.

A few notable names from Soviet chronology had dismissed its looks as hideous – none less than Joseph Stalin who, despite his attempts to demolish it, was thwarted by conservation architects. A guide book went to the extent of describing it as a clown’s nose on the face of an evil empire. But dismissive history hasn’t shied the cathedral away from being mistaken as the Kremlin, owing to its proximity to its adjacent actual.

A ticket to get in to the cathedral cost 250 RUB. After much contemplation (we’d once again blown off another 3000 RUB for breakfast at a nearby joint, much to our agony although we knew what we were getting ourselves into), we decide to buy the tickets and get inside. I’ve never been a connoisseur of art, and I doubt if I’d ever be one, but what the cathedral houses, not unlike its counterparts from the rest of Europe, isart. We notice a few tour guides surrounded by a bunch of enthusiastic tourists. Our attempts to eavesdrop go in vain for the language is, understandably, Russian.

One of us floats the idea of checking whether the cathedral had souvenir stores within its walls. Great idea, I think as I skip past the objects of interest that commanded a 250 RUB entry fee. I’m never going to understand or appreciate this, I convince myself as I look around for hints pointing to a souvenir shop.

We were informed that we couldn’t take photographs inside. What was the 250 for, I think as I notice Rahul, completely oblivious to the instructions, with the Nikon ‘what number was that again’ clinging around his neck, happily clicking photos of the maze of displays seemingly arranged without any methodology, it seemed. I’m not a great believer in Soviet propensity with regard to rules-breaking, but the windows behind me are large enough, I notice, to jump out if necessary.

We spot a Souvenir shop by the window. As we survey through the options, somewhere on the taste scale between conventional miniatures of the St. Basil’s Cathedral and Red Square illustrated bags are T-Shirts filled with Cyrillic alphabets possibly spelling out a monument of interest. Nothing is downright weird, a characteristic that I look for in a souvenir. The prices are on the expensive side, and in hindsight, I wouldn’t recommend shopping for souvenirs here.

Lenin’s Mausoleum (Lenin’s Tomb) calls us next. One of the brochures we’d picked up highlighted the efforts behind preserving Lenin’s body after his death – usage of chemicals bearing names I cannot quite recollect (inspired, in theory, by Pharaoh Tutankhamen), the Soviet government’s funding towards preservation (this was stopped in 1991, after the breakdown, and today, private funds continue to support this) and stories behind the government going against the wishes of Lenin’s widow, who wanted him buried and not preserved. There’s a lesser known anecdote that dictates how his brain was removed, as part of a state sponsored scientific study, cut in to god-knows-how-many pieces and studied so as to understand the source of the revolution.

We stare at the mausoleum that houses his body, while slowly processing the history behind its physical movement – one that included a brief shift to Tyumen, Siberia during the Nazi invasion. There isn’t much we can contemplate while staring at a tomb, we think as we realize that this is where a Soviet troop of 500 000 soldiers lined before facing the impending Nazi army with a count close to two million. The Victory Day parade is one of Russia’s most important events, honoring the anniversary of the Soviet army that ended up defeating the Nazis.

We look behind, trying to engross the sense of occasion. Moscow’s largest shopping mall, formerly a state department store during the Soviet times, faces Red Square, now exhibiting every sign of extravagance that the Soviet nation once lacked. I’d recommend not to harbor any thoughts other than window shopping, for the prices are – well, not cheap.

We look at our watches, anticipating the hourly change of guard ceremony at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Located close to one of Red Square’s vertices, I fail to recollect the direction it faced, it was built to commemorate the loss of lives of thousands of soldiers during the World War. A bronze inscription, in front of the Eternal Flame, reads something along the lines of the soldier’s name being unknown, but his services eternal.

A healthy crowd gathers, with their video cameras in position, to record the change of guard. The prophetic ‘Save the Best for the Last’ seemed pertinent with regard to our tour around Red Square. How the guards stand still, without batting an eyelid – braving the summer heat or the winter extreme, is a feat that defeats me. Especially when there’s always likely to be jokers trying to distract their attention for the heck of it. Not one of us wanted to try, given the indubitable assurance of an expeditious escort towards a Soviet prison.

We are briefly stalked by a persistent hawker trying to sell us paintings of Red Square. Firmly, but gently, we insist on him going away. After much persuasion, by Rahul, he did. We quickly set off to the metros to head to our next destinations – a cathedral not too far away from where are, and Pushkin Museum, right by it.

An amalgamation of art and sculptures, spread across centuries until the present day, is what the museum has in store for the traveller. The museum was believed to be opened in the year 1912, during the centenary celebration of Napoleon’s defeat.

We made our way in, around and out of the museum bearing in mind the time we’d had in store for the long walk that we had to make until Gorky Park. I’m not qualified enough to explain the nuances of art, hence the abruptness about my description of our experiences at the museum. But it was, by the monotonous epitaph, really cool.

The walk westwards across town to Gorky Park takes us past the controversial statue of Peter the Great at Moskva River, built to honour three hundred years of the Russian navy. Controversial because Peter the Great had feared the nobles of Moscow, and had moved westwards to establish the city we know today as St. Petersburg. Moscow locals, urban legend says, don’t hold him in high regard for he’d shifted the capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg during his days.

Habitual cyclists ride along the narrow pathway beside the banks of the Moskva River. A bridge at a distance surmises the Moscow traffic as evening dawns. We wander along the pathway towards the bridge, while verifying with the map as to the whereabouts of Gorky Park.

We cross the bridge and notice the park to our right, on the other side of the river bank. We observe more cyclists, kids on roller-blades, and a number of road-side vendors thoroughly engaged with locals and tourists flocking the park. Shrinath, having skipped lunch, suggests we stop by a caravan selling sandwiches and coffee, among others.

The caravan owner, speaking broken English, introduces himself as a Kyrgyz from Bishkek going by the name of Hamzad. He was formerly a boxing professional, having competed in tournaments at Astana, Almaty and Dushanbe. He moved to Moscow in search of a better livelihood, but was quick to admit that Moscow is very different from what he’d conceived it to be.

“I want to go to America someday,” he said as we listened to his tale. “I have a friend there. Moscow people are not friendly. Where I come from, in Bishkek, people are so nice. The city is so beautiful, people are very friendly and the waters are a lot cleaner,” he added while pointing towards the Moskva River.

We acknowledged his point. The waters, indeed, were dirty. He briefly distracted us with a question out of the blue: “Can you recommend an Indian movie?” I let the experts take charge, given that this was, by the Indian academic colloquial phrase, out-of-syllabus.

After narrating a number of names, ones that had to be filtered based on Hamzad’s criteria, Shrinath suggested Barfi. The rest of us drowned our cappuccinos while Hamzad was given a briefing on the movie’s theme. He seemed to find it interesting and mentioned that he’d trace it down on the internet once he was home.

With Shrinath’s appetite satisfied, it was time to bid farewell and explore Gorky Park. As we waved a final good-bye, he said that he hoped Allah blesses him with a son. We wish him luck and all the good fortune as we start making our way inwards in to Gorky Park.

Named after Maxim Gorky, a Soviet writer and activist, the amusement park was subject to headlines a few years ago when Roman Abramovich, the Russian billionaire owner of Chelsea FC, provided funds to rebuild the park which had fallen into a state of gloom. No entrance fee, an array of sport and activities to choose from, open air cinema theatres and free wi-fi, understandably, draws the crowds.

We wander aimlessly around the park, noticing a game of beach volleyball, a Reebok Fitness program and a small pond with benches by its side whose vacancy we occupy. We were tired, for we’d walked a fair deal all day, and settle for a brief period of isolation until we gathered enough energy to catch the train back to the hostel.

For all its grandeur and expense, Old Arbat Street in Moscow, once a main artery, deserves a few hours of your itinerary – whether you are shopping for antiques, or wanting to grab a cup of coffee from Starbucks. A prime residential district back in the 1700s, the street attracted Moscow’s nobles to set up homes in the district – including poet Alexander Pushkin, Tolstoy, Sheremetev among others. Russian musicians, artists and writers often reference the street in their works.

We were, instead, treated to a South American surprise. A traveling troop of performers, I am guessing from Peru or Bolivia, caught our attention for a good fifteen minutes, a brief clip of which I’ve shared below.

Backpacker logic ensued, as we quickly step into a nearby supermarket to avoid facing the exorbitant costs we’d ended up spending ingloriously at Moscow’s restaurants. A muffin, a bottle of fruit juice and flavored yogurt constitutes our breakfast. Edible. And cheap.

Through badly reproduced Cyrillic notes, we find ourselves taking the Metro, statistically busier than London and New York’s tube systems combined, back to the Kremlin, a tour of which we’d agreed to take today. Though the locals say that it is criminal to spend less than a day touring the Kremlin, we decided to round off Moscow by finishing the Kremlin tour and searching for antiques before heading towards Moscow Railway station to collect our tickets and commence the Trans-Siberian journey to Irkutsk, Siberia.

Being well aware of the incident from the day before, we insist on keeping a low profile when encountering cops patrolling round Red Square. The Lonely Planet guide in my hand does warn that the police tend to pick on foreign types if there are ambiguities with our papers – as it was proven in our case a day earlier.

We explore the Kremlin and struggle to pose for snaps amidst a large contingent of Chinese tourists, plenty of whom we encounter, next to the world’s largest bell (The Czar’s Bell) and cannon. Neither of them has ever worked, as Newtonian Physics reasons them too large to be functional.

A tall bloke wearing a skull cap seems to get amused by some of our antics and posing, and politely walks over to us and enquires if we were tourists from Bangalore. We learn that he’s an Israeli from Tel Aviv, before Girish and Shrinath acknowledge his question. He claims to have visited India a few times, before wishing us good luck for the journey ahead.

We grab a bite at a Subway nearby before heading back to the hostel to collect our belongings and start our journey east towards Siberia. We say hello to a new face at the reception, an Uzbek guy in his late thirties who wishes us well. I briefly express my interest in wanting to visit Samarqand, Bukhara and the Ferghana Valley in Uzbekistan.

He warns me that although the ancient beauty still persists, to an extent, commercialization has played its role in making Samarqand and Bukhara look a lot less authentic than they originally are. Ferghana Valley, he assures me, although stunning, has certain areas looming with political tension.

We then head towards Yaroslavsky Rail Terminal to collect our tickets, before heading to a supermarket to buy provisions for the 88 hour journey ahead.

Moscow, despite its history and beauty, left us with a sense of ‘how the hell did we spend so much money already’ feel lurching around, thereby making us promise to ourselves that we’d be a lot more careful for the rest of the trip ahead. True, Moscow is one of the most expensive cities in the world, but we thought we hardly did justice to what back-packer logic would hold. Things would turn out for the better over the course of the next couple of weeks.