|Swan Lake (in March 2005)|
Long before my passionate - and slightly turbulent - relationship with Paris and its patisseries began, even then, I admit, I was not being entirely faithful to my native UK. A broody, mysterious foreigner called Russia was the source of my daydreams and fantasies.
|Inside St Basil's Cathedral|
It was a culture so alien to everything I had known, and it fascinated me. The people, imagery, the colours, smells, not to mention the sheer size of its buildings, of its countryside, its revolutions, dictators, reforms and so on. I was entranced.
My first visit was in 2005, at an age when I was still quite wet around the ears.
I had travelled quite extensively as a kid - even to places in Eastern Europe in 1989 - but yet none of that was enough to prepare me for falling head over heels with Russia.
|A Moscow Park (in summer)|
The point-of-no-return of this love affair was when, at the end of the week, I was given a little book of Russian poetry... all in Russian. Not being able to even make head or tail of the alphabet, let alone the language, infuriated me. With a language like French, Spanish or Italian, you can pick up a book, read it out loud and it's just a case of pronunciation. With Russian, I could have been reading it from right to left and it wouldn't have made the slightest bit of difference.
This frustration actually turned into the reason and my motivation to study Russian at university. I wanted to finally be able to read that book.
|A St Petersburg Park. Yes, that really is a bear!|
|Rooftops of St Petersburg|
Even though I have now read that book and Paris has once again regained its place in my heart, I am still avidly following the news coming out of Russia. Of yesterday's protests, the protests last month and the presidential elections of the coming month - it's an exciting time. However, not enough Western media are talking about it. Maybe our governments are giving it a wide berth out of trepidation of later repercussions. However, if you compare this to the "Arab Spring" of last year, where are the press??
Russia is an amazing country. It deserves so much more than it has had over the last century (or so) but all those knocks have made it who and what it is today. I don't know what the country needs now, but I fear that even if change does come, it may not last. The best way of getting meaningful change is if more people realise something exciting could be getting underway and they start talking about it.