Family holidays are far from the boozy sun, sex, and fun Ibiza holidays some students are used to. There, the group morale is boosted by downing as much of that oddly coloured drink whose name evades your already hazy mind and dancing the night away with dance moves that could only impress other fellow drunkards. Good times.
Family holidays are supposed to be about making long-lasting memories, spending time together to bond, and having fun. Family, no matter how you define the term – be it blood-related or not, are the people closest to you, who know you best. If you were to travel the world in search of the ideal family and then look back at your own, picking your own would then seem like the perfect option because no matter how annoying or demanding they may be you love them despite their imperfections and they return the favour.
But family holidays, despite the weeks of planning, never seem to go quite according to plan. There are always unforeseen mishaps that would light up the face of any uninspired comedian on the search for new material.
Take my family trip to Russia – it’s an annual trip I take to visit family abroad – well the arduous task of lugging around cumbersome suitcases in the house and filling them with an abundance of garments to last the duration of the trip did not materialise until the night before the trip. Mum and I were engaging in the manic headless chicken dance trying to salvage the needed clothing, presents, and god-knows-what-else from the overturned space that once was my residence. It’s three a.m, Dad was obviously already asleep but Mum and I? Oh no, still taking care of the final bits and bobs because every relative you never knew you had suddenly pops up before a trip to announce maybe you could bring them just one souvenir and suddenly you’re packing the entire stock of a London high-street souvenir shop.
With less than one hour’s sleep, what used to be my mother and I board the plane not as ourselves but as sleep-deprived zombies. The expected craving for brains muted by the life-force need that is sleep. We actually reach the biggest country in the world and set our feet on the ground, hallelujah, we made it.
Then comes the Russia rush. St. Petersburg is busy and bustling and so are we, the next few days fly by. From politely greeting family members, friends of family, that one guy that grandma insists was your childhood boyfriend but you swear you’ve never seen the pimply boy before in your life.
Then we travel to Moscow. A big highlight for me because in all the years I have been travelling to Russia I have, ironically, never been to the capital. The unpredictable family ‘fun’ starts early when Mum and Gran suddenly enlighten me on our mode of transportation. Instead of taking the fast and easy four-hour modern train to travel, they booked the Soviet-era train that takes nine hours to make the same trip. To say I was mortified is an understatement. I expected the worst. Creaking tracks, scary toilets, cramped conditions. To tell you the truth, it’s an experience. There are four beds to a cabin, two to the bottom bunk two to the top, the space between the four is a bit of a squeeze but is manageable. Fresh linens are provided but you make your own bed. Then settle in and hope not to sushi-roll off the top bunk during the night (there is a barrier to stop you skydiving off the edge, but the fear is still real).
Other weary travellers may come along for the ride if there are less than four to a cabin so being prepared for a bulky red-faced Vodka enthusiast should not be overlooked. Luckily, we had none of those, the girl on the way there was pleasant, the grandma on the way back was not. She resembled the character Baba Yaga found in Russian folktales – an odious-looking woman that flies around in a mortar and lives in a house that stands on chicken legs. So that was a fun trip.
My first day in Moscow and my excitement was brimming. The plan was to paparazzi-photograph the Red Square, to visit the Kremlin, to hop into a few museums and then explore the city’s other notable sights. Alas, it was not to be. The first day even Noah’s Ark wouldn’t have saved us. The Great Flood was so great that the city streets were aquariums. We managed to stagger out of the Metro and take a few snaps, but the unwelcome highlight of the day was my favourite leather sandals being destroyed and making my feet icicles.
We withdrew from the monsoon rain, and the Brit in me craved a cuppa because sometimes a warm cup of tea really does solve everything.