|To Russia in Love|
12th October 2002
With only three weeks to go before we have to pay the outstanding balance on our trip to Thailand & Cambodia, the evil of terrorism revealed itself to the world once more. One year, one month, and one day from September 11th the Sari Club, on Kuta Beach, Bali was bombed and nearly 200 people lost their lives.
Julie watched a Panorama programme on the BBC which strongly linked the bombing to Al Qaeda, (stating the obvious) but more sinister was their warning of how the extremist group had splintered into several terrorist cells all over SE Asia. The Foreign Office also issued warnings about travel to all the countries in the region, and the British press made absolutely sure that everyone knew that Thailand was one of those countries. Scare mongering at its worse! I'm sure if an Arab gentleman farted on the London Underground he'd be accused of being Ouzat Bin Fartin, the world's most dangerous terrorarse!
Since booking this trip, both my parents, and Julie's, had been uneasy about our visit to Cambodia. The older generation still associate the country with the atrocities of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime, and the more relatively recent Khmer Rouge past time of kidnapping tourist! (But that was late eighties/early nineties) There's a definite stigma still attached to Cambodia amongst those of my parent's age. Now with recent events bringing the risk of travelling to the forefront of everybody's thoughts it gave every one a bloody good reason to tell us not to go to South East Asia.
With the weight of argument against us from visiting Thailand and Cambodia it finally cracked Julie. She decided that she did not wish to go. Her decision was totally understandable, and despite my attempt to reassure her that Thailand would be safer than the UK, I ultimately only had the choice of going to Cambodia on my own, or choosing another destination together.
It didn't take me long to make my mind up. I remembered something that happened last year. For a long time I'd wanted to walk up to the summit of Snowdon. Despite living in the mountain's shadow I had never done this. So one day, when work was getting on top of me, I took a day off, on the spur of the moment, and just did it. I was fulfilling an ambition, yet it was a very empty experience. I had no one to share with me the thrill of reaching the summit. That taught me that however amazing it is to travel, the experience is even better when you share it with someone you love. So that was it, decision made, a change of destination was required.
Angkor Wat will just have to wait for my visit!
23rd October 2002
We spent the last week deciding on where we wanted to go as an alternative, and as I do keep a daydreamer's list of my 'Top 50 Destinations to Experience Before I Die', it wasn't difficult to pick one!
Some other factors had also come into play. In order for less disruption to our daughter we decided to go away for only a week, and also before Christmas, during which time she would not have much school work. She wasn't coming with us on this vacation because when we originally booked she wouldn't have thanked us for tearing her away from her boyfriend for three weeks! Also Julie did not want a 10 hour flight, placing a 'not much more than 3 hours' limit on the flight. That cut the list down considerably, and therefore it was essentially a European city break.
Coming in at number 27 in the original list, the highest placed European destination, was Moscow & St. Petersburg. Only a 3 ˝ hour flight from Heathrow, yet a destination that was different, mysterious, and intriguing enough to turn a vacation into an experience. So it was settled, we're going to Russia!
So today, 23rd October, we cancelled our Thailand & Cambodia trip, losing our deposit, and confirmed our booking to Russia. We didn't make any savings at all. The week in Russia cost the same as three weeks in South East Asia!
What happened next was utterly unbelievable.
Today, the day we changed our holiday destination due to terrorist threats in SE Asia, choosing to visit Russia instead, today, of all days, a group of 50 explosive-laden Chechen separatists stormed a theatre in Moscow, taking over 800 people hostage, threatening to blow the whole place up. Our mouths just hit the floor as we stared at the live news footage on the TV. We both let off a nervous titter!
A few days later, when they started shooting hostages, the Russian military stormed the building using what appeared to be the perfect tactics, but unfortunately the strong opiate based sleeping gas that they used to disable the terrorists, also knocked out the hostages, from which 120 never recovered from its effect, dying from poisoning.
At the end of the day however, we decided not to cancel AGAIN, praying that this would be just an isolated incident, and not the beginning of a Chechen terror campaign in Russia.
29th November 2002
Only two weeks to go, and our entry visas have arrived within plenty of time. The visas are stuck to the pages of our passports, and we notice how they spell our names in the Cyrillic alphabet! I've spent the last few weeks practicing my Russian alphabet in order to be able to read important signs, like STOP! DANGER! WOMEN'S TOILETS!!
Today however another act of terrorism against tourism took place in Kenya. A hotel was attacked by suicide bombers, and missiles from a shoulder mounted rocket launcher narrowly missed an aeroplane carrying 270 passengers on their way home. It was strange though how it became less of an issue when it was revealed that the hotel was Israeli owned, and that the plane was an El Al flight back to Israel. It was neatly compartmentalised into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some corners of the media however still used this to whip up mass hysteria about travelling.
This was just the build up to our holiday that Julie didn't need. She has already got her doctor to agree for her to try diazapan, to see if it helps with the flight. But it may end up like a scene from the A-Team, with Mr.T. "I ain't getting on no God damn plane!"
On a lighter note, I've been checking the weather reports on weather.com for Moscow and St. Petersburg over the last few weeks, and it's getting colder and colder.
Today it has been forecasted as -17C, with a wind chill factor reducing it to an incredible -27C.
This was meant to be due to a Siberian Chill that is sweeping down. I am hoping for cold weather.
I want it to be snow and ice, too cold for rain, but in the -20's degrees centigrade is just plain ridiculous. It's a good job we've bought some thermal underwear!!