Hello, Cruel World

Well, here we go. I'm sat on the plane heading to St. Petersburg (via Stockholm) after however many months of preparation and, in all seriousness, I'm a little nervous. Maybe I'm not approaching it right, or maybe I'm just giving in to a bout of uncharacteristic pessimism, but the thought of Russia, which had once seemed so full of wonder and intrigue - I'd pictured broad nosed man-bears in fur hats pushing through crisp, white snow and downing vodka whilst saluting faded and rusting statues of Lenin - has mutated into thoughts of skinny, shaven headed street punks who're waiting like wolves outside the airport for fresh faced travellers carrying an ill-thought out array of fine consumer products and ripe for a good ol' fashion mugging. It might be baseless stereotyping, but I can't shake the idea that the first person I'll see upon arrival into the Motherland will be in the style of Viggo Mortensen's anti-hero from Eastern Promise, all quiet menace, gangland tattoos and loosely caged violence. Needless to say, I think I will be avoiding any bath houses whilst in Russia...

I think these feelings have highlighted just how sheltered my travelling has been thus far. I've travelled in my life, almost exclusively west of Britain, and although I'd like to consider myself worldly I'm patently not. Almost all of the countries I've visited have been mostly developed, or if not actually first world then close enough to it that some of the basics of civilisation have rubbed off, and even if they haven't, then the rough edges are hidden just out of sight, presumably available to people a lot more worldly than me. It's disappointing to realise what I take for granted - I usually rely on hotels to not have bed bugs and to employ staff who won't think a quick rummage through your bag whilst you're out is a given, I've always assumed that police are people who are there to help in the prevention of crime, rather than 'shake you down' over fake visa discrepancies and that the water coming out of the taps won't contain quantities of heavy metals only found in T-1000's. 

All of this has made me desperate to join up with our first tour group, which we join on Friday (hopefully as soon as possible). It might seem cowardly, and not in the spirit of the endeavour on which we've set out, but I'm longing for the camaraderie and security that will come from being in a larger, and partially guided, group. We've been staying with Kate's sister Vicky (who might now be a mum!) and whilst walking around London, I'd noticed the large amount of tourists that were participating in organised group tours and I'd wondered why they'd bother paying to be shuffled around London's most cynical and banal tourist-traps, persistently in danger of being sold bears dressed as beef eaters or told that this cafe really is the best in London (nah love, he's not my uncle or nuffin'). But after a bowel-loosening hour with the Rough Guide for Sainty P (which is either being uncreatively honest with truth about St. Petersburg or is the worst piece of character assassination in the history of city marketing) I'm craving somebody to share a little of our responsibilities with, in exchange for sharing a little of theirs; An extra pair of eyes on the lookout for pickpockets (which comprise 87% of the population if the Rough Guide's to be believed), another man to prevent the girls from being sold into sex-slavery if I have to spend a kopek, somebody to look blankly at Cyrillic street names with... I think it'll make the whole experience richer and more rewarding, sharing triumphs and doling out apprehensions, all in it together and having each others backs. 

So that's probably why I saw 30 Spanish tourists taking pictures of the entrance to the Bank tube stop. They're probably like me, all nerves and apprehension, thinking that any minute the cast of Lock Stock is going to come bounding round the corner to give them a much more intimate portrayal of street culture in Britain, leaving them bloody and bereft in the heart of the City. Or perhaps they just enjoy being with people that are going through the same things they are, exploring new things knowing that there's a inherent safety net in the unlikely event that something actually goes wrong. 

Anyways, I'm off for a sauna and a gang tattoo. Well, if you can't beat them...