For some reason that escapes me now, my husband and I decided to drive home to England for the summer vacation, taking the three children in the car with us.
I seem to recall that we thought it would be interesting for the children to see just how far Moscow is from London in real terms - as opposed to climbing on the plane at Sheremetyevo and, having hardly got through breakfast, already being ushered off at Heathrow. And then there was the getting-back-to-your-roots thing - watching how the landscape and cultures differ as you progress from East (daddy's homeland) to West (mummy's homeland).
Time, however, turned out to be a bit tight. My husband was on a work assignment until Monday and I'd been invited to my friend's 40th birthday bash in England on Saturday. We therefore started off by "doing" Russia, from Moscow to Minsk, in a day.
Russia was flat, hot and empty and Belarus was flatter, hotter and emptier. The only clouds in the sky were plumes of black smoke spiralling across the horizon from forest fires, which the kids mistook for cyclones.
Our Belarussian motel was sparse, but had soft beds, feather pillows and the advantage of costing $7 for the five of us. In the morning we narrowly escaped being savaged by guard dogs when we tried to get to the car. By mid-day we arrived at the Belarussian-Polish border.
The queue of cars didn't look too long but the wait - according to a Belarussian woman who crossed the border regularly to sell cigarettes - varied from one to two days, depending on the mood of the border guards. I immediately went into "hero-mother of three children" mode, and while the girls pinched Bobby to make him scream, I begged the guard to let us to the front of the queue. But this wasn't Russia, so it didn't work.
The car was like an oven, so the kids piled out into the sweltering heat of the roadside. There was no shade, and as they sat on the pavement turning bright red, a pug-faced thug approached and, taking my husband aside, offered to get us through within the hour for $130. After a complicated process of dodging in and out of various lines, accompanied by a nasty selection of monosyllabic flat-heads in cahoots with the border guards, we were finally in Poland.
Perhaps it's their Russian upbringing, but the kids were remarkably uninquisitive regarding our strange maneuvers and shady companions. All that Anna said as we drove off was: "They were nice men, weren't they?"
(To be continued)
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