Russian weddings play out a little differently from in England. This particular one began with me being shaken awake at an unprintably ungodly hour followed by an unprintable amount of time on the metro all the way to the nearly unprintably degenerate station of Vykhino. If city areas were equated to body parts, Vykhino would, if I was feeling extremely polite, be the armpit of Moscow.
Having negotitated our way through the crowds of peddlers, gypsies and drunks that throng Vykhino, Alisa and I eventually negotiated a 15-minute "gypsy cab" ride out into a region actually far nicer than Vykhino.
Here, among the twenty-storey concret housing blocks, we waited for the groom while beautiful Russian girls used sticks of chalk to scratch hearts and kisses into the steps of the tower block where the ransom would take place.
When the groom arrived we punched in the code, crammed into the lift and went up to where the ransomers were awaiting. There followed what everyone agreed was a horrendously easy series of "truth or dare" type questions.
"She was far too lenient," said Dima, one of the groom's friends, after the groom had answered some simple questions and
paid a ransom of a small amount of money and some chocolates.
"I agree," said Alisa, my girlfriend. "When my sister got married her husband was told, 'Put as much salt on this piece of bread as you love your wife then eat it' He put loads on and got seriously ill."
Then the drinking began. First of all there was red wine with fruits in the bride's apartment (after her relatives, the ransomers, had given her away). Then we all left in several cars, including a limo, each stashed with several bottles of Russian Champagne.
We drove to the Red Square, passing four car crashes on the way. We swaggered around photographing one another outside St Basil's Cathedral, the GUM department store and the Kremlin walls then drove out of Moscow to a bridge near the bride's home town of Protvino which the groom had to carry her across. We then briefly darted in and out of the registry office and photographed ourselves by some churches.
Arriving in Protvino, the T-shirt I had strategically worn under my shirt drenched with sweat on the hottest day of the year but letting my shirt appear deceptively dry,
we sat down at tables covered in a magnificent spread of Russian dishes and hundreds of bottles of vodka.
We were constantly taking breathers as people stood up to make toasts (everyone in the room including myself did at some point, many more than once), after which everyone would knock back whatever was in their glass. Cries of "Gorko! Gorko!" would often follow, in other words demands that the newly-weds kiss.
Shot after shot went down, one of the Kremlin's private doctors sitting opposite me and constantly refilling my glass. Memories became blurred and dreamy, the conversation flowing freely and happily.
Click this link for advice on independent travel in Russia
, with individual sections on many beautiful, interesting, hard-to-reach and off the beaten track destinations within the country.
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