Thursday, May 17, 2012

Back in the CCCP

Those of you familiar with the Cyrillic alphabet will know that CCCP stands for Сою́з Сове́тских Социалисти́ческих Респу́блик (or as we know it, the USSR). The Soviet Union may be long gone, but its varied peoples and cultures live on. 

In the past decade or so, Thanet has seen a large influx of asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants from the former Soviet nations, but it was during my recent trip back to England that I really saw evidence of their culture putting down new roots. Two trips to weekend markets revealed stalls selling baklava and other Eastern European pastries, but it was a casual walk from my parent's house to town which offered the greatest revelation - a parked car emblazoned with advertising for CCCP, a new restaurant. Ever eager for a new culinary experience, I stopped by with Nic and my parents for lunch on New Year's Eve.

The restaurant itself is fairly small, and seems to have been segmented into three tiny rooms, no doubt a result of adding on more space as the neighboring properties became available. The television played what appeared to be a form of talent show, with small children singing alongside a group of grannies in traditional garb. We were mesmerized.

In chatting to our waiter/barman/owner, we discovered that the restaurant was owned by Belarussian immigrants. He was keen to make suggestions regarding the menu, and we were eager to follow his advice. Mum and I each had the wild mushroom soup, followed by a shared Farmer's Snack platter of bread, meats, and pickles. Much as I love mushrooms, my previous experience of mushroom soup was limited to something from a can. This freshly-made soup, however, was delicious - creamy, full of flavor. Nic, realizing that this may be his only chance to visit the restaurant during his trip, decided to try the Wild Boar, while my dad had the pork fillet. We all had nothing but praise for the food. And to drink? Despite the extensive selection of vodka and brandy, we knew that we would be celebrating New Year later and so chose to wash everything down with giant mugs of kvass, a bread beer which has an overwhelmingly yeasty smell but a surprisingly refreshing flavor. 

After posing for a pic (they like to post pics of their happy customers on their Facebook page), we were off on our merry way again, bellies full of good food and ready to tell everyone that they needed to cast aside their images of borscht and cold potatoes to visit CCCP for some delicious cultural education.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

That was then; this is now.

I've been pondering how to write this for the last week or so, but the confusion intensified when I came across some pictures taken during a trip to Paris back in 1999. Yes, that's me in the photo below, cooling off outside the Louvre.

I have many photos and stories from that trip, so many years ago, that I would love to share with you. I also have so many stories from Japan, Hong Kong, New Zealand and other spots I've been lucky enough to see. Then there are the tales from my recent trip to England, including the influx of Russian culture and cuisine to my hometown, and an expert-guided behind the scenes tour of the Ray Harryhausen exhibition in London. I am dying to tell you how safe Mexico is, and to share with you a New Year's Eve in an isolated Japanese country-western bar (think silver tassels and a bizarre rendition of "I Will Always Love You").

But a part of me feels like a fraud. Much of this has been triggered by my approaching 40th birthday, which has set me thinking about where I thought I would be by now. Fortunately, I realized that the corporate life was not for me and escaped before even entering it, disregarding career advice to become an accountant because it was a "nice secure job until I had kids". Instead, I have carved my own path, a curvy non-traditional path that has included travel, academia, teaching, coaching, and now writing. Along the way, I have experienced things that many never will, and for that I am ever grateful.

So why the fraud?

Part of that curvy path has included marriage (to a wonderful man who "gets" me), a mortgage, and two dogs. One of the consequences has been an inability to travel as much as I would have liked in recent years, or at least the inability to travel other than around the U.S. and home to England. Mexico was a pleasant exception.

So now I am feeling that I still have so many places to go and see, and I have been pondering ways to make that happen while still making space for husband's job (which keeps us tied to one location) and mortgage payments.

Over the last few weeks, Nic and I have been looking at ways for me to travel more and to see some of the things I have dreamed of: sunrise over the Ganges from a train on my way to Darjeeling, the Skeleton Coast of Namibia, the frescoes of Florence. It has been rather overwhelming to consider all the possibilities, until my ever-sensible hubby reminded me that I don't have to try and do it ALL in one trip.

In college, when we were wondering about our futures, one friend labelled me most likely to be found among the gorillas in Africa. My love for all things primate-related is the reason I visit the Aspinall parks back in England and spend hours watching the chimps and gorillas. It is the reason I read anything I can get my hands on by key anthropologists in the world of primatology. It is the reason Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall are my heroes, and why hearing Jane Goodall speak last year was an absolute highlight.

And so, that is the dream I am hoping to make reality within the next year or so. I am looking into several options, considering funding, potential for writing, and most importantly, potential for me to feel as if I am once more a true traveler. I am also considering some other temporary work options, which may come to fruition, but in the meantime, expect to see updates over the next few months as I investigate ways in which I can make my dream come true.