I landed in Saint-Petersburg on the very first day of my visa, it was early May and it was pretty cold, so I ended up looking a bit homeless because the only warm thing I had was a very worn TL hoodie. We were in a cozy little hotel in the central district of the city, we ended up walking a lot, in fact we walked more than my nerd feet could handle. Thankfully, one of the greatest things about Russia is taxis are incredibly cheap. The downside is everyone drives like maniacs.
Saint-Petersburg is an absolutely gorgeous city, and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Being from Montreal and having lived in the suburbs where “old” buildings are old single-floor wooden ruins built 100 years ago, it was overwhelming to see all the old stone buildings being recycled into modern homes. Best of all was, or at least should have been, the cathedrals. I know nothing about architecture, but some of these structures are absolutely breathtaking. Unfortunately, damn near every cathedral in Saint-Petersburg was being renovated. In the span of a week, we got to see a slew of cathedrals, we visited Peterhof for an incredible display of opulence, the Peter and Paul fortress and many others. We also went to a museum that had a very large small-scale reproduction on various nice places in and around Saint-Petersburg, along with mechanical parts moving the ships over water and animating the little characters.
After Saint-Petersburg, it was time to go to Novosibirsk to get married. I was really worried at first because due to the nature of the marriage, it was my wife and her parents doing all the planning and it was hard to know what to expect. For a few days, we ran all over town, getting me a suit, getting her dress fitted, tailoring my suit, picking out our rings, getting haircuts, discussing flower arrangements with the florist, testing out the various dishes at the restaurant we had picked for the reception. Neither of us ever really wanted a huge marriage, and so we only had a dozen guests: her closest friends and her closest family. It was then that I really felt that I was part of the family though, because despite the language barrier, they all made me feel welcome. Oh, and she was drop dead gorgeous that day. Absolutely breathtaking.
The marriage was a simple but beautiful affair. We walked through Novosibirsk, then we went to the marriage registration office to have a small, actually quite elegant ceremony. After that, we all went to this awesome Greek restaurant called Elliniko. If you’re ever in Novosibirsk, go try it. The owner of the place/chef is a true artist. We ended up eating the most amazing fish, we had flatfish (kambala?) and a red snapper. The guy knows what he’s doing, you can trust me.
The entire thing was magical, we were showered with love, my mom who unfortunately couldn’t attend called in and we talked a little. It was no huge venue with a hundred people and lights and dancing and band, it was intimate and nice. A few things we had planned didn't happen, but we had discussed it before and we decided it was not a big deal, we wouldn't stress out about it. And although it would have been great if her family could have been present, the circumstances didn’t allow for it and we intend to make up for it by celebrating with my family and friends when she gets here.
The next few weeks were kind of less eventful but still awesome, we lived together and everything went great. For my birthday we went to the waterpark, we both got sick, I got an ear infection, went to the doctor and got antibiotics. The doctor said no diving! Also, we filled out the application for her to get a permanent residence in Canada. Here’s a picture of the stack of documents. I DHL’ed it back to Canada rather than bringing it back in person, in order to speed up the process.
(Not politically motivated) Then, for our honeymoon, we flew to Simferopol in Crimea. We flew business for the first and probably last time, even though it was awesome (we managed to upgrade to business seats for a good price at check-in). I feel bad because I didn’t tell my mom about my visit to Crimea until my return. I didn’t want to tell her because I know it would have worried her, since we haven’t heard much for the last few years and for all they know it’s an active warzone (it isn’t). I don’t have many pictures because we ended up taking all the pics on her phone, but we stayed in Yalta Intourist for 12 days and that place is an absolute paradise. Beautiful mountains, rocky beaches, pools, areas to relax. We also swung by Sevastopol to see the military parade as part of a tour, and visited a vineyard in Yalta. Also, I went scuba diving for the first time… and my ear infection came back.
And so, after that, we drove back to the airport, flew to Moscow for two days did 1 day of tourism and 1 day of staying in the room all day trying not to be sad (I had been to Moscow before so it's okay). I left Russia on the very last day of my 90 days visa. It was absolutely heartbreaking to see my wife, who left before me, walk through security to disappear. It was our third time saying goodbye in person, but this time it hurt even more because due to career reasons and other reasons, it’ll be difficult for us to see each other for a long time. Maybe 3 months, maybe 6, maybe even more. And so now we wait.
Except for the cold and the recurring ear infection, this was the trip of a lifetime. I visited Saint-Petersburg, I got married to the most wonderful woman I've ever met and was let into a second family, I went to a politically contested area, swam and went scuba diving in the sea, I laid on the beach for the first time and got some tan on my pasty white face. As a nerd who's life was largely uneventful, it felt like doing 3 years worth of stuff in 3 months. It feels great.