I was six years old when I got on the sleeper train and then ferry that would take me away from the city where I was born. The memories are a blurry haze in my mind now, but as a contrast to my giddy excitement, I remember my mother crying. I didn't realise back then that her tears were farewell tears - what I didn't know was that we were never coming back.
The memory of Moscow faded from my mind, erased by the impressions of my new life: a new language, new friends, a new street to live on, then yet another, and another. I grew up hungry for new destinations, never looking back. When questioned over never having returned to my birthplace, I replied that when it was time, the opportunity to go back would present itself. And this month, it did.
Getting to travel for work has always been my dream and ambition, but up until recently I was a copywriter, meaning that the concept of "work" was closely tied to the concept of "desk" (or "coffee house", but certainly not "plane"). For years, I watched other people do fun and creative things, working on exciting projects that had the potential to change the world, while I churned out product descriptions for things that I would never be able to afford to buy and that no one really needed.
Then, my life changed, and today I can't believe I get to do the kind of work that I do.
Recently my language skills gave me the chance to travel to Russia and Sweden to work on animal rights protest actions in these countries - a dream come true, but also a chance to return to my origins and see places I left behind as a young child. Returning as a grown-up woman on a mission felt bigger than I ever could imagine. Wandering through a city of mind-blowing architecture and a cosmopolitan yet undeniably Russian feel, I was so grateful of the fleeting moments I had been gifted to explore my origins.
Standing in Red Square can only be described as majestic, for anyone, but even more so for me. Flashbacks filled my head: I was five again, surrounded by huge buildings embellished with such intricate detailing that I didn't know where to look. I could hear my mother's voice, her laughter, and it kept me safe. I felt my grandmother's hand in mine, guiding me. I knew that wherever I would go, this is where I came from.
Sunrise in Moscow is magical. The city's extravagant energy calms down to a silent grandeur with a quiet allure - the calm before (and after) the storm. Slowly, the city fills up with sounds, sights, smells and sensations, defying stereotypes and leaving permanent marks on my heart. Moscow was not what I expected, but then again, when is anything in life?
The above masterpiece of lights is the GUM department store on Red Square, where my grandmother was once manager of ladies' and children's undergarments. I remember her telling me stories from her job so many times, me completely unfamiliar with the place she was talking about - and here I was, years after her passing, standing in front of it.
Like most other things in Moscow, GUM is imposing and awe-inspiring. Moscow does everything bigger, brighter and more monumental - it's such a stark difference from Sweden, where refined minimalism reigns supreme. Russia knows who she is, and she won't apologise for it.
Russia is an unexpected blend of tradition, innovation (I am still amazed at the array of vegan food!) and temperament. Moscow streets are exceptionally clean, yet buzzing with life, and the underground looks like a museum and costs 50p a ride - London could really learn something here.
I honestly didn't expect my hometown to impress me the way that it has. I didn't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't to fall in love.