As we drove through a small town on the way to Moscow, we passed what looked like a tire repair shop which had a café. We were hungry and there was a nail lodged into one of our tires. As our tire was being fixed on a lazy Sunday afternoon in that sleepy little town, one by one, older (slightly tipsy) Russian men trickled out of the garage; curious about the latest customers. We hardly understood each other but the minute they heard we were from India, their faces lit up like Christmas trees. “India? We love India!” And that is how, fifteen minutes later, we found ourselves in a small kitchen in the back of the garage sharing lunch with these jolly gentlemen. We were offered tea and served shots of vodka instead. Looking at our bewildered expressions, one of them pointed to the shot glasses and yelled “Russian Tea!” I really don’t remember the last time I laughed so much. By the time we called it a day, we had reached Penza, the administrative centre of Penza Oblast (A Russian federal subject). It was late and we were tired- sleep came to us quickly.

After a hearty Russian breakfast, we set out towards the Russian capital which was still a little over 600 km away. The lush greenery of the Russian country side offset the gloomy weather as we navigated smooth highways (with erratic speed limits). We stopped for a quick lunch at a café on the banks of the Sura River. Somewhere in the distance, we could make out the silhouette of a palatial mansion. Home to Russian aristocracy? I’d like to think so.

At around nine pm, the outskirts of Moscow greeted us with bright lights, drive time traffic and McDonalds. Now it may seem trivial but I hadn’t laid eyes on a McDonalds in over a month. The luminescent golden arches beckoned and the familiar longing for a McFlurry crept through my veins. The decision to stop for dinner was unanimous. Who would’ve thought that a meal at McDonalds would ever be the highlight of my day?