My time abroad has sadly come to an end. Siberia and Brazil have given me a sensational, albeit peculiar, year. I've managed to squeeze in an array of activities, from television appearances and rides on snowmobiles, to burning on sandy beaches and experiencing World Cup hospitality. Of course, my two destinations couldn't have been more different. The weather jumps out as the starkest contrast between Tomsk and Rio, but in terms of language, culture, people and more, these two places have almost nothing in common. However, despite all this, I shall attempt to answer the million-dollar question: which did you prefer?
As the year abroad's primary goal is to increase one's ability to converse in a foreign language, where better to start than with that most glorious of gifts that has been bestowed upon humankind: language. Firstly, it's worth saying that Russian and Portuguese are completely different. Cyrillic vs Roman, Slavic vs Romance, guttural vs nasal; they just don't match. Portuguese in Brazil has a sing-song quality that has grown on me over time and the cariocas love to throw in a lot of slang, which is always fun. I found my appreciation of the language increasing as my fluency grew. But it has nothing on Russian, a language that has enchanted me for years. Its absurd grammatical complexity contrasts with everything making such perfect, logical sense. Simply put, Russian is ruddy brilliant. Tomsk 1-0 Rio
The climate has probably been the most talked about topic of this year. The temperature swing was about 70 degrees, from -35 to +35, although it wasn´t at those extremes for long. Tomsk actually experienced one of the warmest winters in years, which was a great shame because I had really been looking forward to experiencing exactly how one might live at -40. However, I did discover that taking your clothes off at anything below zero is never a very good idea. In leaving Russia at the end of January and journeying across 11 time zones to Rio, my biggest nemesis was no longer frostbite, but sunburn. I am notoriously susceptible to burning, but just about managed to survive. The warmth was certainly pleasant, but was very frustrating when sitting inside at work. In fact, if it weren't for having a job, I might well have forgotten what wearing trousers felt like. This one is a tough call, but as Siberia´s climate didn't meet my high expectations, I have to give it to Brazil. Tomsk 1-1 Rio
It may not be fair to compare these two cities, as one is so much bigger than the other, but here goes. Firstly, Rio's mountains and beaches make it one of the most beautiful cities in the world, so Tomsk already has a tough task to compete. However, either because of the heat or poor infrastructure, or both, Rio's streets can sometimes smell a wee bit unpleasant. Tomsk doesn't have this problem and I like to think it's because the cold air just kills any bad smells. I will leave out other things like traffic jams and delays, given Rio's relative enormity, but there is one key point of comparison: snow vs sand. Snow is elegant, graceful and fun. Sand sticks to you, ends up EVERYWHERE in your house and mates don't take kindly if you hurl it at their faces. That said, Rio's breathtaking vistas just about take the biscuit. Tomsk 1-2 Rio
This is a big one. If you don't like the culture of a place, you´re probably not going to have the best of times. Fortunately, Russia and Brazil both suit me just fine. Russia is fantastic and bizarre in equal measure. You need to have an open mind and embrace all traditions, no matter how strange they seem. Whether it's stripping down naked and being beaten with leaves or pushing the frozen flesh, skin and bones of a herring down your throat, you are guaranteed some crazy experiences. Brazil is more predictable: parties, samba, football to name a few. Drinking at street parties and embarrassing myself while dancing were my personal highlights. While this was all extremely fun, it lacked the fear factor of a Russian social occasion and the hilarity that generally ensues. Tomsk 2-2 Rio
There are many myths surrounding Russia, one of which is that the people are unsmiling and cold. This couldn't be further from the truth. I heard from fellow Russian enthusiasts that a Russian friend is a friend for life. I'm beginning to see why. Loyalty and friendship are key values, and once you've earned that, you're in for the long haul. It is true that the people tend to smile less than South Americans, but I believe that´s only because they don't waste their smiles on everyone. Conversely, Brazilians tend to be tremendously friendly and open, up for a dance at all hours. This rivals the temperature for the biggest difference between the two and it´s very hard to pick a winner because both sets of people are fantastic, just in completely different ways. But, narrowly, my vote has to go to Russia, for the simple reason that I developed more close relationships with Russians than Brazilians. Tough call. Tomsk 3-2 Rio
Now this one is a no-brainer. National television may have interviewed me at a tree-planting festival in rural Siberia and jumping into an ice pool in mid-January sure was a hoot, but you can't look further than Carnaval and the World Cup. Carnaval was a week or so of mayhem, drinking horrendous amounts, sleeping little and being out and about for hours on end. The World Cup was, as expected, phenomenal. Going to watch seven games in five different cities was simply outrageous and it has to be up there with one of the best months of my life. Tomsk 3-3 Rio
As if by magic, it would appear that after six categories, the scores are level. Despite my meticulous scoring system, I have somehow been left with the casting vote. Tomsk or Rio, which to choose? So much was so different that they are almost incomparable, but I must decide. Rio's geographical audacity and ever-present vibrancy have certainly not seen the last of me. My time there has only confirmed that I must return. However, it is Tomsk that wins, not just for providing me with countless, magnificent experiences, but for having that little something that clicked. I've said before that there is something about Russia that I love, but can't quite put my finger on what that is. Something more than the lifestyle, the people, the hilarity and, of course, the language enthralls me. It might not be for everyone, but for me, it's a perfect fit. Tomsk 4-3 Rio (aet)
Returning to my green and pleasant land after an extraordinary year will be interesting, but it is certainly something I shall aim to enjoy. Sadly, "Ra Ra Mazputin" must also end here. Writing this blog has been delightful and I am very grateful to all those that have taken the time to read it. I intend to travel more, as well as returning to Russia, in the not too distant future, so hopefully I will be able to infiltrate your lives with my musings once more. Over and out.