For me the month leave signalled a holiday in Europe. Being single and with no dependants meant there was no reason to fly the long haul back to Australia when the cultural diversity of Europe beckoned only 3 or 4 hours away.
Each journey I delved further east, well into the ex-soviet states experiencing the picturesque beauty of Budapest, the war torn charm of Dubrovnik with its magnificent city wall and the grandiose presence of Warsaw complete with tortured past. For my vacation in October 2002, the only country further east was Russia, so a journey was hatched to include Moscow and St Petersburg via the visa collection point - Helsinki.
For this trip I decided to try something new. Tired of walking past inviting restaurants in exotic cities brimming with happy diners as I searched for a MacDonald’s to eat alone, I thought a prearranged companion in each city could be beneficial. Not only would I have a dinner partner but I imagined many hours strolling the streets and plazas and increasing my cultural knowledge with each and every step.
So in the soft glow of my computer screen at the end of each working day after the local staff had retreated to their homes the search began.
What I quickly discovered was of immense interest. My entire search attempts to hone in on a singles site of virtual notice board where I could place an advertisement resulted in a prolific number of Russian marriage agencies. At first this was not what I thought I needed and I continued my search with boundless optimism, however the more I searched the more Russian marriage agencies appeared. Then an unexpected transformation occurred. The rows and rows of meticulously manicured, delightfully presented glamorous young girls all photographed in seductive poses began to take effect. Even from my remote location in the north of Iraq all the girls appeared so enticingly available - well only a mouse-click away at least.
I began to revise my ideology. Maybe one of these girls may not be such a bad idea anyway. Maybe marriage was something I should consider especially at my age. I decided to investigate further and began browsing through each of the girl’s profiles. It was then I noticed something peculiar. Non English speaking nineteen and twenty year old girls were seeking husbands up to sixty years of age. Scepticism kicked in and I viewed the promises of instant “love” with a supermodel beauty with increasing dollops of suspicion. I could not see how a gorgeous young girl could obtain from a non-communicative life partner with an older man except for some devious plot which ultimately revolved around large sums of money and possibly not at the girl’s advantage.
With renewed caution I began screening the sites. All were based on the economic presumption of sending money via the website to obtain a postal and/or email address of the girl in question. Flowers could also be sent for extra booty. Whether the addresses were actual or fictitious I had no way of determining. It seemed a punt which the sender of the cash, who was presumably seated in a western country, had to take. As I was actually going to Russia in person I thought I could investigate the promises made by these sites for myself. The hint of an investigation only served to add more excitement to the trip.
I then looked through each site in search of an address both in Moscow and St Petersburg. A disclosure of such a tangible piece of evidence, I presumed, would only serve to strengthen the site’s authenticity as one could compare the profiles on the website with the catalogue in the office. If the photos matched then the prospect of fulfilled promises rose dramatically.
Methodically sites were crossed off my list as geographic locations were found to be absent. As the list steadily shrunk my optimism faded as I came to consider the whole “Russian Marriage Agency” concept another internet scam.
Only one site remained on my list and as I was about to shut down my computer in defeat I suddenly spied what I was looking for - an actual physical address given for both Moscow and St Petersburg.
The name of the site was http://angelika.net
I quickly scribbled the two locations down on some paper and my heart raced. I now had plan. Their $10 fee in exchange for a contact would have to wait until I had secured an actual “date”
Over the remaining weeks before my leave commenced I regularly perused the Angelika site, carefully scrutinising photos and profiles. By the time all my chores were complete and I was busy packing in readiness for the taxi ride to Amman the following day, I had already finalised a list of a half dozen potential companions after careful analysis.
The quest for (internet) love had begun.