In Russian there are several conversation starters (which is what
I was wondering is) that can be used in informal conversation:
Я тут подумал, а не сходить ли нам на рыбалку
Мне тут пришла мысль, не создать ли нам рок-группу
As you can see in the example above I have used them in the context of an informal request. The examples above in my opinion have slightly different "feeling" as to
I was wondering even if they literally mean the same. In English the phrase implies a polite request, in Russian the phrases above have more informal meaning. They will not be applicable to request a professor to write a recommendation letter. In such cases I would start a conversation with a description of my current situation and then used something like
не затруднит ли Вас..., like this:
Здравствуйте Александр Николаевич.
Через неделю у меня интервью на работу.
Не затруднит ли Вас написать рекомендательное письмо...