24 April 2010

Moscow in 4 days

(This is a few days old, as we’ve found it difficult to get an internet connection recently).

Moscow at 5:30 in the morning is not the best time to arrive, especially after a cramped kip in the couchette.  On the train, there hadn’t been much going on, as it was only a seven and a half hour trip.  The only thing of interest was that we briefly got talking to a guy who said (Audrey thinks) that he was a professional boxer.  There wasn’t too much conversation, but he gave us a miniature boxing glove (which Audrey later scrutinised carefully, it case it was something dodgy).

The night train was the only real option for us.  There are trains during the day that take about half the time.  We enquired into the price, as we were considering it, and were quoted 3750-4000 roubles.  The night train was 800.  Obviously that alone made up our minds.

Getting to the youth hostel proved a bit easier this time, as the instructions we had were excellent, although we did have to wake the receptionist before 6:30 so that she could let us in.  Trying to get a metro ticket was harder, as it seems like loads of trains arrive early, and the metro is just opening, so queues were huge.

Russian ideas of queuing in general are very different to western Europe.  First thing is to keep close to the next person in the queue, almost intimately close, otherwise you run the risk of someone getting in front of you.  Second, people may join a queue, leave it, and then come back to it at the same place (probably after a ciggie break).  Thirdly, queue jumping happens quite a bit, and officials have little or no problem with it.  Still, I found China worse.

The Metro proved to be as impressive as the one in Petersburg, full of cavernous hallway, intricate decorations, statues and chandeliers.

In Moscow we covered most of the usual tourist destination, Red Square, The Kremlin, St. Basil’s etc.  But it did feel more like what is expected of Russia than St. Petersburg.  As Nicholas I said to the Marquis de Custine about Petersburg:

    “It’s in Russia, but it’s not Russian.”

On the first evening (Sunday), we went to visit a friends of Audrey’s, called Christian Lepolard.  He invited us to his place for dinner with his family (he has two small kids).  It was interesting getting into another old communist era block of flats.  The first thing we noticed was how warm it was.  According to Christian, the heating is very simple, it’s either on or off, and currently it is on, and it normally so from sometime in Autumn to sometime in Spring.  This leaves them with the preposterous situation that they often have to open the windows to cool the flat down, even in the coldest of winter days.  Not exactly environmentally friendly, but I didn’t expect it in Russia.

The next evening, he showed us the place where the first McDonald’s in Russia was opened, which was actually very close to where we were staying.  I found it particularly interesting, as I remember the news stories about it when I was a kid and seeing the queues.  And Northern Ireland still hadn’t got any at that point yet (they wouldn’t open due to terrorist concerns I believe).

I managed to get around to using my limited Russian to order a couple of beers at the local corner shop on Tuesday.  My first attempt was a bit bungled, as I couldn’t pronounce the beer I wanted, and the shopkeeper ended up having to point at each one.  Once I’d polished those off, I went back to try again.  This time I knew the name of the beer, boyka, pronounced bodgeka, and managed to order the red version, kracni (as supposed to the blue ones I had earlier).

The beer was fine, the blue one was a bit lighter and very easy to drink (only 4%), but also with very little actual taste to it, which left me trying the red one after.  It was stronger, also easy to drink, but with a bit more of a lingering aftertaste.  Beer in Russia seems to be drunk quite a bit, but the beer culture seems to be very young, and it’s relatively difficult to find somewhere to have a quiet drink.  Imported beer seems to be everywhere, sometimes at extortionate prices.  That said, the local beer isn’t as cheap as other parts of eastern Europe, weighing in at about £1 a bottle from the local store.

On our final day, we went to a local market on the outskirts of Moscow.  It was pretty cool, with lots of souvenirs, and we were tempted to actually purchase something, but decided against it, reckoning that we can get them cheaper further east.

We left Moscow that evening at 7:45


Anonymous said...

Enjoying your blogs Steve, Moscow and St.Petersburg are somewhere I'd love to visit on a trip sometime. The beard is coming on a bomb, tremendous stuff!

Anonymous said...

Enjoying your blogs Steve, Moscow and St.Petersburg are somewhere I'd love to visit on a trip sometime. The beard is coming on a bomb, tremendous stuff!

Anonymous said...

Shots of Vodka, rocking that awesome ginger beard (good work fella) all you need now is to wrestle with a bear and Chuck Norris will have a contender for manliest man ever.


Ada said...

Were you around when Russians kicked up a fuss that Russian McDonalds dont use their own potatoes for the chips, because the potatoes were too small? Well, think they've missed the point that McDonald chips are made of just potato...

I agree Moscow is more Russian. Thought it's quite unlike you to quote Nicholas I!


Unknown said...

I have it when preposterous things happen. You watched too much blackadder as a small boy (shaped odly like a turnip).

I am much very liking your blogs a lot kind sir, as Tommy JOhansson might have said.