Today was a plane day, we had an early morning flight out of Warsaw to Copenhagen, a few hours layover in Copenhagen then a few hours flight into Moscow. No last minute gate changes, but we did have a celebrity spotting – Richard , previous NATO weapons inspector was on our flight.
We, well okay I had a freak out on the plane into Moscow. They gave out the immigration cards along with an English translation (thank goodness) and we proceeded to fill them only to find we didn’t have an invitation number. Now after the trouble we had getting the visa and the stories about Russian immigration this was no little thing, we had a blank space on our card, and as I looked around no-one else did. Oh great they’ve stuffed our visa up I was thinking. So we joined the ‘other’ passport line – it seems European airports like to segregate passports, usually the home country, EU, then other European and others, so we have become those others.
Now I maybe a little more inquisitive or maybe more interested in border processes than the average Joe, but it was clear there was a selection process to be a Russian immigration clearance officer – female, all legs and blonde hair or at least long tossable hair, but doesn’t smile. Now that all sounds lovely but they are intimidating and they take forever, so I had plenty of time to continue to stress over the missing number. I approached the counter and what seemed like forever but was probably only 4 minutes she let me threw – phew.
So immigration and customs cleared, which I might add from we have seen in Europe customs really isn’t very much at all except a red and green door, so they certainly make the Australian Customs and Quarantine guys look extremely professional and technologically advanced, I can’t say the same for immigration though, not that we want our guys wearing bullet-proof vests and carrying glochs or M-16 look-a-likes but they could certainly do with a little more in the ‘appearance’ side of things – we find our driver waiting for us and another couple from the same flight, two Aussies Chris and Lisa (melbournians) who have done the London thing for the past 4 years and are doing a few last trips before heading home for Christmas. The drive in was quite long and the traffic going the opposite way was enormous so we weren’t sure if we rig in town or right out of town. The driving was pretty good, still very eastern European but not hang on for life, and the music was once again English (with Russian ad’s and DJ’s) though it did appear to be a few years if not a decade behind.
We arrived at the hotel, were greeted by the tour host and the paperwork began – registration, insurance details, next of kin (is there something we should know) and then off to our rooms. Hmm, what can we say except the room was crap. Wallpaper sticky taped to the wall, it smelt worse then a pub locked up with no air for a week, the beds were terrible, the bathroom had no shower curtain over the bath/shower and the shower was a arm bandit thing (you know the hand held things), the basin almost fell off the wall when Tash lent gently on it. It was crap. They must have spent all the money buying chandeliers for the foyer, because when you walk in it looks really really good then you get to you room and open the door, which promptly smashes into the 30yr old fridge jammed in next to the wardrobe right at the door and that’s where the really good turns into really bad.
So we promptly leave the room, having opened the windows – even though its a fresh 9° in Moscow and deodorant sprayed everywhere, in search of food. Chris and Lisa are also back downstairs, though their room is not quite as bad as ours, we ask directions for somewhere to eat as we are all starving. Our tour guide points us in the direction of the city, which it appears is a good 40 minute subway ride away!
So between the 4 of us and the biggest most useless map in the world we head into Moscow. The subway is about a 10 Minute walk away over the railway tracks, literally over the tracks, no overpass, no signals just human senses – safety doesn’t appear to be a high priority on this side of continent when it comes to trains. We cross safely waiting for a train to pass, get to the subway, hold up 10 fingers to the old lady in the ticket booth, who gives a wry grin and we are on our way.
Now escalators aren’t usually that exciting, that is until you have ridden them here, they are long – so long the locals actually open books and read whilst they are going down them and achieve something as well – and no they aren’t slow, these things are fast, twice as fast as the fastest one you have been on at home and it was chockers, I don’t think I’ve seen that many people in a station ever even in London and new York, but the best is when you get off, theres a little hill/steep bit and because you are going so fast they practically throw you off and theres always a traffic jam so you are trying to get off, find your footing and not slam into the person in front, read the signs (which are useless to us became they are in Cyrillic) all in the space of half a metre – its totally hilarious !
We leave the subway behind and skillfully navigate our way to Arabat St – the pedestrian street as they are known, or simply an outside mall, and to our recommended dining restaurant – Moo Moo (with cow outside and all). It was a Russian buffet restaurant where we pointed at what we thought looked okay to eat, and for our first go we did alright – it wasn’t too bad and the Russian beer was alright too.
We got back to the hotel and inquired into the washing scenario, as we both had packs full of dirty washing, only to find that 6 shirts and 2 pants would cost about $US50 – um no we are good thanks. So it was time to do it true backpacker style – into the bathtub and handwash. Nelly, your washing powder was a g_dsend, and it smells awesome too. So with clothes washed and wrung out in towels and hanging like a Chinese laundry in our room, we closed the window and tried to get some sleep.