I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Stalin's coffee cup

The Budweiser (Budvar) in the hotel ain't bad y'know. I'm not sure how much it costs, but I kinda don't care. Me and Ian had a few before heading upstairs to continue our conversation about JavaScript vs Dart over some mini-bar bottles. During a brief break I managed to secure us seats 1a and 1k for our return flight in Saturday. Very happy about that.

I just typed - well, had autocorrected for me - "ahoy" instead of "happy".  Corrected it myself this time but I know for a fact that several errors appear in every post I make.The fault lies with me ultimately, both for using an ipad rather than a real keyboard and also making most posts at like 1am after 6+ drinks. So, y'know, sorry.

Anyway. Finished last night with them mini bar beers and a podcast or two while writing up yesterday, and then slept another night in this sauna of a room. Thursday's plan was to meet up around 1030 and do a bunch of the things Masha had suggested. We actually set off about 1100, fresh out into the glorious Russian sunshine. Totally different weather to yesterday's bleak grey windy rain, there were no clouds and I was in sleeves and shorts. Was a bit nippy though.

Being so sunny outside, we started the day by heading around Stalin's coffee mug stain, line 5 of the Moscow metro. Masha had suggested 3 stations to visit and they were all on the circular line, 4 then 3 then 2 stops from Pavletsky. Recollection said that the first one was a celebration of the friendship between Russia and Ukraine. Oh come on, really? Now? But let's see...

It's a piss take. Just unbelievably ornate. I can't be bothered trying to describe it, nor the other stations - just believe me (and see the photos when I put them on flickr) that the Moscow metro is as amazing as I mentioned yesterday. All 3 new stations were mind blowing. The tube never stops being crowded though.

Time to go topside and see if the weather was still holding - well, it was. So we did a bit of Groundhog Day, heading back to follow the exact same route Masha had walked us yesterday, taking sunny rather than grey rainy photos of the gorgeous architecture. Except only St Basil's from afar, because that end of red square was cordoned off. Was someone important going to the kremlin? We never found out. But we were amazed by how empty everywhere seems. Does everyone just travel the tube all day? I mean, it's nice, but...

It was lunchtime. We went back into the GUM to sit in the soviet canteen on the top floor, queuing up behind some frightfully posh English family discussing their plans for letting out one of their houses and how to avoid as much tax as they could. Later, the young lad in the suit gave each of us an independently disdainful look as we passed him while depositing our empties. Pfft. ("Depositing our empties" is not a euphemism)

We queued for a while and largely self-served 4 dishes - I had a layer cake, chicken cutlet with rice and mushroom sauce, beetroot salad, and a chicken and prunes thing. And a drink that was the thickest yoghurt drink ever. Grand stuff.

Since we couldn't go to St Basil's, we couldn't go to the river. So we though, ok, let's go to a different part of the river: our map from the hotel had an advert for a 2.5hr cruise which promised "the one and only Moscow and paradoxes typical for it". To get there we briefly thought about another metro ride but actually decided to walk.

So, first, back across red square and into Alexander's Garden. We were just in time for the changing of the guard, assuming prime position to watch the rather excellent stomping and head tilting at 3pm. Good hats too.

The route to the river allowed is to investigate another box-tick suggestion, Arbat, This is a long pedestrianised precinct a good 10 minute walk from the kremlin, largely comprising people in sandwich boards advertising fuck knows what, and a lot of painters ready to do caricatures and seemingly not one customer the whole length of the road. We also saw the first pub we'd come across, Harat's. It looked terrifying.

At the end there was an English language tourist sign to the ministry of foreign affairs. No idea why that would be worthy of mention to us westerners except HOLY SHIT LOOK AT THAT. Another enormous and preposterous piece of brutal and giant architecture.

The river was meant to be near. Some gung ho road crossing and a couple observing a remarkable dress code (apparently tights don't require a skirt) led us to the river, and look, boats! We walked up and saw a boat just leaving ... doh. But as if turned out, these were not the boats we were looking for. A couple more bridges up and there was the Ukraine Hotel (oh come on!)? a radisson of such extreme scale it was ... tiring. Seriously, Moscow does scale very very well.

The boat ticket office was there and we bought tickets, in first class, because of course we were going to go first class. The ticket women had said the only difference was being on the upper deck, and more privacy - only 8 tables. What they hadn't said is, oh, and you'll be very out of place and every other table will be a couple, a gorgeous woman and a man dripping with money. And half the men will manifestly be total wankers. Meh, whatever. We got beer, and after take off we went outside, donned the shades, and watched Moscow flow past.

Thee was actually no commentary at all. Totally not what the advert had led us to believe. But we were outside so who cares. The few clouds had disappeared and it was lovely. We saw various bits of tourism we had no idea about, then a bridge being climbed by bona fide local nut jobs with no regard for safety. Just walking up the structure, standing on the top, dangling over the side and we exchanged waves.

Before long we saw a space shuttle, the. Peter the Columbus the Great. Enormous. We'd been past Sparrow Hill, Gorky Park and the Kremlin and turned round within sight of...whatever that huge building was. The KGB? I'll look it up one day. After that we were sailing directly into the sun, so went back inside and got more beer. Professional photos were being taken of the couples, especially the women who were being encouraged to pose lots. Not for us, thanks. Not that they asked.

Eventually we got back to the Radisson. I had a tactical piss and wondered why a single person attempted the door 4 times, with gaps. IT'S OCCUPIED. Sheesh. Then a walk back along the river to that Ukrainian metro station, which had a French entrance. Huh?

Oh, yeah, the river. There are paths and there are parks and there is a lot of space and there aren't many people. Because they're all on the tube. Ian and I had actually had an argument and I totally lost, to facts, about population: Moscow has 12 million and I was convinced London had/has 18 million. It has nothing like that many. Fair enough. But that actually makes my other point more valid: where are the runners? There is NO BASTARD running around Moscow. No one. I mean, we saw about 5 individuals and then one group of people seemingly warming up, But fewer runners than you'd see in honestly any given 90 seconds next to the Thames between 0800 and 1800. Do Russians not run? What gives?

Back on the metro, 4 stations anti clockwise. For the non-Cyrillic readers there are numerous ways to get around: repeat (not applicable), counting (works), checking the platform signs which show the changeover points that give you a directional clue (worked), or my favourite of all: listen to the train announcements. On the Moscow Metro, the announcements are male in one direction and female in another. I love that.

Tomorrow we're going inside the kremlin, and the the most important part of any foreign trip: seeking out Guinness. Somebody give me a hell yeah.