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

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Champagne Communism

Oh, FUCK YOU, Pages on iOS. It's all very well that you have an undo button, but where is redo? Eh? Cunts, I'd written plenty and now it's all gone. And as for turning "written" into "siren", you what?

Er. Anyway. I'm typing this on the Aero express train from Moscow DME / Domodedovo to ... wherever it finishes, somewhere in the city. Apparently, there I have to change onto the green metro line in some direction or other to get to my hotel. I'm expecting lots of Cyrillic, which I've tried (vaguely) to learn recently, and found very hard. I'm very drunk. It's 1700 local time, 1400 back in the UK, I've been up since 0430 and have had 9 glasses of champagne and a large vodka in the last few hours. Oh, hello, this must be a holiday....

I play Ian at snooker once a month. Have done for going on 18 months now. We've known each other since 2007 or so and he's long been complimentary about my luxury travel blog posts. As with most people, I've tried to get him to sign up for sundry credit cards over the years - to help him play the game, but also to help me play the game very very hard - to no avail. But a few months ago, over the baize and a few black drinks, I mentioned that there was an expiring 2-for-1 voucher in my BA wallet and, fuck it, fancy a trip to Moscow? Because, right, Moscow counts as "Europe" and is therefore "cheap" to get to, but also uses long haul aircraft - a 747 with proper business and first class. I'd knock off a passport stamp and he'd get to see what all the fuss is about without the commitment of a long haul jaunt and the associated expense. Originally I booked us business out, first back, but in the end upgraded us to first class both ways. Best to travel in style eh?

As it goes there are three services to Moscow each day but only one with the posh seats, which meant we were on the 0855 from Heathrow. For people who don't like to hang around in airports, this means you can turn up at 0820 and hey presto. For those of us who want to make the most of the experience, this meant turning up at 6am. Ian had to get a cab round from the opposite corner of London, while I chose to use public transport and get 3 buses. Also I got up late. D'oh.

Fast forward! I'm in the hotel now. My room is baking hot and the air con doesn't seem to work. This is unpleasant, given how dehydrated/drunk I am. Is it a surprise I'm drunk? Let me rewind.

Yes, I got up late. Actually my alarm went off at 0430, I'd hoped to wake up beforehand but scuppered it by not going to bed 'till way past midnight. I'd been advised by computers to leave the house at 0450 to get to Heathrow T5 by 0600 but was a good 15 minutes later than that, though after 2 buses and one tube I still made it on time. I love London Transport. I even managed to stream a load of music from Amazon while on the tube with no signal. How did that work? Anyway, Ian's cab had deposited him early, which have him time to scope out the foreign exchange, and once I got there he forked out for commission free roubles before we went through fast track security.

Um, about "fast track". It's not right fast if they send you back to see BA staff, supposedly because going hand luggage only is weird for a trip to Russia. It's also not right fast if the bag scanner breaks down and you end up scrunched into the next door queue. Plus, we went through the wrong security. Not that they didn't let us in, but it was some distance from the north gates next to which is the Concorde Room.

Hello, Concorde Room!

You're only allowed in this place if you have a super posh card you get given rather than earn, or you're actually flying in first class. Which we were. So we got seated and had a full English, with decent bacon but awful hash browns. Polished it off in under 15 minutes and went to the bar, where we started on the champers. Last time I was I'm the Concorde room, my one and only previous visit in January 2009, Ewan Macgregor was here. This time it was empty enough that I was one of the two most important people there. Had 2 glasses before heading to the spa for my massage.

I call it a massage, they call it a massage, but having asked for "firm" pressure I can safely say it was a beating. My back took an absolute pummelling, but my god I felt great after. Ian's started just after I left, so I waited for him at the bar. Oh, hello, more champagne. Another couple of glasses, the barman tried to keep us there when I asked him how long a walk our gate was.  But we left, got the monorail thing and arrived at the gate after almost everyone else was onboard.

Ah, first class. My god. Somehow this had only cost £110 and 40k miles. In the nose of a jumbo, at 0830 but once you're airside all bets are off. I'd love a champagne, thanks. The cabin service manager came to introduce himself and the bubbles kept flowing. A bowl of nuts and some compliments about my headphones, because they'd been effective enough at cancelling noise that I totally didn't notice the crew attending me. Close, almost missed a glass. It kept coming, throughout the 3.5hr flight. I tried to watch the whole of Wolf of Wall Street, but couldn't quite get through it as the entertainment system was busted enough to require two reboots, which took half hour or so to complete. Not that I was that bothered; Threes is an apt distraction. I got over 30k the other day y'know.

BA's first class is decent. It's not spectacular. I mean, don't get me wrong, fucking hell it's an amazing way to fly, Jesus. But it's not Qantas. Perhaps that's because I knew I wasn't going to be there for 20-odd hours, but it's also true that the seat isn't as wide and nothing like as private, the cabin overall isn't as roomy, and the entertainment system less polished. I love the nose of a 747 though, probably more than any part of the A380.  What BA does have though is a dial to adjust the seat, rather than a bunch of buttons or presets on a touch screen. The dial is great. I was surprised to discover as we approached landing that I'd managed to put my seat too upright, and had to be readjusted for safety.

By the time I got off I believe I was 9 champagnes and 1 large vodka in, plus the nuts, two breakfasts, an amuse bouche, two danishes, and some salmon and caviar. Fuck you, diet chef. I was thoroughly bollocksed, at half midday UK time, 1530 local. Oh dear. 7 hours later I would learn that also on the plane I took custodianship of a few thousand roubles, as Ian implored me to explore my pockets and hey presto, there they were. I honestly have no recollection of him giving me those. Slightly frightening.

Moscow Domodedovo was a pretty easy airport to arrive at. I think. I only really remember breezing through easily, but not in a hurry, and we had no bags to collect. Hand baggage only, bitches. The aero express train tickets were simple enough to buy, and before we knew it we were speeding through bleak suburbs to the soviet heart, and I was starting this here post. Towards the end of the journey they made an announcement about "small children or any other personal items". Huh.

At the terminus, we knew to go get the green tube to our hotel. We got tube tickets fairly easily, after I went a bit gung ho and guessed which ones to buy. Unfortunately there was very little data, and it was rush hour, and there were no signs in Latin script and we didn't know the Cyrillic version of the tube stop for our hotel. Also, drunk. So we kinda just stood on the platform for a bit before getting a random train, 2 stops, and changing to go back one stop because some onboard Latin had helped us discover we were actually really close. Hurrah! The hotel was signposted from the platform and we found it easily, checked in, and found our saunas. A little break was required...

Euronews is no CNBC. Also I fell asleep for so long that Ian woke me up about 2030 with a knock on the door. My room is hot enough, his is ridiculous. We decided to have a brief wander around the local locale, largely in order to buy water. This was achieved with the help of a photo of a bottle of water and a loud "3 OF THESE". English isn't spoken in these parts.

I feel very foreign around here. And illiterate. In a country like India or China, I don't look local and the alphabets are so different it just washes over me. But in Europe, the locals don't know until I open my mouth that I'm not from round there, and I can at least make a good fist of pronouncing most of their words. But in a Cyrillic country, I am fucked. The words look like they ought to make sense, but, no, they don't. They're weird. Why are some of the Rs and Ns backwards? And why aren't they actually the equivalents of R and N? Grargh. Pactopah is restaurant? Really? Etc.

Anyway, we wandered around a bit, it was fairly cold but not threatening. Back to the hotel and the lobby bar, sadly missing the mounted bear head we'd been led to believe would be present by the hotel website. Sat and had 4 pints of Budvar in staggeringly solid and heavy glass mugs, and also some arbitrary pie, microwaved so badly that the centre was stone cold like Steve Austin. Which was appropriate, because Ian and I had a long drunken talk about wrestling and stuff. I reckon they'll split the belts soon. making Daniel Bryan defend both titles separately until he loses the heavyweight title at Summerslam. You heard this inaccurate prediction here first, people.

Good god, I am really quite drunk. It's now almost 1am on Wednesday morning, so 10pm back home. The TV keeps telling me that Ukraine is really quite a mess right now and my host nation has something to do with it. At 1130 (spoiler alert!) a lass from a tour company is meeting us in our hotel lobby, to take us around the city and show us some red coloured square or summat, maybe a church, I dunno. Also she is getting us some traditional Russian food and a vodka tasting session. Sounds awful. I think I'll not ask her about Pussy Riot.

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