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

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Back in the USSR

[fuck you Google, fuck you Apple, fuck you Posts, fuck you Belkin, fuck you wifi]

Mmmm. Sleepy. Not been properly awake for even an hour yet after a loong and very refreshing kip after a pretty hectic, full day tbh. I'm sat on what I have dubbed "the blogging sofa" while Helen partakes of even more recreational sleep than I. It is coming up for 4.5hrs later - in local time, but only a mere 2.5hrs in actual time - to what time we got up yesterday.

Our alarms were both set for 5am, but we woke at 4.30am anyway. I guess we were both a bit excited about the journey to come. I'd said we should leave at ~0545 for full lounge usage but we were a tiny bit behind schedule. The checkout at reception did not involve being given a receipt or having to check that the stuff charged to the room had been OK, so I'm not sure what's going on there. Hopefully they will take the right amount from the £120 auth, but I wasn't really in the mood to chase anythng there and then because we had a pod to catch.

The pod was just as fucking awesome as the previous day. An exact 5 minute journey later and here's T5 and a hefty slap on the most smiley face of the "how was your pod experience today?" kiosk. Quick smoke break and a long currrency break, where both staff member and card machine seemed to have not yet woken up for the day. Then a walk to the first class desks, which are at the opposite end of the bloody terminal. Despite already being checked in and travelling with hand luggage only, a G4S employee has to do a passport and visa check when you're going to Russia. We got issued with paper boarding passes and scribbles, and told there was no gate but it might be from satellite B. Boo.

Fast track security wasn't very fast, our progress further hindered by Helen's handbag setting off the x-ray machine for no apparent reason (the bonus swabs came back with fuck all, and she didn't have to empty it or anything).

The 'i' key on this keyboard is really fucking temperamental. Grr.

So, through security and then the million pound door. This is the entrance to the Concorde Room, and the door apparently costs BA a million pounds a year to maintain as compensation to BAA for all the lost revenue caused by first class passengers not wandering through the glorified shopping mall which the terminal proper largely resembles. Even other lounge-goers (to the Club and First lounges) have to trawl past Dixons, but not us fancy pants sorts who are actually travelling in First.

The girl inside gave us the full welcome and told us the spa was already open, so after putting our bags in the cloakroom we went there to try and get an appointment for a massage having failed to do so by email a couple of times. The spa was not yet open nor were they taking bookings. Oh. So, back to the dining area of the lounge for an eggs benedict each and some juice.

By this point Helen is cringeing quite a lot. This is not what travelling by plane is like, and besides, come the revolution no-one will be allowed such elitist treatment: down with inequality! But she is today a brave infiltrator, checking out how the 0.01% live so she truly knows her enemy.

Back to the spa and there are no therapist treatments available at all before our flight, but we can have a magic massage chair go if we want. We do, and spend 15 minutes having our calves gripped by a machine while our back and neck get an undulating beating. For some reason she does not have a choice of relaxing oils to have a sniff from, while I came out literally smelling of rosewood.

We returned to the Concorde Room, where I perched at the bar and ordered a champagne while she spent a suspiciously long time in the loo, soon explained by the fact she had been admiring the original piece by one of her favourite watercolour artists that was in the ladies. She joined me on the bubbles and we went out to the terrace above the riffraff, sprawling on the comfy giant chairs and I wrote yesterday's blog piece.

Sadly my intention to do a bit of a lounge crawl - just to show her the first class lounge - was not going to happen, because (as mentioned yesterday) our gate was actually a far distance away, in satellite B. This meant a bit of a walk to the fuck-yeah-monorail, and a shorter walk to gate B48. There weren't many people around because boarding had been open a while, but there did seem to be a bit of trouble with people's boarding passes and next to the gate was a 747. I got terribly excited that maybe there'd been a very late change of equipment and we'd be travelling in a jumbo's nose but, sadly, it was not to be. Through the check and along the world's longest airbridge to our waiting 777.

I still get a kick out of turning left through the door at boarding. We were escorted to our seats 1E and 1F, and had a couple of intros from some of the cabin crew. Got settled and, why, I think I'd like a champagne please, thank you. Helen descended into monstrous embarrassment at such privilege and opulence and why the fuck does anyone need to travel like this and so on. But the legroom was nice. And the champagne. Oh and here's the pyjamas and amenity kit and today's menu.

I'm pretty sure this first class seat was a slighly newer variant than the one on last year's trip, though not radically different. There seemed to be a bit more room and the in-flight entertainment system was decent. I plugged my phone in to charge and settled into my headphones to watch Pride. Support the miners! See, I can be all left-wing 'n that too.

A new glass of champagne arrived once we were airborne, and then menu choices had to be made. I went for the salmon and caviar to start and an "Arnold Bennett" omelette, whatever that was. Helen had fruit salad and some kind of meat and cheese compendium for main. A croissant came and even now, 24hrs later, I regret not also having a danish. Before all of that came an amuse bouche the contents of which I was told, but totally forgot. Helen reckons it was a glazed fig with some blue cheese or summat. I dunno.

As with most films watched in the air, Pride made me cry, several times. It's a true story but even when I found myself thinking, oh piss off, no way did it actually happen quite like this, my eyes were leaking. Damn it. Thankfully I was able to replace lost fluids quite easily as the guy serving my aisle hardly let my champagne glass get empty. 1E and 1F are good seats for a couple but you're still not exactly sitting close - you can hold hands so long as you properly outstretch your arm. But one of the points of travelling up front is the privacy anyway, so I was happy drinking and watching my film while Helen finally decided to read some of the Moscow guide book. But rather than learn any phrases or figure out anything we should do, she instead just read up on moderately recent Russian history; revolution, revolution, revolution.

I got asked if I wanted another glass of champagne, and of course answered yes, about 30 seconds before the "20 minutes to landing, everyone put yer belts on and yer screens away etc" announcement, so the cabin attendant then pretty much instructed me to down it. Ha! Frankly the staff totally had the measure of everyone; there was a guy who had been in transit through London and largely just wanted to sleep, so they didn't bother him. There were people heading off to do business, and they were not hassled too much. And there was us going on holiday who clearly wanted a bit of first class pampering, and we got it.

After a bit of a taxi and tow, we got to the gate and here was a new one me: arriving at Moscow Domodedovo airport sober enough to actually remember the experience. Last April I had been disgracefully shitfaced and there's a big empty gap between plane and boiling hot aeroexpress train into the city. Well, this year I vividly remember being frostily denied the opportunity to take a piss by loud women, and then the properly surly immigration guy telling me to take off my glasses (twice), asking me where I'd just flown in from (twice) and getting me to sign the arrival/departure form (twice). And then I clumsily dropped my passport and form after he handed them back to me and just generally made an arse of myself. Perhaps not remembering is better.

Loo break, then through customs and into the terminal landside. Hello, Russia. Helen was desperate for a vape but here you have to go through x-ray screening and stuff to enter the terminal so heading out and in again seemed a bit excessive. So we headed straight to the Aeroexpress terminal, bought a couple of return tickets, and hey presto a smoking area next to the platforms. Had to wait 15 minutes for a train and, fuck me it's hot. 28c hot. We don't have a lot of water either..

Train comes and it's boiling hot, as per last year. I swear there's no aircon on the bloody thing. I drift in and out of consciousness for the entire not-very-express journey to Pavletskaya where the real fun begins. I have no recollection of how to buy Moscow metro tickets and the guidebook hasn't helped. We go to a machine and make it talk English at us and buy "2 passes" which comes out as one piece of card. 2 journeys, then. Are these transferrable? Can't remember. To play it safe I queue up to buy another "2 passes" but the machine I use only offers 1 or 5, so I buy 1. Gragh.

The metro is heaving crowded. Everywhere. On the first train there is a man wearing what seems to be a pro-Anders Breivik t-shirt. We have to get Stalin's coffee cup line 5 three stops to Park Kultury, and then line 1 one stop to Kropotkinskaya, from which - according to their own website - our hotel is a mere 5 minute walk. It takes us about 5 minutes just to leave the bloody station and then we are not obviously where the map says we should be. Actually it's kinda worse than that - the map says outside the station we need to skirt round a big ... thing ... it doesn't say what, but it's pedestrianised ... to get to the bridge across the river to the island. And there are two big things with paths round. We each guess a different direction and after consulting the guidebook's map whch doesn't even have the bridge on it, deduce that my guess is right. Down the hill past the cathedral of Christ the Saviour, ringing out its "oi, it's 5pm" bells, we reach the river and see the pedestrian-only bridge tens of feet above us. Ah crap.

Up a load of steps and things are getting serious. It's bastard hot and our bags are heavy and we've next to no water left and nicotine supplies are low. Things look very pretty but energy and mood are both taking a battering. The hotel is really close to the bridge but proves elusive - the address has two numbers, "3/10" and 8, on a road we find easily. There's an 8, but that's not what we want. There's also a 3/10, but that's also not what we want. Another look at the map and we realise the pointer is not actually on the road of the hotel's address. Helen waves a printout at a local who points towards a couple of bars, and then gets his mates to point in the same direction. We approach a building which says 3/10 on it and hello! It's our hotel. Thank fuck.

Venus checks us in, gives us room 6, and takes our passports to be scanned. The room has a balcony with views of the river and the cathedral, but not a jacuzzi bath. The mini-bar price list contains nothing but non-alcoholic drinks and condoms and there is a packet of crisps in the fridge. Some towels have been arranged to look like a swan on our bed and the aircon unit is set to 30 celsius. I shove that down to 22c, mumble a bit, and try to get the TV to work. There's a freeview box and a giant aerial booster but still I can't get any pictures. So instead, I put on a new shirt that isn't drenched in sweat, and fall asleep.

90 minutes later, Helen tries to convince me that sleeping is a terrible idea. It's gone 7pm, we should head out at least for a drink if not food, and not give ourselves jetlag. It takes me about 15 minutes to get out of bed but she's right. So I put on my third shirt of the day, I mean how ridiculous is that, and we fuck off outside.

Turns out we are staying in Moscow's Shoreditch. There's lots of digital stuff around and businesses run out of packing crates and other industrial units. There are men with non-ironic sideburns and laptops and an institute of modern architecture and an expensive restaurant. The hotel itself is pretty much next to 3 dfferent bars which all have roof terraces. We wander first, along the edge of the island to the bridge next to one corner of the Kremlin. Nowhere to eat really leaps out at us and the Georgian place Ian and I were taken to last year is inaccessible on the other side of a really really busy street. We consult an offline map I wish I'd remembered earlier and we spot Pizza Express, hurrah!

Safety first. It's important to have somewhere you're comfortable with so that you can run and hide to comfort if the local experience is too scary. So we had pizza and fuck-yeah Guinness in the basement of a weird shopping mall/apartment complex and everyone spoke English. Ace. Our receipt has the cyrillic for Guinness on it and I've learnt how to pronounce it: you say "Guinness" in a Russian accent.

We got lost trying to get out but eventually emerged nowhere near where we thought we would, back up near the road bridge. Wandered along to the cathedral again and did some proper tourism: took some photos up close against the gorgeous blue dusk sky. It was really really nice, also I got to flex my Russian muscles because we wanted to buy some shit from a kiosk. "dva voda pozhalsta", "gas? nee gas?", "nee gas". Fear my ability to buy two bottles of non-sparklng water. Apparently I am not allowed to make a "nee gas with attitude" joke, so I won't.

Back to the island and for the first time ever (sort of; I'm kinda jealous of Tyler Breeze) wished we had a selfie stick. The Kremlin was all lit up and looking ace along the river, though Helen's camera suffers awful flare from every visible light. Mine doesn't do much better. The slow wander ends at the Strelska bar, where we get a glass of wine and hello, another Guinness. There is free wifi and the internet tells us this is one of Moscow's best pubs. It's a 2 minute walk from our hotel. I think we've done alright here.

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