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

Saturday, May 30, 2015

From Russia with dove

The club next door was very loud until fuck knows what time. I fell asleep pretty quick but Helen struggled, and chose a particularly inopportune time and place to try one of those sleep/meditation apps which tells you to try and ignore any sounds you might be able to hear. So we slept in a bit late on Friday.

As it goes we had no tickets for anything. The Kremlin is shut on Thursdays so we were aiming to head there today, but on further consideration (and after seeing all the photos I took when I went last year) Helen decided y'know what, bollocks to the Kremlin. Can't be arsed queuing up to buy tickets to queue up to go inside some walls to see some cathedrals you can see from the outside, and a big fuck off bell and cannon. So instead, how about we try and find a museum of Soviet propaganda posters and the like? A quick internet tells us the Museum of Contemporary History is the place we want to go.

The Museum of Contemporary History is closed on the last Friday of the month. It was Friday May 29th. Fuck it. Whatever. Over breakfast in Strelka (there is no second s, unlke my previous references) of pancakes + bacon / ham and cheese omelette, plus raspberry and ginger tea, I mark on a map the location of the museum's 3 offshoot galleries: an underground printing press hidden behind a facade of a Caucasian meat shop; a reproducton of a revolutionary's house; and, um, another one I can't recall. An order is decided on and off we set.

First, onto the metro at Kropotkinskaya. The metro is a tourist attraction in its own right and Helen has seen barely any of it. On this journey we need to go one stop to Park Kultury and then around the circular line to Belorusskaya. The platforms and halls are impossibly ornate and fantastic. We emerge from Belorusskaya accidentally from the correct exit on the road for the underground printing press and take a walk. It looks like the city of London a bit, especially when we go past a cafe called Cheapside.

The museum is easily found. It is shut. There are signs on multiple windows saying "Museum not working", and a woman points at it too, just to ram the point home. Oh. Right, never mind, we have other options, and decide to walk to "My House", which is a small museum which just rotates through stuff borrowed from the main MCH. It's a fair walk through very non-touristy part of the city, though still fairly central. There is a branch of Subway where they have Cyrillicised the letters so that it phonetically reads "Sabvay" and this tickles me.

Half hour or so later and we reach where we think "My House" should be, but can't see it. Hmm. We have however found the museum of applied, decorative, and folk art. It is shut on Fridays. Pointlessly we walk down the side street behind the traffic police headquarters and peek into a little courtyard where My House might be, but there are barriers and what seem to be workmen emerging with cigarettes. It seems shut.

We're honestly having an excellent time here. I love just walking around the city with vague aims, even if those aims aren't reached. I love that after deciding to go to the nearest touristy thing - the Hermitage Gardens - we have to cross a giant behemoth of a road which has 8 lanes in each direction. The weather has been OK, we have water, it's fun.

The Hermitage Gardens are quite pretty, and claim to have wifi but don't. We sit down to plot our next move, which is to be a walk to Pushkinskaya metro and then head to Krasnopresnenskaya which can just fuck off if it thinks I can pronounce it. Near there is the last of the 3 museums we have bookmarked. A dead end takes us towards a big wooden structure full of doves and pigeons, we reverse and go through the French style entrance and wander north.

At the corner, next to the park we are about to walk through, there is what seems to be a pub. As I've been doing a lot I try to figure out what it says - Russia has felt much less alien to me this time now that I can at least pronounce stuff because I can read Cyrillic a bit, even if not understand it. But this pub I can understand: it says, in Cyrillic, "Scotland Yard - English bar". This kinda thing has happened a few times (and will happen again later) - places which are western-themed barely use the actual western name. It must be a place trying to be English, but not actually interested in attracting any English people to it, otherwise it would have some latin alphabet on its frontage. No?

Anyway we didn't go in, but instead took a stop in the park for some liquid nicotine. Soon enough we arrive at Pushkinskaya and go straght past it, because we've decided bollocks to trying any more museums, they are bound to be shut, and the pub Andrei told us about is quite close by so let's go there. But first we need some cash as we've almost run out. I ask for 6000 rubles and get it in a bloody 5000 and 1000 note. These are the biggest notes we've yet seen and the 5000 seems like it can only be spent if we have a LOT to eat and drink in one place. Gah.

Craft Republic's location was easy to find courtesy of having bookmarked it on a map, but it doesn't exactly leap out on the street. It doesn't seem to say Craft Republic on it, and it looks like a ... wait a second, a craft shop. I only just realised that while typing. Anyway from the outside there is a poster which did mention beer but peering in through the door it wasn't obvious. Nonetheless the rain had started so we chanced our arm and, oh, look, a really dingy room out back with HELLO, fifteen beer taps and loads of bottles. Hurrah!

We are the only customers. The whole place must only fit about 25 people. Helen gets a taste of Rosso and orders a pint, I go for a gorgeous milk stout. As with every interaction with Russian folk so far, we get no smile and no hint of "where are you from?" style interest. The barman just serves us and then goes back to his seat and dicks around on his phone. The rain outside becomes absolutely torrential and a few other people arrive. No-one is smiling.

If there were toilets, we'd probably stay, but there don't seem to be so we pay and leave. And see the toilet on the way out. The rain is still awful and we realise that, actually, the craft shop is awesome. There's loads and loads of mad stuff - glasses on top of toy cars or with handles made from metal chains, socks in bottles, sexist cushions, lots of Russian literature, whiskey flasks with built-in compasses, grumpy cat-faced hand-knitted dolls, novelty iPhone cases, a clock made from a frogman's flipper... like the oddest final round of The Generation Game you'll ever see.

We buy nothing and the rain doesn't seem like it's gonna stop so bollocks, we head out. The road we are on leads straight down to Red Square and we are aiming for GUM. It's actually really not that bad, the rain, especially if you're wearing a massive wide-brimmed hat that makes a pretty good fist of acting as an umbrella. Walking along Helen repeatedly shouts 'pectopah! pectopah!' at every restaurant. Through the underpass of Okhotny Ryad we find our first Lenin impersonator, and there are a couple more topsde en route to GUM.

The rain has got worse and there is now thunder and lightning over a dismal Red Square, and it is fucking fantastic. We stand there for a bit watching the sky and getting wet; it's still nice and warm. I got a video of lightning and managed to get a freezeframe showing both streak and sheet at the same time, next to St Basil's cathedral. It's great. But Helen needs a historic piss, so she goes to the historic toilets. They cost 150 rubles a go and are very fancy.

Back outside for some more sky watching and some excellently moody photos of the square, Lenin's mausoleum, the state museum, etc. Honestly, Red Square in bleak weather is completely awesome and totally tops off what has already been a fun day. But we are hungry, so off to Burgermeister for beer and something to eat. There is a Joe Stalin impersonator lookng lonely on the way, and what seems to be a Putin impersonator having his photo taken with a Lenin because why not?

In Burgermeister we are seated in front of 5 beer fridges and before I've even sat down the waiter has pretty much demanded I have a bolshoi Russian beer (sibirskya corona, y'know); Helen opts for some local champagne, which is smoother and sweether than that French muck. The food menu looks great. I order one of the 4 types of marinaded mushrooms by reading out the name of it having read it in Cyrillic. Honestly, I can't get over how much of a kick I get just from being able to pronounce stuff. Helen orders two starters: 3 Russian meat pies, and some mushroomy cheese thing. My main is chicken breast with potato in sauce.

The pies are totally not pies; they are bread triangles filled with what seems to be Shipham's paste. Then the mushroomy cheese thing arrves and it looks just like this small mushroomy cheese thing that came alongside her main in the Russian no-starters place on Thursday lunchtime and HANG ON A FUCKING SECOND. That was the starter! It just came alongside the main! And let's think, what was the starter I'd ordered? Potatoes fried in pork lard. Kinda like them there chips what came with my fish? Bloody hell! We'd just been ignorant idiots and not actually twigged that the stuff on our plates was the stuff we'd ordered. Well colour us stupid. Ha!

The food is lovely and the waiter keeps coming back insisting we get more beer and champagne. Oh, go on then. And fuck it, some dessert too - mascarpone pancakes and cheesecake (pronounced "cheezkayeek"). We think about heading off and that's when the rain really kicks in: it is darker outside than it should be 2 hours later and the sky is totally falling. We tell the waiter not to throw beer at us but give us 5 minutes, after which he gleefully serves us more beer and champagne. Seems we're trapped. I go for an English beer, a bottle of Wychwood Ginger Beard. It's lovely.

But we can't stay any longer. As it happens, the LOTS OF FOOD AND DRINK required to spend the 5k note has just occurred naturally. Now, it's Friday night in Moscow and we're about 3km from our hotel; there's a metro nearby but not one on the island so no matter how we do this, we might get a bit wet.

Might turns into definitely as we get drenched inside 15 seconds of being outside. The big shin deep puddle didn't help. There's a guy brooming water out of Teatrinya station. Down at the platform I am delighted to discover this is the one with the brass statues I'd told Helen about, so some bonafide tourism right here. Helen rubs the nose of the dog for luck, and we get our first and only unsolicited smile from a Russian who is waiting to do the same while I take a photo. The tube takes us one stop to Biblioteka which is also 3 other station names: where multiple lines intersect, the name of the station can be different for each line. It isn't at Park Kultury, it is here. I am confused.

Another stop to Kroptkinskaya and we're topside again. It's hammering it down still. Round the cathedral, over the bridge, along the river and to the off licence. It's Friday night, we go home tomorrow, and we don't want to go to the pub in wet clothes so we just want some beer. We kinda want to buy 8 but I don't know any numbers greater than 6, so decide on a plan of ordering 4 beers of two different brands. Simple.

The plan is scuppered by the off licence being shut. Presumably because it's Friday and also a museum, who knows. The light is on and the woman is inside but the door is locked and she doesn't react when people try it: the guy in front of us, us, and the 3 people after us. For fucks sake. Back to the hotel for a loo break and then one last attempt: we know there's a proper supermarket about 5-8 minutes walk in the other direction.

As we leave the hotel Helen asks the reception bloke and his mate where the nearest beer shop is, and they direct us elsewhere. We go in that direction and there are no shops. So we walk to the supermarket anyway. The rain remains unrelenting and Helen's sense of humour is being washed away. I'm finding it all hilarious. In the supermarket the Budweiser is half the price of the off licence and we get 8 cans for 4 quid. We queue at the till behind two Englishmen who seem to live in the ex-spy-chief accomodation next door.

Squelching through vast puddles we make it back and collapse onto the blogging sofa. We crack open a beer each and talk louder than usual, to drown out the sound of the club next door which is loud enough that our entire room is reverberating. There seems to be a crowd going wild for awful house covers of Five and Whitney Houston and fuck knows what else. This is brilliant, but seriously thank fuck we have enough sauce to knock us out for the night.

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