Saturday, 23 June 2007

Day 1 - Getting to Moscow

Most of day 1 was spent getting from London to Moscow. As trip organiser I was very apprehensive about the organisation so the camera didn't leave my bag. However here are the highlights.

Met Keith at 6 in the morning at Heathrow airport.

We couldn't get our boarding passes due to a systems error with our booking. Not the best way to start, but KLM were able to sort things out for us and we were soon on the plane.

At Amsterdam we had to wait a couple of hours for our transfer to Moscow. Whilst Keith looked after the bags I went off to play on the travelators pretending to be Jamiroquai in the Virtual Insanity video.

On our flight to Moscow we had a very tall guy next to us who couldn't fit his legs under the seat. When he asked for another seat he was told that there were none available. As well as having long legs he must also have had massive fingers because everytime he was given a can of beer he'd snap the ring pull off without opening the can. Too embarrassed to keep asking for a replacement he ended up asking people around him to hand the can back for another.

As we were approaching Moscow a rather drunk Russian behind us got into a rant over nothing really and started arguing with the purser from the flight, who admittedly didn't deal with it particularly well.

Man: "You go! You go!"
Pursar: "Sir, I am not your slave. Keep this up and we will call the police. Do you understand the word 'police'?"

Man: Some sort of cursing in Russian.
Pursar: "Sir, I don't understand what you're saying"
Man: "You fly to Russia you should speak Russian"
Pursar: "Sir, we're not a Russian airline; this is KLM"

The man also refused to sit in his seat as the plane came to land so as expected there were a couple of officials waiting for him as he got off the plane.

It took ages to get through immigration, partly because the plane had forgotten to include the immigration forms on the flight so we had to do them in arrivals. Secondly we didn't have a pen to fill the form in (Keith had lost his and I was ill prepared). Others were a bit reluctant to share theirs and I ended up pleading with the officials to let me borrow one. A vast number of Chinese people had arrived at the same time as us completely filling the hall, and immigration were being very thorough with them.

Poor Jeppe had been waiting on the other side having arrived 3 hours earlier. We were supposed to be met by a "local agent" who turned out to be a Russian driver who spoke no English, and Jeppe was stuck with him for company whilst myself and Keith tried to get through.

When we did finally get through the luggage was scattered everywhere around the baggage claim. Keith managed to locate his but I was not so lucky. After searching for half an hour I gave up and reported it to the help desk who told me it hadn't left Amsterdam and would arrive tomorrow. Great! No luggage...

With no option but to leave we joined up with Jeppe and the Driver and headed to the hotel. Initial views were that it looked like America with big billboards besides the road but there were also large forested areas, which you wouldn't get in the U.S. in the same way. What was funny was the radio was playing lots of old 80s tunes and the driver, perhaps more confident with who was in his car started telling us about his love of Western Rap in particular Just Ice (an 80s rapper who collaborated with Mantronix for those of you who don't know). Quite amusing.

Anyway after about half an hour's drive we ended up at Izmaylovski Vega hotel and after trying to tell the Russians not to turn away my bag (no easy feat as most didn't speak English) we grabbed a quick bite to eat and drink from the hotel cafe and when we were told our passports wouldn't be ready from being visa processed until the morning, we were resigned to an early night. Whilst we could have gone out, to do so without any ID could have got ugly had we been stopped.

This is the hotel bedroom. Spartan but you're never intending to do anything in here except sleep so we couldn't complain.

This is the view from the hotel window. The Izmaylovo complex is now one of the larger hotel complexes in the city but it was actually built to serve as the Olympic Village for the 1980 games. I have no idea if I was sleeping in a room previously occupied by a famous athlete or not.

The island on the lake over to the right used to belong to the Russian Royalty but not anymore. In fact the whole area was opened up to the public and it's now part of Izmaylovsky park, which is massive in size and houses one of the more popular markets in the city on Sunday. A pity that we were leaving before then.

Just a little bigger than any park we have in London. I'm sure you'll agree.

The Russian Language
I had tried to learn the spoken language before flying out and failed miserably, some of the pronunciation of words was too quick for me to repeat. I did however have a go at reading Cyrillic that way I'd have some idea of what the signs meant. It's actually not that bad, if you treat it like a puzzle and get used to the fact that some letters written in Russian mean something different to the UK e.g. B is a V. It also has roots in greek so if you're American you can read the fraternity symbols!

Here's a breakdown
Upright Name Sound
А а A Alimony
Б б Be Bed
В в Ve Vet
Г г Ge Gamma
Д д De Delta
Е е Ye Yet
Ж ж Zhe Leisure
З з Ze Zither
И и I Boy
К к Ka King
Л л El Lemon
М м Em Monkey
Н н En Noose
О о O Oh!
П п Pe Pie
Р р Er Rabbit
С с Es Cent
Т т Te Two
У у U Boot
Ф ф Ef Fun
Х х Kha Loch
Ц ц Tse Hats
Ч ч Che Chair
Ш ш Sha Shop
Ю ю Yu You
Я я Ya Yak

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