So, when I left this last I said we arrived in Moscow and immediately fell into fear and panic, I’ll elaborate now.
Though wheezy woman’s son gave me a few details like where the Metro station was and how much the tickets cost, we had no roubles yet as they are only available inside Russia. A hangover from when the economy collapsed in the nineties I believe. We found an ATM machine straight away but found all of our cards were being declined. Fearing the worst we tried a few more machines, hoping every time that it wouldn’t go ‘Yum yum, tastes like British’ and chew our cards up. We thought it might be something to do with the PIN as the screen had 6 spaces rather than the usual 4. Or it might just have been really really poor service from our banks, even though we’d notified them where we were going and when. Fearing that we would have no money during our stay in Moscow we cashed a few of our precious US Dollars and finally had some roubles. We found the Metro station easily and bought a Metrocard good for 10 journeys for 145 roubles (less than GBP 3!!!) and set off to find Hostel Napoleon where we would be staying for the duration. This was pretty easy although it wasn’t exactly where we were looking and a strange shifty-eyed man approached us and asked if we were looking for a hostel. We later found that he was a regular visitor to the Hostel Napoleon and we could have trusted him. But hey, cynicism is a very useful thing whilst travelling…
I can highly recommend the Napoleon to anyone, extremely clean dorms, brilliant central location, very helpful staff, secure, a cheap beer/bottled water fridge (most essential), clean showers, working toilets etc. Though the shower’s water had only one setting – Scorching. ‘It’s like hell’ said one staff member whilst a guest said ‘I keep seeing people coming out the shower bright pink’ another remarked ‘I heard a girl scream in there but when the door opened it was a man’. I showered very tentatively. The Russian government controls the hot water system, it’s communally run and pumped into every building. Apparently the lack of cold water to the shower couldn’t be fixed immediately but I didn’t really care anyway. The best thing about it was the small TV room/reception area which forces guests to talk to each other. It’s a very social place.
My first impression of Russia was and remains that it’s HEAVILY policed. There are something like half a dozen arms of the police in Moscow from the traffic police to the KGB replacement -the FSB. This means that whilst the place does feel safe you end up being more wary of the uniformed guys patrolling every space in the city. We had no problems with them at all despite warnings and stories from a few people. Moscow, and Russia overall are highly bureaucratic. The people are nice even though we couldn’t really speak much Russian but we got by generally. One girl working in a street food kiosk even warned us off buying something because (we think) it was stale. A few words of the language were enough to get most of what we meant across. Eating was quite expensive in restaurants but when you find good cheap places to go you do eat very well. Krushka on the pedestrianised street Arbat was once place we visited and enjoyed. Another chain restaurant was Moo-Moo (spelled My-My) which was a buffet style place where you just point at what you want, from beetroot salad and cous-cous to half chickens and meatballs.
The drinking culture in the UK (pubs, bars etc.) is not replicated in Moscow and in fact we often found it hard to find places to get a beer other than the hostel. We didn’t get a chance to visit the apparently very healthy nightclub scene here but from all I’ve heard I’d say give it a go.
The next few days we spent doing all the important touristy things. Ken, a very nice (but a few days later stinky as he was still wearing the same clothes) beardy military history professor from Texas but working in Belfast showed us a few local eateries and advised on good and bad things to see. He’s been all over the world with a cuddly toy lion called ‘Monty’ so he’s a little odd, especially when he talks to it lovingly, but he was a goldmine for travel tips. We took in the usual suspects like the Kremlin but disappointingly couldn’t get in to see Lenin as the Victory Day parade is on the 9th may and Red Square is mainly fenced off. The Ice Hockey World Championship is running here at the moment so we headed off to watch a match with some cool Canadians we’ve met. Czech Republic vs. Canada played waaaay outside the city limits but it was well worth the trek and the atmosphere of the whole night was great. Definitely the best night we’ve had on the trip so far. The fact that Canada snatched a sudden death goal to win 3-4 helped too and the Canadians (particularly the awful dancer Patrick whose goal celebrations were amazing to behold) were bouyant for the evening. Even more so later as when we saw the match played back on Russian TV we saw our ugly mugs gracing the screen! Only for a few seconds mind but it was brilliant to see, especially I seemed to be frowning and confused as Canada scored… I’ll try to see more Ice Hockey (albeit at a poorer level) when I get home. Much of the rest of the daytime Martyn and I have been wandering around the city braving sometimes lunatic drivers and taking tons of pictures. We’ve taken to making ‘action shots’ outside some major landmarks so in this post is the proto-shot for this new style of photography with a levitating Martyn.
In conclusion I will come back to Russia to see St. Petersburg but I think I’ve seen all I need to in Moscow (except Lenin). It’s not the kind of place I think I could visit again and again (11/10/2011 NOTE: Here I was displaying my incredible naiveté, I went back to Moscow in 2009 and I can assure you quite a bit of what I wrote here was blinkered by a lack of funds, but that’s another story!), like Barcelona or Amsterdam but it’s certainly well worth visiting.
My next post will be from Beijing. Tonight we head off to catch the Trans-Siberian train 004 from Yaroslavl train station to Beijing. I will be very smelly and very tired, but for now I’m going to grab another beer.
Thanks for all the messages you guys have sent me, it’s always great to hear from y’all.
WISH US LUCK!