If the following doesn't make sense in places, it's because they are notes for me, and I haven't written it up yet...
If you just want to see the pics, click here: pics
When I was there, there were 40 roubles to the pound. 1 rouble = 2.5 pence.
Saturday 11th Feb 2001
We landed in Moscow at 4:30 local time (Moscow is 3 hours ahead of London), after a good flight with British Airways. As we descended through the clouds, all I could see was snow, and pine trees. Elena got tearful about the thought of being back in Russia after 2.5 years (Na Rodina!!), and I did my best to cheer her up.
Sheremetyevo 2 is a grayish looking building. After taxi-ing and disembarking we walked through the semi-dark airport to passport control. Elena, being Russian, went through a special "Russians only" queue, and was out fast. I queued for about 10 minutes, and was checked out by a young pretty lady who seemed to be bored with her job. After staring at me, and then at my picture, she let me though. (I would have taken a photo of her, but I didn't want to be sent back to England at this stage!!) After walking through customs, we emerged into the "real" Russia. We were met by about 7 people, all of whom we had presents for. I had met one of them (the brother of Ira, a friend of Elena's in England), and recognised two others (Yuri, Elena's cousin, and Iras mother) from photographs. We were to stay at a house in Ximky with Anatoly and Lena, and their 3 children, and we jumped into a little car and set off. The journey was interesting, to say the least. I was just looking at everything, thinking how different it looked. Elena was nattering to Yuri in the back, and Anatoly was swerving around potholes. We arrived at the block of flats we were staying in, and Anatoly went back to drop Yuri off. (This is the view from the window. You can see the children from the school on the left, skiing around their football pitch in their PE lesson!)
In a nutshell, we just ate, and went to bed.
Sun 11 Feb Met Yuri. He is a top chap, very polite, and modest.
We spent lots of time bombing around Moscow on the metro. The trains come every 2 minutes, without fail. There's even a clock that resets when the train leaves the station, and by about 1:45, theres another one stopping. Mind you though, that's not to say using it is straightforward.
Problem 1. If there is a station with three lines running through it, that station has three different names.
Problem 2. There is a station called aeroport. (Airport). But - it's nowhere near the main airport. It's not near any airport. It's not even a stop where there is a link to an airport!
Problem 3. In London, you buy the ticket, the gates are closed, you stick it in the turnstile, the gates open and you go through. In Moscow, you buy the ticket, the gates are open, and you put in the ticket to stop the gates closing on your legs. I bet loads of tourists have had a surprise as the gates spring shut on them!
There were loads of police and army walking around in squads. I was constantly expecting to be asked for "your papers", but it never happened. Occasionally, you'd roll into a station, and there'd be soldiers waiting on the platform, one for every door.
Mon 12 Feb We decided to go to Red Square.
There were loads of crazy old communist guys with megaphones and flags playing the old anthem, waving the hammer and sickle.
We had to get £500 cash changed into roubles so we could buy the tickets for the rest of the journey to Vladivostok. We went to a kiosk in the main shopping centre in Moscow, and got told, bugger off, I'm on the phone - can't you see I'm not working.
Well, maybe I'm silly, but I thought Russia wasn't exactly flush with cash, and they'd like the commission. Anyway, we eventually got the money changed and bought the tickets for the flight to Vladivostok, on, gulp, Aeroflot. (I had heard the stories... )
All the toilets in Moscow are ones you have to pay for. Some are good. Some are bad. All don't have toilet seats. Went to a special centre to ring my Mum (most normal people in Russia with phones don't have international access - you have to go the the local "Post Office" to do it. (So they can record it?) ) I managed to get through eventually, and told her I was great, and having a good time.
It's quite interesting to see people sat on the Metro, bottle of beer in one hand, book in the other. Russia doesn't suffer from drunken yobs and fighting like England does.
We went back to Yuris house, and met his mother, and his Uncle who plays in the Bolshoi Theatre. Had a lovely meal. Russians ply you with food all the time. I had been told by other Englishmen who had been to Russia that the food would, ahem, disagree with me. But I put on loads of weight over there... :o)
Then we went over to MacDonald's to meet Damon, an American, Vadim, a friend of Yuris, and Rufina, his cousin.
We nattered all evening, and it was great.. Then we were alone in Moscow, and had to try and get back to Ximky (pronounced Himkey with a H sound like the ch in Loch) We found a bus station and got on the bus. However, there was no bus driver around so we went and sat at the back. Time for another shock. You pay when you get off! When we stopped at the stop in Ximkiy, we had to trek for a bit.
However, when we got to the base of the massive block of flats, we were confronted with a door of solid metal, and a combination lock. We couldn't remember the code, and started to try to guess it. It was around 11pm at night, and getting colder and colder. (-7 to -10 approx). The flat we were staying in was on the 5th floor, behind double glazed windows, so shouting wouldn't have helped. We couldn't ring them, because we didn't a, have their phone number, b have a phone card, c know where there was a phone. Just as we were starting to get a bit worried, they happened to open the window, and shouted down. How did they know we were there? Special Russian Technology (SRT) tm. ?!
Tues 13 Feb
Today was the long 8-9 hour flight across Russia to Vladivostok. We caught the bus to Sheremetyevo 1, and paid 3 roubles for a long journey. (See buses at the end) It was a fight to get on or off, and my huge bag pissed off a few people I reckon... We decided to have a coffee - which was 110 roubles! I still hadn't really seen snowflakes falling from the sky.. :( Temp was about 1C Another badgers arse toilet paper experience. The flight was delayed by 1:40, but while we were waiting in the airport, the snow and fog came down rapidly. I took a picture of the plane, barely visible, only a few hundred metres away. I said to myself, it will be fine, they must takeoff in stuff like this all the time! While we were sitting on the runway in the dark, waiting to take off, a strange light started flashing outside. It was a crazy machine, spraying us with liquid. I asked about this - apparently this was alcohol, to stop the flaps freezing. I asked Elena (who had flown a lot in Russia before) if this was normal. She said No, she'd never known it before. I started to get a bit nervous... :o)
I have learnt Spanish well in the 6 months I was in Argentina. I have learnt Dutch well in the few months I was in Holland. I haven't learnt Russian very well. An example of why it's so hard is this. They have two words for hot. In English, tea is hot. The weather is hot. Easy. In Russian, they have to complicate this, by using two words.
I had heard all the stories about Aeroflot, and their single boiled egg in-flight meal. I am happy to say though, that this was completely not true. We had salmon, chicken, salads, etc. It was nice. The only bad point about the flight is that they allow smoking at the back of the aeroplane, but we were far enough forward to not be too affected by it.
Their inflight film was not very good, but they had some wicked Russian cartoons. If you have never had the privilege, then let me explain. Imagine some hallucinogenic, surreal, crazy, mixed up cartoon, based on some strange foreign fairy tale. Then add some Russian voices, and you have something that just leaves you saying, What the f--- is that all about?!! But I enjoyed it :o) (We watched a goat framing other animals, and a wolf adopting a calf. It sounds boring, but it wasn't!) As we started to land in Vladivostok, the captain announced that is was -24 on the ground. Even the Russians on the plane gasped. Brrr! We landed fine, and met Elenas mum, dad, and sister. We drove back, ate, talked, ate, talked, napped, showered, ate, talked. I also briefly met Katya, Cyril, Babushka, and Dyedushka.
Woke up at 7:30, as we had to have a shower before 9, when the cold water was being switched off. Hot tap = scalding. Cold = freezing. We decided to walk to Elenas mums work, rather than taking the tram, so I could see Vladivostok first hand.
After a few seconds outside in -19 without a hat, we had to stop off and get one. Then I was OK. (I was wearing t-shirts, 2 thick jumpers, my Helly Hanson coat, scarf, two pairs of socks, and now a hat. Still, on the way there, the insides of my upper thighs went progressively from cold, to raw, to numb. We got to Elenas mothers work, and I sent an email to my workmates saying hello. We then bought me some thermal undies, which stopped the cold thighs problem ;)
In the evening, we went over to Katyas, Elenas best friend. We drunk beer, and talked until 3am.
Elena's family had to get an official Went to OVIR. Tried cashpoint. Didn't work. Played Monopoly. Slight cold. Slept. Natalia G came round. Slept again. Elenas father won't let me make tea :o)
16th Feb Took picture of frozen sea. I simply can't get over the fact that the sea has frozen solid. You can see lots of fishermen in this picture, getting incredibly cold, drinking vodka, and trying to catch fish through a hole in the ice:
In this picture, you can see a boat that didn't get away quickly enough when it started to freeze!:
This is a better view. If you can make out the horizon, you can see how far out the ice extends:
Pizzaland Monopoly. Eyed up by nice girl on bus.
17th. Drove Jeep short distance in Vlad. Big party for mothers birthday. Monopoly. Vodka.
18th Pulled by police in Jeep. No seatbelts, Natasha in the boot. Fine of 20 roubles (50p) (some deterrent) Went to forest.
Slid, skated, great laugh. Went to Babas. Lots of food and vodka. Supposed to go to theatre, but we had eaten so much, and drunk so much, that we fell asleep and missed it!
19th Slept a lot. Mother shouted at OVIR woman. Elena took photos for passport. Night time tour round vlad.
20th. up early went to town, sorted elenas passport. Cyril's in the evening. (Kakoi haroshinki!)
21st got up late. drove to ski place. ate. monopoly
22nd skiing climbing banya sleep. Unfortunately I didn't get many pics of this, although there is some video tape somewhere of a semi naked Calum running out of the banya (sauna) and out into the snow...
23rd travelled back to vladivostok shaslick in Mexican restaurant went to see elina
24th natashas concert. Drove round filming. Vladivostok is a city of jeeps, and car alarms!. pilmenia in rest. v nice rang mother from home.
Went to a nightclub called Crazy. entry £2.50 (100R). You sit round the edge, eating and drinking, until you're merry enough to get out on the dance floor! Spent about 1000r (£25) on food and vodka. Got completely smashed and still had about 3/4 bottle of vodka left (which they don't mind you taking home) Good euro trance and then some crazy woman singing songs about "banishing winter"! 3 stripteases (Not bad for 100r entry fee!
25th slept ate slept ate slept watched dodgy vid of elena with katya. not feeling too well.
26th bus to gardens. long walk. sanatorium.
27th cafe, shops, dads work, monopoly
28th (My birthday!) (Waited in car for 5 woman-minutes) Went to babuls. Huge meal. Vodka.
Theatre. (Didn't understand anything, but it was good)
1st March Up early Centre. Notary. (third one) key for toilet (die, die) osteopath (Dr Poppen Click) (1. Don't sit for a long time 2. Don't lift heavy bags.) Didn't realise I could click so much! Back home for leaving party. (all the girls and cyril)
on the way back to the airport, I took this picture Translated: Airport 8 kms. Xabarovsk 732 kms. Kind of makes you realise how big and empty the country is.
This picture was the last of us all together, at Vladivostok airport.
transport (buses, trams)
advice for first time in Russia