A Travellerspoint blog

How to make a mess of escaping Moscow

sunny 14 °C
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I ended my last post by saying I'd just over an hour left in Moscow. Plenty of time, or so I thought, to leave my hostel (woohoo!), haul me and my bag 10 minutes down the street to the metro, and get line 5 a few stops to Kurskaya. Above ground at Kurskaya was one of Moscow's nine mainline stations, Kursky, and also where my means of escape lay waiting - the 18.00 express train to Vladimir.

And it would have been more than enough time, had Moscow not decided to have one last laugh at my expense. Entering the huge cavern of Kurksy's main hall, a huge info screen told me I had twenty minutes to board the Vladimir express, ready and waiting for me at platform 10.

Great.

Following the directions to platform 10 (signed in English as well as Cyrillic), I follow a tunnel underneath the tracks and emerge at platform 10... only to find it totally deserted. Nobody. Not a sausage. Seventeen minutes to go. Hmmm, this doesn't feel right. Where were the other passengers? Was I the only one leaving for Vladimir that evening? Highly unlikely. Must have missed something obvious. Back down into the tunnel, back into the main hall, back staring at the departure screen. Fourteen minutes left. Departure screen looks back at me, and repeats it's message - platform 10.

Er, ok. I've just been there and it was baron. Guess I really am the only soul headed for Vladimir (and what does that say about where I'm going?) Back to the tunnel under the railway... actually hold on, there's some people in uniforms standing (guarding?) the tunnel entrance, I'll ask them. "Platformy...Vladimir, pahzhulsta?" I mutter, holding up my ticket. Uniformed guy No.1 looks back, furrows his brow (Twelve minutes to go, twelve minutes to go!), and slowly looks over his shoulder at unformed guy No.2, who then gives me directions to go back the way I came. Great.

Jogging, no, shuffling back to the main hall (bag is getting very heavy now), eleven minutes left, up the escalator, swing the corner, find information desk, produce ticket "Vladimir!! Vladimir!?", information person No.1 looks at me like I'm the maddest thing to ever slump across her desk, information person No.2 starts a sentance with "You must go to..." English! YES! Result! "...platform 10...!" Noooooooo! I look at the floor. Then up at the clock. Eight minutes.

Time for charades! I start waving my arms around - and by now my legs have been worn to stumps, so at my (less than majestic) height I probably just look like a backpack with frantic eyes and hands - and point in various directions until info person No.2 says... "Da!" And there we have it - platform 10 is not where platform 10 is, it's somewhere else entirely. With my arm still outstretched, locked in the direction we agreed I should go, I toddle off.

Six minutes.

In my delirium, I'd not noticed that every light in the station was out. Some kind of weird selective power cut. The closer I got to where my arm had been pointing a few seconds previous, the darker it became. I'd reached a corner of the station inhabited by shadows (and perhaps a few lost foreigners). Five minutes... Then to my left, a slither of natural light and I immediately followed it. It pulled me into a second, much smaller and busier, ticket hall. Just the other side of the barriers, through a dirt smeared exit door, I saw it. Platform 10. A different platform 10. My platform 10! And alongside, a train. Go!

Three minutes.

Using my three full days of Russian training, I ignored the queue (and to be honest, with the momentum my bag had built up I couldn't have stopped had I tried), bundled to the front, grimaced and threw up my ticket for inspection. I was let through, and dashed to the platform... two minutes.

The Vladimir Express was patiently sat at platform 10. The first carriage was shut, as was the second, third, fourth, fifth... hold on. What's going on? Oh, I see, my ticket has me sitting in carriage number 11. All the way at the other end of the platform. Aargh! One minute... dash, bump and strain down the platform length, until finally I get to a smiling provodnitsa guarding the entrance to my carriage. Checking my ticket, she waves me on. I fall though the carriage door, first onto the train and then into a seat (empty, luckily). A loud blast of a whistles follows behind me, the train doors slam shut. And we're off. Made it.

I'm leaving Moscow!

Posted by Serge78 11:17 Archived in Russia Tagged train_travel Comments (0)

Second thoughts?

sunny 14 °C
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I may have been a tad hasty yesterday.

I've found a place where people chill out in Moscow - Patriarshy prod. The sun is shining still, people seem a bit warmer, and i haven't got lost on the Metro yet today.

My change in mood has nothing to do with the fact that I'm leaving this city in an hour. Nothing at all.

Couple of pictures from my late night stroll around Moskva yesterday...

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Posted by Serge78 12:48 Archived in Russia Tagged packing Comments (0)

No matter what the weather, Moscow is always cold

semi-overcast 8 °C
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So, I've lived in London pretty much all my life. Visited Paris and New York. Experienced all these cities at rush hour, witnessed (and been part of) the "don't get in my way" attitude the locals adopt in order to get from A to B. And I like to think I'm more than used to it.

But Moscow is something else entirely.

Not only do people charge around as if late for a job interview, swarm into each metro station as if the last train to the promised land is now ready for boarding, fly up and down the escalators like they've left the iron on at home... they all seem to be headed straight for ME.

I'll admit I probably do stand out. For a start, I'm not wearing a black jacket (standard issue to all Moscovites). I know I haven't shaved for a few days, in contrast to my universally super clean-shaven fellow travellers. And I still haven't got anywhere near cracking cyrillic yet (although I've now worked out from where Prince got the inspiration for his 'symbol' period). But that's no reason to cut me up, barge me on (and off) the metro, and make me go places I don't want to go! I'm having a hard enough time navigating the flippin system as it is! And who designed each line so that for almost every journey I have to make, it's a boringly repetitive one-stop change, one-stop change, one-stop change affair?

And why, more than anything, does nobody in Moscow smile? EVER?

So I escaped the city today and headed an hour and a half up the line to Sergiev Posad - with cloudless blue skies and several centuries-old churches to surround me. I'd put some pics up, but I'm struggling to find internet access that also comes with USB ports I can use. Check the wiki for now. It was an absolute change of pace, and just the tonic after a mad morning in the capital.

Sergiev_Posad_2.jpgSergiev_Posad_1.jpg

The sun was especially needed. We've had almost 24 hours of solid rain in Moscow, which mean't that Tuesday turned from a walk-the-city day to one filled with walking around either Lenin's tomb or the State Tretykov Gallery. I'd met two girls from Berlin at breakfast, Julia and Cora, and we spent the day trying to keep dry as best we could. Thank fart for Gore-Tex.

Julia and Cora were on the final leg of a lengthy trip of their own - Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine... before passing through Moscow on a overland route back to Germany. Guess that's the way it works when you're travelling, you get chatting at breakfast in the hostel kitchen and next thing you know you're off trying to find some Georgian restaurant for a bit of lamb soup.

Here's to plenty more random days, especially those that don't involve travel by metro.

Posted by Serge78 23:31 Archived in Russia Tagged train_travel Comments (1)

Early highs and lows

semi-overcast 16 °C
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I'll start by asking for your forgiveness if this post seems a little less lucid than normal, but i've got major train lag.

I stumbled off the Moskva Express at Belarussky Station only a short while ago, after 28 time-warping hours on the train from Berlin.

Run by Russian Railways (Russkiye Zheleznye Dorogi), the Moskva Express is the perfect way to totally disorientate yourself before entering a new country. I had two provodnitsas assigned to my carriage, and they delighted in playing the age-old 'good cop, bad cop' routine to full effect. One (sorry, I never dared asked their names) flashed a crooked smile I was increasingly sure hid an intention to order me to leave the train at the next stop in Belarus, while the second showed no emotion at all other than to ask whether I wanted any tea. Frequently. Very nice and all that, but i've been carting around two whole freezer bags full of peppermint tea bags from home, so I better start getting through them soon. My serious mint tea addiction is probably the only part of my life that is the same as when I was working for a living...

My Russian language ability is about three times worse than my German (so pretty much zero), so it was extra lucky that I ended up sharing a cabin with a German-Kazak guy on his way to visit his wife in Belarus who taught me all i'd need to know for the journey - the Russian for "hot water", "trash" and "can I have my ticket back, please". He left the train at Orscha, leaving me with the whole cabin to myself for the final 500kms or so to Moscow.

Oh yeah, just one other thing about about my sleeping compartment on the train - not long after we'd left Germany behind, trundling through the Polish countryside, it became obvious that one of the fold down beds wouldn't do exactly that - fold down. Cue a succession of train crew called on to fix the problem, who amusingly got smaller and smaller in size but who came tooled up with larger and larger things with which to beat the bed into submission. It's gonna be interesting to see if this rustic approach to problem solving turns up again through the rest of Russia.

Two days ago I was in Berlin. I've bored anyone who'll not run away quick enough with this, but I cannot get enough of Berlin. Seriously love the place. It's my favourite city in Europe by a mile, and I could easily live there. Can't really put my finger on it, but it's got something to do with the fact that at no time in my previous three visits have I ever felt stressed, rushed or hassled. And for a city of over 3 million people, that's pretty impressive in my book.

I had less than 24 hours in Berlin this trip, but that was long enough for me to drop into lowly solitude wandering around a city you love but with no one to share the experience with, and also feel the high of stumbling out of the cinema, into everyone's favourite german jazz joint, and then onto a bar I'd promised somebody back home that I'd find again for her (btw - we need to come here...), all to roll back to the hostel at 4am singing to anyone lucky enough to be loitering around Mitte at that moment. Yep, I flippin love Berlin. And the little rollercoaster of a day I had there will probably be played out again at various points on this trip, and perhaps will serve as a metaphor for the whole damn thing when it's done.

But who knows. At the moment I know nothing other than I can read a bit more cyrillic than I could an hour ago (the why doesn't the Moscow Metro have maps on the platforms..!), and I really need a proper sleep in a bed that isn't on wheels.

Laters.

Posted by Serge78 23:23 Archived in Russia Tagged train_travel Comments (3)

I'll have another eau de vie, bitte

French grappa, German hospitality

semi-overcast 8 °C
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Only three days into my trip, and I reckon I should've called this blog "Other People's Booze and Grub".

Sitting in Michael (my brother) and Anke's (my sister-in-law) new downtown Freiburg flat, chomping on a pretty grand tasting squash risotto, we book-ended the meal with some Johnnie Walker Blue Label (forever grateful, RJ) and a bit of this loveliness:

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Finally found grappa I can actually enjoy. I'm toying with the idea of ditching half my clothes and using the space in my backpack for a couple of bottles of eau de vie. I'm sure it'd buy me a friend or two further into this trip.

It's Tag der Deustchen Einheit, don't you know.

I'll forgive you if you don't as most people in this part of Deutschland don't seem to be too bothered either. We're just about as far geographically from the old DDR as you can get, and either the folk of Black Forest Germany aren't up for a party or they're just not fussed about marking almost two decades post-reunification. Still, everyone here has had the day off (including my brother, good news for me) so we spent the early afternoon tramping up the nearest mountain - Schauinsland.

Hey, it's a rest day right? So why walk when you can take the gondola. Albeit one with no beginning and no end...

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Successfully deposited at the top, Me, Michael and Anke trekked a further 300 or 400 metres to the summit, itself mounted by a lookout tower in such bleak surroundings that it could only hope to offer a viewpoint of the apocalypse. Think I'm over-egging the pudding here? Have a looky for yourself.

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But we made it back down to ground level, and to celebrate our brush with the otherside we're going out for kino and abendessen - Wall-E and tapas.

By the way, anybody out there planning to use Eurostar in the next few days/weeks? A word in your ear - turn up early. Very early. Ignore the usual stuff about a 30 minute check-in, and pretend you're queing for centre court tickets at Wimbeldon. If they're still doing the manual check-in thing, give yourself an hour. Otherwise, you will get left behind, on the platform, forlornly watching your train disappear off to the east without you.

Nope, it didn't happen to me (as you might have guessed by now), but it could have!

Posted by Serge78 08:03 Archived in Germany Tagged food Comments (2)

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