Moscow: day 3

Despite (or maybe because of?) the excess vodka, I slept much better and woke up feeling refreshed this morning. Though because of the dehydration I had to take another £8 bottle of water from the mini-bar. I hope this project has a good travel budget.

Today we had a short day, just a few hours of talks in the morning, along with a tour of the computer room at the institute, where we got to see their new supercomputer. These days supercomputers are getting more and more like a load of normal computers stuck together, but even so it was weird to see the unused colour-coded surround sound jacks on the back of each board. (A lot of people, including some of my colleagues, would probably take issue with that statement, and of course it is a big oversimplification… it matters a lot that you have the right kind of computers and that you stick them together in the right way, and even then they’re very difficult to program… but the fact is, the components of supercomputers are much more similar to ordinary PCs than they used to be a few years ago).

After the final talks and the signing of the contract, they took us for a tour of the Keldysh museum, where we got to see the former study of Mstislav Keldysh. Apparently not many Westerners have seen it yet. No pictures I’m afraid… I left my camera outside as I wasn’t sure they’d want people taking photos, but other people were happily snapping away on their phones and the staff didn’t seem to mind so it probably would have been fine after all. It was pretty interesting… though as a pacifist I don’t entirely approve of Keldysh’s missile work, it was kind of fascinating to see the office of a genuine Cold War-era Soviet scientist, complete with hotline to the Kremlin and many amazing gifts from other scientists and politicians (including a brandy dispenser built into a miniature electric rocket, and the most beautiful collection of minerals I’ve ever seen).

In early afternoon, after only a day and a half, it was time to say goodbye to our hosts and be on our way. They presented all of us with lovely 2012 Moscow calendars that were so big they hardly fitted in our luggage, and then we were off back to the airport. We weren’t keen to repeat Monday’s taxi ride so we got the train this time. It was cheap enough that we were allowed to go first class and I made full use of the extra leg room and free high speed internet.

The journey home was mostly uneventful, which is generally what you want from air travel as “events” tend to be bad news. They had a weird body scanner thing at the airport security but thankfully it wasn’t one of the X-ray “nude” ones there’s been all the fuss about (thankfully because I didn’t have to be dosed with carcinogenic radiation, and the poor airport staff didn’t have to look at a nude image of me). But beyond security was even weirder… the terminal was very nice but seemed to be only half finished. There were acres of empty space and very little else.

And no restaurants.

We were all quite hungry and had kind of assumed we’d be able to get a meal before the flight, but as it was we had to settle for a snack in a coffee shop. (At least they had decent, if weirdly named, sandwiches… instead of being labelled “Chicken” or “Tuna” they were “With the chicken” and “With the tuna”. I think one of the Friends writers may have a new job designing packaging for sandwiches in Russia). This wouldn’t have been so bad, but then the advertised “meal” on our main flight never materialised either so I was pretty hungry by the time I got home.

(One thing I’ll never understand about airports: WHY, on proper airlines with seat numbers already allocated, does everyone get up and rush to queue up at the gate the moment it opens? It seems utterly pointless to me, they just end up having to stand for ages in the queue, then once they get to their seat they’ll get disturbed by all the people behind trying to get in. Besides, why does anyone want to spend any longer than necessary in an aeroplane seat? I just don’t get it).

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