Moscow: Day 1

When work first asked me to go to a meeting in Moscow, I’d assumed it would be similar to when I’d visited places in Eastern Europe… when I went to Prague and Belgrade (both lovely cities incidentally, you should visit if you haven’t already) it was just a case of wandering off the plane, showing your passport and in you went. But not Russia. Turns out it’s more of a need-a-visa-and-4-vaccinations-don’t-drink-the-water-OMGG-home-office-terror-alerts!!1! sort of place.

Still. I don’t like to be put off by trifling things like that… if someone else is paying for me to go somewhere exciting, I’m never one to turn them down. So I got on with the visa application which turned out to be a pretty smooth process (only slight hitch was that they completely replaced the visa form website without any warning in the middle of my application, making me think I’d gone insane until one of my colleagues mentioned that it had changed for them as well), and getting my first injections since high school (less scary than I remember them being).

Our flight out wasn’t even too obscenely early in the morning, which is always a plus.

(I like taking photos from planes. I was very pleased with this one I took over Siberia on the way back from Japan last year…

… even though it was taken with my phone camera. It’s just a shame you can’t take them during take off and landing due to the electronic devices rule, since that’s when it’s normally most interesting. Maybe if you had a fully mechanical film camera you’d be allowed to). The flights all went smoothly. So did getting through passport control (though my colleague’s passport seemed to be causing some amusement among the immigration officers. I’m not sure it’s good when immigration officers laugh at you, but it’s better than some of the things they could do, at least). Then came the taxi ride from Sheremetyevo airport to our hotel.

They say you’re more likely to die on your way to or from the airport than you are on the flight. Today, I had no difficulty whatsoever believing that.

It was just as well my seat (with no seatbelt that I could find, incidentally) was facing backwards. A few times I tried turning round to see what was going on in front, but quickly decided I’d rather not know and went back to just watching my forward-facing colleagues getting whiter and whiter instead. (What was going on when I looked was our taxi hammering it down the wrong side of the 2-lane road, overtaking everything including ambulances with their blue lights on, and swerving back in with inches to spare whenever something came the other way. Meanwhile the driver’s idea of a satnav seemed to be squinting at a map on the tiny screen of his mobile phone held in one hand as he drove with the other).

As we entered Moscow itself our first impression was that it reminded us of Glasgow… a huge wide motorway ploughing right into the city with plenty of high rise blocks and McDonalds alongside. (Though you probably wouldn’t get away with parking in any spare space you found on the M8 sliproads in Glasgow as people seemed to have done here). Our second impression as we neared the centre was: oh god, I’ll NEVER complain about the traffic in Britain ever again.

I’d never seen anything like it before. Just a huge mass of cars, seemingly never-ending… about 5 lanes were marked out on the road but people acted as if there were at least two more than that. At the front of the queue, a few cars were managing to trickle through the traffic lights on each cycle, that is if the junction wasn’t completely blocked by cars turning across the other way and not having anywhere to go, which it usually was, in which case everyone just leaned on their horns and tried to barge into any little gap they could see, causing the other mass of car drivers to lean on their horns as well. Amazingly considering the number of near-misses, we didn’t see any actual accidents and the cars mostly didn’t look particularly dented. I guess you must get used to that style of driving after a while, though I’m not sure I’d ever want to. It took a full two hours to get from the airport to our hotel, much longer than we’d expected.

The hotel was worth seeing though.

Moscow Hilton, in one of the Seven Sisters of Moscow. From the outside it was certainly the grandest looking hotel I’ve ever stayed in.

Inside was pretty nice as well.

My room was quite small but very comfortable.

I soon managed to flood the bathroom by doing exactly the same thing that resulted in me flooding a hotel bathroom last time I was abroad with work… namely, putting the shower on to warm up and then leaving it unattended for a few minutes and coming back to find it had escaped from its cubicle. Oops. Lucky they left so many nice absorbent fluffy towels in there.

After a meal and a few drinks downstairs, we were all ready for bed. I felt thirsty as it was quite warm in the room so, remembering the warnings not to drink the tap water, I raided the mini-bar. The bottled water in there was 420 Roubles for a litre (about £8!!!). Oh well. I was way too tired to go and find anywhere cheaper and anyway, work finance department probably won’t notice what it is on the receipt. As long as I don’t draw their attention to it by doing something stupid like mentioning it in a public blog p… ah, too late :(.

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