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Tuesday, 30 April 2013

236:Home at last! What adventures I had

Following half the advice I got from Matt, I booked a room in what is called “Terminal 5 Travelodge”. It cost me £42. It is supposedly only two miles from the airport. I think that is “as the crow flies” but more of that later.
My delayed flight took off at about 23.00 Moscow time, some 3½ hours late. Since I had arrived at the airport two hours early for my flight that meant I was kicking my heels at Domodedovo for 5½ hours. I decided to bite the bullet and pay to go into a business lounge. There was not only free food and drink but also more comfortable and pleasant surroundings – apart from the occasional crying child. And free wi-fi and access to a power supply to keep the laptop charged.

It was a pleasant enough flight, as BA flights usually are. G&T was dispensed, together with a small bottle of white wine with the dinner of “Siberian pelmeni”. I watched, and enjoyed, Jack Reacher on the entertainment system.
I had raging toothache for about 5 minutes. I think it must somehow be connected with the pressure in the aeroplane. This has happened on my last 3 flights. I've been once to the dentist but he must have filled the wrong hole! I will need to go again, as a matter of some urgency.
The plane landed at midnight. I don't think they're allowed to land later than that as a sop to Londoners to reduce the noise pollution.

The Border Agency, or whatever they choose to call themselves these days, had gone to great lengths to keep the number of their staff on duty to an absolute minimum. I suspect they think we are there for their convenience rather than the other way around. Unfortunately they also decided to close Iris, the automatic iris recognition system and the chip and pin automatic passport scanning system. Having gone down the lanes to these two systems in order to discover they weren't working I then found myself at the back of the queue for manual passport checking. After some little time a second official decided to come out and help clear the backlog. We must be grateful for small mercies.

Now out to the taxi rank, where the fun really started. I negotiated with the guy in the front taxi and we agreed £10 for the 2 miles to Colnbrook. I got in and as he started to drive off he said it would be £20, not £10. I declined, got out and went to look for something cheaper. There were buses that said “delayed flights” on their destination boards. On closer inspection BA staff told me they weren't for my delayed flight and somebody should have been at the arrival point handing out letters saying that we should get a taxi and claim the fare back. Fair enough, I went back to the taxi rank. Now the fare had increased, in 10 short minutes, to £35! I refuse to pay £35 for 2 miles even if the airline were to pay me back later. I walked back along the row of taxis and found a guy who said he would do it for £20 but then the controller/despatcher call him what you will (under my breath I called him something altogether different) told the driver he wouldn't allow him to take me for anything less than the £35 already stated.
I can partly see their point of view that if somebody at the front of a row of taxis takes a fare just a short distance then when he returns he has to go to the back of the line and slowly work his way to the front for a crack at a more lucrative fare.
However, I decided I would walk! I figured that 2 miles would take me ½ hour. An hour later (!) I arrived at the Travelodge to find that they had no booking for me. Turned out that I had somehow booked for the night of 2/3 May! They couldn't change the booking on their system but if I went online I could amend it myself. Because it was already past midnight I couldn't get the system to accept a booking for the night of 29th April but it would willingly give me Tuesday night. The guy on duty said it would cost an extra £10 for an early book in. I argued the point and he conceded that he could give me a Monday night room on his system for £50 with no early booking in supplement. I would need to be out by 12.00 noon on Tuesday.
Finally I could collapse into bed. 0218 UK time, 0518 Moscow time. Almost time to get up.
Back home in Ramsey now. 22 hours door-to-door. 
Look at the crazy way I went to the hotel. No wonder it took an hour. Only got lost twice. All I can say in mitigation is that everything looks different in the dark! And I didn't have a map.

Monday, 29 April 2013

235:Urgent advice needed!

No photos this time, just a hasty tale of woe. My 19.25 departure from Moscow Domodedovo to London Heathrow Terminal 5 has been delayed. It was >3 hours late leaving London and is now due to take off from Moscow at 23.17 so I've got hours to kick my heels.
I lashed out (almost £50) to pay for entry to a business lounge where the food and drink is free and the surroundings much more comfortable. I had hoped it would also be much quieter but there's a young child in here who keeps kicking off. 
My problem is what to do at the other end. We are due to land at silly o'clock (00.22) so it will be about 01.00 in the morning before I am clear of formalities. 
Then what? No trains to London at that hour of the morning. The first Paddington Express leaves a little after 5 a.m. Tube and suburban trains probably much the same. 
Shall I slum it on a seat in the airport. You know the kind, specially designed to stop people sleeping on them. 
Or do I pay an arm and a leg for a "local" airport? 
Sofitel, as far as I know the only hotel which is walkable from Terminal 5, has rooms for £199. That is silly money and I'm not paying that.
"Premier Inn Heathrow Airport Terminal 5" has rooms for £79 which is a bit more reasonable but it talks about a shuttle bus from the airport. Does the shuttle bus run all night? It doesn't say.
Probably I should wait until I land and re-assess the situation.
Unless anybody knows any better?
Answers on a postcard please.....

Saturday, 27 April 2013

234:If it doesn't move - paint it

It's that time of the year again. The snow has finished falling from the sky (touch wood) and the city is being transformed. Everything that doesn't move is being painted. Every available inch of ground is being planted with bulbs. Moscow is waking up after its Winter hibernation. Spring has (finally) sprung.

And for my video clip - it's got to be Boney M's "Painter Man"! Enjoy!

Thursday, 25 April 2013

233:Grumpy old man

You'll forgive me if I have a "grumpy" day now and again. I often tell people that Moscow is a great place for 99 days out of every 100 but on the 100th day our cultures clash and everything goes wrong for me. Today was such a day. 
Dashing between lessons one and two I sometimes have time to buy and eat a quick sandwich, depending on how many minutes I've had to wait for the metro out to the part of town called "Moscow City". I've mentioned this before in a blog that the infrastructure is not quite up to scratch. Everywhere else has metro trains every 2-3 minutes but on this particular spur the wait can be 10 minutes or more. So, I missed my lunch.
After the lesson, at a little after 2 p.m., I had a look around the fast food outlets in Afi Moll. There are lots of them but there were queues at every one. I always find this strange because all my Russian students like to point out that they don't like fast food as it is not healthy. 
I took the decision to go to Novoslobodskaya as it was on the way home and there was another McDonalds there, and a TGI Friday. The McDonalds was full to bursting and the TGI Friday had no beer - by this time I was gagging for a beer.
So back on to the metro to catch my 9th train of the day and go to Dmitrovskaya. I knew there was a KFC there but again the queues were phenomenal so I called in at a sit-down restaurant called Pancho Pizza - a Mexican-Italian place! The business lunch menu was Rs 295 for soup and main - which was OK and it was tasty too. I ordered a draught beer to go with it and he  reeled off a list of (probably) available beers. I heard the word нефилтрованное (unfiltered) and went for that. A nice beer - until I got the bill. In excess of £6 for a half-litre (slightly less than a pint). Scandalous Moscow prices. 
When I got home I found the following note pinned to the door:
which, when translated, means "Respected residents, we wish to report that on 26th April from 0900-1300 the hot and cold water will be turned off in connection with repair works. We ask your forgiveness for this temporary inconvenience". Perhaps I won't go for a run tomorrow morning then (and turn up for lessons not having had a shower).
All of which reminds me I must look up the dates when the hot water will be turned off for 7-10 days for the annual maintenance. 
To counter all these negative vibes I was amused to see a skip lorry with it's front wheels in the air. No further comment needed.
If you look carefully you will see we are in the middle of the monsoon season - at least that's what it feels like at the moment.
Must have a video clip to finish - what would be suitable? Let me think..... Of course, it has to be Tina. What energy she has.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

232:Sand sculptures

Today, between lessons 1 and 2, I went to Kropotkinskaya metro station to look at the sand sculpture exhibition. Once upon a time it was an exhibition of sand and ice - but the ice has long since melted! Very impressive. I wish I had an ounce of the sculptors' artistic talent. (Horses for courses - perhaps they wish they could write computer programs or do any of the other things I excel at!).
The exhibition is just beside the "new" Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. I say new because when I was here in the 70s there was a swimming pool where the cathedral now stands. Good for Baptisms now I suppose.

A few pictures of the sculptures. The lady on the door said it was the largest in the world - well it would be wouldn't it.

A video to finish. Hey Sandy. Written by Harvey Andrews and included on his 1972 album Writer of Songs. A sad story line but I like the song.
For my Russian friends, colleagues and students; Sandy, as a name, is sometimes, but not always, a short form of Alexander. 

Sunday, 21 April 2013

231:Another recce (рекогносцировка)

Yesterday was the 2nd, and final, recce for the forthcoming visit of my friends Alisdair & Cecilia. They will be here for just a few days during the May holidays (майские праздники). I already have a rough and ready itinerary but I wanted to find some restaurants near where their hotel is, near Rizhkiy Vokzal.
I tried restaurant Lucien 
but found it way too pricey. Enjoyed my lunch though!
I finally decided on a Georgian restaurant:mimino  

and a Tibetan restaurant (to remind them of their visit to Nepal). Click here for a virtual tour around the restaurant.
Having booked tables for the two nights in question I continued with my weekend. 
I went to a photo exhibition in the Vauxhall Centre, part of the Riga Station building although you wouldn't guess it asking at the information bureau in the station. The exhibition was all about the role of women in building the BAM (The Baikal Amur Mainline), a strategic alternative rail route in Russia's far East. Life was extremely tough, for men as well as women.

I went home via the Ashan City at Marina Roshcha and managed to avoid the temptation of the Rothmans cigarettes promotional stand. Love the telephone box to prove it's British! "Smoking Kills" can be seen in three places.

Then home to watch Russell Crowe in Robin Hood. I'll bet you didn't know he spoke fluent Russian! 
Finally, this picture was taken almost at the end of my run this morning. I can't work out whether I'm holding up the tree or it is supporting me.

Don't let anybody say I don't lead an exciting life! :)

Thursday, 18 April 2013

230:all change

I'm back in Moscow. I've been away less than a week but what a transformation. The snow has gone and the daytime temperature has soared to 18 degrees. PLUS. The ladies' fur coats have been put away (is the apostrophe in the right place?) and the hems on the skirts have risen dramatically.
It's a trick of the light - she doesn't have three legs!
The market, which has been here all Winter, now seems more colourful and vibrant.
These "ducks" (?) are enjoying the snow melt. Normally this is just grass here but the melting snow still has to either evaporate or sink into the ground. 

A video clip to encourage the sun to keep shining. Terry Jack's 1974 song "Seasons in the Sun"

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

229:Round and about in Ramsey

I'm in Ramsey. The sun is shining and the weather is lovely (apart from the wind, but you can't have everything).
Here are a few photos taken as I have been walking around our small market town.
The Royal British Legion clubhouse. The British Legion is a charitable organisation set up with the primary aim of helping ex-Servicemen. As well as raising enormous sums of money to help those in need there are also branches throughout the UK where members meet socially.
Ramsey police station. Once upon a time policemen (and women) used to be based here to respond to requests for assistance from the local community. These days, unfortunately, we have fewer police and they cover a larger area. The "thin blue line" seems to have metamorphosed into more of a dotted line.  "beat policing" has changed much in recent years and we see fewer police on the streets than we used to. Note for any of my Russian students reading this: beat policing doesn't mean police who beat people! (to be on the beat — совершать обход; обходить дозором)
I saw this on the pavement outside the local primary school and was puzzled as to what it meant. After some head scratching I realized it meant that a parent could park a car here for the purpose of dropping their child off for school. They should then drive on. 
This is where I have been going to have my hair cut for the last 20 years. Giovanni is an Italian - and therefore is a hairdresser rather than a barber!! He still retains a strong Italian accent.
This is part of Jones' Court, the Sheltered Housing complex where my mum lives. The daffodils (бледно-жёлтый нарцисс) here, as everywhere, are in full bloom.
I don't know how long this exercise equipment has been here but it is the first time I've seen it. An impressive array of equipment including a bike and a rowing machine. I do hope it gets used, rather than vandalised. I'm fairly sure it's intended for adults in a bid to try and help them get/stay healthy. It is all free and therefore much much cheaper than paying a subscription to use the local gym fitness facilities. Here there is fresh air to boot (к тому же),

I couldn't resist this video clip from Dixon of Dock Green. From a bygone age. Enjoy.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

228:Send in the clowns

Today's blog is dedicated to my sister, who said she was missing them. Nice to know that somebody is reading them. She is right, of course, the number of of blogs I have written recently has dropped to a trickle. как мне не стыдно!

My theme for the day is the circus. I've just come back from a meeting in the circus with a couple of clowns! Just a joke guys, it was actually a meeting near the circus with a couple of acquaintances. Meetings are useful to self-promote in order to make my company, Inter-Bridge, known to more people. Widening the circle of friends and acquaintances like this is known in English as networking. Thanks for the coffees, guys. Nice to meet you again. If, you hear of anybody who wants to learn English, or to improve or practise what they already know, then do pass them on to me.
Today's pictures were taken near the circus. I don't know the "tramp" sitting in the car reading his book!

Just been for my first run of the year. Shouldn't really call it a run as it was as much walking as running but it was a start and it was nice to feel the warmth of the sun. There were a few puddles in the park to circumnavigate - I don't do triathlons! 

Today's song relates to the circus theme and is emphatically not a dig at my interlocutors. I just happen to like the song. I look forward to our next meeting later in the year when it will probably be my turn to buy the coffee.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

227:On the horns of a dilemma

To be 'on the horns of a dilemma' means to face a choice between two undesirable alternatives. Here the snow is melting and leaving huge puddles on the pavements. The choice is to 'wade' through the puddles or walk on the road and risk being run down by a speeding motorist.
I have some galoshes from my time here in the late 70s that are proving to be worth their weight in gold. Sometimes though the water in the puddles comes up to the zip of the galoshes and I am forced to spend the day wandering about in wet socks. Trench foot in Moscow?

I give up. Even though it is my birthday I'm too tired to write any more and I have an 05.30 reveille in order to meet my first student at 08.30 not far from metro station  Yugo Zapadnaya. She is always late but it doesn't do for the teacher to be late. So a second breakfast at McDonalds will be the order of the day while I wait for her to arrive.