• Bob Taylor

Musings - Day 4

Day 4 – 30th December 2019

Keep the messages of support coming guys - I need them. Also this may get to you late because I am having issues with the Russian internet. Over the next few days I will be writing daily blogs but you may not get them for a couple of days after. Thank you for the support. - Bob

After a couple of hours in the Old town of Riga last night, I had boarded my Russia bound transport that saw me hurtling along the tracks towards Moscow. I have had more restful times sleeping on a cattle grid. If I may explain the customs procedure when entering Russia, from any border overland. Because you have chosen this modus operandi, rather than the usual airport entrance, it obviously renders you nefarious, suspicious, and most certainly a potential spy. If you have a moustache you're a spy. If you wear a hat you're a spy. If your know anyone called Nigel then you are definitely a spy. My interaction with the border police or KGB, SBL, BLT (No that’s a sandwich) or whatever they call themselves nowadays, was farcical. Truly the late nineteen sixties playwright Brian Rix could have had an absolute field day with this one. Firstly my passport and paperwork, together with transport tickets and hotel reservations were all checked on the train, whilst it was stationary in no-mans land on the Russian frontier. Also for the readers note – it was pitch black outside. Then the passengers of my carriage were all asked to disembark with their luggage. It was to go through more scanners and further checks in a nearby holding shed. These were undertaken after standing in line for ten minutes or so, in a grey metal shed that once inside, turned out to be about the size of an aeroplane hangar. The principal being that your luggage and belongings together with the passengers would go through the machines, then you would reconnect and get back on the train. Not so. In between those two activities there was an interrogation process to be negotiated.

Before I go through the conversation that followed let me explain the circumstance. I am on the opposite side of a counter with my rucksack on top of it, talking to Two Russian customs officers (protectors of the Soviet Credo – or whatever you’d like to call them.) They were dressed in long heavy outer jackets and blue beanies with polished metal badges on the front. They could have been Blue Peter badges for all I knew, but I suspected not. They are studying my passport and visa, leaving silent gaps, while looking at each other in disbelief. They are glaring at me, then back at the passport, then back at me, then back at each other, with large intakes of breath. It was like watching a set of cowboys doing a quote for building work!

Even though it was probably only ten minutes, and it won’t be verbatim, I will give you a flavour of how the conversation went. For the purposes of the account let’s call them Egor and Igor. Both of them adopt the starting position that I’m a perp, a no-gooder, a spy…. Igor tried several times to remove the visa to see if it had been recently glued. Egor took over with an eyeglass and the passport some two inches from his face, looking for any tell-tale counterfeit errors. Whenever they used the word "Wat," there was a one second gap to the next word. The interview proceeds thus....

Egor to me: “ Wat heit?” – I believe at this stage he is asking me my height, or testing me against the passport perhaps?

Me to Egor: “Well that depends...” – Believing that an explanation was in order, I was rudely interrupted.

Egor to me: “Wat dependz?” – Glancing at Igor, with odd expression and shoulders raised.

Me to Egor and Igor: “Well you see I have some wedges in my left boot that help support my gammy heel. It actually alters when I don’t have the gel wedges inserted. So for instance I could be five nine when leaning to the right, but five eight and a half when leaning to the left. I don’t wish to be awkward so you can call it five nine, if you like.”

Egor to Igor: “Dibri dobri dooski.” – More quizzical expressions and more shoulder raising. Then a gap of about twenty seconds….

Egor to me: “Wat gammy?”

Me to Egor and Igor: “Ah that just means not good – painful – not working too well.”

Igor to Egor: “Dibri dobri dooski.” – Accompanied by quizzical expressions and more shoulder raising, accompanied by huge intakes of breath.

Egor to Igor: “Niet!” - I was made to think at this point they were changing their angle of questioning, as they pointed to my passport photo.

Egor to me: “Wat tasky?” – No idea, now it was my turn for theatrical expression. I think I gave them a Grace Kelly look when she doesn’t remember the morning after.

Me to Egor and Igor: “Tasky?”

Egor to Igor: “Dibri dobri doo….ski.”

Igor to me with finger extended over his top lip: “Tasky – tasky” – At this point it seemed that I had got not one, but two tasky’s to worry about.”

Much gesticulation followed....

Me to Egor and Igor: “Ah tasky – you mean moustache?”

Igor to Egor: “Dibri dobri doo…ski.” – There is a bit of a pattern forming here, don’t you think?.

Me to Egor and Igor: “Oh, I see. I grew it recently and my passport photograph is old. It shouldn’t be a problem – it’s just a whim.”

Silence – just slow eye contact first from Egor then Igor and slowly back to each other. A quick “Dibri dobri doo…ski.” Then as if programmed slowly in unison, back to me.

Egor and Igor together in unison: “Wat wim?”

I am losing the will to explain further, as I try not to exaggerate the number of Dibri dobri dooskis with the occasional bonski boo thrown in, suffice to say eventually they stamped my passport. I was told to re-board the train, with a “Welcome to Russia smile.” I left thinking that they were a couple of trainees, new to the job. Unbelievably I came away with a memorable introduction to the regime, that doesn’t in any way contribute to further international accord. - Anyway I’m in!

The Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed, Red Square. Renamed to St. Basils Cathedral in 1979 just after the second series of Fawlty Towers.

Moscow awaits and luckily I find myself with six or seven hours before my connection south. I had an underground map of the subway, which as a tourist was invaluable. Some of the stations were simply magnificent. I changed some dollars into Russian Marbles (I know they are Roubles) to buy some tickets. You can buy books of five or ten or more if you wish, but I knew that I was going to explore, so I took the ten. My POI’s were Pushkin’s Café, The Kremlin, Red Square, Bolshoi theatre etc., like everyone else visiting Moscow, but I wanted to seek them out under my own steam. The stations were incredible, they included, marble, artworks, chandeliers and in my experience super-efficient. I had a list of the best ones from previous research – I wasn’t disappointed – see what you think.

These are some people that I never met.

I found them to be clean, smart, decorative and very efficient with trains coming every fifty seconds or so. They have a great system of one track the trains go to the left and the other track the trains go to the right. This is so they don’t crash. It's Ingenious!

During my extensive exploration of the Moscow Metro, there were three quite unrelated incidents. Firstly a rather large lady sat on my one thigh quite by accident. It was the side I had a tube of fruit mintos in my pocket. She jumped up as quick as a flash and I am not entirely sure whether she thought that I was a lively old dude, or that it was through her total embarrassment at the misjudgement. She moved impulsively to sit in a seat opposite, viewing me with what I can only describe as suspicion. My thoughts were for her in case she had perhaps moved a little too quickly, thereby affecting some more remote parts of her torso unintentionally. If I tell you that this lady could quite easily have had a bus route named after her, you’ll probably be able to get a greater picture of the dimensions in point.

There was a second incident maybe an hour later. This time it was a chap. In fact an Oriental chap. As he made himself comfortable in the seat to my right, I got the most beautiful scent of Soy mixed with ginger and maybe a little lemon grass thrown in. Sadly as it became obvious when he alighted for his stop, that it was not the after smell of a meal he’d had for last nights supper, but the spillage of his lunchtime noodles, dripping out of his wafer thin carrier bag. Oblivious, he left a trail of chow mein from the adjacent seat to the carriage door when he left. Somewhere in deepest Moscow, I imagined a poor wifey, probably slaved hard getting lunch ready for her man, only for him to disperse it over the Metro.

That brings me to the third incident on the underground train system and it involves two young lovers, probably in their early twenties and full of the joys of discovery. I am standing in the crowded compartment during a busy time for commuters, with my hand firmly gripping the upright chrome hand rail, to steady myself against the motion. The lovers were close by, also steadying themselves on the handrail, but they are unmindful to any other people aboard. The carriage has rocked two and fro, as it appears that more and more people are joining the train. The lady of the lovers has been lurched to the left by the movement of the train, with her chap steadying her with his free hand. She has spun quite freely to a position where her face is close to his hand gripping the rail, so she kissed it. But it wasn’t his hand it was mine. She knew and I knew she knew. And she knew that I knew, she knew. Instantaneously, no attention to the divide of language, we both laughed at the obvious mistake. She thought it hilarious, although her potato faced boyfriend didn’t get the funny side of it whatsoever. Through the mish-mash that followed the incident, she attempted through fits of real belly laughs at her mistake, to say sorry. Her word lingered with me as they both left the train. “Apergolies,” she said tittering. - Bless!

When I came out of the Metro looking for Cafe Pushkin, the city traffic had really built up. I couldn’t help but notice that all the vehicles had winter or snow tyres on because of the temperature and conditions. The all emitted an unusual crunching sound, like they were driving over a bags of scratchings. Before finding the café, I thought that I would try to seek out the Bolshoi ballet. I only asked one person for directions before giving up the idea. The lady gave the most bizarre look and walked away quite haughtily and somewhat in disgust. I wonder if she thought that I was going for an audition?

I found the Café splendidly illuminated in silver fairy lights, shortly before taking breakfast inside, largely in order to tick another box. Wonderful place totally overstaffed, so the service as you would expect, was impeccable. It really is a must if you find yourself in Moscow. I had toasted muffins with strong black coffee served by two on the ball, immaculate waiters. They have a cellar cloak room and they insist on not letting you in with a coat on. It is so turn of the last century keeping up all the charms and traditions that their reputation holds. Alexander Pushkin was a Russian poet, playwright, and novelist of the Romantic era who is considered by many to be the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature. he used to go to the cafe everyday for breakfast as the story goes.

This is taken from my table.

From there I went to the majestic Red Square. You have to go through security checks and bag scanning before anyone can enter. It is huge, I’m guessing, but probably the size of three Wembley stadiums side by side – Immense.

For those who have not met me it pretty quickly becomes obvious that I am not from a show business background! - I forewarned you....

The buildings were wonderful which I’m sure that you have seen many picture postcards far better than the photos I took on a day when it was snowing. All along the one side is the Kremlin and on the opposite side is a huge department store called “RYMs” (pronounced Gums.) Inside there are loads of dentists and some shops.

Throughout Moscow it was obvious that Russians make a big thing of Christmas and New Year – (Their New Year is on twelfth night January 5th) All down the one side of Red Square is a huge fair and Christmas market together with an ice rink. Might have a go at a triple Salko with a double Lutz a little later. I loved Red Square in all its might. Dominant, Proud and undeniable blatant. Just off Red Square was the Avenue Netpobka where I casually stopped to look in the splendid windows of Tiffanys. Now steady on ladies I’m on £0.21p a mile – remember.

To sum up, Moscow was a fascinating, incredibly interesting city. Not perhaps described as beautiful, but certainly magnificent, stunning and unapologetically, exudes her power within.

Now I am on a sleeper train, and therein hangs a tale. Each carriage is divided into compartments that have four beds. So not unexpectedly you would assume like me that there would be maximum of three other persons sharing. Foolish assumption to make as there are five of us. I was first in to the compartment, bunk number 9 bottom left. Next came a family of three Russians. Mom (about 40) Dad (around 37) and daughter (around five or six.) These are seasoned long distance Russian travellers. I’m still sitting on my bunk trying to unpack and get my mojo around the arrangement of sleeping with a family that I have never met and can’t speak to. Within minutes the mom has made two bunks, complete with sheets and pillowcases, unpacked one suitcase for the family, and bedded down her daughter. This I need to tell you was a minute after the train left Paveletskaya station at 15:54. It is now around ten thirty and I haven’t heard from any of them. They aren’t mute, they just do the Dibry Dobry Dooskis quietly. Now then you are wondering where does the fifth person comes in? Well he is from Romania and doesn’t understand, Russian or English. I didn’t know what gender he was till I saw his hands. They were so large he could have strangled a walrus. Definitely a bloke even though he has long blonde hair that he could sit on. Dad and daughter are sharing quite comfortably, having slept most of the afternoon. How, I don’t know because our compartment door doesn’t shut! We are three down from the toilet so passengers of all descriptions are walking past and looking in. There three dogs in our carriage somewhere because I have heard them barking. Old trans- Romanian upstairs, has hibernated. He is around six foot three and the bunk is around five and a half feet by two feet in width. Without looking, because we Brits wouldn’t dream of it, I think he must be a contortionist and folds himself into place. Either way he must have reduced his body temperature somehow, because he hasn’t flinched as far as I am aware.

Position: 55°45'52” N 37°36'18”E – Miles completed: 02356

Location: Somewhere south of Moscow, Russia 23:00 - 30th December 2019 - Journey 4 days 22 hours

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