Sunday, November 29, 2009

Day 17 - 26th July 2009 Sunday

The last day on a train for a while, thank God. A 5.30am start due to all the time changes ensured a fuzzy head. The last time change to Moscow time was finally around the corner - literally. The sun shone for the first time in a few days and we had breakfast in the restaurant car as a treat. There was less than 1000km left to go!!
The entrepreneurial kitchen assistant kept coming round the compartments selling fried doughnuts. I looked at her and said ‘Meat?’ She nodded and said ‘Meat’. It was, just.
It was very quiet on the train now with most people having left the train during the evening or night before at the large cities en route to Moscow. Plug girl and friends made themselves pretty in advance of arrival. Anticipation grew as we entered the outskirts of the city at last. Graffiti is graffiti the world over. Finally, after passing through industrial areas, the train slowly pulled into Moscow and a fanfare of music announced our triumphant arrival.
We were met on the platform by a guide who gave us all the information we needed to travel onwards to St. Petersburg after our time in Moscow was complete. He walked at about one hundred miles an hour and spoke at the same speed. I had trouble keeping up while carrying all my bags. Outside, we ran the usual gamut of hoards of poor people hanging around the entrance to the station, then as soon as he had shown us the entrance to the Metro he disappeared like magic! He gave us everything we needed but did so in about 3 minutes flat. We were left feeling bewildered as to what to do next, but eventually talked over what he had said and managed to pick out the information we needed to find our hotel.
We took the Metro to our hotel in the Arbatskaya area, a suburb of the city that had become renowned as being the cultural capital of the city. As we staggered from the Metro, the first impression of Moscow was a forward thinking, bright and colourful city with fantastic buildings and crazy traffic constantly travelling at breakneck speeds. Asking directions we were advised to use the pedestrian underpasses below the roads at all times, because the traffic was so heavy. The hotel turned out to be in the embassy quarter and was thus full of private clubs and call girls touting for business, but still pleasant and unthreatening. Harry Potter was on in the cinema, as it had been in every city en route, in every language. The magic of advertising. There were churches galore with golden towers shining, reflecting the sun and singing out their message of freedom of faith in the new regime.
After an expensive meal at the Hard Rock CafĂ©, the first western style food in a long time, we went back to the hotel to give our clothes a well deserved hand wash. I woke up during the night thinking I was back in China. The room looked like a Chinese laundry with all the wet clothes lying on every available surface. Moscow had called to us, and we had finally arrived. Red Square and Vladimir Ilyitch Lenin waited for us patiently…

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