Skip to content

Archive for

First thoughts

I arrived at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport this afternoon (not the one that Snowden is reputedly holed up in). I was immediately struck by sights not common elsewhere: there were loads of russian passenger jets just rusting in the fields surrounding the runways. Going through immigration was not nearly as fearsome as the US experience, and I was roasted by 34c heat as I left the terminal building. In the taxi into Moscow there were lots of vans parked on the hard shoulder, selling stuff. We were then hit by a monster electrical storm, causing the roads to run like rivers. Nothing done by half here. I am staying in a basic hotel in the centre, whose main attraction had been the advertised free mini bar – how cool is that? Sadly said minbar consisted of the smallest can of coke in the world and some manky crisps. Serves me right.

It is almost 30 years since I came to the (then) Soviet Union to study as part of my degree, and I’m interested in seeing how things have changed. Well, my first impressions are at both ends of the spectrum. On the one hand, it still feels a brutal, elemental country where the extremes of the weather are written into every road and building you see. On the other, I am sitting in a westernised hotel, sipping a perfectly decent glass of white wine. That would never have happened 30 years ago. I embark on my first train (“Number 16” – how Soviet is that?) at 16:50 tomorrow, arriving in Ekaterinburg (resting place of the Romanovs and Gary Powers (temporarily)) 28 hours later. I am really excited by it.


Russian Preparations

I have, unusually, been spending a bit of time preparing for my trip to Russia. Not least there are the officially mandated preparations: I am so useless at filling in forms, so the visa application brought me out in a cold sweat. The thought of getting something wrong on the form and facing an implacable official to explain my apparent duplicity is the stuff of bad dreams – how do you convince them that I’m rubbish, not seeking to hide something? Anyway, form done (thanks intourist), and on to things sartorial – what kit for the train? It’ll be quite warm, but outside there will be insects the size of Wessex helicopters, so a bit of DDT stashed away might be sensible.

I’m taking the big camera, but I know I’ve got to be sensitive about its use. It is still frowned on to take photos at a station for security reasons, which gets me thinking about the Russian preoccupation with security and (from a Western perspective) slight paranoia. I suppose it comes from having been invaded twice in the last 100 years (including by the Brits), and being done like a kipper by the Germans in 1941. Fair enough then, I suppose.