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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.

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