Day 1 of a trip back in time.

Day 1 of a trip back in time.

I am on a trip to England to attend a regular family gathering which I have not been to in 13 years. It is in the village my mother was born and grew up in (Bamford Derbyshire) and the last time I was there was to inter my mother’s ashes (which I had transported on the back seat of my car carefully secured with a seat belt). So it should be interesting.

I am on the “areoexpress” going to Domodedovo airport (remember to pronounce the second “d”). I have of course forgotten to sit on the left side of the carriage and sweating like a pig. I know full well I should sit on the other side of the compartment but never seem to remember when I get on. I think it is a panic to actually find a seat in the crush and I just take the first thing I see.

The train is packed with people mostly going on vacation. The Russians go on vacation like anyone else although given visa requirements the easiest places for them to go are Turkey and Egypt and they do in their droves. Multiple jumbo jets every day of the week all full to bursting with families with young children or groups of teenagers all vying to be the one who is wearing the least clothing (why I am not sure).

They have upgraded this train recently from the 1950’s model originally plying the route every 30 minutes to something perhaps built in 1951 which as you can imagine does not make a whole lot of difference. There is actually nowhere to put your case?. The original train had a space where they had removed a couple of seats so you could leave your cases there. This one has the seats still in so as you can imagine the aisle is full of big heavy cases all bound for sunnier places. Russians seem to have little faith in the security of the baggage process and possibly every other bag is covered in some form of tape to keep its contents away from prying and curious fingers.

Negotiating this semi assault course should be one of those TV shows like “wipeout” or “survivor iron curtain edition”. As the train fills up it gets worse and the 15 or so Japanese business men in their smart dark suits don’t seem to be helping by trying to find a carriage where they can all sit next to each other. Walk on my boys, 20 carriages on this train and my money is on “not” finding what you are looking for although it’s your own fault for inventing these games in the first place.

 Once moving the ticket girls come along to check we all have out stubs. Given you need the bar code on the stub to let you onto the platform it seems superfluous to need this but hey in Russia there is always room for improvement. One improvement they could contemplate is a ticket punch which does not cut out a hole in your ticket which it then deposits on the floor. This confetti serves to show their progress through the throng and once the train empties at the other end there are a group of cleaners who get 15 minutes to remove these bits from the floor so the conductors can do it all again on the way back.

The “Dolly with the trolley” or rather the Babushka pushing an (ex)supermarket cart makes steady if slow progress as she gets people to lift their belongings out of the way by barging as hard as she can into the next one in line. I manage to grab a bottle of rather warm water for double the normal price just to replace what I am loosing as the sun continues to sear through the windows. Air-conditioning is not one of the things you can expect for your 300 ruble ($10) trip so just sit tight it will be over soon.

Arrival at the airport is as difficult as you could imagine. There are a host of people trying to get back into Moscow who appear hell bent of getting on the train without the incumbents being allowed the time to get off so the usual pushing and pulling. It will be 15 minutes before it moves but this is no deterrent to them. “Be brave be first” springs to mind. There is also the queue to get off the platform which requires the barcode on the stub to be read to open the gates. The reason it is needed given we have been checked escapes me but maybe I just missed the logic. Those people who do not regularly use this route (almost all of the holiday makers) have discarded their tickets in the many bins around and are now frantically trying to find an escape route via a not so friendly security guard.

So at least I am at the airport and knowing better than the travel virgins I avoid trying to get in via the door which even in my limited Cyrillic I can see says “no entry exit only” to which the mass of tourist have now flocked and efficiently blocked.

I am on a British Airways flight at around 5pm one I have to say I booked for price rather than any form of brand loyalty. The plan has me meeting up with one of my sisters at Heathrow later. That is if she manages to find the place. Jo is driving from her home in Normandy via the Portsmouth ferry and a couple of British motorways in her very small left hand drive citron.

More next week.

I speak Russian I learn it from a book !!!

I speak Russian I learn it from a book !!!

Anyone English will know this is a parody from “Fawlty Towers” or as the hotel sign suggested sometimes “Watery Fowls or Fatty Owls”. It is part of the English heritage of sit-com. There only being 12 episodes it is quite remarkable given the amount of detail people can remember.

A memory jogger is at the end of this link

Anyway I am learning Russian and whilst having lessons twice a week I always carry around a small book of useful phrases. My teacher looks about 16 which is slightly unnerving and she has a level of focus which is concerning as my ability to keep up with my homework schedule does not match hers.

My phrase book is a “Lonely Planet” publication so you can verify what I write.

In general it contains many useful phrases and helps a lot when trying to purchase specific items or decode a restaurant menu. It was particularly useful when I was purchasing train tickets even though I ended up on the wrong train it did go to the right place. The book did not mention what to talk about with the other people we shared the sleeping berths with but I think that might be more detail than a mere phrase book can cover.

There is an extensive list of useful phrases to use in a bar which are below (I will leave out the Cyrillic script) which are helpful as you can imagine.

“Is anyone serving?”

 “What would you like?”

“How much is that?”

So you can imagine the value, now it does continue and the rest become more and more concerning as they progress. In fact the ability to actually recall or memorize them would seem to be increasingly more difficult. One has to wonder at the target audience for this book if there is the need to include the following clips as well.

“This is hitting the spot”

“I feel fantastic”

“Do you respect me?”

“I think I’ve had one too many”

“I’m feeling drunk”

“I’m pissed”

“I’m going to throw up”

“Where’s the toilet”

Now of course all of these are valid comments however “ya mirt-vyet-ski pys-nih(m) –na-ya(f)” needs to be delivered with a slurred accent as it notes you are drunk.

“min-ya bu-dit mu-tit” might be one of those phrases which you may not need to remember as the fact that your face will have already turned green and you are heaving is possibly a more visual clue as to your next intention (I’m going to throw up)

There are lots of sections and the one dealing with relationships is something you need to see. Go check out your local Waterstones or Barnes and Noble and have a good laugh (p144-145)

“Your going to stick that where exactly?”

“Your going to stick that where exactly?”

This is the though racing through my mind as the man approaches with a flaming taper aimed at my head. Being attacked on the street, in the middle of a riot, some bizarre initiation ceremony?. No I am just having a haircut. The place I am in is a neat modern salon in the middle of a shopping precinct which only adds to my concern.

About this time I am thinking why I balked at the $78 the other place wanted and maybe it wasn’t that expensive. This one will only be $21 still steep for a trim but best price to result ratio I have found so whatever he is up to it still leaves me over 50 bucks up.

I needed to find a new place as the one I had managed to become familiar with has shut down for a while whilst they dig up the road outside the salon. The notice said 2 weeks but that was 6 weeks ago and I am not sure there is actually anyone down the huge open pit they have dug outside. It is taking up half the street so whatever the problem is it will not be fixed anytime soon.

Back to my arsonist I am not even sure why I am asking the hairdresser this question as he is Turkish and does not speak Engliski I know this as I was leafing through his Turkish to Russian dictionary which was alongside the magazines out on the coffee table.

We had managed to communicate to one another and agree that I wanted a haircut which given where I am in was not a particularly arduous task.  Beyond this there is little interaction and the rest of the staff are busy surfing the net on the Pc they are using as a register and as such are unavailable for comment.

Whilst not exactly looking the part the guy seemed competent up to now. He is short with black curly hair and a mustache which is far too big for his face, swarthy would be a good description and if you saw him in the street you would not have placed him as a barber and if he had that flaming taper in his hand you would just cross the street. He was capable with the scissors and comfortable with the electric razor as well. The cut actually looks fine (but you know the difference between bad and good is two weeks) and he seems relaxed even if he has a burning torch in his hand.

He is about to singe my hair. This is the official definition Date: before 12th century : to burn superficially or lightly scorch; especially : to remove the hair, down, or fuzz from usually by passing rapidly over a flame.

Now the smell of burn hair is no stranger to me give my prolonged smoking habit. Most of the time though it is accidental and I have seen several people restyle their “barnet” via this method removing eyebrows and fringes. In extreme cases bits of clothing as well.

This guy obviously thinks this process is normal so who am I to challenge his routine. He seemed to know what he was doing even the bored receptionist stopped texting to watch although she may have been more worried about the smoke alarm than me. I have to say when he was waving it around and in my ears it made me slightly uncomfortable but in the end it was fine. The smell of burnt hair was a small concern but just to make sure he had put me out properly they shampooed my hair again. A good job really as I can imagine walking home with people sniffing the air as I passed wondering what was going on.

So one more experience to color my life.

“Nothing to fear other than fear itself”

“Nothing to fear other than fear itself”

This is quote from Franklin D Roosvelt of whom Winston Churchill once said “Meeting Franklin Roosevelt was like opening your first bottle of champagne; knowing him was like drinking it” which I think says a lot for both of them.

Another of Churchill’s quotes is”Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities… because it is the quality which guarantees all others”. The reason I am musing on these is because I appear to have taken up the dangerous sport of “Rollerblading”. So courage and fear are uppermost in my mind right now.

Not exactly sure why I am rollerblading? Maybe it was the fact that getting the bike to the park we use is not easy and taking it in the Metro is a no no. Maybe the fact that Judi and our friends are all “bladers” and I am the odd one out. Maybe the 60% discount at the local Decathlon store also helped.

Whatever the reason here I am trying to stand up in boots which seem to have a mind of their own and want to slide down the path before I am upright. I think I will try and stand up on the grass first which seems to subdue them, ha not so keen to move now are you as they sink into the soft earth.

Standing up is somewhat ungainly for the first time but once vertical it is just a case of locking ankles and knees. Not too bad so far. Ok next thing is to see if I can actually move. Maybe this is how Neil Armstrong felt like on the moon (over 40 years ago wow) lifting big heavy things bolted to his feet. Left, right, left, right, getting the hang of this now.

I am of course well protected with stout helmet, knee, elbow and hand guards (although I passed on the padded shorts you have to draw the line somewhere) so in the event I become horizontal at any point then I should survive with only minor abrasions. Not on the grass though all I am doing now is tiring myself out so need to up the ante. As I clump clump to the verge with growing trepidation I wonder if Judi will reappear soon. As an ice skater she had no problem transitioning to inline skates and whizzed off a while back whilst I was still trying to work out which safety apparatus went on the arms and which on the legs, which is left and which right and which way up they went.  They really should label them just to give you a clue.

OK at the edge of the road, let’s put one foot out and see. The boot finding solid ground immediately wants to be off, let’s, go let’s go it is screaming it does not even want to wait for its twin who is still stuck in the soft grass. This is where the memory of falling on the frozen ice comes back to me in vivid color. The feeling of having no control over you movement and the reality of gravity pulling everything loose towards the center of the earth as fast as possible. A bit of frantic arm waving and shifting weight to the grass bound boot keeps me from that invitation to go horizontal.  Ok deep breaths it’s fine nothing unexpected just well sort of unnerving.

Smiling broadly Judi returns she has managed to do the 3 mile circuit whilst I have been dithering around. Now if I can get across the road to the river bank I can tootle around there as it has a railing to grab if needed. Slowly slowly we amble across. Keep your weight forward knees soft head up and you will be ok I keep hearing although not sure my brain is actually processing the data. A brief thought enters my head “do toddlers go through this learning to walk” but of course their bones are softer and they are more used to falling over. I have learnt over time that it is to be avoided at all costs.

Now by the railing I allow Babe to skoot off again as I roll up and down the promenade. Not bad, getting the hang of this. I can travel 10, 20 meters without having to lunge for the railings. Avoiding the railings might actually be a good thing given the deteriorating state of some of them. I don’t want to become a drowning statistic and given the lead weights I appear to have strapped onto my feet if I do go over there is no chance of rescue. Walker’s tourists and pushchairs serve to help me learn how to move left and right although it is sometimes erratic I am still upright.

I might even say I am enjoying it. It requires far less energy than cycling you just sort of lean one way and then the other. An hour or so later Judi who has not completed 5 or 6 circuits decides we have had enough. No argument from me then although getting down on the ground to remove the shackles from my feet is actually harder than getting upright in the first place.

So was it courage driving me to do this or something else?

My mother used to tell me you should learn something new every day (although not sure she meant this). I think you do need to challenge yourself occasionally to try something new, you never know it might be fun. It might be a little scary but you could say that about most things when you do them for the first time whether it is your first Indian curry or visiting a new place or even rollerblading.

Experiences add color to your life and you never forget that “First time”.

Explaining the “Domino effect” how a table mat impacted my day.

Explaining the “Domino effect” how a table mat impacted my day.

“If you get a moment could you wipe down the place mats please, parents will be here tomorrow” Judi said as she scurried out the door. “Fine” I said.

I mean how difficult can it be cleaning 2 wooden linked place mats. How wrong I can be sometimes. The aforementioned mats are part of a set I got in Costa Rica which is a whole other story. They are made up of linked squares of wood and very nice if I say so myself. They do have a habit of collecting pieces of food and dirt so I though the easiest thing was to dump them in the sink. All going well so far a good scrubbing and rinse will do. Drying proved more difficult but only a matter of time.

Having taken them off the little table we use in the kitchen you can now see the marks on the table so let’s give that a wipe down whilst we are at it. (Tatiana 2 the cleaner seems not to bother with the finer details of cleaning and she is somewhat scary and continues to jabber at me at every opportunity even though I make it clear I have no idea what she is on about) Easy peasy, cloth in hand I wipe the table top. Had I stopped to think I might have moved the cup of coffee I had placed there but no I left it right in the arc of my grand sweep and managed to knock it over. Murphy’s law dictates at this point that the cup has to be full which is correct and that it will go everywhere, correct.

OK Ok not a big problem just an annoyance. Starting to wipe up the coffee I now have not only the table top but the legs, the wall the windowsill the floor the cats water bowl and food bowl and a chair. So a 10 second job is being extended. Ten minutes later most of it is done. Eric will be curious as to why I am cleaning her water bowl when I only did it an hour ago but she just gives me one of those “I’ve never understood you anyway” looks and saunters off to lie under the bed where it’s cooler.

I forgot to mention it is about 95 degrees here and has been for a while so all this takes place in an environment where activity of any sort will have you sweating like a pig, well at least it keeps the weight down.

Finishing the easy bits I turn my attention to the chair which is one of those IKEA ones so it should be capable of taking a bit of a beating and shrugging it off. Not quite, the seat is some form of cloth / plastic thing and being cream now shows the clear line of my morning coffee. Mmmmm ok trying to avoid the industrial cream that can take off any stain from the hob I attempt to deal with it with washing up liquid. The issue is of course that as soon as you think you have cracked it you see all you have done is moved the stain line somewhere else so keep going until the entire seat is now done. Only slightly discolored and if you don’t look close I might get away with it. Of course I now have to do the second chair so it matches but not planning to spill coffee on that one but still have to go through the whole deal again.

It is more difficult with the sweat now running into my eyes but keep on after changing my shirt which I notice has coffee stains on as do I. Note to self wash shirt and shower when you have finished. Around an hour later and I am done, physically as well as task wise.

You would not think wiping table mats could take an hour and a half involve all the cleaning materials in the flat including the dish cloths and tea towels and require the scrubbing of 2/3 of the kitchen and my clothes and myself. So after taking a 30 minute break to recover I take a shower and change the coffee stained clothes and am off to the shops.

My shopping list includes some more dish cloths; new kitchens sponge some kitchen roll (Kleenex of course) cat food and if I can find it some “none stain” coffee.

Sometimes the slightest thing can set of a chain reaction so be careful where you put your coffee !!!!

“Finding Vegas”

“Finding Vegas”

A small pun on the title of one of those films which having seen I can never get out of my head (Leaving Las Vegas). Others include Reservoir Dogs, Straw Dogs and the Eternal Gardner. The memory of any of these can make me shiver. Why it is only the nasty films which never escape my head I don’t know probably some shrink would be able to tell me I had an unhappy childhood and I need therapy

Anyway the actual “Vegas” I am looking for is a new Shopping Mall to the South East of Moscow. I say South East as locating it is proving rather difficult. In fact finding most things in Moscow is difficult. There is no “tourist Information” centers and no consolidated sites. Trial and error is the name of the game. In most places it is the Tourists who wander around with maps. Here it is the locals who are the ones who are constantly stopping me and asking if this is the way to or from some unknown place. I always have a street map handy and sometimes once stopped a queue forms as people wait to see the oracle and his map.

Vegas opened early June and is the biggest in Russia. Now you would think that would be enough for it to be easily found. Not so my naive friend things don’t work like that around here. True there are “some” references on the web but not any which actually tells you where it is. There are some general reference to it secret location as being somewhere around the Kashirskoye Shosse and the MKAD. The MKAD I should mention is Moscow’s version of the M25 therefore it is like saying it is out Leatherhead way.

Undaunted I set out on the Metro (it’s our friend remember) starting from Novokuznetskaya and off at  Domodedovskaya. Which is nearly the end of the line only one stop after that so can’t really get lost can I?. Up out of the metro and into that searing sunshine, whilst it is only 10:30 it is very hot today.

Try and get my bearings as Metros are normally on the corner of major junctions and have several exits so you need to find a landmark or a road to work out where you are going. If not you can happily stroll off in the wrong direction which would be a bad thing.  I work out that if I can keep the sun on my left I calculate about a 2 kilometer walk and I should be somewhere close.  2k will take me to the MKAD so by then I figure I should be able to see something.

I march on ever hopeful of seeing some signs, billboards, golden towers or some other sign that my quest is successful. What do I see? I see a motorway that’s what I see. Double check my map; I am where I am supposed to be the problem is that the Mall is not. Maybe it is only accessible from the MKAD anyway its back to the metro for me. As I have mentioned before surrounding the stations there are lots of kiosks and this one is no different and actually has a food hall. These places can rival anything you see in Asia. They have different areas for meat, fish, vegetables and one for “other” items.

You can see people gutting fish and chopping up various pigs, lambs and other things. The Russians are picky when they buy food and spend a lot of time picking exactly what they want. Fruit and veg is not to EEC standards and therefore not a uniform shape or size which at first is disconcerting but actually quite interesting.

Watching all this activity is fun and you are constantly offered slices of product as everyone fights for your rubles. I managed to have a lunch of lots of fruit which I finished off with a savory pastry with “seere” (cheese) which I found hidden in a corner. Coffee is always available but I turned down the opportunity to have some from the girl with the shopping trolley who was doing a roaring trade with the stall holders. I was ok with water as I still had to brave the searing sun back outside.

So whilst I completely failed in my quest I still had a good time and all for $1.5 which can’t be bad can it.

Recalling my little adventure later to Judi (who is somewhere in Turkey) she said “I know exactly where that place is I pass it on the motorway sometimes, how did you get there as I don’t think there is any pedestrian access”

Now you tell me. !!!!!!!!!!


Timing is everything “fantastic”

Timing is everything “fantastic”

I mentioned yesterday about going to look for a fan for the lounge (well lounge, hall, kitchen & dining room they are all the same space) well I got one but it was touch and go for a while.

I decided given I have time on my hands and the car has aircon that I would do a trawl of the shopping mall as it gives me more options. There are a couple of electrical retailers a DIY shop and a French superstore and of course they have underground parking so should be a cool day.

Driving there is still as exciting as the first time I got behind a wheel here. You need to have eyes in the back and sides of your head to stay out of trouble. Also there is a police checkpoint on the edge of town which always raises the blood pressure. Not that I am unlawful but just that with limited Russian you really don’t want to be stopped and you need to keep all sorts of documents on your person just in case.

We have a different car right now as Judi’s blew up in the middle of a 5 land road in rush hour the other week. Interestingly it was the day after it was serviced and it overheated within 5 miles of home on the way to see her factory and just gave up the ghost in the middle of the road. Judi is far more pragmatic than I would have been as it was obvious someone either forgot to top up the radiator or forgot to put the plug back.

So past the checkpoint and not my turn to be pulled over so short dash down the motorway (only undertaken twice by people rushing down the hard shoulder) and pull into Aushan the supermarket.

Not a fan in sight so I choose to do the standard shop which invariably means a box of chardonnay and a large pack of diet coke. I was going to buy gin but it is expensive and difficult to find. Not however the Vodka. There is actually a whole aisle devoted to the stuff. There is one for cured sausages as well which says a lot for Russian taste.  Cat litter is also on the list and I still object to paying $32 for a box but hey Eric is worth it given what she has to put up with.

Onward to the electrical retailers the first has nothing at all except empty shelves which is odd. The second has a couple but $100 is a little steep so whilst I am pondering the purchase I amuse myself in the sports store down the other end of the mall trying on roller blades and climbing into and out of tents. Interesting combination you think?. Well rollerblades are something I have been considering for while as it would be easier to transport than the bike. The tents are because you can get these ones which just spring out and can be folded away without having to undo anything which is cool.

So I decide that $100 is acceptable but first I will go back to the first store as maybe they have moved the fans somewhere else in the store. As I walk in there is a crowd of people following a boy dragging a pallet out of the back. As soon as it comes to a halt before me the crowd turns into a pack of wild dogs tearing at the shrink-wrap and low and behold its fans. The big stand up ones. I of course forget my manners and just grab at one, well all these people cannot be wrong can they?. So once I have it I take a better look at the box. Lucky for me there is an English description so a couple of minutes is enough to convince me this will do but how much is it.

“Сколько стоит, Сколько стоит”(how much is it, how much is it) I ask someone gripping the box more tightly as someone tries to convince me it was theirs. A kind lady (not a shop assistant) tells me the price and at $45 it’s a bargain so now where have they hidden the checkout. Oh there it is behind that long line of people with boxes of fans. There are several people with 2 a couple of people with 3 and one lady who has 5 fans.

The pallet is now empty and the whole of its contents of probably 60 fans is now lined up waiting to be purchased. 5 frantic minutes had reduced it to a pile of shrink-wrap and wood and the staff are clearing up the mess.(I should have taken a picture but forgot). I of course am the last in the queue but hey I got my “Fantastic Fan” and saved $55 so not a bad day really.

If I had been ten minutes earlier or later going into the shop I would have missed it. (I’ve always been lucky) 

Now where was I before I was interrupted, ah yes I think I have become one of those ?

Now where was I before I was interrupted, ah yes I think I have become one of those ?

Well travelling is over for a month or so which affords me the luxury of being at home in 100 degree heat. Before you all say “you should be here its stifling where I am”. I see the world is in the process of melting with warnings popping up everywhere but being English this heat is somewhat of a new experience for me. Normally once the temperature reaches 85 degrees I think I am on vacation so my attitude changes. T-shirt shorts and flip-flops.

Moscow in general has good summers and 85 -90 is not unusual however the trouble is that is never stops it’s relentless. Our bedroom faces east so by 4:30 in the morning the sun is shining straight through and the day arrives hours before necessary. Judi has taken to wearing an eye mask for the light and ear plugs for no reason at all which at least helps her stay asleep. My problem is that once my eyes are open and there is light I have to get up. Ok not a real problem except at 5:15 you don’t need to get dressed so I wander around the flat starker’s scaring the cat in the process.

This brings me to the title, remember last year me commenting on people on balconies who might be naked well as you see I have assimilated very well and now I am “one of them”. Wandering around the flat with as little on as possible so maybe someone is at this very moment blogging about naked people wandering around their flats in Moscow.

Whilst one should not be alarmed as we are not overlooked and anyway nobody else is up. Only me and the cat which approaches only with caution and the desire for some morning milk that is so ingrained in her that it overtakes any fear she may harbor.
My daily routine requires me to go out every day and exhibitions and churches are now welcome even if they are not particularly exciting. The one thing you can guarantee is that they will be cool. Planning the route so I can stay in the shade is a little more difficult. A far cry from my youth when I would brave any sunshine and scoff at the heat. Now a little more cautious I am quite happy avoiding the searing sunshine and the associated heat. This is not due to any warnings about UV radiation or skin melanomas it is just because it makes me feel uncomfortable.

I was trying in broken Russian to tell my language teacher where I had been recently and her response was “Вы не очень коричневый which is “you are not very brown” and I have to agree I was not, but I am now after a couple of weeks wandering around Moscow. I did not try and explain the perils of sunbathing (so I have become one of those people as well giving advice on avoiding skin cancer) given that she is setting off to Majorca next week. Oh to be young again (not).

The flat has air-conditioning in the bedroom and the office but not the lounge / kitchen and opening windows does nothing to create a draft and only serves to let in the biting things so tomorrow I am going out to get a fan. I know we have passed the longest day but summer here will last for several more months and I have no need to be uncomfortable for that length of time. Winter is not a distant memory and then I could not see the grass for snow now it is because it has all scorched and died. Well hey that’s life.
Nice to be back by the way