Братухи

As promised, here is the account of firstly my parents trip and then Harris and Sam’s trip.

Parents:

The parents trip went as expected; great food, fine wine and a nice hotel. All very pleasant and enjoyable and a good opportunity to recharge the batteries before Harris and Sam came. I would give a longer account of their trip but no one really likes reading about nice things. So…

Harris and Sam (censored):

They arrived late, looking lost and disorientated- the arrivals hall in Domodedovo airport, rammed full of Tajiki’s offering their taxi services very loudly in ones face and almost certainly invading ones private space, is always a slightly odd experience. I had assured them that their annual Easter trip was certainly going to be less forgettable than some of the others; their bemused and, in Harris’ case, gob-smacked faces certainly filled me with a sense of joyous evil. We began the week by going to one of the Moscow train stations to buy tickets to St.Petersburg- sadly there were no Platzkart tickets so we were forced to go in Coupe class (one up from Platzkart).

Even after 7 months in Russia, I had to admit that the first impressions of Moscow were not so good: the train station was a multi-ethnic mishmash of chaos and confusion, after finally finding the cashier the stupendously grumpy babushka selling the tickets would not accept credit cards, and what’s more, after trying to eat at a restaurant opposite the station (it was full) we saw a man run outside in a hurry and throw up on our way out. Needless to say, the boys were unimpressed.

Welcome to Moscow.

The Saturday night started as all Saturday nights in Russia should do; with copious amounts of Baltika 7. I can’t really remember what happened afterwards though.

Harris: I remember exactly what happened Tom. You tried speaking a mix of Russian, English, and Pokemon to the taxi driver on the way home and allowed us to experience the joys of a 60 pound taxi journey. Cheers!

The First Night

The First Night

The after effects of our first night (the first time together since Ibiza in July) were clear:

The Sunday, unsurprisingly, was pretty much a write off. We surfaced at 4, enjoyed a delicious Shepherds Pie (cooked by yours truly), and headed for our overnight train. A tad disappointingly the train was very peaceful and comfortable, that is if you don’t include the fact that Harris lay sleeping directly across from a classic Russian ogre who was less friendly than Shrek. Be that as it may, the team woke up refreshed and ready for St.Petersburg in all its glory.

Compared with the not-so-utopian-ideal I had shown them the day before (the area I lived in was comprised of endless concrete eyesores, one after another…) the beauty and all round pleasantness of St.P was particularly striking. Harris commented on the beauty of St.P; the nickname of ‘Venice of the North’ is certainly apt, especially in the glorious sunshine we had on the Monday. Even Sam, normally such a culture vulture, was vaguely impressed.

Yet, quite surprisingly for three such bloody huge lads, massive culture vultures we were. During the trip we ticked off most of the major sights of the two cities with ruthless efficiency: The Hermitage (Sam’s 2nd museum in his life), the Modern Art Museum, the Kremlin, the State Armoury, hundreds if not thousands of Churches, a plethora of exhibits and even a piano recital by a world famous pianist (more about that later). Sam was in his glory at the ‘dead fetus’ exhibit at one Museum, which perhaps lightened his mood after being unable to score ‘Krokodil’. Of course, this all meant that we fully deserved a well-earned beer or two at the end of the day…

Malevich's Black Square

After two solid days of sight-seeing in St.Petersburg we gave in to the inevitable and met up with the rest of the Bristol Uni contingency. Despite it being a Tuesday, they were out in force. A picture is worth a thousand words so:

2

Going…

Gone.

Going…

1

Gone.

Despite the picture evidence, I promise that there were other people apart from us and Prest during the night. We tried to make Prest leave us alone but he’s like a limpet when he starts drinking.

Wednesday morning we woke, mouths dry and utterly disorientated. We had been woken by a loud, sporadic banging on the door- we were half an hour late for our check-out. In a flash we were up, changed and checked-out, yet our train back to Moscow was not for another four hours, what were we to do? Harris was insisting upon going to the Russian Museum, but we knew better: the obvious answer was to pass out in the foyer. For almost three hours we lay sprawled on the couches and floor whilst the Hostel life carried on around us. If we weren’t so physically intimidating we would have been tossed out immediately. However, the sleep was so enjoyable that we almost missed the train back to Moscow.

We started Thursday feeling like new men; refreshed and ready to ‘do’ Moscow. After the seeing the main Moscow sights of the day, we decided to eat at a Czech restaurant (which had the perfect food quantity: beer price ratio) before going to ‘Propaganda’, a famous Moscow club. After finishing our average meal and a few beers we were , quite literally, stumbled upon by an unbelievably drunk old man. Ignoring the protestations of the waitresses, he sat down with us and began slurring his way through the Russian language.

With a mix of awe and wonder, I began to part-translate and part-converse with him (I pride myself on my drunk-Russian translating). Thankfully for Harris and Sam, before long a friend of his arrived who could speak some English. It turned out that blackout-drunk ‘Sergei’ and ‘Viktor’ were 60 years old and out drinking because… Well, they’re Russian. The fact that it was a Thursday, and the two gentleman had work the following morning seemed only a distant consideration. At one point, Sergei’s wife called – but fear not – for Sergei had a brilliant plan: tell her he was with ‘the Americans’. As he passed the phone to Harris, we let out a communal sigh; we told Sergei that none of us were American multiple times. Sergei was unphased. Sergei kept on very obviously hinting that Viktor was in the mafia. We all thought that he was joking until his amigo pulled out about £2000 worth of rubles to pay for the beers. Classic.

The Czech restaurant

The Czech restaurant

After our chance encounter with the Moscow Mafia we hit up ‘Propaganda’; a deep-house club popular amongst students and expats. The club was fun as always; I did my best to chat up anything that moved, whilst Harris and Sam tried to communicate to girls via the medium of expressive dance. The sad thing is that I was only marginally more successful.

Harris: Yes Tom, there is a first time for everything.

Propaganda

Propaganda. HK…

Hungover as always, on the Friday we decided to do something that we would realistically only ever do in Russia- see a ballet at the Bolshoi Theatre.

Well, almost. Tickets to the Bolshoi are notoriously expensive and difficult to get hold of. Plus, after three months of living in one of the most expensive cities in the world I didn’t feel much like parting with my last £30. Thus, I took the executive decision and booked 3 tickets (at £3 each) to see one of the worlds best pianists at the Moscow Conservatory’s Small Hall.

Within fifteen minutes of the concert starting we were all passing in and out of consciousness. It turns out that the amalgamation of a hangover, sleep depravation and piano music can only ever lead to one thing- napping. Worst still, we were sat on the front row and so our bobbing heads were completely visible to everyone in the auditorium. Yet despite this, Sam claims that he actually felt the music more in his sleep; the drool slowly dropping from his mouth must have been an abstract form of applause.

For our final night in Moscow we met up with Andrei, a Muscovite friend of ours from Bristol, and spent the evening smoking shisha and then eating some delicious, traditional Russian food at his grandmothers. A lovely (and highly-suprisingly peaceful) way to end a great boys trip and my time in Moscow.

Moscow

On a side note, since returning home, partly let my liver recover and partly to enjoy the home cooking, I have joined a gym. This action may seem utterly mundane and boring, however, as you know, for the last 7 months I have thrown myself wholeheartedly into ‘being a Russian’. This entails lots of socialising, drinking anything alcoholic, smoking like a chimney and eating ‘zakuski’ (often very salty Russian food which accompanies beer/lash session). It is all good fun, although after walking up a particularly long set of stairs in Moscow and feeling both out of breath and slightly dizzy, I thought it was time to get back in shape.

My first session didn’t go well. After being ‘out-jogged’ by a man older than my father, nearly throwing-up on the rowing machine and then practically passing out doing the plank, I left the building after 17 minutes. Nevertheless, do not worry ladies, I am sure that Tom ‘8-pack’ Reynolds will be back in no time at all.

I will next be posting from Novosibirsk as I have decided to do my last stint there. Yes that’s right, back to Siberia. For those of you who don’t count Russian city facts amongst your hobbies, Novosibirsk is the third largest city in Russia and 6000km from London. Given that Prest had offered to let me sleep on his bed in the relative comfort of St. Petersburg, I am either a true Russophile or, quite simply, a sado-masochist. Only time will tell.

Also, I’ll be making an appearance in Bristol this weekend, please message if you’re free and would like to meet up.

#YOLO

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Работа

After a little international ‘blip’… The blog is back in its full, uninhibited form.

GUM Department Store

To pick up on where I left off, Charlie and I have actually managed to find a more-than-decent looking apartment for a price that wasn’t completely out of our budget. How could this be possible we thought? With only three days left of our cosy communal living experience, we took the plunge, moved out from our snug little hostel and are now proud, fully flat-initiated Muscovites. Whatsmore, instead of just getting the usual dark, damp and dingy Year Abroad flat, we’ve gone for the more palatial approach. We even have a spare bedroom for visiting guests. Our bachelor pad, although admittedly a good half hour on the metro from the centre, is undoubtedly very nice. Ever the realist, it feels incredibly strange and unnatural for me to not have anything bad to say about it. So much so that both Charlie and I are waiting for an inevitable downturn- an axe-wielding landlady, poltergeist or Welsh neighbour surely?

Ladies... I present my bedroom.

Ladies… My bedroom.

Charlie is out of control

Charlie is out of control

As it was a Friday, we decided to go out and have a few quiet cocktails and sample some of the more salubrious (that’s right, more salubrious) destinations in the centre to celebrate our apartment victory, or ‘Victory of the Apartment Day’ as it shall come to be known. This conservative and sensible approach to a night out, after all, would suit our new ‘working lifestyle’. I even put on my tweed jacket, just to show the world that we really meant business.

We began our foray into the Moscow high-life with a decent cocktail bar, but we thought we could do better. After another Mohito for the road, we wandered around passing a number of bars before one caught my eye. Most of that day I had been perusing the ‘Moscow Nightlife’ sites, and this one had been mentioned a number of times. After a quick conversation with the suprisingly friendly bouncer, we entered.

My first impression was: ‘well this is alternative for Moscow’; lots of impressive facial hair, well-fitting jeans and even some flat caps. Most unusual for Russia indeed. Nevertheless, we settled by the bar and I let Charlie decide what to order. As he uttered the words ‘Two Rusty Nails please’ to the barman, I knew that our sensible night out was completely off (Charlie had ordered us cocktails comprising of one half whisky and one half gin. Oh bugger). About 10 seconds after this realisation, another realisation hit us like a limp, well-moisturised backhand across the face: we were in a gay bar. Men of all shapes and sizes were gyrating away all around us, interspersed with the odd girl here and there for good measure. And there we were, together. I was in my tweed jacket and Charlie had some questionable ginger facial hair. We fitted in like peas in a pod.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the current situation in Russian politics, the State Duma (Government) voted 388 to 1 for a bill that makes public events and the dissemination of information by the LGBT community to minors punishable by fines of up to £10,000 (a huge amount for the average Russian). After two more readings, the bill will have to be signed by President Vladimir Putin. Whats more, any protest against this bill is being met with a typically Russian iron-fist. ‘Kiss-ins’, a method of peaceful protest where people simply snog, have been occuring recently. These have been broken-up by militant pro-Church members who religiously beat-up the protesters. All the while, the Police stand by and watch.

The general population’s opinion of homosexuality is sadly still very archaic, according to opinion polls last year almost two-thirds of Russians find homosexuality ‘morally unacceptable and worth condemning’. A third thought homosexuality was the result of ‘a sickness or a psychological trauma’. So for Charlie and I to find the ONLY gay bar in central Moscow really was quite a feat.

I am very proud to say that this did not stop me from finding (the only?) two 24 year old heterosexual girls to talk to. One of them had a boyfriend with her, who was 47. Amazingly, he was Scottish. Not so amazingly, he was called ‘Ronny’, and he proceeded to get absolutely hammered. If there was ever a stereotype of a Scottish man, it was Ronny. To give a quick excerpt of the conversation we had with him: ‘Ayyyeee lads, let’s get ba’errrd!’ Translation: ‘Yes gents, let’s get drunk’.

Naturally, we left Ronny to do his own thing (stumble around aimlessly) whilst I got on with the whole ‘get a Russian girlfriend’ business and began to dazzle the girls with my stupendous idioms, flawless grammar and all-round knowledge of the Russian language.* Or so I tried. Ronny’s girlfriend very loudly and forcefully announced to my face that she spoke such good English I shouldn’t even bother speaking Russian. Twice. Just to reiterate to my gobsmacked face just how good she really was. Just when I thought I couldn’t dislike someone based on first impressions much more, she then sneeringly asked me:

‘If you are only 21, why on earth are you wearing a tweed jacket?!’

Game over. We left.

In terms of my work (Charlie has yet to begin), after two weeks of commuting I am bored of even the spectacular Moscow Metro. It is one of the most impressive metro systems in the world, has more passengers than the London and New York metro combined every day, and I dread it already. In the office I sit at my desk, in my own office; something that millions of people around the world are striving to achieve- a personal office in a magic-circle law firm. All I can say is God knows why, I crave human voices for 10 hours a day. Each time someone walks past my always-open door I look out longingly and wish for that quick, daily ‘kak dela’ conversation. Sat in my suit all day and commuting… Life after university seems foreboding close.

My office (the desk next to me is unoccupied)

On the plus side, the work is actually very useful for both my business knowledge and Russian as I mostly help with translating documents that I don’t even understand in English. If the 4th year exam is on Russian legal deals in the energy sector, I will utterly annihilate it. I have also finally branched out in the office and befriended people in the Banking Department, who are all very friendly and sociable.

Charlie begins his work in the Capital Markets department at Cushman and Wakefield on Monday. He has been so worried by the thought of starting work in such an intense environment that he is struggling to finish his food and even threw up my sumptuous Spaghetti Bolognese on Tuesday night. I had extras.

On Saturday 2nd we celebrated Charlie’s 22nd by dining at ‘Pushkin Cafe’, one of the most ostentatious and impressively ‘tsarist’ restaurants in Moscow. As such once again we thought that we had better dress up to be sure we fitted in. Begrudgingly forgoing the tweed jacket this time, we ‘tied-up’ and got ready to impress the Moscow socialites.

No one else wore ties.

Once again we had managed to overdress, yet far worse (purely in a sartorial sense) was to follow. After the lovely meal we had arranged to meet with Zhenya, a Muscovite friend of Rufus’ who works as a PR in a modelling firm and had kindly agreed to meet up with us and show us some proper bars. After rubbing shoulders with the unashamedly rich and fabulous in a couple of unbelievably exclusive bars we ended up in ‘Solyanka Club’; I would liken it to Dojos in Bristol, but only after everyone in Dojos had suddenly become incredibly wealthy. Despite Charlie and I sticking out like sore-thumbs (at about 3am the incredibly laid-back and chilled Zhenya just laughed, pointed at us and said ‘Your ties…’),we had a great time.

Cafe Pushkin

Cafe Pushkin

Club Solyanka

Club Solyanka

* What about Charlie you may ask? On a slightly more successful note, I can confirm to the masses that Charlie ‘Badass’ McCloy is a no longer a single and ready to mingle eligible bachelor…

Москва

The Last two weeks in Tyumen flew by in a blur of visiting the sights we had yet to see and saying our goodbyes. By the end, as ready as we were to go home, we were actually sad to leave. Especially Charlie…

Early morning wander Tobolsk

I spent the break from Russia… Eating to be honest. Returning for Christmas and then popping to France for a couple of weeks was the perfect way to gain some much-needed weight. After hundreds of Tartiflettes, Raclettes and Croutes before I knew it I was back in the Motherland. This time Charlie and I will be in Moscow for a few months. Thats right, only me and Charlie. Maybe it was after the ‘Banya incident’ or simply Tyumeny crazy things happened whist we were together but Iona and Rob will not be joining us here. They decided to take the soft, easy option of St. Petersburg whilst Charlie and I forge on in our intrepid Russian misadventure.

Before we arrived the only thing Charlie and I had to do was find an apartment to live in, and we had decided that we needed to do this about 4 months ago. Needless to say, we failed miserably. The cost of living in Moscow is widely regarded as the most expensive in the world. To give an example: A 1-bedroom apartment that was suggested for the both of us would have cost £900 a month. Each. Furthermore, it looked like a convent and was located so far from the centre that I reckon it would have been easier to get to St. Petersburg than Moscow each morning.

Until we find an apartment we are staying in the ‘Basilica Hostel’ in a very cosy twin bed room. It’s a 40 minute walk to work every morning, although it means I can enjoy the relative warmth of -8 here! In the hostel, the receptionist thinks I am gay, and Charlie hasn’t even arrived yet (he gets here tomorrow). When asked who will be sharing my room I bumbled my way through some slightly rusty Russian explaining that it was my friend from England. This attempt was met with very raised eyebrows and a classic Russian disapproving stare. Ah well, doing my bit for gay-rights in Russia.

Having semi-decent access to the centre of Moscow is actually quite important for our first couple of months as we are both working. Well, working for no money. Charlie is working at Cushman and Wakefield, a real-estate company, and I am working for Allen and Overy, a law-firm. I started my first day yesterday at 9am and didn’t leave the office till 6.30pm; quite a shock for someone who only got up before 10am during the Winter Break to ski some powder, and even that was a challenge. The work itself was translating and generally helping out, amazingly I haven’t been ask to make coffee or photocopy yet.

St. Basils

Despite my new working life the same ‘challenges’ for my Year abroad remain:

-Become fluent at Russian.

-Get a Russian girlfriend (to help with the above obviously.)

-Get a ‘manly amount’ of chest hair.

Over the course of the next 3 and a bit months I will try to update my progress on those three challenges, as well as anything else vaguely strange/cool/crazy happens of course.