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