Friday, 9 September 2011

24 Hours in Moscow

I arrived in Moscow on Wednesday at about 8:30pm, and was met by someone from work who drove me to my apartment – so far so easy. I’d found a room through the wonders of couchsurfing, with a couple called Yasna and Maxim. Yasna is from Vladivostok and works as a translator, and Maxim is from Odessa, in Ukraine, and works as a web developer. Their roommate is travelling, so I’m subletting his room for September and October. Before meeting them I was obviously worried – you get a lot of information on a couchsurfing profile, and the references are especially useful, but agreeing to live with total strangers for two months is generally a bit daunting! But they were incredibly welcoming, and put me at ease straight away, as did my third flatmate, Lyena (an Osteopath from Ekaterinburg).

Yasna had told me that the apartment was ‘Stalin era’, which sounds ominous but which is apparently a Good Thing. Stalin era apartments tend to have thick walls (so you can’t hear your neighbours at night) and high ceilings, with large living areas. Khrushchev-era apartments, on the other hand, tend to be smaller, with lower ceilings and thin walls, and the buildings tend to be uglier. Modern apartments are a bit shiny, but basically similar to Khrushchev ones. So far so good, and the apartment, when I saw it, was better than I could have hoped – huge living spaces and nice bathrooms, and on the 12th floor with beautiful views over the city. Somehow, I seem to have landed on my feet.

Sadly though, there are always challenges, and so far the doors seem to be my nemesis. Getting in on the first night proved impossible, and the driver had to work out how to work the code. The next morning, when I left to go to work, I couldn’t find the button to get out and in the end just skulked in the hallway until someone else left. I then faced a new challenge: procuring money. On Yasna’s advice, I had decided to buy a three month metro pass, which required cash. I found a cashpoint no problem (at the bank near the metro), but it didn’t like being asked to speak English, and gobbled my card. Luckily, work were picking me up today, so I didn’t need to worry, but I was a bit concerned about how I would feed myself over the coming months.

A quick pep talk later, I headed back to the apartment to wait for my ride and figure out my next move (3 attempts at the door, all unsuccessful – eventually I tailgated someone going in). Happily, a solution was at hand. Apparently, machines eating cards is a common occurrence in Russia, and rather than waiting for the bank to send you a new card, you simply go to the bank, who open up the machine for you and give you your card back (Aside: anyone know how they do that? Can't help thinking that the high incidence of card eating might be related to the tendency to jemmy with the machine until it gives up the card). Obviously this wasn’t something I was going to attempt alone, but when Jemma arrived to collect me (I couldn't find the button to get out, and in the end asked Yasna to come and show me where it was... apparently it was right in front of me all along), we took ourselves to the bank where, on presentation of my passport, I was reunited with my card.

We then drove to the office, where I spent the day battling to be able to save things on the server, open calendars, and other such exciting tasks. At lunch, my colleague Sergey took me first to a bank (success! I have money!) and then to what turned out to be an English pub that does good lunch deals. To my delight, it serves London Pride, HoneyDew, and Aspell’s Cider! Suddenly, I feel at home, and all is well with the world!

In the evening, it was time to attempt the subway. Armed with a map, I headed first to the kiosk to buy my pass. Clearly there was no way I would be able to communicate what I wanted, so Yasna had written what I wanted for me on a piece of paper to give to the ticket lady. I handed it over with a 5000 ruble note and what I hoped was a winning smile. Looking perplexed, she took the note, but confusion soon turned to laughter and I was soon tripping on my way with the desired pass in my pocket. My Cyrillic might be pretty dodgy, but it was good enough to work out where to change lines and follow the signs for my line, and before I knew it I was triumphantly home.

And this time, I even managed to work the door.

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