Thursday, 23 February 2012

Episode 23: Moscow Consumes Rob

Veliki Novgorod 
Nom nom nom. Moscow has completely eaten me. A few weeks ago I apologised for being too busy to write regular updates and I find myself sat here tempted to do the same thing again. I have indeed been very busy - how cliched for big city living! Just let me explain:

My week involves several things that use up my time. Usually I am either tutoring English or at the offices of a well-known, English-language newspaper working as an intern. In my free time i'm either reading or being sent to art galleries and interviews. I'd love to be able to take more photos of the city and find time to write all this up but at the moment keeping a blog running at the same time is nigh on impossible.

This weekend i'm taking a little break and going on a trip to Veliki Novgorod, the town I visited in November. It'll be nice to get a fresh perspective on Moscow and just distance myself from the ever changing platforms that are my life there. Hey, if anything it'll be nice to not have to go underground for a day or two. More from me soon, this time I genuinely promise.

I've also been trying to find places that cater to my interests in town. I have found a guitar shop (as you all know) and a bookshop that has a fantastic selection of Russian cookery books. Once i've made my mind up i'll definitely treat myself to one. I have given up eating сырники  for lent. They are by far my favourite Russian food and are based on a dairy product called tvorog which I can only describe as a sweet cottage cheese. They are basically tvorog pancakes and you serve them with the oddly satisfying combination of sour cream and jam. Gorgeous.

Сырники in all their glory

Anyway, today I had some free time and decided I need to locate a record shop. I found a fantastically well stocked (especially if you like alternative/punk/metal) store just off of Tverskaya Ulitsa and about 5 mins from Red Square. All the CD's are legal and the same publishers you will find in a Western record shop, but that's where you find you're paying the price. Anyway, it's called TRANSYLVANIA so I, of course, stalked the black metal section for a Burzum CD which I am now listening too. Well it'll have to tied me over til I got to Norway, which is incidentally where I really want to go next.

Sorry also for the lack of pictures this time! I will make it up to you!


Monday, 13 February 2012

Episode 22: Rob moves in, goes to Ikea, buys a guitar, goes to a party and hitchhikes home...

What a week it has been!! My stint as a hotel-bound foreigner is finally over and I have a room of my own in which to lurk, sleep and write blog updates for you lot. I've spent the last few nights getting used to my new regime and flatmate and getting up to several little, ridiculous adventures hence the small wait between episodes. My apologies, this'll be a long one...

First was "The Grand Ikea Trip". As my room in the apartment came unfurnished I was given money off the first month's rent to go out to the GIANT out of town Ikea and get myself a bed, bedclothes and a desk. After getting madly lost and sweaty among the endless aisles of indoor lighting I took a break and sampled the Swedish food they have in the cafeteria there. Yes this place is so big it sells beer and has about three restaurants.

The communal area and my bedroom door
After wondering for a couple more hours in the giant, Swedish, cultural-exchange centre I ended up with a not too shabby single bed, a cheap, efficient table, a work lamp and some really cool bedsheets. After building all this I got the best night's sleep in a week, far away from Marilyn Monroe pictures and noisy hostel poker tournaments.

The rest of the weekend was now free for adventuring and relaxing. On Friday night my flatmate and I went out to a cool little bar tucked somewhere behind Red Square. It's got a German, beer-hall vibe and was full of studenty types glugging away and giggling behind gigantic glasses of cheap lager. The huge screen plays Rammstein videos really loudly and the lighting is very low. Two beers later and my flatmate had to leave for a double-date he'd arranged so I decided to head back on the metro alone and after dark. The alcohol was definitely conducive to my bravery and I arrived safely back in the flat unmolested, not covered in snow and with all my valuables in their respective pockets. Well done me? Oh come on, it's a big deal going out in a city the size of Moscow, especially for a country boy...

The little kitchen
Saturday was "find a guitar day". Anyone following me since Petrozavodsk in September will know that I  can't survive more than a week or so without playing guitar. I hit a cafe and came up with a list of Moscow guitar shops and locations thanks to free wifi and the "" forums. Soon, wrapped and warm and with a belly full of hot chocolate, I set off into the snow.

After finding one or two overpriced and stuffy shops I eventually came across "Mir Muziki" near Mayakovskaya Metro Station where I was able to buy a simple classical/folky accoustic guitar, a soft carry-case and a tuner for about £40. The staff were helpful, taught me the word for "guitar pick" and gave me a bag of free ones for my trouble. Taking my newly acquired friend home was a little tricky on the metro as the crowds were quite thick. Eventually I wrestled it into a respectable tuning and can gladly report that it sounds very warm and mellow. It'll do nicely :)

My flatmate asked me what my plans for the rest of the evening were and as I have yet to make my own circle of friends I was more than happy to accept an invite to the new flat of one of his university buddies. We took the metro all the way across town the Yugo-Zapadnaya station and ended up in a massively wood-paneled but very nice apartment. Despite this being by the last station on this metro line (and having a reputation for being a great hangout for Moscow's alcoholic-homeless community) this district is expensive and well thought of. The flat was stylish but old fashioned. The high shelves were littered strangely by volumes and volumes of theological textbooks in various languages. The explanation I got was that they were left by the previous tenant who was possibly off on a quest to fight demons...fantastic!
My room and awesome duvet cover

We'd brought a bottle of whiskey with us as a house-warming present and so settled down to play a Russian version of the card game "Liar" in which you try and deceive opponents by passing off undesirable cards as cards of another suit. It was complicated but a great icebreaker and soon I was breaking out my unsteady Russian for the first time in months. The flat filled up a little more as the evening progressed and I found myself drafted into various political/economic discussions. I just about kept afloat and tried my best to give an opinion when prompted. It was lovely that so many of the students I met were so interested in me. Clearly the novelty of being a Russian-speaking Englishman still persists outside of Karelia and I had to explain my presence in Moscow quite a bit over the evening. In stereotypical Russian style the drink was free flowing and I found my glass mysteriously refilled with wine and at one point with some unlabeled beer out of a plastic bottle...Eventually we were singing REM and swaying about quite a lot (for my sins I seem to remember some embarrassing airguitaring too) and it took a glass of wine being knocked off a coffee table to finally break the evening up.

Russian Guitar #2
My flatmate and I were far too late for the metro and we ended up on the ringroad highway hitching a lift home. Normally alarm bells would have been ringing in my head but I suppose the alcohol had numbed my senses a little. Equally however my trust in my flatmate, intoxicated as he was, was unerring and soon we found ourselves bartering with a nice chap in a fast Audi for passage back to our district. We both practically fell asleep in the warm car with relaxing Russian rock playing softly over the muggy radio.

We collapsed in the flat and didn't surface til Sunday afternoon, the last thing I remember being the Audi guy laughing and wishing us both good fortune.

Clearly Moscow is going to be a testing and strange experience but then again that's almost a pointless thing to have told you. One of my few tested and confident theories about this country is that it will never ever be boring. If this first week is anything to go by then, once again, I am pleasingly very correct in that belief.

more very soon

PHOTOS: Wandering around Moscow

So here are a few pictures of my couple of days wondering around Moscow. I'm between accommodation at the moment but will write a big blog update as soon as I'm fully settled - so much to tell you all!!

Semi-frozen river and St Basil's

Kremlin clocktower

Why would anyone want a car here??

Add caption

Red Square from the river 

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Episode 21: Moscow, Marilyn Monroe and mad organisation

An acoustic guitar (and Marilyn Monroe)
So there I was, falling asleep on top of my suitcase on the Aeroexpress train from Moscow Domodedevo Airport to Paveletsky Station. I'd been up since 2am. (British time) I needed either coffee or sleep. I had no idea what to do when the train journey ended. It was supposedly -19...

Outside the window was a rush of slush and snow and the snowy trees of  a scraggy forest. The carriage was populated with several suntanned Russians returning from some far-off island holiday and heavily drinking the rum they'd bought as a souvenir. A little boy pretending to be a soldier kept opening and closing the carriage doors. Each time he did this the compartment was filled with icy blasts of air. Come to think of it he is probably the only reason I didn't fall asleep completely.

45 minutes later I dragged myself and my case up the platform and into the metro below the station. I took it all the way to the stop closest to my hostel and retraced my novemeber steps along Kuznetskaya Ulitsa. Soon I found myself collapsing in the reception of the hostel that i'd visited with Jaya, Marilyn and Alex last year. (See this post: )

This time, however, I wasn't inserted next to the builders in a bottom-floor room and instead found myself in a perfectly reasonable single on the upper floors of the hostel. Venturing to this previously unknown quarter of the building I found myself staring at endless pictures of Marilyn Monroe that adorned every wall and flat surface. At first I thought this was a symptom of my tiredness but it seems that, before the current overhaul, this part of the hostel was a separate hotel know as "Marilyn Hostel" It's almost borderline obsessive decor plasters images of the 50's superstar nearly everywhere. Their rigid adherence to their scheme stretches as far as the toilets which also don't escape her stare and cheeky smile - oi, what you looking at! Luckily the shower cubicles are her biggest blind spot so for a few minutes a day I can escape this bizarre big brother. After a night's sleep I got used to it and in fact find it a little disappointing that the staff aren't dressed like the cast of "Grease".

A cool bookshelf for guests to swap literature (and, of course, Marilyn pics)
The next afternoon (I slept til 2pm) I took a walk out in the freezing temperatures towards Red Square and the Kremlin. I bought a brunch in a coffee house and began to relax and acclimatize. It only feels truly cold here when you're walking into a breeze or taking your gloves off to use a phone or fumble for change. By far the biggest annoyance is slush. This muddy matter clings to boot tread and delights in coating the ends of your trousers or flicking up the legs as your walk. Muscovites, as far as I can tell, have some inert ability to wear whatever they like and pass through it unsoiled and composed. The day I stop walking round the city looking at my feet will probably be the day I finally blend in.

Home base for the next few days
So much still to do over the next few days! I need to get registered with the paper, view apartments and hopefully prolong my stay in the hotel until I am able to move in somewhere. It's been months of frantic organising to even get myself this far and with the end just about in sight i'm unsure whether it's frustration or excitement that I feel. Nonetheless, the boy is back in town.

More soon!