Friday, June 11, 2010

Arrived in Moscow - Depressive beginning

As the plane descends from the stream of cloud, Moscow looked very European city. Greenery all over, small cars following each other on the winding gray roads flanked by tall trees. Weather even at 3 pm was foggy and cloudy with no sign of sunshine. However, as we touched the Russian soil and pass through customs, immigration and baggage handling, it became evident that Russia would be different in many ways from western Europe.

Almost all planes are Russian make, with engine sitting on the top of aircraft body. Robust males look ashen , have lips protruded inside and cheeks puffed up in a manner that would make them look like KGB detectives. A faint smile though appeared on the face of immigration officer after seeing Akshta's a week old photo on her passport. Airport old, unfriendly. One cubicle that was an exchange counter, another one a gift shop, Building hall had just three baggage belts and fourth belt was on another hall. If all flights were to land, it would just be chaos. Our stroller couldn't be traced and that meant we were the last passenger to come out.

Out in the open , it was like any Indian airport, people jostling up with signboards, a small elevator that barely fitted one trolley. A gate manned by another security person with x Ray machine brings us to car park , all of them in black, gray and silver. A subdued ambiance in contrast to the flashy one from USA.

No one here speaks, understand English No bill boards or sign posts are in English. Our driver is Mahmoud - a pudgy but gentle soul who came right up to the hotel room to help with bags. 'Da' means Yes and that's all we could communicate. Everything else was in gestures.

Airport and the road leading to the city appeared similar to Tehran. As we reach city, two lane turn into four, trams and buses appeared. Mahmoud driving speed no longer could hold to 140 km . Opposite side, traffic is dense. Is everyone running out of Moscow ?

Few high storied buildings now appear. They are white on colour, stacked parallel to each other and look similar to HDB. Few private apartments also appear. Still not much sign of restaurants, cafe and malls. Perhaps it's all around Kremlin.

We arrive at the hotel Sputnik , it's an effort to drag suitcase along the slope. Check- in is swift. I was asked to contact concierge for any travel info. There is no package tour. I get a map and booklet on Moscow. We know where to head for Kremlin but now we need sleep !

It's past 1030pm. Weather is still dusky, cloudy. Booklet scares you being alone at night, about carrying valuables. We stick to hotel restaurant, have safe meal of mushroom soup, rice and vegetables, orange juice and tea with French fries. But we do step outside the main door to feel and breathe crispy cool air and feel like being in Chandigarh during winter.

We finish dinner and another complex problem arises. Restaurant accepts only cash, it's not part of hotel. A young Russian girl with English language skills comes as a rescue. We agree to pay next day, the gal would still be on duty. She works 24 hours at stretch and be here when we have b'fast tomorrow.

At 4 am, sky is still dusky but not well lit. Does it ever become dark in Summer ? change in sleep pattern made me watch TV with channels showing world cup soccer, pornography and tourist places. CNN , BBC were there and so was Sony in Hindi.

Screwed up sleep, cold weather, fear of being robbed, currency problems ! Have we taken a right decision to make a stopover in Moscow?

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