Friday, February 28, 2014

Russia Days 8 & 9: Hanging around in Sochi, then Travel Day, Sochi -> Moscow (Planes, Trains, and Автозаводская*)

Monday was a relaxing day in Sochi (not really Sochi, but the neighbourhood around my hotel) after a week of excitement. I wandered around the neighbourhood with Jen and Heidi, stopping in at many shops to see what they were selling, and helping the women communicate with my fragmented Russian. I picked up a few souvenirs, and somewhere along the way found enough food to keep me going.

Now we're at Tuesday, February 25th, and it's time to leave Sochi. Spent the morning eating, packing up and relaxing, and checked out of the hotel. After lunch, Artur, the same guy who picked me up at the airport the night I arrived, too me back to the airport. After more than a week practising my Russian, we were able to have a bit more of a conversation this time.

I was glad that I got the airport early. There was a lineup to get in the main door, as there was a security check there, complete with Xray machine for the luggage. A group of Australians almost walked off with my large suitcase by mistake while I was reassembling my stuff! Then there was a very long line to check in for my flight and check my bag. I had some time to kill before my flight. Because I had bought this ticket on short notice on Saturday, I did not have a direct flight to Moscow, but had to change planes in St Petersburg. When we landed in St Petersburg we walked down the stairs from the plane to a bus that took us to the terminal building. I was not able to get a boarding pass for my connecting flight in Sochi, but when we got off the bus, just inside the terminal building was a desk where I showed my passport and got my boarding pass, as a huge throng crowded around. The wait in St Petersburg was about an hour and a half, and then we were on our way to Moscow Vnukovo airport. Moscow has three main passenger airports: Sheremetyevo, Domodedovo (where I had changed planes and cleared customs on my way to Sochi), and Vnukovo. We landed (to the usual applause, which I've heard occasionally in North America, but on each flight landing in Russia), I picked up my checked bag, and found my way to the AeroExpress train that would take me in to the city. It wasn't hard to figure out the machine that dispensed the ticket: 340 rubles (about $10) for the half-hour trip to the Kievskaya metro station. I met a Turish guy who was in Moscow on business (he works for Yandex, the Russian counterpart to Google, who had opened an office in Turkey). He didn't speak much Russian, but he was able to help me figure out how to buy a 5-trip ticket for the metro when we got there.

The train was almost empty, and was quite comfortable. Not much to see outside as we approached the city, so I entertained myself by trying to read the ads on the train. Ads are much easier than other printed materials, as they need to communicate their point very simply and concisely, and sometimes the pictures help!

We arrived at Kievskaya Vokzal (train station), and found our way to the Metro station adjacent to it. Got my 5-trip ticket and got on the ring line train. The Moscow Metro is huge, with about 170 stations on 11 lines. Ten of the lines criss-cross through the central area from one suburb to another in various directions, while the ring line runs in a circle around the downtown. That provides lots of places to change lines, so - like the New York Subway, there is often more than one way to get where you are going. There are good maps of the system on every train, and the name of the next station is called out each time (usually clearly audible, but not always). The maps on the trains include English transliteration of the station names, but the signs in the stations, indicating which stations are on the route of the train at each platform, and where to walk to switch to another line - are in Russian/Cyrillic only. So being able to read the Russian signs is a huge plus, and makes navigating the subway system pretty easy.

I took the ring line to Paveletskaya, and switched there to the green line, going one stop to *Автозаводская = Avtozavodskaya, the name of the Moscow Metro station right at my hotel. The station name means "auto factory", as prosaic as many of the names on the Moscow Metro. I walked up the steps to exit the station, and my hotel was right there.

There was some confusion at the hotel when I checked in. Although I had notified them on Saturday of my change in plans, and heard back from them on Monday that they acknowledged the change, the women on duty late Tuesday night knew nothing of this, and told me my reservation had been cancelled when I did not show up as scheduled on Sunday. They had only one room left for the night, and it was much nicer than what I had booked. I took it, and paid 11,800 rubles (close to $400) on the near-promise that everything would be sorted out in the morning when their booking department opened.

So I wound up in a very nice suite for the night. The only problem was that it was about 35 degrees in it when I got there. I'm getting used to the Russians overheating cars and buses (and I thought they were used to cold weather...), but this was ridiculous. I tried fiddling with the thermostat with no success, and then called down to reception for help. A guy quickly arrived, told me the thermostat does not work, and adjusted the rads directly. Luckily the window opened, so that helped cool things down quickly.

I'm in Moscow!

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