Night in the City
Posted by philwhiteland on Wed, 12 Jun 2019
(image courtesy of Andrew Shiva/Wikipedia)
Stepping out from the Arrivals Hall of Moscows Domodedovo Airport into the Russian night was more of a surprise than I expected. It was, of course, cold, this being November. However, at an average of -5C it was, apparently, relatively spring-like by Muscovite standards. The real shock to the system was stepping out of a relatively modern airport building, which could have been anywhere in the world really, onto what appeared to be a building site. There was a makeshift tarmac path which petered out after a few yards into rough ground, which we clambered over to reach the car, parked, with loads of others, on the side of a sort of road designated by wire fencing. To be fair, I have since learned (thank you Wikipedia) that Domodedovo was upgraded substantially in 2005 and I must have arrived there in the middle of all of this. Nevertheless, the sudden switch from modern building to rough and ready ground was unexpected.
We set off for the City Centre, with me trying to find something to say that might be internationally comprehensible, and largely failing. The relative silence did give me chance to observe the road and traffic in more detail than I perhaps would have done. I was surprised to find we were on a busy six lane highway which did not appear to have any central reservation or safety barriers, just three lanes of traffic going hell-for-leather one way and three lanes doing the same in the opposite direction. The other surprise was that there was no hard shoulder, or rather, if there was it wasn’t used in the way we would expect. Cars that had broken down or stopped, for whatever reason, just stopped right where they were, in the lane in which they were travelling. This made for an interesting journey when you suddenly realise you were approaching a parked car at some speed and had to switch lanes in a marked manner.
Moscow itself seemed, reassuringly, much like any other city, with the same advertising hoardings, neon lights and traffic jams. We parked at the front of my hotel and I walked into the lobby, which apparently doubled as the hotel bar, to find a table full of my colleagues from university. I pulled up a chair and gratefully accepted a Baltika beer. Around the table were the two senior lecturers whose programme this was, a colleague of mine who was part of the teaching team and who had just completed her first day of teaching the students in Moscow, and Cliff. Cliff (not his real name) was the local ‘fixer’ whose company held the licence for the course and with whom our university was partnered for the course delivery. Cliff was an amiable and charming English chap in his 30s who lived and worked in Moscow and had done for several years. He knew his way around the city and its bureaucracy and was, therefore, the ideal link for us. My ‘taxi driver’ was, in fact, Cliff’s right-hand man here in Russia and was rumoured to be ex Special Forces.
I recounted my travails at the hands of British Airways, Domodedovo Airport and putative taxi drivers, which they found amusing. After a couple more Baltikas, I was more amenable to seeing the funny side too. I collected my key and set off for the lift to go up to my room. Beside the lift was an English version of the local Moscow paper, the headline warned of possible trouble ahead. Apparently, the following day, Friday 4th November, 2005, had been announced as a Public Holiday at relatively short notice (Unity Day, I think) and there were concerns that there might be some demonstrations as the public were expecting to be celebrating a different event on a different date. This did not bode well for me as I had Friday at leisure, was due to teach on Saturday and Sunday, then returning to the U.K. on Monday.
I repaired to my room, which was not unlike a student’s bedroom in the Halls of Residence at home - bed, desk, T.V., small en-suite shower room, wardrobe. I knew, from discussions before at the university, that the cost per night for this room was eye-wateringly expensive and had only been reduced to this exorbitant level by virtue of one of the two course leaders staying on for a few days to deliver some free management training to the hotel staff. To find that all we were getting for this amount was this tiny room, was a bit of a surprise! Still, I would be able to review my teaching materials here in my spare time tomorrow. Now it was time to call my wife and let her know I was safely installed and then to collapse in a heap at the end of a long and stressful day. Tomorrow, I could explore my new surroundings.