Taksi!

 

Being the second part of The Moscow ChroniclesI  Follow the link for Part 1 - Moscow Calling

 

I'm not a big fan of flying.  If I could manage it on my own, I might probably be just about alright, just as long as I didn't go too high.  Terry Wogan used to have a correspondent (Willie Gofar, I think) who aimed to circumnavigate the world by hot-air balloon, the only problem was that he didn't like heights, so he had to keep one foot on the floor at all times and he also had to be back home for his tea each day.  By and large, I had some sympathy with him.

If you remember, from the first blog-post, I'm currently, and rather reluctantly, on a flight from Heathrow to Moscow's Domodedovo Airport on a mission to teach Human Resource Management to a cohort of students on behalf of my university.  I'm travelling alone but the seat next to me is occupied by a young, very well dressed, Russian gentleman.  We've exchanged pleasantries, as you more or less have to when crammed together for four hours, eating like a Praying Mantis (by which I don't mean a diet of insects but rather the position you have to adopt if you're to avoid elbowing your fellow passengers) but nothing more.

When we finally landed at Moscow, somewhere around 20.00 local time, I discovered the first snag of the trip.  British Airways in its own inimitable way had forgotted to give out the Landing Cards necessary to get through Russian Passport Control.  These were available on a table as we approached the Passport Control Desks but, there was only one English translation available for the entire flight, so the whole thing took on something of the air of a rugby scrum.  I began to despair of ever getting any further into Russia than this Arrivals Hall until my Russian travelling companion very kindly stopped and guided me through the completion of the card.  I was pathetically grateful for this help given that I was wound up like a coiled spring long before I arrived and I was really not in a good place for things going wrong. 

I then proceeded to the Passport Control Desk and cheerfully produced my UK Passport, complete with the requisite Visa stamp allowing me to visit and work in Russia.  Obtaining this stamp had been a major exercise in the first place and there had been some doubt about whether my passport would be returned by the Russian Embassy in time for my trip, which had done nothing to calm my underlying panic.  I think all Immigration Officers are trained to treat you with a certain disdain but I don't think I've ever been regarded as if I was something that the cat had dragged in, in quite the way that this Officer did.  She peered at me and my passport with open hostility and then, clearly against her better judgement, stamped the passport viciously and returned it to me with the air of one who thinks 'on your own head be it'.

Delighted to have jumped this particular hurdle, I hurried to collect my luggage from the carousel and was chuffed to find it was all there.  One of my chief worries had been that all or some of my luggage would go missing.  This wouldn't have been the end of the world if it was just my clothing but my pilot's case had all of my teaching materials, videos and laptop inside and I would have been completely up a gum tree without those.

 Up to now, my experience of Domodedovo Airport had not been markedly different from that of any other airport, even the Immigration Officer hadn't been all that unusual, you can get surly Passport Officials everywhere.  However, that was all about to change.  I went out through the double doors marked Exit and was immediately engulfed in a wave of people, apparently taxi drivers, all yelling and shouting at me.  Some were holding name cards for those they were to collect from the airport but most were not.  I was expecting to be greeted by someone at the airport so I surveyed the scene hopefully, but my heart sank when I realised there was no card with my name on it.  In the meantime I was being assailed by all these men offering to take me to Moscow, for a price.  I explained that I had someone coming to collect me but this didn't seem to dissuade them.  I eventually fought my way through the melee and sat down on one of the benches disconsolately, still under siege from the massed ranks of taxi drivers.  It dawned on me that I had not taken the precaution of getting the phone numbers of my colleagues who were already here in Moscow and, therefore, I had no way of contacting them to ask what was happening.  Then I realised that, with the time difference, it was possible that the Subject Administrator for the course back at my university might still be at work.  I rang her and, glory be, she was!  I explained my situation, against the babble of orbiting taxi drivers, and she said she would get in touch with my colleagues and find out what was going on.  I rang off, much relieved.  The taxi driver phalanx had thinned out whilst I had been on the phone, presumably having hijacked further passengers after me.  I settled down to wait but there was one remaining taxi driver from the previous horde who clearly did not believe in taking "No" for an answer, as he kept asking me if I needed a taxi.  Out of interest (and inadvisedly I suppose, but I wasn't at all sure that I would be collected) I asked him how much it would be to take me to my hotel, he then quoted a figure that would only have made sense if it had been a gold-plated limousine.  This was laughable not only because I didn't have that sort of money but also because I was sitting opposite the Airport Taxi Desk, behind which were quotes for typical fares to various places, which showed an amount about half of that being quoted my persistent friend, for a trip to Moscow City Centre.

The phone rang and it was my colleague in Moscow who was the Course Leader.  He apologised that I hadn't been met at the airport but assured me that my driver was on his way.  All I had to do was wait and beat off the entreaties of my circling taxi driver.

Quite some time passed and I began to wonder if I would ever see civilisation again.  I must have cut a lonely figure, surrounded by my luggage in a deserted Arrivals Hall, just me and my pet driver.

Just then, a tall young man in a leather jacket appeared and produced a piece of card with a variant of my name on it.  Overjoyed I picked up my luggage and went over to him explaining volubly the trials and travails of my recent past.  He smiled blankly, took one of my cases and we headed off to find his car.  I realised that there was every likelihood that he didn't speak any English and, of course, I don't speak any Russian.  This was clearly going to be an interesting journey.

Watch out for Part 3 of The Moscow Chronicles coming soon.  You can find a lot more from Philip here