Random thoughts on Moscow

Sunday, August 11, 2013

I've been in Moscow for about ten days now but unlike when I started on the Ceremonies in London, we've dived straight into long days.  And it turns out that working 8-10 hours a day really cuts into one's blogging time, so you're going to have to make do with a few random observations about life while I settle in some more and find the time and energy to do something more traditionally blogworthy.

On life in the gilded cage:

The view from my hotel window.

The original plan was that I'd move to a normal apartment after a short-ish stay at the hotel. Colleagues who've been here longer have been moved into apartments, but now, for whatever reason, there are general rumbles that no one will be leaving.  It's our Russian Hotel California.  There are pros and cons to this.  Of course the hotel is luxurious and gorgeous.  I've already mentioned the breakfast buffet every morning that's beyond extensive. Along with the usual fruit, cereals, pastry and hot options, there are always two large platters of smoked salmon.  And a bowl of caviar.  It's ridiculous.  I've quickly had to impose some very strict rules about that, lest I end up having to be removed with a forklift.  

My room has an adjoining lounge that's got a kitchen, so if I want to cook something I can. There's also a small supermarket in an oddly fogotten mall attached to the hotel (which also has a mobile phone shop, furniture store, and, bizarrely, a pet store. So if I want to pick up a new puppy, I'm sorted.) And there's a well-equipped gym in the basement that's open 24 hours a day.  Oh, and an Executive Lounge a couple of floors up where they do free drinks and hot hors d'oeuvres every evening.  And of course someone comes and changes the sheets and towels and arranges the detritus on the bathroom counter in a regimented way every day.   And there's a special shuttle bus that takes all the Ceremonies people to the office in the morning, and back to the hotel in the evening.  In most every way, we want for nothing. 

I should probably just shut up right now, because uttering a word of complaint after reading back through those last paragraphs seems ungrateful in the extreme.  But there are some drawbacks, mainly to do with location.  (The real estate agents are right... Location, location, location.)  The hotel sits on a a very busy street near an intersection with an even more major street (Leningradsky Prospekt, for anyone who knows where that is...). If you leave the bubble of the hotel/mall in search of, say, a nice cafe, or some shops to poke around in, or a park or bit of river to run past you're going to have to wander an awfully long way because it's a bit of a wasteland.  

Not exactly the ideal environment for a pleasant stroll.

Of course it's not too long a walk to the Metro, which is cheap and fantastic and can whisk one away to any number of pleasant spots.  But that just not the same, which makes a the place feel like a bit of a gilded cage.  It's not the life I was expecting, but I really shouldn't complain.  Except that I just did, so sue me.

On the cost of living in Moscow:

Everyone warned me that Moscow is an expensive place to live, and truly, they are not kidding.  This is actually one of the other huge advantages of hotel life - having a roof over my head and a massive breakfast provided every day saves a ton of money.  But buying groceries for lunch and dinner is still a shock every time.  The first time I visited the grocery the day after I got here, I spent a long time wandering around trying to decipher the packaging and doing shocking calculations in my head: "Ten quid? For an utterly unremarkable block of cheese? What the hell?"

Cheese in the hotel supermarket.  And that one on the far right? £14.50!

Some things are not so expensive.  For instance, Russian bread is cheap.  I got a small round loaf of rye bread for about 40p.  And fruits and veg aren't bad either.  Still, I've been to the supermarket several times now and I've yet to get away without spending about £35 at a go, and still when I open the fridge the next day I think, "Meh, there's nothing to eat."  I can't figure it out.

On finding Walmartskaya:

Though the hotel has almost everything one could want, there are a few things I needed in order to really feel at home. A cheese grater (which should probably be gold plated, given the cost of the material being grated), some tea towels, some more coat hangers... the kind of thing you'd normally go pick up at a dollar store down the road.  However, as I've just explained, there's nowhere like that at all convenient.  Luckily, I have access to important local knowledge in the form of the Moscow Hash House Harriers, who I've already run with twice and gone out for drinks with on their weekly TGIF Friday evening booze-up.  I quizzed one of the local Russian
Hashers about where Muscovites would go on such a quest and she directed me to a chain of stores called "Ашан" (Ah-shan) which, for ease (and comic effect) I have begun to think of as Walmartskaya.

It was a fairly long metro ride to get there, and a longish walk on the other end, but it was so so worth it. After a week haunting the aisles of the small grocery at the hotel, Walmartskaya was heaven-sent.  The main level was all household stuff, and they had tons of back-to-school displays and, well, all the kind of stuff you'd expect in a Walmart or Zeller's or whatever.  And the prices were cheap!  Coat hangers were 18 roubles each.  That's about 35p or 55 cents.  And I got my cheese grater and tea towels, and a few other necessities without breaking the bank.

And of course there is a cookbook section.

Downstairs was a huge grocery store.  I had to hold myself back, because I knew it was a long metro ride home and I wasn't interested in trudging through the metro with bags of melting ice cream and such, but I'm already plotting a return with other people who might be interested in sharing a cab back to the hotel.  And here's an odd never-before-encountered tidbit:  When I checked out at Walmartskaya, the cashier who scanned everything wouldn't take my cash.  Instead, she gave me this:

Auchan bar code set:Moscow

Then I had take that receipt about 10 feet to a bank of automatic machines sort of like automated tellers (cashpoints) where I scanned my receipt and inserted my roubles and got my change and a new, different bar coded receipt.  Then in order to get out of the store I had to scan the second barcode at another scanner before the automatic gates would let me out.  Interesting.

On the reliably friendly nature of Hashers:

As I mentioned, I've been running with the local Moscow chapter of the international "drinking club with a running problem".  I've said it before, but it bears repeating... I love the Hash. I'd been in town for exactly four days before I found myself running through a farflung park in the outskirts of Moscow with a group of like-minded, friendly, crazy people who welcomed me into their group like I was family.  It was a place I'd never have gone as a tourist, but with the Hash it was routine.  Then on the following Friday I met up with them again for the aforementioned weekly Friday drinks.  And I've just returned from my second Sunday run, in another lovely park.  And I've been invited to a casual run on Wednesday and a dinner party next week.  I bet I have colleagues in the office who've been here months longer than me but have no one to socialise with who's not also working on the Ceremonies, so I am pathetically grateful to the Hash for giving me a ready-made social group of people with local knowledge, common interests and, of course, beer.

Caviar chips
One of the local Russian hashers, showing off a Russian beer and a bag of Lay's caviar flavoured potato chips.

And that's the report from Moscow this week.  I'll try to get out and do something touristy and fun next week and give you a bit more local colour.

1 Comment:

Kathryn said...

I am still dreaming about platters of smoked salmon and caviar for breakfast everyday. And caviar flavoured Lays!! So funny - Canada has a New Flavour of Lays contest on now: The 4 to vote on (after you taste them) are: Grilled Cheese and Ketchup; Perogy Platter; Maple Moose and Classic Caesar (or something). I picked up the Perogy Platter...will get back to you on that!
I say enjoy the caviar while you can!!!

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