The Day of Nightmare in Moscow

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Useless shopkeepers hide here

Useless shopkeepers hide here

We find the left luggage room easily and leave our suitcases behind, then decide to head for an internet café.  I want to shift money around my accounts and the others want to check email and Couchsurfing requests in cities ahead of us.   I cannot login to the internet banking for the card that was stolen.  I figure this must be a temporary thing until I contact the helpdesk.  So now I have to make an international call to Australia.  My mobile will not call the number.  I go into a mobile phone shop and ask how I can call international.  They explain you just can’t on my mobile phone and that I need a ‘taksofon’ card to use in the public telephones you find on the street.  This starts an hour mission of me becoming increasingly angry with incredibly unhelpful Russians as I wonder why my internet banking is disabled.
<in Russian> “You have taksofon cards?”
<in Russian> “No.”
<in Russian>”Where are taksofon cards?”
<in Russian> “I don’t understand.”
This would be followed by them immediately looking down and away from me in such a way as to suggest that if I was a burning panda they wouldn’t care – unless I was buying something from them.  When I finally find one its just five metres from the last disinterested shopkeeper I had asked.  I make a point of showing it to them while pointing and saying,
<in Russian> “Where taksofon card? There…there.”
To which they return a nod saying they knew all along, they just didn’t give a crap about some dumb tourist speaking bad Russian.  I begin further developing my plans to make an apartment-egg killing spray to apply to Moscow generally in order to try and start fixing this place.

I was convinced that local shopkeepers would buy kittens just to strangle them to death

I was convinced that local shopkeepers would buy kittens just to strangle them to death

So I take the card to a phone, read the instructions and start dialling.  There is a long pause, some strange sounds and an engaged signal.  I eject the card and try to start again.  It is not accepted again.  The card has been used up somehow.  I wonder if I can use the handset to rearrange the phone, the phone stand and possibly the face of the guy who just gave me this card.  I decide to take another path entirely and start walking back to the hotel I stayed in for my first three days.  At least they speak some English and will be able to help me.

I’m as nice as I can be given the circumstances and the young Russian guy behind the desk in the business centre tells me to use the fax and just call wherever I want.  I call the helpdesk and ask why I can’t login to my internet banking.  They say I need my account details to make the login.  I explain where I am and he reads everything out to me over the phone.  So I sit down at one of the computers to try and login again.  Nope.  Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.  I ask to use the phone again and by this time the young guy is on my side with a dry humoured look on his face.
“It’s okay, just call as much as you need.”
I get back onto the helpdesk in India and this time they flatly tell me that my internet login has been cancelled.  I can re-enable it when I get my new card.  I explain I’m in Moscow and that might be a little difficult.  He then says because I’m overseas they wont even send my new card until I get back to Australia.

“So what you’re saying is you are doing everything in your power to prevent me from accessing my money for the next six weeks??” I start to lose any form of sensibility now.
”My money that I’m being paid to be on holiday here will now be completely inaccessible for the entire trip.  That’s tantamount to stealing from me.”
“I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do sir”, the Indian man apologises.
“What else I can do? I’ve noticed a number of branches of this bank in Moscow.  There must be some way you can help me”, I plead.
“They can give you some emergency cash”, he explains, “about five hundred dollars.”
“How am I going to do that since I don’t speak much Russian?  And how do you expect me to survive on that for six weeks in Russia??”
He neither knows nor cares.  At this point my thin grip on maintaining my temper is sliding away by the second and I demand to speak to a manager.  No, that can’t be done, nothing can be done, go away little person and stop tying up my phone line.  I hang up the phone informing them they will be hearing from me soon enough.

So now I sit down and wonder what the hell I can do for six weeks in Russia with absolutely no money.  Lari and Don can help me out, but that’s not really fair and would mean I won’t be enjoying my time worrying about money.  I remember I have two credit cards with me, both with plenty of spare space.  I must be able to do something with them.  In a flash of divine inspiration I realise I can transfer credit across to my other debit card and use it normally.  I login immediately and do so, it works a treat.  I then go to the Bankomat in the next room and withdraw money, no problem at all.  I’m back in the game, on top of this Russian nightmare and ready to move on.  Don, however, isn’t.

He’s just discovered from our helpful Russian man that the hostel he stayed in for the first night never actually registered him in Russia.  We don’t know how serious this is and Don now wants to know if they can register him posthaste, or who can do it for him.  The guy is quite certain that it’s very serious and we’ll get in trouble with local police soon enough, no matter explaining it to the passport control people when we leave the country.  Since Don didn’t stay in the hotel, they won’t register him.  A lengthy discussion ensues and we decide to get registered in Yekaterinburg tomorrow when we arrive.

So this just leaves the question of what the hell you do on a hot, summer afternoon in Moscow?  My answer was to go over to Kievskaya train station, go for a brief walk and get on the hour and a half ferry ride across the city.  This would take us to eight o’clock when there was a couchsurfing meetup to see a Philippino film.  That sounds like heaven after the nightmare I’ve just been living.  The boat ride will be a chance to calm down, have a cool beer and let the stress slide away.  Of course, there’s no chance of that happening for us today.

Pavement art or lazy builders?

Pavement art or lazy builders?

We embark on the boat on a hot summer afternoon and for the first forty minutes or so, that is how it remains.  Then some serious storm clouds pour in over the horizon in record time.  At around the halfway point of the trip we’re caught in a massive, chilly downpour; watching lightning crack over the city and around cathedrals and the Kremlin.  The storm from two days ago in St Petersburg seems to be following us.  Everyone on the boat is suddenly diving for cover and this is the point we realise we have to get off as soon as possible to catch a train across the city to catch that film.  In the torrential rain, this doesn’t seem likely and we wait until the end of the journey, hoping the rain will ease.  It doesn’t and we’re hurrying along flooded streets to find the all important Metro entrance while the last of the storm empties itself onto the city.

I had written down the extensive directions earlier, these are always necessary to find anything in the dense apartment nest that is Moscow.  So we try to understand them and soon find ourselves huddling around a small piece of paper after two unsuccessful wanderings trying to find an elusive pathway.  We have a small argument about whether we should just go to the train station and drink ourselves into a stupor before passing out in our cabin.  I notice another stairway exit near the station and walk off, determined to be sitting down somewhere calm watching a film as soon as possible.   It is the right pathway this time.  We pass through an area filled with groups of people drinking beer together in front of a building.  It’s not a pub or café, or even an event, but it looks like a pub atmosphere being created where these people have decided to gather.  We push through a number of gates before finding the right carpark and it’s with near desperation I press the intercom number to be let into the building.  We arrive happily and are welcomed into a little warm cocoon of happiness inside the day of pain.

Inside a group of people are spread around a small loungeroom, taking up every couch, chair and horizontal surface to get a view of the amply sized television.  The film night is being held in the home of the Couchsurfing Country Ambassador for Russia, who I particularly want to meet while I’m passing through town.  Deric certainly looks Philippino and a well turned out one at that.  His short black hair is groomed immaculately and swept back over his head.  He’s dressed well, but comfortably.  He works at the Philippine embassy and enjoys hosting a lot of Couchsurfers, often many people at the same time.  The film is from his home country and watching it with the aid of a cold beer is the best part of this endless nightmare day.  After it finishes, we chat to everyone for half an hour before running off into the night.  I ask Sasha the Siberian about my Taksofon card nightmare and he replies,
“They do it to me all the time as well, it’s not tourists they hate, it’s everyone.”
“So now we’re heading to your hometown, what should we do there?”,  I ask him, curious for his tips.
“Go down into the Altai mountains, they are so very beautiful.  You’ll be Couchsurfing in the city I assume, so they will look after that for you, but make sure you visit Altai.”
Thus instructed, we begin to make plans to spend a few days there as we make our hurried goodbyes and exit into the sodden streets of Moscow.

Once again we hurry through the Metro system just as we had been in St Petersburg twenty four hours earlier.  We retrieve our luggage and complete a huge shopping trip for supplies for the twenty hour train journey.  Bread, salami, hams, tomato and the odd beer.  For the first time we acquire the dried noodle meals in a bowl that become a staple of our future train expeditions.  Don and Lari’s bunks are the upper two in the cabin, mine is the lower one on the left and we share with a Russian man who speaks a little English.  Once the train is moving towards Yekaterinburg we break out the food and eat sitting on the top bunks, offering food and beer to our Russian friend as we chat with him.  He’s on a business related trip and is happy to have a chance to practice some English on the way.

It’s been a long, painful run for twenty four hours now and the image of the Demon’s eyes from the painting back in the Tretyakov gallery comes back to me.  Somehow those eyes have come to represent Moscow for me.  I slide into one of the most blissful and restful sleeps of the entire journey.  The day of nightmare is finally over as Moscow gets further and further away from me.

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