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To Russia, With Ignorance

I write this entry on just my second day in Russia, sitting in the shadow of the Kremlin, which is peculiar considering how there is no sunshine here. The weather has been diabolical since our arrival, the perpetual gray of the skies only helping to accentuate the still-present soviet feel of the city.

My friend Rob and I arrived at 5am yesterday after a red-eye flight on Aeroflot, Russia's national ariline, our plane flying with no air-vents and the food tray on the chairs in front of us literally broken and snapped off, with passengers carrying on microwaves and mastadon-sized tanks of propane which, so long as they weren't containing tweezers, did not violate and of the airline's safety regulations.

All Alone in Red Square.

Considering the difficulty I had in getting to London only 2 weeks ago (note to travelers - never lose your airline ticket on the day the Eastern seaboard has it's largest ever power failure), I should have been prepared for the trials awaiting a journey into Moscow.

At the airport, we were instantly approached by taxi drivers, yelling to us in mouths filled with gold fillings and the lingering effects of a lifetime dedicated to the prosperity of Philip Morris, offering us the kind rate of $70 to take us to our hostel. Despite an information booth guaranteeing us that there was no bus into the city, we caught one and then took the metro to our hostel, which ran us a grand total of $0.50. 14000% markup for a taxi seems a little high, even coming from someone who has lived in the land of London's black cabs for the past 2 years.

When we arrived at the metro station, however, finding the hostel was far from easy. Street signs are infrequent at best and the numbering system remains a mystery to me - our address was at 3/2 Zelenodolskaya Street, which is nowhere in the vicinity of #3, #2 or #32. After an hour of searching, we found 3/2 but there was no advertising anywhere on the outside of the building, nor a word on the inside, and not even the woman behind the front desk could aid us in the obscure knowledge of the name of the building in which she worked. Another backpacker finally alerted us to the fact we were in the hostel, at which point we went back to the woman behind the counter and tried to check in. She looked at our passports for 20 minutes before calling us back to the desk.

"How many nights do you want to stay here? One?"

"Eleven," I replied.

"ELEVEN?"

"Yes, we have a reservation."

She looked back at her computer for 10 minutes.

"Ok, a reservation. You can stay here for eight nights," she told us.

We explained to her we had actually already paid for 11 nights.

"Yes, ok. You can stay for eight nights, then, if you want to extend it, you can pay for three more."

"No, we have actually already paid for eleven nights," we insisted.

"Yes, I understand. So you can stay for eight nights, but if you want to stay longer just tell us."

Befuddled, bemused and without an ounce of sleep in 40 hours, her logic seemed sound.

Moscow City Day.

Finally, after excessive sleeping, Rob and I spent today getting lost while looking for Gorky Park, eating food we couldn't pronounce and getting thoroughly drenched in the rain. We have been practicing our Russian, which to this point still only included us being able to say "I don't speak Russian," and improperly at that.

Tomorrow we will see the Kremlin and this weekend is Moscow's city festival - should the weather pick up, I believe we will definitely want to stay here for those extra three days. Should they let us.

Special Note: My name, as spelled out in cyrillic, is "HOAX", which seems oddly appropriate considering the amount of mendacity used in order to secure this Russian visa in the first place.