May 9th “There and back again” a hobbits (IKEA) tale

So it’s a bright sunny Saturday morning and we are going to brave the traffic and go to IKEA.

Now given there are 11 IKEA’s servicing Moscow I think as long as we can find the outer ring we should be able to find one even if we were not actually trying. Anyway we know the one we are aiming for and on the map it should not be too much of a problem. The difficulty with new places is small things like being in the right lane, navigating traffic lights and knowing “exactly” where to turn.

All of this is driven by experience and mostly by learning the hard way. I vividly remember spending 40 minutes trying to get to see a friend in Rome and knowing it was a 10 minute journey knowing something was not quite right. I “thought” the sign post said “Rome this way” what it actually said was “If you want to get to Rome do NOT take this road“.  So I was stuck on the Auto route and had to wait for the first toll booth to turn around (and pay twice for the privilege).

I also remember trying to find Dusseldorf airport and taking “one” wrong turn the unfortunate this was it took me in the opposite direction and it took me a while and some high speed Autobanhe driving to get that planeon time I can tell you.

So back to the IKEA run well it all turned out ok. Judi driving and me pretending to navigate but not being able to read the signs yet it was more like rallying bear 40 degrees left in 120 meters, sharp right in 5 seconds, over railway bridge at next intersection.
We got there ok and it was much quieter than expected. It was May 9th which is the big parade day in Russia to commemorate the ending of the second world war so all the locals were preoccupied. 

Now there is one great bonus regarding Global Branding and that is where ever you are in the world the store is exactly the same. It is somewhat comforting to wander through IKEA in the same way we would in England, America, Belgium or any ware else for that matter. So we note down the items we would like for the flat (assuming all goes well that is) and then wander around the rest of the Mall. There is a huge French supermarket which again has that familiar feel to it and is so big with 50 checkouts all manned that we are confident that whatever items we need can be found there.
We also come across the largest Media Mart I have ever seen so should be no problem fo electrical items. We find an English speaking guy who help me identify I can get an SD card for my Garmin navigator but not there so he kindly prints out the location where I need to go and then we discuss how to get my iPhone switched over to a Russian service provider. All good to know for when we do eventually get settled. 

Whilst Moscow is not short of shops Judi and I conclude that we could probably survive by just going back and forth to this particular Mall for most things we will need. Good to know and another comforting point in the “how to survive in a foreign land” service pack. 

So back home the way we came with only one minor deviation which actually turned out to be a shortcut so another good run.
A lazy saturday afternoon then out for a Thai dinner before preparing for travel tomorrow.
Judi is off at 11 am to England and I plan to leave around 5pm for Brussels.

Tomorrows blog is “What is it about Airports”

May 8th “Medicals and HIV tests”

Yes I know I am falling behind but I will catch up this week, I’ve been busy honest.

So it seems that to be able to work in Russia you need a medical exam and quite a comprehensive one at that.

They test for everything including HIV and TB and lots of blood tests.
Now I have not had a full medical since 2003 but not too worried about it all other than the stress it causes and the time it takes.

11 am appointment for Judi and I across town at the SOS Clinic. Find the place ok (4 stops on the circle line, not a problem) and having successfully negotiated the “Babushkas” at the gate and handing over passports and things we are directed to the 10th floor.

So having negotiated the stubborn lifts which seem to want to randomly stop at different floors we eventually make the 10 floor.
Now this is one of those times when “process” tends to get slightly in front of “progress” however everything has to be done in order.
Forms first then back and forth for the different sections of the tests. Judi goes first so it is in and out for the room like we are chasing each other to the end of the corridor.
My nurse quizzes me on when I last had an X-ray which by my reckoning is around a year ago. He seems to want to be very precise not sure why but you don’t question this sort of thing you just let the experts do their job.

So now we get escorted to the X-ray which is 4 floors down and by the time the tempramental lifts get us there we could have walked there and back. Only one person before us so in fairly quickly. Now the room is big and at one end is what looks like something I would call a “contraption” but as I said just follow th process. Shirt off face the board arms in the right position hold your breath and done. Now wait a few minutes whilst they check the results, Judi gets to have another go but I am done.

Back up stairs for a little more poking and prodding and nearly home free. The doctor gives Judi the all clear not I get invited back in for a few more questions. No big deal but they want to do a TB test. Not a problem but normally this takes 72 hours and I will be out of the country by then so the doctor agrees I can come back Sunday lunch time and 48 hours will be enough.

Ok done not too bad really just a few minor blips and back on the street again. Judi is going back to work and I am going to try and walk back home across town. 

I successfully negotiate lunch on the way but do my usual trick of ordering a “special” which I really should have learnt not to do by now. This special is a seasonal soup which is chilled has meant and radish what might be a cream cheese and a dollop of mustard.
Not that it tasted bad just that is was a little bit of a surprise however the Greek salad and the Chicken panini were fine.
I said I should know better as my adventures “I’ll have the special” has landed me with Kidney curry, seafood which was still moving and grilled tripe amongst other things.

My walk back through town is for the most part a nice stroll. I do go past the Olympic stadium which is hosting the Eurovision Song Contest. Now for any none European readers this is the biggest song contest in the world. 42 countries compete and whilst it is a spectacular event is is not without its controversy around the voting mechanisms and the favoritism sometimes shown.
Anyway this may be a topic for a separate blog but for now you can check out this link http://www.eurovision.tv/page/home

Anywat tomorrow IKEA in the car, my first journey out of the city

May 7th, Morning “And then around the corner marched the Russian Army”


So got my list for the day,
Morning checking out the areas surrounding two of the places which are top of the house hunting list.
Then meet Judi at her office and off to see 3 or 4 more places with Lidya.

So the first area is around Ordinka which is top of the list. the flat is about 300 meters away from shops and the Metro. If there is a real panic there is a Macdonalds and Pizza hut within 1/2 a mile. A bakery a bar and lots of places to eat and a Metro station. it is also only 15 minutes walk from Red square and you can see St Basil’s cathedral from the spare bedroom. So all box’s ticked.

Now off to the Seven Sisters, the flat is the sort of place you want to live in not because it is practical but because it is so so different.
Its as ornate and over the top as you can get but the down side is it is not close to anything so I am planning to walk around the area just to make sure. Maybe there is a hidden section which will redeem it. So off I go over the first bridge and swing a right towarde this monumental icon of a building.

Now as I am strolling along a man stops me and asks a question which of course I do not understand but I see a piece of paper in his hand and it looks like he wants directions. Now 5 days in Moscow does not make me a guide however I do have a map so out it comes and he gets quite excited. first we have to work out where we are then we have to try and translate the address he has to see how far aways from “wherever” he wants to go.

Its at this point I notice the “Russian army” come marching around the corner. Fully armed and around 500 of them with a marching band. Now my new friend takes no notice of this distraction but I of course am slightly concerned. He continues trying to find building number 19. I watch as the Army comes to a halt right behind us and is dismissed. They start to walk past us to the line of trucks I have just noticed and my new friend decides they may know where his destination is so he asks them. The whole thing now starts to degenerate somewhat as now we have 15 to 20 soldiers “helping” us. I just watch as the map gets passed around and seeing all these helpful people pointing in various different directions is slightly comical. anyway after a few minutes some barked orders bring the new helpers to heel andthey are off to board their trucks. I manage to retrive my map and my new best friend shakes my hand and strolls confidently off in the direction of his goal.

All this happened in the space of 10 minutes and as the trucks roar away in sequence I am left on my own again wishing I had brought my camera. the whole thing was slightly bizzar but then again maybe not.


May 6th “its true you can not judge a book by its cover”

So house hunting today and 10 places to see so got to keep moving.


(Lucky for us we have a guide and a driver)

First stop one of Stalin’s seven sisters (http://www.moscow-life.com/moscow/seven-sisters) a huge new gothic style building which seems to go on forever. The apartment is a decked out in what appears to be the style of a French boudoir. Ever so slightly weird with two dining rooms and to walk in closets plus two safes. A bathroom which is straight out of a showroom brochure. The whole thing whilst fascinating is probably impractical so we continue on.

Not going to list all of them but I can say that whatever you see on the outside is no indication of what you are going to see inside. Tall square drab buildings reveal subtly you would never imagine and style which would rival anything you are likely to see across any chic European country.

Specifically lighting and bathrooms. Now all of the places we saw had been renovated so I doubt very much the average “Serge” has all of these ameneties but the more I saw the more impressed I got. The one common thing all of them had was very very sturdy iron doors with two triple locks and some level of security. I am not sure I have at any time felt threatened  so maybe this is just overkill.


Now Judi being Judi has her list of requirements including, how far to work, from a Metro, from shops, has a spare bedroom, underground parking (good for the cold weather. Mine of course are slightly different where does the sun come up, can I see any trees, how close is the coffee house. Somehow we always work it out. We have gone through this ritual many times now and it always end up with us having a couple of drink and talking ourselves into the right one.


The only exception to this was in 2008 in Atlanta when Judi returned from a trip to find a sheriffs note pinned to the door letting us know the house had been foreclosed and we needed to vacate in 3 weeks. Now I was working in Costa Rica and not due back for 3 weeks so Judi had to do it all on her own and I looked up each house on Google earth and gave comments. 
I arrived home on the 25th April and we moved on the 26th with me seeing our new house for the first time the day it happened.


Now that was fun

May 5th Say after me “The Metro is our friend, the metro is our friend”

Ok, Ok I know I missed a couple of days out but hey it’s my blog

So back to this Metro Mantra


So why would we say that, given there are so many options to use, Taxi, bus, tuk tuk, car ?.


Well in my experience a metro has never tried to take me to its brother’s carpet shop or its uncle’s jewelry shop. Neither has it got lost and had to ask the way or tried to charge me extra for the time it took. It never needed two photocopies of my passport or a $450 deposit or decided to take a different route or declare this is the terminus and take a nap.


Metros just go back and forth or round and round.


So off on a reconnaissance mission to take a look at Chistye Prudy. Judi had already eliminated it but at that time it was covered in snow and ice and now in 70 degree sunshine it might look better.  Now this means a metro trip hence the comment.


When you are in a place you don’t know with an alphabet you don’t understand you learn to just count the stops. Get on at Paveletskaya, Taganskaya, Kurskaya then Komsomolskaya, just count the stops 1,2,3 and get off. Now the Moscow metro has 173 stations and something like 9,000 trains and the stations are a wonder to behold. No graffiti, no dirt, no harassment just lots and lots of people going back and forth.


The place I get off is where three main line railway stations end and the guide book describes it as “Dubious and Diverse and the hairiest place in town” I can only concur with that and I have seen a few in my time. Anyway navigating my way out of the throng and down the slope into town is pretty straightforward. Just head toward one of Stalin’s seven sisters (more about them in a later entry).


Chistye Prudy has a pond and a tree lined walkway which is full of people on this bright sunny day. I note a couple of places which might be considered backups if we get stuck in the next couple of days and go and find lunch in a pavement café. I know Thank you and very good which seems to work whatever the situation as long as you smile and whilst the menus are rarely in English there always seems to be a way of me getting something I recognize.

2nd May “in flight entertainment”

Well the head girl (well lead steward or whatever the title is these days) has just announced that given that they have changed planes she has no idea what the films will be. I doubt that will cause the pilot to turn back or a riot in cabin class so let’s just go with the flow.


I am too busy watching the twitcher, there is a woman about four up who seems incapable of remaining seated for more than five minutes. Get up take her jacket off, get up open the overhead take out bag, get up off to the bathroom, get up put on jacket, put bag back take it out again stand up twirl around. I am getting dizzy so turn my attention to the two guys in the row directly in front of me.


They had ordered 2 vodkas and 2 beers from the blond stewardess then they did the same from the brunette and now they ask the skinny one for the same. Neat trick and all before any food is served. Anyway at some point the crew works it out and the boys get a stern look when they try for a fourth time. Anyway they jovially polish off the vodkas and beers each and promptly fall asleep for the rest of the flight.


Sleeping on flights has never been something I can do. Maybe I should try vodka myself.  Anyway they crank up the film and guess what “Yes Man” & “Hotel for dogs” seriously “Hotel for Dogs” you have to be kidding what is this a kids flight ?????



If Judi were with me she would be more annoyed that there are no seatback TV screens. She likes to play the inter plane Knowledge quiz. In fact it can keep her occupied for the whole of a Trans Atlantic flight. At the end she will be able to tell me Ed in A28 won 4 but she won 7, B7 did well on Sport and history was the forte of G32, G16 dropped out after only 5 hours and I smile. This is just one of the reasons I love her so much.

Ok back to the iPod but not random, I scared myself last time when “Garth Brooks” was followed by “Oasis” followed by “Madeleine Peyroux” and then “Rufus Wainwright” random is correct and something you don’t want to happen twice, note to self set up genius next time so you get a fighting chance.


Anyway not much else happens on the flight apart from a girl walking her dog, well until she was spotted that is then back in the box sunshine.


So land in sunny sunny Moscow and you know the drill everyone poised for the “ping” then on your feet and everything out of the overhead and ready for the off. Now given the plane is only 1/2 to 1/3 full we all move forward and fill the gaps. Then the announcement comes can everyone return to their seats.


What now, not near enough to the door, wrong gate, airport, day ??.
No they want to check our temperatures which given the excitement regarding swine Flu I am fine with.
In fact I am fine with any and all security measures the authorities want to put in place to safeguard my health and wellbeing. My view is that the checks are not put there to annoy me but to protect me so fine.


Anyway there is not a snowballs chance in hell of me going back to my seat I just find the nearest one and sit down as everyone trudges back past me.  So the ground crew come on all rubber gloves and masks (I may have seen this scene in a film with Dustin Hoffman about rabid monkeys). So they point their equipment at people’s ears and if ok they are off if they are hot then held back. I am Joe cool so I am off and running.


The next part is the one I dread on any trip “Passport control”. I know everything is in order and up to date but still something which can make me break out in a cold sweat.
But without so much as a second glance the stamp comes down on my passport with a thump and I am in.


Call my babe and tell her I am through and getting my bags and suddenly remember the dead weight one which I hand to the kind man who has come to collect me. He drags it off to the car and between the two of us we manhandle it into the boot, he gives me that look as if to say “ you smuggling bricks sunshine” I shrug “spasiba”


Let the fun begin

1st – 2nd May 2009 Navigating airports is it luck or planning ?

You know I have only ever missed one flight ever in all the times I have flown and with all the places I have been. But it wasn’t going to be this one, not a chance.


The one I did manage to miss was at Atlanta airport though. You learn fast not to leave it too late as the traffic can just stop dead for almost any reason at all. Think the cars just get tired sometimes. I believe of all the people in the US the good folks of Atlanta spend the most on commuting. It might also have something to do with the size of their vehicles. They do like their oversized or extended or special limited edition big rigs. I say this out of envy as I had settled for an 8 seater SUV a long time ago which seemed perfectly adequate for Judi and I. You have to have the third row of seats just in case (we did actually use them once but just once).


Anyway I am supposed to be talking about my flight to Moscow. Ok Arrived 1:30 for a 4pm flight not bad timing. Drag literally 1 Large case, 1 small case, one suit carrier and one Backpack across to the check in desk.

“Where’s you goin” hollers the “Customer Service Rep” and whilst the badge clearly states “I’m here to help” I can only assume from her tone that it’s someone else’s coat she has on. Now given I am 1/3 of the way down the International check in line I would have hoped it would be kind of obvious. Anyway I feign not to understand what she is saying as if I don’t comprehend the language and soon she gets bored and looks for another person to “help”.


Ok no panic lots of time however I have some doubts about the large case. Those plastic bags you fill and suck the air out of are really good but the downside is that you can fit a lot more into a case hence the dead weight I am lugging around. So will I get pinged for excessive baggage?. Well no, the nice girl checks my nice shiny new visa and my local address (not sure why but they always do) asks how many bags I say two and whilst we are waiting for the guy at the counter next  to me to get his off the scale she prints the tags off so I am home free. Fill with mild success I also blag two carry on tags for my small case and backpack. No stopping me now. Off to the scanners. In the background I hear the now familiar “Where’s you goin” which at the world busiest Airport seems to be an unimaginative question. I wonder if anyone has ever said “to get some milk”.


Ok so this bit is a little self indulgent. There I am at the scanner with Nobody in front and Nobody behind…………so how many plastic trays can I use, 1) Jacket, 2) small bottles in clear plastic container,3) jacket, 4) Pc (My present to myself), 5) shoes 6) belt, 7) for my glasses.

Ladies and gentlemen a new personal best.  


Now in my defense in a queue I only use 2 but hey it’s my time. The “security representative” checks my ticket and waves me through and now feeling slightly guilty I stack all of the trays back on the roller so they can wheel them back to the beginning.


So now check my stock of food for the journey. Peanuts, 3 $0.99 bags, a KitKat and a bag dark chocolate M&M’s, ready for anything.  Off to the boarding gate E2 as far as you can go without being on the runway. Not a problem plenty of time. I know from experience I have to hand over my I-94 so as I amble up to the gate the guy picks up the microphone and asks anyone who is travelling without a Russian passport to report to the gate. Fine I am already there so not a problem. He takes my passport, ticket, I-94 says they have changed the plan and do I still want the Exit row, “you bet I do” 10 hours on a flight you want as much room as you can.

Anyway that done I think I will go and get acoffee. turn around and see what is at least 30 people behind me so the luck is still with me. I know boarding for this type of flight will be 40 minutes before takeoff so getting my timing right is critical. Once again I arrive back at the gate just as they finish loading first class and walk straight through on my Zone 2 boarding Breezeway pass. I pass what is still the remnants of the queue of none Russian Passport holders.

Get myself settled until the guy who arrives in a sweat to take the seat behind me is telling anyone who will listen that he will rip the airline a new one as not only did they cancel his earlier flight but as the changed the plan he is no longer in his favorite exit row.


At this point I turn up the volume on my iPod and settle in for a nice flight.

May 1st 2009 So today is the first day of the rest of blah blah blah

So Friday May 1st and off to Moscow.
Ignoring the fact that yesterday I ended 34 and a half years of continual service and technically stopped working as I need to focus on the tasks in hand. I will comment on stopping work but not right now. Need to make a list, living with Judi you learn a list is a good thing and whilst we might differ on her mantra “everything can be solved with a matrix” I do agree lists are “useful”.

5 minutes later I have what I think is a comprehensive set of items for completion.
Washing
Dish washing
Empty bin in kitchen
Note for Vicky 
Make bed
finish packing
double check flight time
Clean cat litter tray
take picture of Chickadee’s
Take cushions off deck swing
Go to post office 
Leave at 12 noon sharp 

Eric is bugging me (Eric is the cat in case you don’t know) not sure why sometimes it’s a trap sometimes she is actually trying to tell me something. The other evening she bit me although it was my fault. I broke the 8 second rule. You cannot stroke Eric continuously for more than 8 seconds or stroke her when she cannot see your hand. Anyway I broke one of the rules whilst I was watching American Idol and she sank her teeth into the nice soft bit of flesh between my thumb and first finger for my trouble. You would think after 14 years she would be used to me but hey whatever.

So back ot the list, I am ok with running more than one thing at a time so this should be a breeze and I quite quickly get to the Go to post office section and now its “check’ three items three addresses, wallet, phone care keys sunglasses and out the door.
Not until I am half way there that I realize the time, its 9:31 and maybe I should have checked if they are open but too late now it only 10 minutes away.
They are open and I wander in and find the soft pack envelopes stay focused and check everything fits. Ok maybe I should have written the addresses before I put the items inside as it becomes a little difficult but no matter.
So now in the queue. Two people manning the counter and four people in line. Another employee comes to the counter but it is only to taunt us she pretends to call the next person who is me but even though she looks directly at me and says “sir” she is actually beckoning the guy sat down behind me who is waiting for a passport. Ok stay calm lots of time.
Of the two customers one seems to be regailng a life story and just passing the time’ the other wants the actual definition of “next day delivery” which seems obvious to me. ( I have agreat story for a slow blog day about “next day delivery actually not meaning next day”)
Anyway me next and yes I have filled out the International tag for the Canadian package. Not sure if the USPS thinks Canada is international but not taking the chance. So Colorado for the book, Virginia the aircard, Canada the Jewelry. For each one I am asked express, insured, receipt and answer the same “I’m good thanks” I have learnt how to say a negative in a positive way. Hardly ever just say “no” these days. A really neat trick taught me by my American friends.

Ok $7.52 later we are done and yes thanks I will have a nice day and you as well, although I will be moving much further than the counter you will be nailed to for the next 8 hours.

So back to the house, Stay focused do not turn off to check Wolf Camera’s closing down sale. You don’t need whatever it is.
Ok back safe, check the list and have another coffee.  Check Fridge I will be away for two weeks so everything gets thrown.

Time to check email (my own not work’s how cool is that) and Facebook. No time to fill out my new blog site but nobody knows about that yet anyway. Couple of sweet messages one from Sue in Kanata and a couple of addresses I need to save.
A couple of Facebook entries, It take the “How Russian are you” test and it says “not yet” well not a surprise. 
A message pops on the screen “shouldn’t you be on your way by now” it’s Judi,
I reply ” hi good morning babe” and ” I have 12 minutes”  
If you know Judi you know one golden rule you will “Never ever” be late. She is in work and there a little late. One would have thought May day in Moscow would have been a good day to watch a parade. Anyway she is picking up the car stuff so we can start test driving on Sunday which will be interesting to say the least.

Ok car loaded house locked check list again, everything crossed out we are on our way. Sorry “I” am on my way Eric is staying to watch the house. (It’s Ok Vicky will be taking good care of her)

Already wrote more drivel than intended but it’s your choice to read it. However thanks for at least finding it.