Friday, March 09, 2007

The Moscow Files Part 1

You’ll have to excuse the absence of blog postings for the last few days but on the run, one cannot always get to an Internet connection. Plus for some reason, my friend Mark’s wireless connection won’t let me get into my blog site. Sorry dear readers (all four of you—hah!).
Bitter cold here in the Russian capital, that wet cold that goes right to your bones. Not the pleasant dry cold of Astana where you feel great at -20 degrees celcius. First day out, I had to get some swimming in so I metroed down to the “Chaika” swimming pool for a leisurely hour of laps in the pool. Can I tell you that this was the most stressful swimming experience I had? Everyone is on edge in this high paced swimming complex—rush, rush, rush, barking orders. Felt more like boot camp than a place to exercise and unwind. First I had to get a medical certificate to say I was healthy enough to swim in the pool which took about 15 minutes, then I had to rush into the changing room, figure out the ancient locker system, take a shower, and go out to the pool. I opted for the hour pass and they are strict about the hour. Once your hour is up, get out of the pool! The cool thing about “Chaika” is that the pools are outside and well heated so as snow is falling, steam is rising from the two warm pools. Through the lifting steam you can see the coloured swim caps of all the swimmers doing their laps. In my rush I forgot my cap in my locker and one of the guards on duty barked at me, “Where’s your cap? You need a cap!” “I forgot it in the locker, is it mandatory?” I replied. “You can swim in this pool” as he pointed to the smaller one in the back. I plunged in trying to figure out which lane had less people for you couldn’t see them through the fog on top of the water. I put my head under to see which lane had less breast stroking bodies in it and opted for those lanes. For a few minutes I had a lane to myself then I notice I had two neighbors, both slow swimmers. Then I hopped into another lane and was speedily swimming along trying to keep up with Mr. Olympic Swimmer who was always coming up behind me with his fast crawl. By the time my 30 minutes were up, I had actually gotten a good work out even though my nerves were a little frazzled. I’ll go back today and see how pleasant a time I will have.
Post-Chaika I went over to the Arbat to do my one Moscow tradition: eat at the McDonald’s and go to my favorite souvenir store “Arbatskaya Lavitsa”. I was rather hungry from the swim and devoured my Bic Mac meal happily, not caring what damage this meal will probably do to my digestive system. It’s the only time I eat McDonald’s really. So tradition is tradition be it unhealthy or not.
After my McD’s lunch, I had to stop by Vincent’s place to have him register my Russian visa (one of those nerve wracking bureaucratic procedures that needs to be done the first three days you are in country). Vincent is a Swedish guy who runs a hostel on the Old Arbat called Smart Hostel. Basically it’s cheap lodgings for the oodles of backpackers who visit Moscow, their starting point for the Trans-Siberian train trip. Vincent’s assistant was in the process of dragging IKEA mattresses into the hostel on the 8th floor of an apartment building. Somehow Vincent had booked 25 Dutch people into this flat that could technically hold about 12 and bought some more mattresses to throw around the floors of this converted 3 room apartment. I loved Vincent’s “we’ll figure it out as we go” attitude as Ruslan brought in more and more mattresses from the tiny elevator. Reminded me of the old days when we did all these sort of crazy things here in Moscow. Nice to know there’s a new generation of expats giving it a go here. It’s also nice to know that even after a four year absence from Russia, I still have no desire to buy all the tchotchkes that were on display at my souvenir store. Although the prices are reasonable and the ladies so pleasant in the store, I just looked around and thought “What a bunch of crap”. I did wind up buying a few things for friends in the US but refrained from the whole hog shopping extravaganza I usually do. What I really want (and need like a whole in the head) is a tea set. They had some really nice ones but they were quite expensive like in the $400-$500 range. I just need something small and cute that I can carry back on the plane. I’ll shop around at some of my favorite “Farfor” shops around town.

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