Selasa, 20 April 2010

Escape from Russia.

After being stranded in Russia for an extra 3 days the Brier family have finally left. On a train.

After our return to Moscow it soon became apparent that flights were not going to start for at least another couple of days and my family did really need to get home. My brother has exams soon, my parents have jobs to do and my sister only has 4 months of lazing around left before she starts university! My friend Alison was also visiting Moscow and she REALLY needed to return – she has to sit her finals in a few weeks! So we decided to book a train.

On Saturday Alison and I went to the train station to ‘assess the situation’. Good thing we did because it was total chaos. All the trains to Europe were getting booked up and all the boards had messages saying ‘NO SPACES’ to all the major cities in Europe. Argh. We didn’t have any kind of concrete plan so we decided to discuss with my parents what would be the best thing to do and come back the next morning to buy the best tickets.

Sunday morning, 8am, we go to the train station. Alison (who has perfect Russian) asks the woman at the desk, “We need tickets to anywhere in Europe as soon as possible.” The woman smirks. After around half an hour of debating (and being filmed by the Russian news… we made our TV debut that night) what to do, 5 tickets to Warsaw (Poland) for Monday were purchased. I was amazed we actually managed to get tickets for the next day!

The next problem was how to get from Poland to the UK. After an afternoon of internet research we had organised a night in a hostel and then a coach and ferry back to the UK. Then a speedy trip to an internet café, the tickets were printed and everyone let out a huge sigh of relief that they were actually going to get home - even though it was going to take 3 days. Here is their travel plan:

Yesterday (Monday) they left Moscow at 5pm and got a train to Warsaw where they arrived at 3pm today (Tuesday).

Here’s a little map for those of you (who have geography as terrible as mine) and who don’t know where Poland is. Apologises for the child-like circles around Moscow and Warsaw.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) they will leave Warsaw at 10.45am on a coach (!) cross Europe, get a ferry across the channel, get back on the coach and arrive in London on Thursday lunchtime, a mere 68 hours after setting off.

Not sure how happy my sister and brother (who are 18 and 17) are about this. Obviously they want to get home but I think being stuck in a confined space with the parents for 68 hours may be the end of their relationship. At least they have a new friend Alison to talk to! I have to say (facebook status rants aside) they have been very good about it all.

Mum and Dad however, are loving their adventure across Europe! As Dad said, they’d always wanted to do it – they just wish it was their choice! They have handled the situation really well – for a change I was the one stressing and panicking. They were totally fine!

This whole experience was very odd for me. Normally I’m trying to get INTO Russia and moaning about how annoying it is to have to get a visa. Now I’ve seen all the problems when trying to get OUT OF Russia.

For example, major problem number 1 was that to get a train from Moscow to most European cities you need to go through Belarus, and therefore need a Belarusian transit visa (fortunately because of the situation this rule has been relaxed… although we didn’t know this until Sunday because literally every visa office is closed at the weekend. Even the British Embassy. Helpful).

Then major problem number 2 was that it is impossible to pay by card in most train stations in Russia, so we needed to buy 5 train tickets… with cash. This meant a lot of transferring money to every account we could (my bank account has never looked so healthy – have to keep reminding myself it’s my parents money!), getting out as much money as our cards would let us, 3 cards being stopped by banks in the UK (shame on you NatWest and HSBC – when I am actually being frauded I KNOW you will not pick up on it) and then finally being able to purchase the tickets.

A stressful couple of days but finally they’re on their way home. At the station they were (hilariously) filmed and interviewed by CNN (TV appearance number 2). Annoyingly they only talked to my family and not me! I was all ready to be interviewed but they only talked to Dad aka the worlds most terrified of public speaking man. I was like TALK TO ME! I'M the one who wants to be a journalist! Then they filmed us walking down the platform and saying goodbye (hopefully not catching the fact that I was, as usual when saying goodbye, in tears). I bet everyone on the train thought they were celebrities. Naturally I asked for the correspondent’s card… There’s nothing like a crisis to try and help further my journalistic career.

Jumat, 16 April 2010

Bow in awe at the brilliance of SAPSAN.

As I'm sure you all know (apart from those of you that haven't been watching the news this week...) a massive volcano has erupted in Iceland and volcanic ash has spread itself across Europe, grounding all flights and testing my patience to the limit.

Massive cloud of stupid ash.

When I hear reports about these kinds of holiday ruining disasters I'm always so glad it's not me. Apart from when I once had to survive a week in Russia without my bag because of the terminal 5 cock up (which to be honest hardly affected me - I had everything I needed) this kind of thing NEVER happen to me. My family however are a different matter. They don't seem to go well with planes. We never went on holidays far enough away to warrant getting a plane so my first experience on a flight was aged 16 on a short flight to Italy. Although the flight was fine all I can remember about it was the immense stress and panic at the airport (from me not mum, for a change). The next plane journey the family Brier embarked on was another short flight to France which I didn't join them on as I was working/fed up of family holidays. Because of my dads (true Yorkshire man) love of anything cheap they were on a cheap airline – the kind where you have to run to find a seat. In the mad rush mum managed to really hurt her knee, ending with her on crutches for the entire holiday. Now on their third flight, they have managed to choose the same time to fly as a volcano chose to erupt. They are NOT good with planes. And now they're stuck in Russia.

This morning we woke up in St Petersburg to find out that their flight home has been cancelled. As there is only 1 flight to London per day from St Petersburg and 5 per day from Moscow, we made the decision to return to Moscow where the likeliness of them getting a flight home soon is a lot higher! So after a quick rush to the train station (and a major test of my Russian - ask anyone who has [tried] to purchase train tickets in Russia. DIFFICULT.) I successfully managed to get us 5 tickets on the fast train to Moscow. The only problem being that we were all in different carriages as it was so last minute. But I assured them it would all be fine as the train would be just like an English one (I hoped)... and I was secretly bursting with joy at the prospect of 4 hours of peace away from them!

The fast train is a relatively new concept to Russia. It's only been around a couple of years max. Russia is more a fan of trains that are so slow you could walk faster than them and that take around 9 hours to do a journey that should clearly only take 4 hours. But not anymore with the arrival of SAPSAN...

Marvel at it's spaceship like glory.

FINALLY Russia is catching up with the rest of the world. I nearly cried with glee when I saw that is actually WAS like a virgin train (... and was relieved I had not lied to my family). After making sure they were all in their carriages safe and sound I spent the first half an hour making sure we had an apartment for when we arrived in Moscow and checking whether their visas needed extending. After sorting all that out I sat back and enjoyed one of the best train journeys I've ever had in Russia. The seats were comfortable, the carriages light and airy... and the toilets hygienic!!! I read British Cosmopolitan (a present from mum) and for those 4 hours I almost believed I was on a virgin train from Manchester Piccadilly to Birmingham New Street... until we arrived in Moscow on time (a sure sign it was definitely not a virgin train).

So now my family are stuck in Moscow and as all flights tomorrow have been cancelled I don't know when on earth they're going to leave me in peace!! I think they're all a bit fed up of being stuck in Russia, so I keep pointing out that I am 'stuck' in Russia until the end of June... so a couple more days for them really isn't that bad. I hope they get a flight soon though, 10 days is enough family time for me. So let's pray that flights start soon... and in the meantime bow in awe at the brilliance of SAPSAN.

Sabtu, 10 April 2010

This huge, dumb land.

Another day with the family, another day of pretending to be a tourist in the city I live in. Today we went on a visit to The Kremlin. I should start charging for my tour guide services - I will have visited there 4 times by the time I leave Russia…

…Although I should probably credit Rough Guides for all my knowledge.

After Red Square, The Kremlin is Moscow’s biggest tourist attraction. In Russian ‘kreml’ means fortress so I think most people (or maybe just my parents) imagine it to be very military based and are quite surprised by what it actually is - a load of cathedrals in a square, a museum and a little park.

The Cathedrals are all very nice and ornate but I have the belief that once you’ve seen one Russian Cathedral you’ve seen them all. There are only so many icons of Jesus I can take.

My favourite part of The Kremlin is the Armoury Palace. In here you can see the thrones, carriages and clothes of Ivan the Terrible, Catherine the Great and other Russian Tsars. As a girl who still dreams of one day being a Princess (Sarah means Princess… it WILL happen) I love anything to do with Royal Families. Especially dresses and carriages.

Two of the most famous sights of the Kremlin are The Tsar Bell and Cannon, the largest bell and cannon in the world.

Stupidly, because they’re so big the cannon has never actually been used to fire anything and the bell fell down as soon as it was hung, which brings me to one of my favourite quotes about Moscow, a nice ending to this post:

“in Moscow every foreigner is taken to look at the great cannon and the great ball – the cannon which cannot be fired and the bell which fell down before it was rung. It is an amazing town in which the objects of interest are distinguished by their absurdity, or perhaps that great bell without a tongue is a hieroglyph symbolic of this huge, dumb land.”
- Pyotr Chaadaev, a nineteenth century dissident.

Jumat, 09 April 2010

“Even Town play better than this”

Throughout Russia’s vivid history the country has faced many challenges, but on Tuesday 6th April it faced one of the biggest yet. The Briers landed in Moscow.

After their initial fears (which ranged from the understandable – sorting out their visas, to the completely insane – mum’s worries over whether she would be able to buy milk and eggs) I think they’ve decided Russia isn’t as bad as they thought.

Anyway, this blog isn’t going to be a detailed account of the first three days of The Briers adventures (sorry Brier fans, below is a picture to satisfy your Brier needs) but instead will focus on football and camels.

The Briers on Red Square - two of my worlds colliding

On the day they arrived the quarter finals of the Champions League took place in Moscow (CSKA vs Inter Milan). My dad is an avid football fan. I am an avid football hater. He asked if we could get tickets and as it had been his birthday the day before I thought I should probably sacrifice 2 hours of my life to watch the stupid game. In the end I had to sacrifice 5 hours of my life because it took me 2 hours to find somewhere to buy the stupid tickets then 1 hour queuing outside the stadium to watch the stupid game. As you may be able to tell, I think football is stupid.

However as I am a model daughter I got the tickets and took dad to the match. In the end the game was quite dull and CSKA played pretty badly. After 6 minutes Inter Milan had scored a goal and (according to Dad) this meant the game was pretty much over for CSKA (apparently they needed to score 2 extra goals or something? He explained it to me about 3 times but, I have to confess, my brain just switches off when people talk about football and I fly away into a world where men kicking glorified sacks of air around a field is not important). I think CSKA really lost when they missed a penalty and Dad announced: “Even Town play better than this”, they might as well have just left the field there and then. Apparently the game was worth it though because it meant Dad got some use out of his Christmas present from me…

Wearing his scarf with pride. A true Muscovite after just 2 hours in the country.

In other news today we went to a space museum and saw a camel in a park next to it. Sometimes Russia renders me completely speechless (a difficult task) with its immense madness. I think my family finally understand what I mean when I talk about how crazy Russia is.

Jumat, 02 April 2010

I think it was a bit premature for the canvas pumps.

So after the horrible beginning of the week, it’s time for some good news... Spring is here!!! This week it has been slowly getting warmer and today was finally the time to celebrate, I awoke to gorgeous sunshine and a view with no snow in it. I jumped out of bed and did a dance of joy.

Today it was 12-15ºC so we decided to go to Tsaritsyno (Catherine the Great’s estate that I blogged about way back in September).

Before we could go there was one big issue on my mind… What shoes to wear? I had my outfit planned… thinner tights, dress, shirt and jacket (layering = the answer to all Russian wardrobe problems). BUT the footwear is the biggest essential of any outfit. For the past month I’ve been wearing my boots (which clash with every outfit)… was today the day I could finally be free of them and wear my canvas pumps?! The snow has melted away, the puddles are gone and the sun is shining. I decided to go for it.

It was a mistake. I forgot that the reason all the snow has disappeared from the street is because there are people employed to clear it. Parks are a different matter. My bad shoe choice resulted in a lot of attempting to avoid puddles.

Nevertheless a fun day was had by all. The park was beautiful, the weather gorgeous and we all got a bit snap happy with Toby’s snazzy camera... or I kept pestering Toby to take pictures of me.

However this blog has probably jinxed it and tomorrow it will be freezing again… but in the meantime lets all do a dance of joy to this: