Returning to Moscow, is a bit like going to the dentist, you hate going but know you have to. I hate living in Moscow but it puts food on our table and money in our pockets, so we accept it, Moscow is one ugly bitch but she won't yet sign the divorce papers so we are stuck with her for now. When you live in Moscow for any period of time, it is vital that you get out of Moscow at least every three to four months, to breath clean air, see green nature and experience normal prices. If you don't, you will either go mad or be absorbed into the living mechanism of Moscow, like the Borg in a Star Trek movie. I have given up trying to be politically correct and polite about Moscow, in case any Russians read this blog but after two years of living here, I am past caring who I offend and frankly I don't give a shit anymore. However and much to my surprise, some expatriates love Moscow, as the saying goes, "one mans meat is another mans poison".
There are two main airports in Moscow, Sheremetyevo and Domodedovo. Both are fairly ugly sisters but one is less ugly than the other. If I had to choose between the two, at a forced college dance and only after I had drunk several beers, I would choose Sheremetyevo. We went from Domodedovo airport and she is the sister with a wire brace, buck teeth and an eccentric personality to match. The airport is a big glass building, that looks good from the outside but has the chaos of Lagos airport outside. Police bully and harass anyone who tries to drop off a passenger at the terminal and battered luggage trolleys, lay abandoned all over the place. The luggage check in desk at Transaero was a scene of chaos. People formed lines, like four small streams joining a large river, rather than waiting in an orderly polite line. British men like me, hate improper queuing and I could feel my nervous twitch returning and I began to experience queue rage. Women wearing sun glasses inside the airport, holding Louis Vuitton luggage wrapped up in 30 kilometres of plastic, pushed and shoved in front of us at the check in desk that served multiple destinations. We went by an airline called Transaero. This was not an airline that I had heard of before and I hate flying, so took my bottle of Valium pills that serves as my long term travelling companion on all flights. The plane looked twenty years old but took off OK and got us to Vienna with all our body parts intact. Although I was with the fairies after taking three Valium tablets, I clapped for joy with all the Russians, when the plane landed and kissed my ass hello rather than goodbye, just thankful to not be another Russian air crash statistic.
Leaving Vienna, is almost as stressful as leaving Sheremetyevo. When you buy anything in Austria, you can get the tax back at the airport when you leave. Don't buy any clothes in Moscow, save money and buy them in Austria or anywhere else in Europe. The shops give you a form and stamp it to claim your tax back. When you get through the luggage check in at Vienna, go through the first set of security checks, you can join a long queue, that winds round the corner to get your tax back. They have three windows but had only one person taking the forms, refunds are usually in dollars. On seeing this queue, I thought it must have been managed by the Russians as it was so badly organized. I left my wife to get her money back and shot off with my kid and baby. I found an old office chair in a quite area of the airport and sat down to feed the baby milk while my older kid pushed me around at high speed in the chair as I fed the baby. People looked on at us in disbelief, shock and amusement. It was not easy and my stress levels began to return to Moscow levels, even before I had set foot back in Moscow. One book I did read on holiday, was called the "The well behaved child" by John Rosemond. I made a note to myself, to get tough with kid number one, when returning to Moscow. When you have a pushchair (stroller) you have to take it to bits and put it through the x-ray machine, carry the baby in one arm and hold onto a kid who wants to run through the x-ray machine. You dump all your keys, drugs, guns and money into a tray, take off your trouser belt and walk through the metal detector, with your trousers (pants) down round your ankles while carrying two tormented kids. Thanks terrorists, I think you have your revenge on us father infidels!
Sheremetyevo, is a depressing airport to arrive back in. It has improved a lot since I was in Moscow ten years ago but is still a dark gloomy place to be. You walk down the ramp off the plane, down some stairs and into a dimly lit passport control area, that reminds me of how a prison visiting centre may look. Dark skinned men from some Azerbaijan style country, looking as if they had just left their sheep on the hill side to take a plane, shuffled about in lines wearing scruffy, badly fitting sports clothes and looking moody. At the customs window, a man examines your passport as if it had the meaning of life written inside, he bashes keyboard, tears off bits paper from a pad and stamps bits of paper several times, because he enjoys rubber stamping. Relieved not to be put into handcuffs and bussed of to a remote prison, in deepest Siberia, you go through the customs gate with great relief. I did and then remembered I was back in Moscow. Next stop, is to collect your luggage. People push and shove at the baggage belt to grab their bags that are wrapped up in 50 kilometres of plastic. I could not find a bag trolley, so carried three bags on each shoulder and pushed our suitcase on wheels, with my kid riding on top. After the baggage reclaim, there are two last goals to get past. The "nothing to declare" gate and the taxi men that lay in wait for you like vipers in a bed. We walked through the nothing to declare gate and I felt as guilty as a man with a kilo of crack up is Jackson. I could see piles of confiscated vegetables, scattered about all over the airport floor, it looked like a Moscow Auchan supermarket. I find it hard to believe that people board planes carrying vegetables but I suppose I should not be surprised, maybe vegetables can be dried, smoked and are now as valuable as some drugs? Once past that gate and thankful not to have been blown up, I was asked many times, "taxi", "taxi", "taxi" but by the 6th man that asked it, I said "piss off", as my Valium pills had worn off and I just wanted to get out into the smoky Moscow air. We got home and I am now dreaming of my next trip out of Moscow and counting the days to go.
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