Wednesday 14 April 2010

The five dollar shake

If only the five dollar shakes were like that in Moscow!...

Russia by numbers:

2 - the two policemen who laughed when they saw my Putin-inspired passport photo. Who said the Russians had no sense of humour?

30 - the cost of our first burger when we arrived. Not roubles, but Pounds sterling. It was inedible. The cost of dining was a major challenge throughout the week - and we never found a good meal in Moscow, although St Petersburg was a lot better on that front. In Moscow, I'm afraid in desperation we ended up having coffee in Starbucks. They'd run out of mugs, even though there were just six people in there.

12 - the number of girls sitting in the hotel lobby that we assumed were prostitutes - when we saw them for breakfast next day we realised they were a gaggle of English students. Prejudice is everything

4 - the actual number of prostitutes that 50 Cent had sent up to his room by his bodyguards. Fortunately our rooms were on a different floor

11 - the number of football players in a team. Jose Mourinho seemed to have a lot more than that waiting in the lobby of our Moscow hotel. They all seemed very bored. He needed a haircut according to the women in our party

1 - the number of ex-German Chancellors we saw. Herr Schroder. His hair didn't look dyed. An awful lot of the great and good had stayed at the hotel. And many of the bad too. See the pics, make your choice! Of course the other leader we saw was Lenin. he didn't look too good.

14 - the number of people in our party. Two of the adults were American. Both are convinced that Elizabeth Taylor isn't British, and never has been. As part of the conversation, I mentioned that Santa wasn't real, much to the distress of their 11 year-old boy...

61 - either the year of my birth, which is completely irrelevant, or we were shown round the Space Museum by the 61st Russian astronaut...he's now the deputy director there. How exciting was that...I shook hands with a real cosmonaut. Don't ask me his name. It was Russian and therefore unpronounceable. We liked the two stuffed dogs who had done their turn in space/ They were preserved for eternity looking skyward - perhaps wondering where they'd buried their bones.

1110 - the number of photos I took. Anyone fancy coming round for a slide show?

1942 - evidently the year we, and the Americans, decided to join in the Great Patriotic War according to our guide. One of our party exploded, before pointing out the proper date. As recorded in our history books. Which are probably more accurate than theirs.

1 - the number of over slippers that Bob kept losing in the museums and palaces. You have to wear them to protect the beautiful floors. He became known as One Boot Bob, which was kind of funny. If you were there. He also had a habit of wandering off, so there was the regular cry of 'Where's Bob?' We think it may make a book to replace Where's Wally. He also asked a lot of questions. Some of these were interesting. Most weren't. Bob is in his late fifties, so neither a tear away teen, or a demented OAP.

3 - the approximate interval in minutes between trains on the amazingly beautiful Moscow Metro system. By comparison, we had to wait four times that for our Circle line train in London

8 - the number of hours it took for our sleeper train to travel from Moscow to St Petersburg. It was beautifully appointed, and the staff brought food and beverages for us all night.

4 - the number of bottles of vodka we drank on the train. Ouch

2 - the number of hours sleep we managed as we partied all night

15 - the temperature we enjoyed in Moscow and St Petersburg. Unseasonably warm, it was lovely, and the blue skies mean we have a probably quite distorted view of the Russian climate.

4 - the number of Russian dolls we painted at a bizarre Russian-style Disneyland which appeared to have been built on an industrial estate on the outskirts of Moscow. We had fun, but weird is a complete understatement

2 - the number of active churches we visited. And lots and lots of in-active ones. Each and everyone was absolutely beautiful. Even St Basil's which our guide described as "Nothing much inside!"

12 - the number of Palaces we saw. Actually it may have been less. Or more. There were many and a testimony to the extravagance of the Russian Tsars. No wonder the peasants revolted. But you can't deny they're stunning and we could have spent longer seeing more if we'd had the time

3 - The three steer bar - we needed a drink during our travels and stumbled on this one. It wasn't called that, but it had three life size cows outside. And a life size plastic horse - so I took my shirt off for my Putin pose. There were no other women in the bar, and the waitresses all wore very short skirts. Perhaps there was a shortage of cloth.

0 - the number of world-class paintings displayed in the Tretyakov Gallery according to our resident expert. Evidently the Church disapproved of painting (except icons) so it didn't develop as art did in the West. Mind you, that didn't stop the aristocracy acquiring great works of art.

0 - apparently the number of sea battles the Russian fleet has ever won. They seemed to keep losing their fleet to various foreigners. The Naval Museum in St Petersburg is not a glorious place.

8 - the number of times I was stopped and asked questions by people who apparently thought I was Russian. I'm not sure what that means.

10/10 - what a brilliant and fascinating country Russia is. We barely scraped the surface, and I hope one day to return.