Being a journalist and an overall nice guy (blush), I get to meet lots of people from all levels and from different countries. Some of those people I will only see once and I know it, whereas others I’ll meet whenever one of us is “in town.” Take for example one of my “old” friends from Washington who has been in Moscow the past several days…
I won’t get into what he does and where exactly he works, though he does work for the U.S. government, but he always finds time to give me a call and tries to set aside at least one evening where we can go out for dinner and have a couple vodkas and beers to catch up on each other’s personal and professional lives.
Last evening I was off work early and he asked me to meet him in the lobby of his hotel at 7:00 p.m. in downtown Moscow right across the street from the Kremlin and Red Square. I got to the hotel a little early and decided to wait for him in the bar. I had some time to kill and ordered a beer and watched the people around me. This is one of Moscow’s glitzy hotels and I’ve always hated it because you pay outrageous money for little or nothing. Take for example the price of my pint of draught beer (domestic Russian and not imported). It cost the equivalent of about $21. I will usually drink a beer in half an hour, but this beer should be sipped for the better part of an hour and a half just because of the price. The same beer around the corner would cost $4.
Anyway, my friend and I got to talking about the hotel once he noticed I was drinking a beer, calling me an idiot and insisting we go somewhere else to have dinner. I asked him why he stays in this incredibly expensive place and he just shrugged his shoulders and said that the “company” has some sort of link with the hotel and that’s why they always book him there even though he hates it. The hotel is actually run by the Russian federal government.
He explained his hotel accommodations, which cost $350 per night, as one of the worst he’s ever stayed in around the world. To give me an illustration of what he meant, he said that he could practically touch both walls from the middle of the room, calling it a closet. It’s an old hotel (built in 1905) and doesn’t have much service and what service it does have is extremely poor. In the mornings, he can’t drink the coffee because no one in his right mind would be able to stomach it because it is “so raunchy.” He tried to talk one of the front desk personnel into drinking a cup with him just so he could watch her face as she attempted to swallow the vile black liquid, but she refused.
Secondly, he said the beds are so worn out and the mattresses so soft (lack of support springs) that he asked them to find some plywood or a board to put under the mattress. He has a bad back and a soft mattress like that might leave him in his hotel room for months until he’s able to climb out of his room for help. So while he was gone, the hotel personnel found a nice piece of plywood and put it on his bed, carefully stuffing it under the sheets…on top of the mattress as opposed to under the mattress. I think there was some miscommunication, but I know of no one who would even think of putting a board on top of the bed…it’s just common sense. That took him a while to get that sorted out, practically drawing a picture for them.
There are many hotels in Moscow, but the overwhelming majority is extremely expensive. However, the cheaper ones always have better service and are much more modest in their pricing of bars and menu items.
So, anyway, we left the hotel and took about a 10-minute walk to a nice side street that has several restaurants to anyone’s liking from Chinese and Vietnamese, to European and American BBQ. We decided to dine at a quaint little Caucasus restaurant for some shashlik (meat on a skewer kind of like a shish-ka-bob only without the veggies).
The evening continued with lots of conversation about work and personal life. I caught up on what’s going on in Washington, he caught up on some details about Moscow, then the health and welfare of friends and family on both sides of the continents followed. After dinner, I walked him back to his hotel when all of a sudden I heard my name called out loud by a long lost Russian coworker I hadn’t seen for years and we chatted for a couple of minutes in Russian. My friend noted that every time he sees me, someone somewhere always knows me. It happens on the streets, in the subway, in bars and restaurants. I told him Moscow is pretty much a little village of around 14 million people and it’s easy to run into people here. In all his time of living in Washington (around 15 years), he said he’s never run into anyone he knows on the street or anywhere else for that matter. And in comparison with population, Washington is what I would call a village, not Moscow.
I enjoy evenings like this when I have friends and acquaintances arrive in “my city” or are passing through Moscow and would like to grab a quick beer somewhere before they catch their next flight to somewhere else. It’s a nice feeling when if you can’t meet up with someone, then he or she will catch you on the trip back. I have another friend now from the U.S. who passed through Moscow on to St. Petersburg, but I was out of town on assignment. However, he said he’d be back in Moscow in early December for a couple of days and we will definitely meet up. Plus this always gives me a chance to babble away in English at my normal quick pace and the other person understands everything I'm saying.
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