The holiday got off to an inauspicious start: as soon as I arrived at New Street and started hunting for my train to London, I was informed that something had broken somewhere down the line and no trains were getting in or out of Euston (I have also found garbled, slowly-loading internet scuttlebutt that other unlucky passengers may have been menaced by a lion) so I was advised to go to Moor Street and take the slower train to Marylebone. Upon doing so, I found that a) the Moor Street trains had both power sockets and free wifi, b) someone had left an unopened packet of chocolate coins in the luggage rack. This seemed a fair trade for an extra half hour on the train.
London, as we headed to Tom’s after a rendezvous at the Cock, was gradually turning into the traditional Fifth of November warzone, thunder-flashes on the skyline and spouts of flame rising from every back garden. Although Islington Council sadly haven’t reinstated the Highbury Fields bonfire after calling it off twelve years ago (skinflints), Tom’s dad got into the spirit of things by firing some maritime distress flares off into the sky (you can tell he used to be a rock star) before cooking us all a scrummy veggie dinner. Then we watched the final episode of Generation Kill, which Bill hadn’t seen for some inadequate reason, and all went off to bed twitching with anticipation.
Up at 5:30 for toast and tea and traipsing through still-dark streets, riding down to Paddington in a bus that was congested in every possible sense of the word. Past various fine gasworks on the Heathrow Express, through all the usual tedious airport clichés and formalities, we found ourselves on the correct plane at the correct time, and mostly fell asleep. The flight was meant to be four hours, but runway tomfoolery at both ends stretched it out. Stacked up in a holding pattern above Domodedovo, watching the horizon burning that utterly beautiful red you can only get with serious air pollution, we descended into a dark purple haze scattered with cobwebs of city lights. The plane banked hard towards the dying sun on the last run, splashing red light across the wing beside me, and as it evened out I watched the shadow line run from the knuckle of the engine pylon all the way down the wingtip, vortex-fins glinting for a moment with my own private sunset.
It seems so far that everything is big in Moscow; the Aero Express certainly is. It’s a broader gauge than in Britain (though I think still not as huge as if Brunel had got his way), and the trains are massive in all senses. On the 45-minute run into Moscow proper, the train didn’t sway, it didn’t roll, and while it ground and vibrated it was in the same implacable way as massive factory machinery. Through the window I could see great stripy chimneys pumping out white smoke, and hundreds upon hundreds of semi-lit tower blocks.
The Metro deserves its own post and will get one, but is about the only part of the journey that went as quickly and efficiently as hoped, but after considerable navigation-confusion and traipsing around freezing Moscow streets in the darkness, we found our roost for the week, the Maxima Zarya hotel.
Tomorrow: The Kremlin.