John Bickerstaff

Joined May 2017
  • Day19

    Hand luggage! Really?

    August 12 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    Super early start, more down to neuroses - a 5.45 alarm meant clock watching from 4. First leg was the metro to Belorusksya Station, ideally making the 7am train to the airport. Wanted to leave a bit of leeway due to Russian quirkiness & general obscure procedures. First of many metal detectors at the station - they're everywhere here. Panicked a bit with everyone hurrying but made it with plenty to spare. The 'Aeroexpress' didn't do too much expressing. Then onto the onslaught of hoop jumping. Another metal baggage scan to get into the airport. Nit happy their was an aerosol in my main backpack - can't take that in the cabin - does it really look like hand baggage? Had to unlock phone as well - God knows what that shows. Managed to jump the queue a little at the bagagge drop that was suspciously the same as checking-in - printed out boarding passes even though she'd been given ours. Passport control & a stroppy cow hedging her bets as to which queue to choose wasn't happy when we forced her to make a choice when she wasn't able to block everyone any longer. Bizarrely gate 31 had a skygate numbered 32. Equally bizarre the seats were numbered with seats A & C, D & F. All very weird. Got into Helsinki to find the Manchester leg was delayed by
    40 mins. That bit longer to get into town & wake myself up. Had some great Salmon soup / a salmon plate at the market cafes that we'd meant to give a go when in town. On the way back to the station picked up some of the best strawbs ever (honest) & relaxed in the Esplanadi Park. Leisurely walk back to the station. Managed to avoid queuing to board while bagging some comfortable lounge seats. Nice relaxing end though Manchester may have something to say about that.
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  • Day18

    Top secret.

    August 11 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    Previously (on 24... No) during the downpour day indoor options had been investigated, largely with little success. The 1 intriguing option happened to be just round the corner - a top secret bunker that had just a year ago been declassified & was now open to the public. Had to be booked in advance & the only English tour was at 7pm on Sunday - packing time. Liz wasn't remotely interested so flying solo on this one. Access was a little cloak & dagger as well. Through a barrier, press the buzzer until you are met. This will only be answered 10 mins before the tour up until the tour - don't be late! As it was I followed a group in - easy. Met the guide & began the descent. Down 20m through a 10 tonne blast door, then a 1.5 hermetically sealed door. Along a 20m corridor so we were under the Kindergarten. Then down another 60m shaft - 2 more sealed doors & we were in. No messing around here. This was one of 20 bunkers under Moscow - most linked upto the Metro, which also had to capability to be sealed off. It stored the minister for foreign affairs' secret documents and was in use up until 2008. A lot was still operational - ventilation, air conditioning, communications, alarm ... but not the lift. And even here 80m below the surface of Moscow - still there's a Manc to be found. Bahh! Some of stuff was grim but fascinating - the way they tested the effects of differing levels of radiation on soldiers so they could predict the number of deaths (citizens out of service) in the wider population. At least we know what to do in the case of a nuclear warning - go online.Read more

  • Day18

    Strange black thing.

    August 11 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    Once the Kremlin had been explored we headed upto the Sparrow Hills. Passed up the opportunity to eat - too crowded & expensive and surely there'd be options at the observation deck or even at the University. Gentle walk up to the 'summit' & great views out over the Luzhniki [national] Stadium, the business district & 5 of the 7 sisters - Stalin's skyscrapers built with Gulag labour. Very busy at the top & very limited food options - sweetcorn or ice cream. Wandered towards the Moscow University building (no. 6 of the 7) & it became apparent that all that was up here was a university - no additional services, food etc. Liz wasn't happy. Decided to try around the cable car, our means of descent. Found a cafe overlooking the river, allbeit a rather expensive one. Settled down & was promptly ignored. Plenty of people were being seated. Still we waited & a number of those people were now being waited on. Doesn't bode well for speedy service. Gave up. Found what looked like a sarnie shop but was n fact a kebab shop, with a queue... that wasn't moving. OK head down to the stadium, except the cable car had a massive queue. Getting beyond a joke. Walk down, across the bridge - nope it's a motorway. Google to the rescue - navigated through the park & stumbled on Mr Big - a food shack. Admittedly the menu was in Russian but Google translated enough or so we thought. Ordered BBQ chicken and minty lemonade. 6 minute wait & I was presented with wraps yes but black. Surely it wasn't burned. Turns out the wrap was black - didn't taste any different to me but Liz wasn't having it. 2 wraps for me. A little walk around the stadium & then back via the supermarket for something a little more traditional.Read more

  • Day18

    Queues.

    August 11 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    A hoped for early start was just about on track - Liz battling through a rough head. Bizarre steady stream of people outside the hotel suggested something was happening - another protest possibly. Ideally the queue for tickets would be relatively untouched on arrival. On getting off the metro it became apparent that Moscow was busy - sunny Sunday. Hopefully it was just the locals & that they were going to a protest rather than the Kremlin. Hopefully not a protest at the Kremlin. Wandered through Alexander Gardens to be greeted by a substantial queue for tickets. Checked on the automatic tellers & the queues seemed better. Go for it. The downside was that it was just entry - no tower tickets. By the time we would've got to the front of the other queue they would be sold out anyway - or that's what I told myself. Back of mind was the worry that my card would be inoperable (email warning from the morning) At least we had cash. Then the machine started chewing up money. Ahh! Worried over nothing - tickets sorted - now where to go. Followed signs to unsurprisingly another massive queue. Sulked & pondered giving up. The voice of reason (Liz) ensured not. Moved fairly quick & we were in to the Kremlin. Russian police love their whistles - there were specific places you could go & cross - any deviation, no matter how small, got a whistle. Made our way to Cathedral Square - 5 cathedrals surrounding a small square & queues to get in all 5. Explored the site & Kremlin gardens. Apart from the numerous Chinese tour parties elbowing their way around, it was a very peaceful place, which belied its history. Headed out the exit to find people entering - surely they'll be turned back. No - could've entered via the exit - makes complete sense.Read more

  • Day17

    When the rain comes...

    August 10 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    When the rain comes we run & hide our heads or so the lyrical genius of John Lennon goes. Peaked out the window a little hungover & barely even contemplated going out to have to hide my head. It was chucking it down. The thought of getting soaked again didn't really appeal. Plenty of recovering & diary (should the recovery happen) Thankfully there was ample food in to tide us over so another reason for going out was avoided. The slight issue however was something of a quart in a pint pot situation - if no boxes are ticked today then loads needs to be done on our final day. Tried in vain to find indoor attractions that didn't involve art or likely Russian explanation (museums) Post lunch the rain seemed to have eased so a mild soaking was deemed acceptable & the queue for St Basil's could possibly be bearable. Decided to chance it. Got into town to find the police & army out in force - Red square was cordoned off & checks were in place - there was a big political protest & they weren't getting into Red Square. It was a battle for anyone to get in. Elsewhere the govt had been getting people to arrange festivals for the weekend to distract the youth from political dissent. All very sneeky. Anyway got into St Basils easily enough. From the outside it looks like the cathedral in St Petersburg. Internally it is completely different - a warren of little chapels, corridors and narrow staircases. A choir struck up while we were in there - added to the atmosphere - the sales pitch in a range of laguages less so. Headed to the other side of the Kremlin to try and find Gagarin's grave. Nothing doing but watched the changing of the guard at the memorial to the unknown soldier. Liked the way they insisted on respect at the memorial. Any sitting or leaning on it anywhere got a good whistle from the chief guard.Read more

  • Day16

    Metro Madness

    August 9 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    By now, following a day of space museums, Liz was feeling a little worse for wear. The thought of more out & about - let alone to the pub to watch Liverpool didn't agree. So a solo excursion - take in a few of the more impressive metro stops & if the pub could be found take in the match. Dry & warm clothing on & rain having stopped headed to the local metro & began a metro odysey. I wasn't the only freak either. Admittedly the two tour groups were Japanese, who take photos of anything. Anyway some very impressive stops. Spent a couple of hours hopping on & off trains. By the time I was done there was a mere 30 mins to kick off. It'd be rude not to. Liverpool shirts outside directed in the appropriate direction. Ordered a beer & a sarnie & local noticed the jersey - conversation started & the beer was on the house. This could get messy. Great atmosphere & great result - nice to talk to some locals even if largely it was about the mighty reds.Read more

  • Day16

    Cosmic Boulevard

    August 9 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    A wet and dreary morning revealed a more realistic climate for a city on a similar latitude to dreary city of Manchester. Such weather required an indoor plan. Perfect for the Museum of Cosmonautics at the VDNKh park - a sort of Russia / Communism theme park throw back to the 70's that still seemingly engenders a sense of pride in the locals. Managed to get to the metro relatively dryly - almost certainly got a few strange looks because of the shorts - or maybe just the habitual Moscow sour face. Indoors is all well and good but getting to the indoors involves the outdoors. Got a bit damp getting to the museum - not looking good for the rest of the site. The museum proved to be interesting but not quite as informative as it coukd have been - inconsistent English. Again what was strange was some bits equal billing, others clearly very abbreviated & others none existent. Annoying but understandable I guess. Photos outside were hampered by wind, rain, wonky eyes & the threat of falling slabs of granite. It would seem that such a prestigious monument is not getting the care it requires. Such a shame. Pushed onto the Space Pavillion in the main site, which has a Soyuz rocket outside but by now hunger was an issue, as well as shelter. All food options seemed to be stalls outside - not good. Outside - bad, inside - good. Found a soviet style canteen, which was interesting - no clues at all. Couldn't go wrong with kebabs & had some rice & veg which had a cursory warm in the microwave. Feet by now were soaking but made it to the space pavillion & had the bonus of free entry - god knows why - sympathy because of the bad weather or distracting the youth from protests - who knows. Spectacularly organised & presented artefacts. Loads of stuff about the moon missions, planetary missions & other assorted trivia. Better English options meant a lengthy stay - by the end Liz's patience was being tested. Back the way we came via some photo ops with the rocket. Very wet by time we got to the hotel.Read more

  • Day15

    Majestic Metro

    August 8 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    Found a park to eat our sarnies & try & recover. Decided to head to the famous Gorky Park - a stretch of the Moskva River where there isn't a busy road. Admittedly there was the suggestion of a theme park but some of it should be a bit calmer. Wandered to the next metro stop - suggested that this was one of stops not to be missed. Of the stops so far it was certainly ornate & I wasn't the only nutter taking photos. Headed for the sculpture park where a number of communist statues have been rehoused. Plenty of shade helped & eventually being able to get a drink also helped cool off. By accident the statue of Peter the Great was found. From that point forward it couldn't be missed. Apparently it was a statue rejected by the Yanks which doesn't endear it to the locals, it is a bit bizarre looking & the siting of it is a little questionable since he apparently detested Moscow. Talking of detesting onwards towards the theme park, except it was nowhere to be seen, just more parkland the other side of the bridge. Good news.Read more

  • Day15

    The shittiness of the human kind.

    August 8 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    Having a little house keeping to do it felt rash committing to doing too much so a day of bits & pieces was agreed upon. The first of which was having a look inside St Basil's Cathedral. Topped up the metro card with loads of remaining shrapnel & we were away. Except on arrival it became apparent there were 2 big pulls in Red Square today - Lenins Mausoleum & St Basil's - not sure which was the bigger but we weren't spending hours in it. Pushed onto the Bolshoi which unfortunately weren't conducting tours until Sept. Nice enough building - no tour groups - even better. Onwards to the darker side of the day - the Gulag History Museum. Came highly recommended - still, wasn't going to be a laugh a minute. The idea was to get a better understanding of what life was like at that time. The initial intro talked a lot about doors & their significance & proceded to tell 15 stories attached to 15 doors. The traumatic stories just kept coming. A very grim time & one I knew very little of. The darkness of the museum perfectly fitted the sombre subject matter. Like to think that the open window looking out onto a park at the end is showing there us cause for hope. Even so looking at the oldies that lived through that & some of the constructions created during that time & you wonder...Read more

  • Day14

    Mellow Moscow

    August 7 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    Once rested, hunger needed dealing with - a couple of biccies for lunch does not cut it. Decided to head towards Red Square stopping at a supermarket on the way. Handily enough - picnic sorted, we found a nice little park & enjoyed what little sunshine we could. Onwards & in the distance could be seen the tips of St Basils Cathedral - probably the most iconic sight in Russia. Little bit excited. Unfortunately, as everywhere else, road works so a detour had to be made. For the best though - ended up walking through Alexandrovsky Park, along the Kremlin to Red Square - far more peaceful than the main road. Disappointment at Red Sq. though - vast swathes of temp stands for a miltary tattoo on the 15th. The square was swamped with stalls & food hawkers - sone dumb yank seemed to think it reminiscent of Glastonbury - on what planet? At least tge cathedral was not shrouded in scaffolding. Closed mind. Headed back picking up tea & breakie stuff.Read more

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