Sunday, 7 June 2009

Vladimir and Suzdal adventures (part 1)

Roughly two weeks ago Simon, Sam and I decided that we had had enough of sitting around in Moscow twiddling our thumbs so we decided to head out of the city for the weekend and go to two places that our guide book recommended called Vladimir and Suzdal. For any avid readers of my blog you will know that I have already been to these two towns, however on my previous trip I happened to stay in a ‘wonderful’ hotel where there was no hot water and the windows didn’t close, oh and it was -12 outside. This being my most prominent memory I decided that hopefully by returning I could change this and thus be able to attribute something slightly better to Vladimir and Suzdal. The following three posts give a day by day account of how we planned our trip and how it actually unfolded. If you believe that my life is boring and uneventful then hopefully these posts will amuse you and make you change your mind.

Our initial plan went something like this:
Friday- meet up at Kurskaya metro and proceed to the train station where we would buy three tickets at the student rate for the 6pm train. Around 9pm we would arrive in Vladimir and find the Hotel Vladimir, check in and pay for out hotel, settle in for the night and eat Russian Pot Noodle.
Saturday- Take the Mashrutka to Suzdal where we would explore the town, see a few churches, buy a few icons etc. Then head back to Vladimir to find somewhere cheap to eat and have a beer.
Sunday- explore Vladimir, take photographs, buy souvenirs etc then get the 5pm elektritchka back to Moscow.

The actual weekend went something like this:
After finishing school late as they decided that we needed an extra class to make up for one that we missed earlier in the term we all ran home to drop off our school stuff and grab weekend stuff. Having done this in the space of about 30 minutes the three of us met up at Kurskaya metro as planned. However when we entered the train station there were huge queues for each ticket desk we also noticed that while our train was up on the board it had the word ‘tuchok’ next to it. None of us knew what that meant so while the boys queued I ran over to the information booth where, as per usual, a very scary, disgruntled looking bab was sitting. Feeling that I had nothing to lose I decided to ask her where we needed to buy tickets for the electritchka (there were two different areas) and how much tickets would be. After staring at me for a while she simply told me that the train was full and that I would have to get the 9pm train instead and would get to Vladimir around midnight. Bugger!
After retelling this information to Sam and Simon they decided to go down to the correct place to buy tickets and see if there was a timetable in case there was another train that didn’t terminate at Vladimir but simply passed through there. In the mean time I ran to see if there happened to be a bus that went there. Luckily there was one after asking a scary looking man if the bus went to Vladimir which was confirmed by him looking at me as if I was mad then nodding. After re-finding Simon and Sam we decided that even if the bus was awful and didn’t have any windows it would still get us in to Vladimir earlier than the train and it would be that we would not miss the check in time at the hotel.
Luckily for us the buses didn’t have a timetable and simply left when they were full, so we boarded and decided to sit and hope that you bought your tickets on the bus and that it wouldn’t crash en route. It turns out that you did just have to buy your tickets on the bus and then you just sat and stared out of the window until you arrived at Vladimir.
The journey actually was better than we had expected, at first we were a little worried by the fact that all of the signs on the bus were in French. It is a well known fact that Aeroflot has a reputation for buying old planes that other companies have deemed unfit to fly and we assumed that the bus company had done the same thing and bought an old bus that the French had deemed unfit to use, however this was not the case and the bus was nothing more than a little old fashioned.
After taking over and hour to Moscow we were off driving through the Russian countryside to Vladimir. To pass the time we decided to lay bets as to when we would arrive in Vladimir as it was about 187 km from Moscow and the road had every kilometre marked out. I rather optimistically said it would take us three hours to get there and we would thus get in around 9pm. When the bus arrived in Vladimir at 10pm it was raining and was dark so we decided to take a taxi to the hotel where we hoped we could just unpack and plan what time we would head to Suzdal etc.
Previously I had managed to book two rooms in the Hotel Vladimir where the website said it would cost us about 1000r a night for a twin room and about 800r a night for a single, as it turned out the website was wrong and the total bill was about 9000r for two nights. Somewhat in shock by this but as it was 11pm and we had nowhere else to go we had to pay this and would then spend the next week in Moscow living off bread and water. Luckily there was a bankomat in the foyer of the hotel so we went to take out money as surprisingly enough we didn’t have enough money on us. This was where the trouble really began. After having both of mine and Simon’s bank card rejected we tried very politely to ask if there was another bankomat near by as for some reason banks in Russia only seem to accept out cards when they feel like. The male receptionist then got very offended that we said his bankomat wasn’t working and made us show him that it wasn’t working. He then decided that we had no money and were trying to stay there without paying, so we explained that it was because we had English bank cards and that Russian banks don’t like them. He then told us that they always had foreigners staying there and they never had any problems. Next we asked if we could pay by chip and pin, sadly this failed too, next we asked if we could pay a bit now and the rest in the morning, this too was not possible. Luckily at this point the female receptionist told us that we had to leave our passports there over night anyway to be registered and that they would simply hold our passports until we paid.
After being given our keys we madly ran to find our rooms and see if the hotel was really worth all of this hassle. While we were madly planning what we would do if none of the bankomats worked and who we could ask to travel four hours outside of Moscow and then lend us 9000r my mum phoned to say that RBS had called to say that someone was trying to take money out of my account to pay for a hotel in some random Russian town and did I want it to go through. I then told her that it was me trying to do this and that RBS categorically had to let it go through or I would end up in some ditch in the middle of nowhere in Russia and she would never see me again. A few minutes later my dad called back to say that he had told RBS it was me and that they had said that I needed to wait about 20 minutes then it would work and they would let it go through.
After the longest 30 minutes of my life, I always leave longer than RBS say as they are usually quite slow in doing anything on my account, we tried to bankomat again and were able to pay for the hotel and thus avoided getting lynched by an angry Russian man for not paying our hotel bill. Having paid for it and been told that breakfast was included in our bill we ran off and decided to make the most of our ridiculously expensive hotel room.

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