Civil Liberties

Trip Start Jun 01, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

"Nowhere else will you find a greater hive of scum and villainy" - Star Wars

We were due a little bad luck, so when we arrived in Moscow at 5AM without any accommodation booked it was no great surprise that things didn't go great. We had spent the last twenty four hours trying to book some kind - any kind - of accommodation so we weren't just turning up on a wing and a prayer, but had been unsuccessful.

So we based ourselves in a cafe in the train station and took it in turns to wonder out and use the phone, running through the list of phone numbers we were able to get off t'internet before leaving St Petersburg...

Things didn't start well. When we could get through on the phone we were either shouted at and hung up on, or politely told the place was fully booked and it was summer you know and they only take bookings five days ahead.

But eventually, after around three hours, we found somewhere that would take us in. A hotel though, and not cheap. Still, beggars can't be choosers and it was slightly preferable to sleeping on the streets of Moscow.

Speaking of which, there are two worthwhile observations to make about the streets of Moscow. One, when Moscow does a surly drunk hobo, they REALLY do it; no messing about, no half measures... These guys eat broken glass and drink Toilet Duck - and that's on a good day. Second, it's the coppers you have to watch out for.

We had been warned by every source of information from the Foriegn Office to Lonely Planet to the mad Scottish bloke we met on our last night in St Petersburg not to show our passports to anyone, especially coppers. This kind of puts you a little ill at ease, and with pretty good reason. The police here are famous for stealing, defrauding, conning, bullying and intimidating their way into other people's pockets... Personally I feel bad for the honest criminals who must feel almost superfluous.

As we walked off the train there were coppers stood at intervals, stopping people at random and demanding to see their papers. We managed to avoid this particular headache, while other tourist looking types were going through their pockets. And then again as you leave the station, there's more coppers there stopping whoever they like and searching through their stuff.

I'm not saying they're all crooked, it was more interesting because of the violation of simple civil liberties that we kind of take for granted. The Police Force in the UK are always so worried about getting sued they need fifteen witnesses before they ask you if you wouldn't mind putting the gun down. Here, we've seen them flagging down cars and jumping in, exchanging a few words and then being driven off places.

Good work if you can get it.

We're a little bitter at the moment. We got our sums wrong which meant we could have spent a few more days in Europe and not hurried into Russia, and now we're stuck for four days in the most expensive city in Europe in an overpriced hotel watching poor American movies that have been dubbed over in Russian without removing the original soundtrack. So if you really concentrate, you can separate the loud Russian from the quiet English like an aural Magic Eye picture, and you can follow the plot of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.... Until you realise you don't want to.

Red Square was a bit rubbish, to be fair. We'll upload some photos of it tomorrow, but don't be fooled by them. We'll show you the good stuff but don't lose sight of the fact it looks like it's used as an overflow car park whenever the fair's in town. No offence meant to Russia you understand. Just a little different to Lonely Planet's "One of the most breathtaking sights in the world" - the only way a visit to Red Square could take one's breath away would be if the local constabulary gave one a nightstick to the stomach... which, in turn, wouldn't surprise me.

But you've got to laugh..... Although we never realised it was possible to be looking forward to a six day train journey quite this much.

Roll on China....

Other quotes that didn't quite make the cut to be used as the introductory quote at the top of the page....

"Keep your distance Chewie, but don't make it look like you're keeping your distance... I don't know, fly casual" - Return of the Jedi

"You're all going to die down here" - Resident Evil

"I can't believe I've found something that both sucks and blows" - The Simpsons
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