October 10, 2013

The French Connection

The French Connection (1971), 20th Century Fox

Two bits of good news this week.

Firstly, my Chinese visa was issued in London on Wednesday without any further questions about my travel arrangements. This breaks the “Catch 22”, and it can now be used along with my Vietnamese visa to get in the queue ready for getting a ticket on the T5 train to Hanoi. Happy days!

Secondly, the Real Russia team in Moscow have tracked down Alexey, my guide and interpreter from last year. I’m really pleased to have him on the team again as he was brilliant at supporting my rather non mainstream needs last time. Together we inspected nuclear bombers, ate Armenian dumplings and appreciated the finer points of the battle paintings of Vasily Vereshchagin.

When I first asked about getting hold of Alexey I must have sounded like an American asking a local if they knew of someone called “Tony” in London. I had forgotten it is such a common name and I could not remember any other details. Then by chance I found his card when I was packing a bag last week. Anyway, its now all sorted, and I have some more bespoke sightseeing plans this time – more on this in a few weeks.

“Let Them Enter”┬áVasily Vereshchagin (1871)

I’m not a great painting lover and have a fairly low boredom threshold in most galleries. Then after a couple of hours in the Tretyakov with Alexey we came across Vereshchagin and had to sit down and draw breath. I have never seen such realistic and vivid paintings (at such a massive scale) of battlefields. I only wish I could get a book of his paintings, but sadly I can’t find one.

My trip cards (with map) in a neat holder from the lovely people at Moo

I had a good idea the other day – why not create a special card for the trip? Just like Gene Kranz (NASA Flight Director) and his Apollo mission lucky waistcoat (made by his wife), a possibly auspicious┬ásouvenir for my journey. They show my details on one side, and a map of my latest route on the other. It feels much more appropriate than giving someone a business card and is a great way of showing people with whom I don’t have a language in common where I’m on the way to. Thanks to Moo for their brilliant product and service!

Finally, why “The French Connection” title to this post? Some clever new route from Newcastle into Poland? No, it’s another con so I can reference a classic movie. In this case the reason is that together with Victor, our driver, we weaved in and out of the massive traffic jams of central Moscow last year to make my train leaving from Yaroslavsky station. The combination of old cars, leather coats and interesting driving was very much in the spirit of this film.
I think that’s all for now.

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