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Izmailovsky Alpha Hotel—Over Something Like Pizza and Beer October 11, 2006

Posted by Bill Carroll in Moscow, pre-NCW World Tour, Russia.

Maybe if I apply a bit of imagination to it, this melted string cheese and ketchup on corrugated board under fluorescent lighting could be a candle-lit Italian dinner.

Nope. Not working.

There were a few moments of excitement when I landed in Moscow. I couldn’t find my driver after passing customs. Now, this probably doesn’t sound like a big deal to you as you sit comfortably wherever you are, but after the horror stories I’d been told about Russian taxicabs, I was pretty, well, concerned.  I heard campfire stories from other delegates who saw on the internet about how the cab drivers kidnap you, remove a kidney, roughly sew you up and leave you along the side of the road to hitchhike to the nearest hospital. Hyperventilation and tachycardia really inhibit your ability to use a cell phone, especially when it slips out of your sweating hand, so it took me a minute to figure out the Russian system.

Fortunately, there were only about three permutations of country code, area code and number necessary until I got through to the travel agent. Three dropped calls later, my driver ambled up—20 minutes past the time he was supposed to be there, and a bit indignant that my plane was 10 minutes early.  Moments later I got connected to the person who could make sense of it all, who was superfluous at that point.  Timing is everything in this business.

We started driving.  I was hoping it was toward the Izmailovsky Alfa but I was a bit concerned as Moscow faded into the rear view mirror.  The driver pointed out it was to avoid rush hour traffic.  I quickly looked for “kidnapping” and “hospital” in the Fodor’s guide.

But he seemed harmless enough, and he was driving a relatively new Ford.  The trip eventually became interesting as I saw nascent gated communities under construction—small houses, but recognizable new subdivisions nonetheless.  After about an hour we pulled up at the hotel.

Izmailovskovo Alfa

The Alfa has been updated a little since the Soviet era, but only a little. After a stringent passport check at the desk, I went upstairs to obtain the room key from the floor monitor. In olden days here, a dumpy old lady with facial hair and a lot of attitude passed out the keys and recorded the comings and goings of guests. I remember similar treatment in China twenty years ago.  Now the monitors are attractive and dressed in nice uniforms.

I’m pretty sure the fixture on the wall of my room is a sprinkler and not a microphone. Pretty sure.  As Elmer Fudd put it, I’m going to be vewwy, vewwy qwiet just in case.

The hotel is also a casino, which is kind of a surprise.  It’s not quite Las Vegas. Not quite even the WinStar quonset hut on the Texas-Oklahoma border, but occupied at all hours of the day and night. Roulette, beer and cigarettes at 8 AM: Breakfast of Champions. Some nights they have live entertainment: two guys singing to prerecorded tapes. The action is non-stop, if a bit slow. The workers look a little bored.

Tonight I decided to use the free evening to explore. I took a shot on figuring out the Metro in order to go down to the center of the city. But to get that done, I first had to develop confidence in reading the signage. The Cyrillic alphabet is a bit off-putting, but is so similar to Greek that if you were in a fraternity you can kind of dope it out. Once you do, there are a lot of similarities in the language.

There are a lot of similarities between the Cyrillic and Greek alphabets. The letter Д is like Δ (delta) and is a D. Once you also know that П is like the Greek pi and is a “P;” “P” is like the Greek rho and is an “R.” Then, “И” is sort of like “ee;” and “H” which looks like a Greek eta, is really “N” and of course “Г” is a gamma or “G.” Thus, the totally unintelligible ЛАРКИНГ becomes “PARKEENG”. It’s a straight lift. And it’s a good thing it is, because there is very little written in English as a second language.

I stumbled around downtown for a while, first going to the ЦУМ that is, “TSUM,” which is an acronym and translates roughly to “You Can’t Afford This.” Around the corner from the ЦУМ are the Bentley and Ferrari dealerships, which are located on a six-lane boulevard.  Moscow harbors some serious money.

I eventually found Red Square, alongside the Kremlin, or “fortress” which has guarded Moscow for hundreds of years. The recognizable, brightly colored St. Basil’s is beautiful, especially as it is lit at night.

As a Cold War child, to have had the chance to visit the three most recognizable Communist places—the Berlin Wall, Red Square in Moscow and Tien An Men square in Beijing, seems a bit surreal. Red Square isn’t as large as Tien An Men, but the Lenin Mausoleum occupies a similar place there as Mao’s tomb does at Tien An Men.

McDonalds in Moscow

A propos of the Extreme Tour, there is a McDonalds—or, rather MAKДОНАЛДС–that is not 100 meters from the huge statue of World War II hero Marshal Zhukov that guards the entrance to the Square. And that Mickey D’s is dead full at nine at night as well. No Monopoly promotion, though. I doubt it would translate in language or spirit.There is a mall next to Red Square—which has been there since Soviet times—called “ГУМ” or “GUM.” Judging by Red Square and the GUM mall adjacent to it, Moscow has a lot of hip, young, good-looking citizens. Of course, this means I blended right in. With the 400-year-old buildings.

V.I. Lenin

The subway is quite a monument as well. It was built in 1938 and is very ornate with statues of Lenin and dozens of other imposing bronze statues representing all walks of the Russian proletariat. In keeping with the utilitarian theme there is liberal use of granite and marble.  The escalator moves at about 30 mph.

A Moscow Metro Station
Now I’ll take my last bite of veal scaloppini, blow out the candle, and it’s time for the rack.

Nope.  Still not working.

Tomorrow we’ll see what things look like during the day.



1. Nancy McC-P - October 20, 2006

Were you vewwy, vewwy qwiet when you got back to your room? I hope your meals improve……

2. Bill Carroll - October 21, 2006

I’m finally able to sit up and again take solid food. Most of the stuff from McDonalds stays down.


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