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Leaving Moscow October 19, 2006

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

October 13, 2006
Izmailovsky Alpha hotel, 7 AM

All I can tell you is, if it was veal it was one talkative calf because it kept me up all night.  Tums seemed to only make it angry.

I don’t do well with international travel.  Under the best of circumstances, I have a very rigid biological clock that really likes Central Time.  As a result, sleep comes in spurts of about three hours tops, and usually not at night.  Being awake in the middle of the night away from home is not fun.

What frosted me is I had planned for illness.  Based on previous experience, I brought enough Imodium to plug the Alaska pipeline.  I had enough antibiotic to disable a yogurt factory.  None of that was to the point.

The 13 inch TV in the Alpha had about 20 channels with cartoons, movies, infomercials and propaganda—all in Russian.  There was one English channel, the BBC News, but that carries 24 hours of information about people and places that were, frankly, irrelevant to a guy with alimentary war breaking out.  It doesn’t matter to me that Madonna is trying to adopt an African child, and there wasn’t even a cricket match.  To be fair, CNN International is no better, and when I get home from abroad usually the first thing I want is ESPN or maybe Spike.  Geez, I’d even sit and watch HGTV with Mary. 

Naturally, my ACS report would have to be that morning.  Nothing I like better than having to give a presentation while fighting dietary distress.  Breakfast was out of the question: not pizza, not weenies, not even Cocoa Puffs.  I dunked my face in the sink to avoid further enraging the shower gods.  Fortunately, washing what little hair I have left requires only a heavy fog.10-13-b.jpg

The EuCheMS meeting itself was very good, and I enjoyed meeting the Presidents of the European societies.  We have many of the same problems: public perception of chemistry, research funding, concern for the future of local industry, hope and optimism for chemistry as the source of the next generation of innovation, particularly in energy.  I felt welcomed by all.

I did manage to get through my report.  Being nearly last on the agenda helped, as did copious amounts of carbonated water.

Moscow Train Station, 11 PM

leninhead.jpgMy next meeting is in St. Petersburg, and given the traffic and the state of the airports, everyone recommends taking the eight-hour overnight train.  The station was not deluxe, and was once again a reminder of Soviet times.  A bust of Lenin dominates the main waiting area.  Given his presence in the subway as well, he must be the patron saint of train travel.  Seats have been deemed irrelevant and do not clutter the waiting area.

On the other hand the accommodations once inside the train were quite clean and nice by Amtrak standards.  The seats flip down to make beds, and there’s space underneath them for your luggage.  The Russian train system provided a box lunch: couple of dinner rolls and butter, small bottle of salmon roe, slices of dried salami, yogurt, and chocolate squares.  Oh.  And a half pint of “cognac.”  Given what I ate all day everything but the salmon roe looked reasonably good.

First class in Russian overnight trains includes two berths in each sleeper car.  Five of us—Dave Garner from the Royal Society of Chemistry and his wife Pam; Evelyn MacEwen, EuCheMS Secretary, Reto Battaglia of the Swiss Chemical Society and I–made our way to the station for the Midnight Special.

The perceptive reader has already done the math and noticed that one of us will be rooming with a new friend tonight.  I drew the short straw.  His name was Aleksei.

Aleksei spoke a little English, and apparently is in the publishing business. He licenses, translates, augments for Russian audiences and reproduces a couple of popular American magazines.  He wasn’t a bad guy—makes this trip every week.sleeper.jpg
But here we were.  I was sweating like a pig because I have no idea of the etiquette associated with sharing a sleeper car with someone you don’t know.  Do you say, “Should we go to sleep now?” and does that mean something else when translated into Russian?  I pulled out my computer and worked for a while to see if the situation resolved itself naturally.

Eventually, when he polished off his “cognac” and went out for a cigarette, I put my bed down, crawled under the covers fully clothed, buried my head and went to sleep.

In the end it all worked out.  I woke up a couple of times because we were near the rest rooms, and the toilet flush sounded like a rocket launcher.  Since there was no getting up to read or work, I had no choice but to will myself back to sleep, which kind of worked.  I was glad to see dawn, and the station.  Touring St. Petersburg is next.



1. Michael Mautino - October 20, 2006

Good Luck and Best Wishes on the “XFT”! I hope we are able to raise the $25,000 for Project SEED – would love to see you get your head shaved!!!

Michael Mautino
Chair, ACS Committee on Community Activities
Celebrate National Chemistry Week
“Your Home-It’s All Built on Chemistry”
October 22-28, 2006

2. Bridget Gourley - October 20, 2006


A most amusing warm up tour. We look forward to seeing you when you come through Greencastle. I wish you could have heard Sam Rund, our Student Affiliate President when he got confirmation you were coming, it was great.

Bridget Gourley
Professor of Chemistry and
Chair, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
DePauw University
Greencastle, IN 46135

3. Bill Carroll - October 21, 2006

Thanks, Mike. Start beating the bushes.

See you Thursday, Bridget!

4. Bill Carroll - October 21, 2006


You left a bit too soon. I got up today intending to be at GVC all day (and not with much time to spare). There was a serious lack of water pressure though. Not knowing if it was short-term problem or a hotel wide issue, I pressed on. I grew up out West after all- I’ve bathed in many a “camp shower” with less and colder water. I was basically all soaped up when the water stopped all together. I mean not a drop to even rinse the soap off my hands. I popped open the remaining bottled water in the room and managed to get off the worst of the soap, but now I was stuck. There was no way I was going anywhere with a serious case of bed head. I called the front desk- yes they are aware of the problem; no they have no idea when it will be fixed. So I resign myself to doing e-mail. Not long after, the water came on. What came out would cure any remaining individuals who were drinking the tap water. I swear it looked like it was running blood. Now you would pass this off as an unfortunate event that could happen anywhere except Rob was talking last night at dinner about how the water would on occasion run red. He kept thinking that he had cut himself shaving or something.

Bill Carroll relaying a message from Ann Wallin

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