Friday, 15th July 2011
The two-hour transfer from Moscow Airport to the boat gave ample opportunity for studying the environs of Moscow. Some things I learned I could have confidently predicted but many things came as a surprise. Our coach was late arriving at the airport to pick us up because of heavy traffic. Then, our journey time to reach the ship was extended because of heavy traffic. I knew that car ownership had expanded in recent years, but I hadn't realised by how much. All the world's manufacturer's were represented, not just Russian designs, but I gather Russia likes to see foreign models assembled in the country. Many of the commercial vehicles were also of foreign origin.
We initially travelled (on the right, with left-hand drive) on Western-looking motorways, five lanes each way. The lanes heading towards the airport were at a stand for miles but we travelled at a good speed for the first few miles until we turned onto another route at a major junction, when we were reduced to walking pace. These major routes are provided with overhead gantries with remotely-controlled speed restrictions displayed over each lane. The displays seem to be used in a similar fashion to those in the U.K., showing a maximum speed of '100' (km/h) when the traffic is already crawling. Every few miles, we'd pass a police post with officers visible but not appearing very involved.
More frequently, we'd pass pedestrian overbridges. The Russians have something of a reputation for solid but unimaginative engineering and rather fixed ideas on 'design'. These bridges seemed to fully comply with the prejudice. Admittedly, the bridge beams usually had to span ten lanes of traffic but where the West would use pre-stressed concrete or welded steel, these constructions used riveted steel construction which would have looked at home on a battleship. The walkways were all fully covered - perhaps necessary considering the hard winters Russia experiences - with clear plastic or polycarbonate panels attached to a substantial ribbing. It appeared that there had been extensive graffiti which had been removed, leaving large milky patches in the clear sheets. The carriageways were lit by regular steel columns erected in the central reservation, each supporting (usually) two curved branches, each terminatied in a luminaire. I liked the thoroughgoing approach to identification of these lighting standards: two rectangular metal labels were attached to each column (one for each direction) in which the 3-digit number was punched, to appear in silhouette.
Flying into Moscow, I'd spotted at least one large coal-fired power station. On our way to the ship, we passed frequent not very large power stations. However, I couldn't see any coal-handling facilities and I confirmed afterwards that a lot of power stations are oil- or gas-fired, producing hot water for district heating schemes in addition to electricity.
Eventually we came to the built-up suburbs of northern Moscow and the coach turned off the main road into a park. This park led to the Moscow Northern River Terminal where we parked on a wide promenade next to the Moscow Canal where a number of large river ships were moored. There were hundreds of people walking, bicycling or in-line skating along the promenade at the start of the weekend. We were directed through a security tent containing a baggage X-ray machine onto our home for the next few days, the 'AMA Katerina'. As is often the case in Russia, things aren't quite that simple. Apparently, the official name of the vessel, as testified by the large Cyrillic letters attached to the side of the ship, is 'Mstislav Rostropovitch' (the famous cellist and conductor - see Wikipedia article). The ship is jointly operated (in some no doubt complex way) by Ama Waterways and Vodohod Cruise and Travel.
Tired and hot (it was now about 9 p.m.) my only concern was to get to a cabin and see if the dining room was still serving. The cabin seemed fine and I ate a decent dinner but rather than make my usual detailed examination of the ship, its facilities and layout, I went to bed because Saturday was planned to be a fairly strenuous day.