Siberia Tales pt 3 – The eagles get restless in the autumn

I started this in Russia but never finished it…here goes nothing

Russia vs The West – the little differences

Driving

  • Russians drive fast
  • Russians drive like maniacs
  • Russians have no rules, the only rule that applies is the one the guy in the biggest car adheres too
  • Russian cars run the gamut form your sterotypically communist Lada to the poshes, blingest Porsche Cayenne/Lambo/Generic US hotrod you can think of. Traffic lights = race start lights
  • Your average russian motorcyclist drives round and round the city revving the bike to extreme levels every time he passes outside my hotel

Weddings

  • Weddings are big here
  • We appear to be staying at Wedding Central, Tyumen. Thursday, Friday and Saturday the hotel foyer is full of them. Sitting downstairs for an hour once I counted 4 Brides coming past, and another car (always a white Hummer limo) was pulling up outside
  • Wedding dresses are big here, really big! almost as big as the high heels (which are astronomically high everywhere in Russia). Even better there is a Bridal shop,one of four we ve seen in a city centre that takes little more than 15 mins walk to cross, which has actual real life mannequins that sway side to side in the dress of choice every day.
  • All weddings run like military operations. for each step there will be a professional photographer and a professional cameraman following every move and ordering the happy (?) couple into every sort of cheesy pose you could imagine. They will be shot walking out of the bar, out of the hotel getting intot he car etc several times, on their own, before the big moment itself. This is not some shaky video they re getting, this is Hollywood!
  • Wedding processions are a couple of cars long and all of them drive through the town with their hands permanently on the horn. Adding to the usual cacophany of noise that is de rigeur on the roads here (see above). We ve only observed this once but there was one bride who got out of her car and proceeded to strut down the centre of the road through the traffic jam – Ruth Parry, I was dissapointed not to see youemulate this down the A470 a few weeks previously

Cycling

  • Given the topic on driving, can you blame Russian cyclists for riding on the pavement?
  • Most cyclists are kids on low range European bikes, Merida and focus were particualrly common although there were one or 2 Treks
  • I never went but apparently many of the parks have dedicated MTB trails, certainly there were one or two serious looking riders out who had been playing inthe mud
  • I saw one road club out – fair play to them, road cycling in Russia must be horrific!

Restauranting

  •  Service in Russia is based on whatever dish is ready first. Regardless if that dish is a starter, main, side, desert or whatever
  • Beer in Russia is good, A secret stolen from the time in Eastern Europe I guess.

I could have added more, but if I’m honest, I ve forgotten…

Peace out

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Open Letters to a Landlord (rant content)

So, the restaurant below our flat below our flat is being renovated  and has been so for the last 4 months. The entire place was gutted, stripped back to it’s 4 bare walls. This revealed many many problems with the building as a whole. The builders start at 7 30am and have been continuing until 8 pm some nights. Things came to a head this evening (my head, literally – see below) so as I sit hear still feeling the effects, I thought I’d write an open letter to the landlord and the builders. (most of these have been e-mailed in real life but with little effect…

We have had frequent problems with our water being turned off completely without warning and then not turned back on at the end of the day, hot water turned off many more) and internet (has been intermittent). I ve now got to know the vagaries of Dutch water systems very well!

The Structural problems that the restauranters discovered (and to their credit) and have mended have led to the leading to the walls and foundations moving and shifting resulting burst water and gas pipes resulting of leaking of water from our downstairs bathroom onto the floor below. Builders are in the process of fixing the bathroom, but for the past week it has been out of use. Water also leaks from the top floor onto second floor and has stained the walls in the common hallway (since repainted). While I was away, my darling housemates had to live in a gas filled flat for 3/4 days while it was mended. There are also some cracks appearing in some walls, including a major one in the hallway/living room. Several doors no longer close properly, including the back door on to our rather swanky and middle class terrace. This means that the flat is not properly secured during the day.

The whole apartment has been covered in dust for 4 months now. Despite us rigorously cleaning it at the weekend, it is always dirty again the next day. Although dust sheets were used in the restaurant, they are no longer being used and so the problem has increased again. I suffer from dust allergies and living there has been unpleasant for the entire time the work is being done (Ok I did ham this one up a bit in the e-mail). The dust has coated everything, including kitchen utensils in cupboards in the kitchen and clothes in wardrobes and drawers upstairs. Frankly, we have given up trying to keep the apartment clean until the work downstairs is finished (good excuse).

Recently, the builders have erected a set of scaffolding right outside the front door, no really right outside the front door! Therefore, we have to essentially negotiate our way in and out of a cage everyday.

Wet paint has been left on the walls with no warning to us, therefore we all have ended up with clothes and hands covered in paint. Really, I mean all this requires is a sign on the door saying that there is wet paint. This is hardly a difficult/expensive task for the builders to undertake, but noooooo, I had to do that myself.

For a few days we had a rudimentary handle on the door (been removed again as of today) so we ve had to open it with keys – when the paint on the door is wet, you can imagine the problems that causes, both to us and then the painter who needs to repaint our smudges. There is no reason why this could nt be done the whole time! We re talking about 2 bits of metal and a screw here!!

Further when they did change the locks, I ended up locked in (no door handle) and poor Male Housemate No.1 locked out facing a 10 minute walk to a cafe on Denneweg to fetch the new key. There was a number on the note on the door, but do you reckon anyone answered it?

Finally, this morning a Large Chisel was dropped on my head from the scaffolding as I left. Yes, I ll repeat that – a large Chisel was dropped on my head this morning. “Luckily” this hit rubber side down so that I “only” have a massive bang, a small cut on my forehead and a massive headache (still, 18 hours later). Had it hit me chissely metal side down I would  be writing this from Hospital and it would probably still be embedded in my head! Surprisingly the responsible builder had a sudden attack of Cantspeakenglishitus at the time and didnt say anything – he is a cock, that is all.

As much as the builders don’t want us there we pay our rent just as the restaurant does and we have just as much right to be there. We don’t leave at 8 30 and come back at 6 for fun, we do it because we, like them, have to go to work. It would be so much easier for both parties if they simply told us what was going to happen before they did it, that way we could try to get in their way as little as possible. As it is we re constantly causing problems for each other! We walk past each other every morning, there was ample opportunity to give us the new key or tell us that they will be painting that day, but nooooooo, not a word….

Rant over….

FML!

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Is the UCI bad for cycling

This is in response to an excellent article by the Velocast that can be found here – http://velocastcc.squarespace.com/post-peloton-transcripts/2012/9/10/bringing-down-the-government-transcript.html

Firstly I should emphasis that I agree with the article and I agree that cycling should be drug free. However…

I ve been away in Siberia for most of the Vuelta and consequently have managed to see little of it save what I can pick up from CN and Twitter. The internet connection was so poor that I was not able to download the Velocast Vuelta specials so I’m not sure of their opinions on this particular race. What I’ve put here is an idea. It is not what I would like to happen, it is what I fear may be happening…
Despite the British success at this years Tour de France, it has been roundly criticized by near every commentator on cycling for being boring. Personally I do not agree with this, I think they re forgetting some of the best stages we ve seen for a long while! Let us not forget Peter Sagan’s celebrations, the epic battle of the Roulers on Tommy V’s first stage win, Mark Madiot thumping the car behind Pinot and Cav’s desperate sprint past Sammy Sanchez to name a few. However, for many people, the only show at the Tour is the GC and such a dominant display from Sky, in the face of little opposition it must be said, did not make for exciting viewing. However, many people in the know, for the first time that I can remember, opined that this was a Tour won by a clean rider on a clean team (as much as any one can ever have such an opinion about a sport that may well have never been properly clean at this level)

Boring?

Contrast this to the recent Vuelta in which two riders who have both returned from Drugs bans this year came first and second. Even the most hardcore anti-doping twitterati fawned about both if them as they produced what was (so I ve heard) one of the most exciting GT’s for a number of years. From following the race on twitter and Bikeradar, it appears that a majority (but not all!) cycling fans are appeared to forgive cyclists with histories very easily as long as they provide some exciting racing.

What will this picture look like in a few years?

I am lucky enough (??) to live in the Netherlands where I have ridden with a few cycling clubs and I can also follow enough French to get their viewpoints on cycling. My anecdotal evidence based on talking to Dutch, Belgian, German, French and Italian fans would suggest that a large majority of cycling fans in Europe are under the impression that pro-cycling is as doped as it ever was, they just either ignore it or simply don’t care. When I ve talked about how good it is to see a team like Garmin or Sky, who have a strong anti-doping stance, winning, I tend to get a look of pity. Most commonly I get the line about “they ride 200km a day over 4 mountain passes for 3 weeks – of course they dope, they could nt do it with out dope!”

Do they care if their hero is doped?

Anyway, having stepped back from the sport recently (being sent to Siberia is good for this!) and reading these reports has led me to wonder how many cycling fans in the world really care about doped cycling. Undoubtedly the British and US fans have a much stronger feeling about it than most European fans seem to (as was suggested by Mr Wiggins in his Guardian article during the Tour) however, we make up a relatively small proportion of global cycling fans.

So to the UCI. Could it be that the UCI, realizing that what the majority people actually want to see is exciting cycling above all else are walking an, arguably very successful, line between giving fans what they want to watch, but allowing them to think that they are tough on drugs too? Cycling popularity has boomed in the “New World” through the presidencies of Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid. Some of this could be put down to more TV channels resulting in more options for showing cycling, but there are plenty of sports that deserve coverage, cycling must have done something right! By keeping the exciting, bug name racers on the road (Armstrong and Contador) as much as possible but by punishing some, easily replaceable, no-name domestique to the fullest extent of the law, are they giving us what we want to see, with the comforting blanket that they re still fighting the good fight?

Even in the more pro anti-doping countries, most of us cycling fans are still watching the sport having been repeatedly let down by our heroes time and time again. We are used to watching a race knowing that whoever crosses the line first may be irrelevant to actually will go in the history books as the winner of the race (last year’s Giro being the ultimate example of that). There must be something that keeps us coming back.

Is it that we can forget about it every Sunday afternoon for a few hours? Is it that we can separate the race and the doping in our heads? Is it that we actually love the soap opera behind it as much as the racing – cycling is our sport and doping is our “Eastenders”?  or is it that the majority of us just don’t care as long as we get a good race? Recently I ve started to think that the last one may be truer for more fans than less.

I hope I’m wrong, really i do, but if not then I don’t know how this sits with me. I ve not watched a race since the tour (save for JTL’s win in the Tour of Britain recently which I found on in a bar).  Could the 6 nations and the Red Bull TV coverage of the XC and DH Mountain biking fill the hole that not watching pro-cycling would leave?

An alternative Spring Classic?

At least I know this guy will still be in Rainbow stripes next year…

Even so, I have a feeling that I ll watch little of the rest of the season but after a winter of cyclocross (available to me on Sporza), I ll be back on the sofa after the club run with a Belgian Beer and a cone of frites raring for the season to start again! Does this make me a sucker?

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Siberia Tales Pt2 – The weather is unusually clement for this time of year…

As we left our heroes last time, they had just arrived in Tyumen.

The next few days were spent exploring the Core Store that was to be their home for the next 2 months. Having hears some horror stories our Heroes were cheered by what they saw.

A modern facility with all the mod cons awaited them. Core Storage was either an exemplary example of how to store core or an exemplary example of how not to store core. Chatting with the locals was enabled through one of our heroes and relationships were eased by Dutch cheese and chocolates. With a visit from the arch overlords and a fourth, expert hero in the second half of the week and several more conversations, a plan was formed.

Given the nature of the work, our hero should nt say too much about what and where they were doing but believe him that when the cores were cleaned and ordered, there was a enough of geo-nerdery potential present to make both our heroes very tingly.

Meanwhile in the evening, our heroes explored the sights and sounds of Tyumen night life.

Lunches at the core store were decent if a little school dinnerish, Soups were commonplace and meals mainly comprising of rice, mashed potatoes and buckwheat with several varieties of stew or meatballs. Several traditional Russian fruit pastries were available and rice pudding on good days. Mostly of course it was CHEAP letting the heroes explore a bit more in the evening. The heroes decided that as decent as it was, ransacking the hotel breakfast buffet was the way forward for the future…

Lenin

Lenin…

As mentioned before, Tyumen is a strange city mixing the old wood and concrete of the USSR with the modern buildings, built by oil money that could have come from anywhere. Interspersed with these are brightly coloured, gold roofed churches and large column fronted municipal/government buildings that look like a psychedelic Parthenon.

What I didn’t get a Pic of was the Quicksilver Shop next door to the Supermarket

On the square….

….and 90 deg  to the left!

Bars and restaurants are a similar story, some are traditional wooden bars with plush benches and an overdose of curtains. Some are modern shiny metal and chrome jobs. As in every other city in the world there is an Irish Bar decorated in the stereotype way that all Irish bars are decorated, selling terrible Guinness and imitation Irish food (this one seemed to be more German than Irish, but if you call it Munster Bratworst, it’s obviously Irish!).

A slow, cold and wet start to the week led to some quiet nights in several places. Particular props must go to a very pleasant Uzbek restaurant where our heroes had their first samples of Russian Food. Good quality Beer was supplied by some admittedly foxy waitresses, but our hero had to wait until later in the week to try his first Russian Vodka. Obviously, this was entirely accidental as our hero was trying to sample some of the local delicacy’s and made a mistake, ordering the “homemade Lard”. One of the arch-overlords informed him that this was something only to be eaten as an accompaniment to Vodka – so obviously he had to partake! (only one!)

As the weather improved, the city came to life a bit more and places started to get some atmosphere. Our heroes were able to spend some time walking around in the sun.

Most places serve a weird, but very pleasant mix of Western and Russian food. Starters are commonly soups or meat/cheese selections. Most have some form of grill or barbeque style section alongside some vinagery salads and stews. Commonly these are served with some roasted vegetables, potatoes or rice. Again an honorable mention to the Uzbek restaurant for an excellent Russian take on a Cornish pasty.

ALL restaurants have a unique mix of either of modern house/trance music or early 90’s classics played uncomfortably loud. Our heroes have been to subjected to some absolute classics this week including a blast of “down town” and a bit of “do you know the way to San Jose”. Safe to say a copy of The Love Album II would go down a storm here! Come the weekend some live bands start to appear usually playing an eclectic mix of Russian and British 80’s music. Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran appear to be especially popular.

Petroleum Geologists don’t have enough Statues in our honor I think….

The week has ended and out heroes have a day off! This hero has been shoe shopping as the box of kit we were supposed to get did nt make it through Russian Customs. He is now the proud owner of a rather spiffing set of new boots. The Arch overlords have gone and are expert heroes and local heroes are home. Our two heroes are, once again, alone….
Until next time,  До свидания!

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Siberia Tales Pt 1 – The swallows fly low over Moscow

With stout heart and courage, our two heroes bravely travelled the surprisingly short trip to Moscow (3 hour, only 3 hours!). Surviving the somehow effective chaos that is Schipol Airport, they left the low lands at the behest of their Dutch Overlords to plunder the barren wastelands of Siberia.

The voyage to Moscow was boringly uneventful as only long short-haul flights can be. Arriving in Moscow, our heroes added another to their number, a native of the land, in order to facilitate discussions and seamless integration with the locals. A slight delay occurred to the heroine as the new girl on the passport desk appeared not to trust the Russian Visa within the temporary German Passport issued in Holland. With quick wit and sharp tongue she ran rings around said official and proceeded across the threshold

A carriage to their place of rest was sourced by following the signs and our heroes settled down in the plush comfort of a Park Inn. After a brief fight with the currency exchange machine with which are heroes struggled bravely but ultimately conceded defeat, sustenance was found in the form of the hotel restaurant, a hotel restaurant with some soft house music playing dear reader. Our heroine bravely opted for a Russian Specialty whereas our hero wimped out and had a burger.

After a fitful sleep, our heroes woke to a Red Dawn over Moscow (airport). Such luck was destined not to last however and by the time our heroes had finished breakfast a low grey cloud hung over the city. Their first quest resulted in a long trek from one side of the airport to the other in order to find the check in desks. Their Quest over, our heroine had another chance to confuse a member of Russian Border Control – and all this before her first coffee! – but domestic flights appear to attract much less suspicion and our heroine passed without incident. After fortifying themselves with a coffee/diet coke, our heroes re-met with the third member and made way to the airplane.

Our hero cannot really comment on the view out of the window as it was A) cloudy and B) he was asleep. However having been woken up by an air hostess shouting at him in Russian, he elected not to take a tea or coffee but was nonetheless awoken for the landing (Comment – KLM Hostesses wear a fetching light blue uniform whereas the Aeroflot hostesses wear an equally fetching orange outfit. Surely given the Russians favour blue and the Dutch are massively preoccupied with orange, they should swap?)

Siberia appeared wide, flat and green. Small villages with dirt track roads were visible alongside beautiful large meandering river systems that sent our hero into minor Geoecstacy. After landing in the city of Tyumen, our heroes stepped out into the cold afternoon air of a Siberian September. With characteristic humor and wordplay our hero remarked to our heroine,
“Cor, it is proper Netherlands flat innit?”
Our heroine had to admit he had a point!

The heroes then repaired to a nicely swanky hotel. Comfy beds, warm rooms and hot showers the size of dinner plates were all present and correct. Having rested and cleansed themselves, our three heroes set off on a further quest to explore the city of Tyumen. It is an interesting city, meshing the grey concrete or wooden buildings traditionally associated with Soviet Russia with new shiny building payed for by the uber-capitalist excess of the oil industry. This is a town that owes it’s existence to BP-THK and GazProm. Dirty old shops nestled between new electrical goods stores, designer stores and shiny world food restaurants, Italian and Japanese appeared to be particularly popular.

Our two non-Russian heroes grappled with the unfamiliarity of the Russian alphabet and language, with our hero showing some particular aptitude for Russian pronunciation (though he says it himself) although was sorely lacking in memory. A quest was set to learn at least as many words in Russian as he knows in Dutch. This was exceeded by day 2! The people fitted nicely into the stereotypes of Russian people, Mullets and short hair appeared to be the order of the day for the boys while blonde hair or dark hair with well defined fringes were commonplace on the girls. Black leather and thick jackets were worn by all and clothing was grey or at most navy blue. Our hero felt somewhat conspicuous in his green jacket! A stark contrast to the bright colours worn in Holland. Our heroes elected to sample the Japanese option this day and enjoyed a numptious meal of soup and rice.

Stomachs filled, our heroes returned to the hotel to rest before exploring the TNGG Core Warehouse which will be discussed in Part 2.

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