I stepped off the TranSiberian Train relieved to finally see the back of their delightful customer service but also happy to finally be in Moscow. No sooner had my feet touched the platform was I touted for a taxi. Planning to walk to the station and get the metro I thought I’d see what he was charging… his first quote was ridiculongkulous so I just laughed at him. He immediately halved it. “Your’e still taking the piss mate”, I told him, so he knocked another 20% off. Okay, I thought, that’s still expensive but it is Moscow after all, and it’ll be easier than lugging my bags around so I agreed. He grabbed a couple of bags and I suddenly remembered that I wanted to make inquiries about my post train that was carrying Hitch, who had departed from Irkutsk a few days before me and was due to arrive in Moscow in approximately 6 days. All being well, it should arrive the same day as me, but this was only a guestimate. Nevertheless, there was a chance that it had arrived on time and a slim chance that it was sitting in the back of some store room waiting for me to collect her.
I decided to let the taxi tout carry my bags to the end of the platform before telling him that I needed a few minutes, he didn’t wait around. I strolled to the first customer service kiosk with my delivery note in hand and gesturing a motorbike with my free hand. Lady 1, directed me into the main terminal building, so off I went in that general direction, but once inside where was I to go next? I found another woman helping customers with the cash machines but I had barely got to “Excuse m….”, in Russian, before she shooed me off like an irritating fly. “Thank you for all your help”, I said out loud, very loud, so that people turned to see what was going on. Perhaps rude, unhelpful women are the norm in this part of Russia? So I made my way to another kiosk at the other end of the building where lady 2, directed me back up to where I had just come from. I tried to explain that Lady 1 had sent me here but it was pointless, she wasn’t listening, she too shooed me off and wrote something on a piece of paper that I later learned said luggage, which wasn’t where I needed to be. So off I went, back toward Lady 1 and my wild goose chase was in full swing.
This can’t be right, I decided to ask the police that were frisking would be terrorists as they entered the train station, I’d had good fortune with plod up to now, but these guys couldn’t give a shit, I even pleaded for one of them to personally take me if it was as close as they were saying. I exited the station when Lady 1 saw me and tried to send me back. I showed her the note and she sent me in a different direction to the very front of the building on the main road.I was hoping that I might perhaps see some sort of cargo kiosk. All I had achieved was to walk around the entire perimeter of the station and ended up back at lady 2. After being sent from pillar to post for the best part of an hour I was beginning to lose my patience, these people couldn’t give a shit, the only thing they were interested in was getting rid of me from their ‘area’. I decided to try and find Hitch myself.
I made my way back to the platforms, the cargo area must be close by, and it was. As I rounded the corner I saw some cargo being unloaded and I got excited, maybe it was my carriage? I was getting warmer. I continued onwards and found a porta-cabin on wheels and decided to make my inquiries, but as I looked up I saw yet another gaggle of women and I knew this was going to be a fruitless exercise… Lady 3, tried to send me back up to the main building, she even drew me a map, it looked like she was trying to send me to Lady 1 but that particular avenue was a total dead end. I tried to explan my hour long goose chase but she insisted on me going back up where I had come from. ‘Fuck this’ I thought, I was starting to lose my rag, “I just want my god damn motorbike”, I protested. I was starting to wonder if I was ever going to find out where I needed to go. I was beginning to contemplate my options, one of which was going to the hostel, finding someone who spoke Russian and return to the docks armed with a translator – what I actually needed was a babel fish.
Before I lost my mind completely I thought I’d try my luck directly with the dock guys, but first I needed to stop, drop my bags, take a leak and breathe. I felt calmer, the dock guys directed me around to a completely different place,not again I thought, so I took one of them to show me personally. He reluctantly came along to show me and continually reminded that he had to get back to work. “Don’t worry about work I told him, I’ll give you some ‘thank you’ money, make it worth your while”, if this turns out to be the correct place. This looked promising, these chaps reminded me of the guys in Irkutsk, they even had the same bags and string for doing up the parcels. I asked one of the guys and he immediately stopped what he was doing to help me. He asked a few of the other guys and he took me to an admin office with a huge queue. But instead of dumping me in the queue he took me outside where he banged on the window to get one of the girls attention – effectively cutting the queue. They said something to each other in Russian and we went back up to his work area where he gave me a piece of paper with a phone number on it and told me to phone tomorrow at 8am. Basically, my train had not yet arrived.
No problem, I was half expecting it to be delayed, I would just have to wait a bit longer, but at least I knew I was in the right place. I headed out of the station to get a taxi but I couldn’t find anyone, and nobody approached me either. After walking what felt like 10 miles trying to locate Hitch, I was parched, so I got a drink and something to eat and sat down for five minutes to collect myself. A young lad with a trolley finally approached and asked if I wanted a taxi, “skolka?” I asked. He got on the phone and his friend joined us, apparently he was the driver. “How much”, I asked again, and he gave me the same figure that the original taxi guy gave me, I laughed and said “way too much”, but he was unwilling to budge and made my way to the Metro. I got to the main road and another fella offered me a taxi. We went through the same rigmarole and finally we agreed on a price that I wasn’t especially happy with but I was ready to capitulate and glad to get to the hostel ASAP.
I jumped in the taxi and it was immediately apparent that this guy had no clue, it wasn’t even a proper taxi. I told him the address, I showed him the Moscow city map, I showed him the Google map on my phone, I was going to show him the GPS too but the battery was dead. I ended up directing him, because he couldn’t see, he had no spectacles… WTF kind of taxi driver is he, I thought. Of course I was kidding myself, this wasn’t any kind of ‘real’ taxi, it was just some random geezer at the station trying to make a few extra quid. Okay, I’ll go with it, it could be fun, we had a smoke and I told him where to go, but he kept stopping and asking directions. It was probably only a twenty minute walk to the hostel from the station, and a 5 minute car journey, but it had taken us the best part of 25minutes and that wasn’t due to the traffic. He stopped again, we were only at the Metro station, which was a 5 minute walk from the hostel, “it’s just down there” I kept telling him, “carry on down this road”, but he got out again. FFS, ‘you have exactly 60 seconds then I’m getting my bags and walking’, I thought to myself. I was generous; I gave him 180 seconds before I got out and got my bags from the boot of his car. The driver returned and tried to stop me removing my bags, and babbled something to me in Russian. “Look mate, we’ve been driving nearly 30 minutes, it should have taken no longer than 15minutes, even in this traffic, the hostel is just down the road, and you’re taking the piss, I’m walking the rest of the way”.
He had no choice in the matter, I was resolved, but I knew I should pay him something. He asked for payment, but there was no way I was going to give him the agreed price, he hadn’t lived up to his end of the bargain. Pissed off, I offered him half and not surprisingly he said “no”, he wanted the agreed amount, “your’e shit out of luck mate, take this or you get nothing”… he remonstrated and I counted down with my fingers 3-2-1… too late pal , I’m off and you get sweet FA. I picked up my bags and went, I was at my hostel within 3 minutes. The girls at the hostel stood in stark contrast to the female of the species of the TranSiberian railway and Moscow station; they were exceptionally kind, friendly and very helpful. These girls even agreed to phone the number I had been given, but the following day when they phoned the number, I was told it had not arrived and I should try again the next day. The following day I called again, and yet again I was told it had not arrived. Bollocks to this, I asked the girls at the hostel who it was they were talking to and whether they thought they were being told the truth, or whether they thought they were being fobbed off.
It was one thing to mess me around to my face, I’m just a dumb tourist as far as they’re concerned, but now they’re messing around my Russian helpers too. Things were going from bad to worse, I might never be reunited with my bike at this rate. I decided to to the station and see for myself and hopefully speak to the lads at the docks. So off I went to the Metro station, two changes later I arrived and set off on foot up to the cargo area, with a resolve of pure steel. When I got there I was enthusiastically greeted like I was an old friend and yet again he dropped what he was doing to help me. He shouted to his mate, they chatted briefly, and I was taken into the office and asked to have a seat while they checked if the Irkutsk post train had arrived. It was good news, it had arrived, and they took me me to identify my bike as there was three others; three KTMs with Swiss plates. I walked onto the carriage and saw Hitch’s rear end, there was no mistaking it as the number plate was exposed… “oh my baby”, I involuntarily blurted out loud. I was overcome with joy, and relief, I shook everybody’s hand and said thank you, the dock guys started teasing me saying “oh my baby”, it was great.
Before they could get to my bike they would need to unload a few things that were in front of it, but within 10 minutes they rolled Hitch off the train and with crow bar in hand the dock guys freed her from her makeshift crate. I started putting her back together and loading her up while everyone else eagerly watched waiting for the big reveal. One guy even helped my put the screen on, just happy to be involved. It wasn’t long before crowds of admiring dockworkers gathered round and began asking me to start her up so they could hear her roar. I happily obliged and let a couple of them give Hitch a rev. With the bike ready to go I pushed it out waiting for one of them to tell me how much I owed them for unloading, uncrating and disposing of the wooden frame, but there was no charge. Cha-ching, I thought, I was expecting to pay at least 3000 Roubles. I wheeled her out and grabbed a quick piccie of the main two guys that helped me out and off I went back to the hostel with a broad grin on my face but riding exceptionally cautiously around the Moscow streets: it was the first I’d been on the bike, proper, since the crash and it felt unusual.