It’s raining in Moscow, and it’s putting a real downer on things. The Kremlin just isn’t as exciting as it should be, and our first impression of Russia is not what we’d hoped.
A quick piggy-back ride past St Basil’s Cathedral, and we marched off again through the rain. I decided to save weight by not bringing a waterproof (inspiration that Thom is no doubt thankful he didn’t receive), and thus my hoodie is getting damper by the minute. We’re heading south and decide our route would be far nicer if we could walk through some of gardens surrounding the Kremlin.
Lining the streets are some dodgy-looking military characters. Clothed in long, dark ponchos, with their hoods up and their heads down, they look like Ringwraiths from Tolkien novel. Two of them are guarding the entrance to the park, so we head in their direction to see if we can gain access.
Their English is not better than our Russian, but we manage to work out that they want 10 dollars for access. I figure this isn’t an official toll, so I decide to barter:
"I don’t have any dollars, I’m afraid, but I do have something better than money..."
What, you may be wondering, could I be offering?
"An exclusive 80 Ways badge!"
The guards instantly recognize the international currency of the 80 Ways badge and let us pass.
Inside the gardens, we suddenly realize that they are rather deserted. Deserted, that is, apart from a large procession of people dressed in pink frocks, suits, and brightly coloured umbrellas. Unsure of what exactly we should be doing, we decide to join the parade.
It was all fun and games for a while, until we reached the end of the park. Tickets were apparently required for us to proceed any further, which was a shame, because we could see a big carnival in the distance with fairground rides and giant inflatable clowns. For a moment, we considered trying to blag our way through with a combination of the 80 Ways badge and the top hat as a carnival prop but decided better of it.
Thus we headed back to our border guards, one of which I was pleased to see wearing our badge.
Came the reply once more. Now, I know there is no fee for getting onto the streets of Moscow, and I told the man as such. Suffice it to say that, with no common language, the message was not relayed, and he repeated his fee. "Ah," I thought, "this guy’s playing hardball." I offered him another badge, this time a blue one, which I explained was far superior to his friend’s red version. Again, "10 dollars" was the response, and he was looking quite serious.
It wasn’t funny anymore.
I told him that we weren’t going to pay and that we had to get out, but obviously the words were wasted (even if he had spoken English). He was staring at me rather intensely and grabbed my arm when I tried to walk past. He seemed quite stern, but I noticed his friend looked rather more hesitant. There was something about their half-hearted effort to charge us on the way in, and now this similar attempt on our return made me think these guys weren’t as serious as they made out, so I decided we should just push past. Thankfully, just as we were about to go for it, two partygoers from the parade approached. We took the chance and walked past as the guards were distracted.
Dubious policework, but it certainly added a bit of entertainment to our rainy day!