From 1 to 2 weeks in Moscow

Oct 24, 2014

So there I was, in Moscow, in Russia, first stop of my journey to New Zealand. Both excited and nervous at the same time to take aerial footage of this city and its numerous stunning monuments and churches.

On my arrival, I was at the Belorusskaya train station, with my 2 backpacks that were piling up to around 20kgs/10lbs (damn video equipment, which I probably won't need that much in the end). I was quiet exhausted and opted for the easy, though not cheap option; I took a cab. First difference I noticed, there is no "meter" in the taxis there, so you decide of the price with the driver beforehand. Well, as tired and lost as I was, he announced "1500 roubles" which, I agreed to without trying to discuss the price. It was most certainly a "tourist" price and I realised later that it would have cost me 40 roubles by metro, but after a nearly 2 day trip from Paris, the only thing I wanted to do was to get to my hostel and leave my backpacks in my room. So after I gave my backpacks to the driver, I hoped in the taxi, the driver set his GPS on his phone and a few seconds later I was in for my first taste of Moscow city... a taxi ride.
As we all know, and it is probably true in every city in the world, taxi drivers have their own way of driving, a different way than us "casual drivers" if I may. Some drive like they own the city. Well, in that situation, it felt a bit like that when the driver was trying to merge into traffic on a big boulevard; slowly easing into traffic until the taxi was in the middle of the lane and the other car coming did not have any other choice but stop.
I arrived at the hostel in one piece, checked-in and went straight to take a nice hot shower. The first night was not very eventful, I just went out to eat and walk around a bit. Then I came back and went to bed...

That time my quadcopter landed... in the Moscow River

On my second "full" day (not including the day of arrival), I decided that it was time to fly my quadcopter, but I obviously did not want to do it in the middle of Moscow so I took the metro to Novogorsky lookout point. I walked in the middle of this nice small forest on my way up to the lookout. The weather was not the best that day but the view of the whole city was very nice anyway. But I decided not to fly from there; too many people passing by. So I headed back down, next to the Moscow river (see where this is going) on a walk path. "That's it", I though "I have to fly it at some point". So I set everything up and in the air it went. 
Just before taking off for the first flight of the trip

The whole flight went without trouble, and when I saw the flashing indicator telling me the battery level was low, I gently guided the quadcopter towards me. But then it went on "auto-landing" mode, for those of you who don't know, auto-landing mode on my quadcopter happens when the battery is so low that the quadcopter pretty much lands wherever it is at this time, and leaves you with limited control of it, since it is going down no matter what. I think it is a great feature, so it does not suddenly drops down while you're flying. But when this happens and your quadcopter is still above the water... well you know the ending. The good thing, is that it landed in water on the edge of the river, where it is shallow, and I was able to see it, that meant there was still a change to retrieve it. In working conditions? not so sure, but still better than nothing.

I needed to find someone or something to help me getting it back. Not so far, were some workers. They did not speak any English, and I did not speak any Russian. That where the fun is right?! With my Russian conversation guide in my hands I tried to explain, in a way involving more gesture than words, that something of mine had fell into the river. I finally ended up telling them to follow me and showed them the underwater quadcopter. Then one of them said something in Russian and gestured towards a deck where there was some small boats that looked like police boats. He then went there, talked to one of the policeman who came over as well. Once again, I showed him what I was trying to get out of the water. Then again, something in Russian, that, I believe meant something along the lines of "Stay here, I will go take one of the boats and get your quadcopter for you" because that's what he did! Needless to mention that I was very thankful, and still am, to all those people who helped me get it back. 

The boat of the cops who helped me retrieve my quadcopter
It radically changed the way I saw Russians. At first they appeared to me like cold people, mostly because I noticed that they kept staring at me (yes being black and 2m05 / 6ft8 does help, I haven't seen a lot of dark skinned people in Moscow) but also that they would not smile, or very little. But after this experience, I came to realize that it is just the way it is, and that it does not mean they will not help you.

So that's the main reason why my stay in Moscow extended from 1 to 2 weeks... I've spent the next few days drying the quadcopter before powering it back up again. Turned out some motors were dead as well as the camera stabilizer, but the gopro was still working. Then through friends I have there, I met a guy who knew a modelism shop where they could fix it... And they did after a couple of days. I have been able to take a few aerial shots, not as much as I would have liked but I managed to make a video coupling them with the other handheld shots I took.

You can watch the video here.

That time I ate boiled garlic

But limit my experience in Moscow to this misadventure would not be accurate. i had a great time there, and little struggles like this one just make you enjoy the good things even more. After a week in Moscow I met with my American friend Katherine whom I had met about 3 years before in France. She is now engaged to a Russian and lives near Moscow. That was great to see her again and finally meet her fiancé. They were with some of their friends, including Alexander, the one who helped me getting my quadcopter fixed.

Me in Moscow with my friend Katherine and her fiancé Tolik.
We went out for drinks and food and thanks to them I had my first real Russian food experience. One thing you need to know about me is that I LOVE food, I mean, who doesn't anyway. One thing (aming others) that I am really excited about fir this trip is to discover all the types of food you there is in the different countries I will visit.

We went to the Kamchatka which was a classic Soviet style bar (that's what they told me) and they ordered a bunch of Russian dishes for me to try. Among those, my favourite was пельме́ни, Pilmeni in English, also called the Russian dumplings.
They also had me try a dish called Селёдка под шубой "Herring under a fur coat" in English; it's a salad with fish (Herring) hidden under beetroot, carrots, and some other vegetables... Not bad at all. Then came the "rough" ones, the first one was a slice if bread with fat on it, just fat (they have to go through a tough winter), oh! ... and you could put some mustard on top of that, you know, to give it some taste I guess.
Boiled garlic

But the worst by far, or the hardest to eat was actually the most simple one... Boiled garlic. Yup, just garlic boiled into water. Oh I'm sure that if you eat a bit of that every day you will never get sick, ever! I had never purposefully bite into garlic before, raw, grilled or boiled, but now I can say I have done it... Not sure I will do it again though.

Even if in a way I regret to have been kind of forced to stay an extra week, Moscow was a good experience for me. I have met great people and started new friendships. Now I can't wait to go deep into Siberia with a sweet 48h train ride between Moscow and Novosibirsk...

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